Scholia Reviews 12 (2003) 24.

Michael Paschalis and Stavros Frangoulidis (edd.), Space in the Ancient Novel. Ancient Narrative Supplementum 1. Groningen: Barkhuis Publishing & The University Library Groningen, 2002. Pp. xiv + 192. ISBN 90-807390-2-2. EURO50.00.

John Hilton
Classics, University of Natal, Durban

This is the first supplementary volume of the newly launched journal Ancient Narrative.[[1]] The publisher has done a commendable job on this book, which is very attractive and tactile. However, despite some interesting discussion of the theme of 'Space in the Ancient Novel', there are problems with the composition of the collection. First, the very general and abstract concept (space) was not suitable for such a small conference and as a result the coverage given to the ancient novels is unbalanced. Second, despite the overlap among some papers, issues raised by the theme are dealt with in a rather incidental manner in some cases. Third, contributors evidently interpreted the topic in widely different ways. This is not a bad thing in itself but it leaves the reader with very little that is conclusive to take away from studying the book. Nevertheless, there is enough matter here to attract the attention of the professional student of ancient fiction.

The first problem -- the lack of balance in the book -- is probably due to the circumstances under which the conference was held. Nevertheless, six out of twelve chapters concern the Metamorphoses of Apuleius, while the Aithiopika by Heliodorus, Xenophon's Ephesiaka, and the Satyrica do not feature at all as extended subjects of study. In general, the Greek novels come off very badly in this compilation, and in hindsight the conference would have done better to focus exclusively on the Latin writers, or even on Apuleius alone, whose other works are not discussed. The omission of Heliodorus is particularly regrettable, since this romance provides an abundance of evidence to test the theories under scrutiny.

Given the number of papers on the Metamorphoses in this collection some overlap was bound to occur. Thus no fewer than three authors -- Harrison (pp. 43f.), Graverini (pp. 58-66), and Slater (p. 173) deal with the significance of Corinth in the novel.[[2]] Harrison argues that the topographical changes that Apuleius makes to the account given in the Onos -- he makes Lucius hale from Corinth rather than Patrae, and his restoration to human shape occurs there rather than in Thessalonike -- are introduced in order make Lucius' journey a nostos on the Homeric model. In contrast, Graverini oddly suggests that the journey home is in fact to Rome rather than to Corinth on the grounds that Lucius is represented as a Roman citizen (thus confounding the well-known distinction between citizenship and place of birth readily apparent from the lives of Cicero and Virgil, to look no further). He also argues that Apuleius brings Corinth into his novel because the history of the city brought to mind the relationship between Rome and Greece, though he does not explore how Apuleius implements this 'important idea' (p. 66) in the novel. Lastly, Slater argues that Apuleius does not adhere to the 'typical spatial pattern of the Greek novels' in which the hero and heroine return to their homes (a shaky generalisation as Slater himself points out). Instead, Slater links the ending of the Metamorphoses with the narratives of Aristomenes, Socrates, and Thelyphron, to conclude (rather forcefully for such slight grounds) that there is a pattern of 'persistent displacement' (p. 162) in Apuleius and that the plot of the novel is in fact open-ended and without closure ('a process continually in motion, never reaching a goal', p. 175). The relevance of the post-Homeric tradition of the later wanderings of Odysseus and the prophecy of Teiresias in the Odyssey itself (Od. 11.119-37) may have repaid investigation here.

There are other areas of overlap. A number of contributors (Konstan, p. 1; Connors, p. 12; Winkler, p. 28f.; Zimmerman, p. 78) address Bakhtin's notion of the 'chronotope' of the ancient novels.[[3]] Zimmerman uses Bakhtin's idea of the chronotope as 'the path of life' in Apuleius as the clothes-peg for her study, although she never relates her rather negative findings back to the theory as a whole. Similarly, Winkler applies the idea as the backdrop to a comparison between the romance of Longus and the film Pleasantville (Ross 1998). He specifically rejects the possibility that Daphnis and Chloe involves any degree of psychological realism, although he does note that the idyllic existence of the teenagers in Pleasantville changes completely during the course of the action. However, Bakhtin's idea has become a much contested matter in current scholarship.[[4]] Konstan is on record as disagreeing with Bakhtin's view that the characters in ancient romances do not undergo any significant development -- instead he notes that the adventures of the hero and heroine in the ancient romances serve to establish their commitment to one another.[[5]] In his present contribution, Konstan argues that space in ancient fiction creates separate spheres of action in which the characters, particularly the hero and heroine, move (pp. 2 f.). Connors also talks of a 'broader (post-Bakhtinian) critical framework' in which identity in the ancient novels is increasing a matter of 'complex ideological negotiation' (p. 13). It therefore seems as though fuller investigation of this matter would have been useful. As it is, the present collection gives its readers very little that is conclusive on this theory. My own view is that the ancient romances do pay rather more attention to character development in the adolescents who participate in them than Bakhtin allows. The case of Kallisthenes in Achilles Tatius' Leukippe and Kleitophon (8.17) is an example of this.

The disparity of views on the subject of Bakhtin is also apparent in the diversity of interpretations of the theme of space in the collection. A number of contributions approach the subject from the perspective of narratology. The very lucid and well- thought out discussion by Konstan (pp. 2f.) makes a promising beginning. His 'abbreviated survey' (p. 9) of 'action space' in the ancient novel ('single' in Apuleius and Petronius, 'doubled' in Xenophon, Chariton, and Longus) concludes that the fact that the hero and heroine occupy largely separate 'action spaces' shows that novels portray a more symmetrical relationship between the sexes than had been the case previously. Clearly the case of Heliodorus is not particularly tractable under this theory since the heroine occupies rather more 'action space' than the hero, and hence (no doubt) Konstan largely ignores this novel. In terms of genre Konstan holds that the use of multiple action spaces is characteristic of novels rather than comedy or epic. Slater's idea of displacement in the Metamorphoses (discussed above) also interprets the theme of space narratologically. Likewise Frangoulidis argues that the Laughter Festival in this novel functions as an integration rite rather than as a scapegoat ritual. Fragoulidis makes some interesting arguments in favour of his theory, the most interesting being the similarities between the Ploiaphesia Festival and the Laughter Festival (p. 185, n. 21), but I need more information on the anthropological background to integration rituals before I subscribe to his argument. Lastly, Paschalis' re-examination of Apuleian ekphrasis explores the nexus between the spatial and temporal relationships of description; it therefore also involves consideration of narrative space. This study compares the description of the pictures on Dido's temple in the Aeneid with the ekphrasis of Diana and Actaeon in the Metamorphoses, concluding that the two tasks of narration and description are more clearly differentiated in the latter.

Harrison's contribution is rather sui generis as he makes a narratological point concerning the emphasis on Corinth in the novel (discussed above) as well as a number of topographical observations. The latter include discussion of references to places such as Miletus (invoking the famous Milesian tales), Thebes (recalling the tragic expedition of the Seven against Thebes), and Plataea (suggesting the account in Herodotus 9.13 of the failure of Mardonius' invasion). Most discussion, however, concerns the stories of Psyche and Charite. Harrison argues that the mention of the temple of Venus Murcia in the Psyche tale is intended to make the Roman reader more comfortable about the story (otherwise unspecific in terms of place), while the description of places in the narrative of Psyche's labours calls a number of Greek myths to mind. Likewise the story of Haemus contains a number of literary and historical allusions (specifically to Actium).

The remaining papers in the volume interpret the theme of the conference entirely topographically. Perhaps the most convincing interpretation of the theme of space in ancient fiction in this sense is Perkins' discussion of 'Social Geography in the Apocryphal Acts of the Apostles'(pp. 118-31). Perkins argues that the apocryphal Acts of the Apostles 'work to resist the spatialities (and the power) of their contemporary society and to institute new spatial imaginaries and a new site for power through their narrative focus on breaking domestic and political boundaries' (p. 119). Thus private space becomes public when a bedroom becomes a meeting place for Christians, the proconsul's private domain is disrupted by the intrusion of an apostle, and elite women seeking Christian instruction find their way into the public prison to which the preacher has been condemned. Assertion of control over private space extends to women reappropriating their bodies from their husbands by adopting the Christian teaching of sexual continence. Panayotakis makes a similar connection between space and sexuality in his chapter, 'The Temple and the Brothel: Mothers and Daughters in Apollonius of Tyre'. He writes (p. 105): 'the bodies of the mother and daughter, emblematic though they are of the pure temple and the impure brothel, respectively, feature as inaccessible and impenetrable bodies of virgins.' I find this sentence (and others like it in this chapter) incomprehensible, and fail to see how the narrative is supposed to establish these 'emblematic relationships'.[[6]] In any case the spatial parameters of the roles of mother and daughter appear to me tenuous and incidental in Apollonius. The connection derives almost exclusively from statements in Seneca the Elder (Contr. 1.2.7).

Other contributions bring out further associations of topographical space in the novels. Connors argues that Chariton's romance would have evoked associations of Roman, and more specifically Augustan, control of Syracuse as much as it would have recalled the history of the city in the Greek tradition. This romance therefore engages in 'allegorical and playfully allusive responses to Rome's imperium' (p. 23). Thus Chariton uses the historical connotations of this geographical place to construct an ideological space, in this case space that can be labelled 'being Greek under the Roman Empire'. Zimmerman's discussion attempts to show that 'moral connotations attached to the road descriptions increase' from the ninth book of the Metamorphoses onward, although 'no uniform message can be identified in the various ways in which the image of the road is applied throughout the story of the journey of Lucius, the ass' (p. 95). The allusion in her title 'On the Road in Apuleius' Metamorphoses' to Jack Kerouac's novel On the Road (1957) is intriguing but only implicit. Lastly, Winkler focuses more on the film than on the novel in his comparison between Pleasantville and Daphnis and Chloe. The text of Longus is merely juxtaposed with the film as a narrative showing a similar journey from innocence to experience. As in Longus the movie associates young love with idyllic places (the locus amoenus theme). However, as noted above, Winkler upholds Bakhtin's idea of a static chronotope in the romance. Certainly there is no suggestion in the chapter that space plays any part in the representing the transition from innocence to experience in Longus.

Despite these difficulties, which can be seen in many similar collections of scholarly writings, I expect there will be sufficient interest in this book to reward its editors and the authors for the efforts they have undertaken in compiling it.[[7]]


[[1]] The twelve chapters of the book represent the published versions of contributions to a concept conference on space in the ancient novel, held at Rethymno, Crete, in May 2001. The conference programme is available online at: The contents pages of the collection under discussion can be consulted at: Two contributions, by Perkins and Connors, were originally given at the ICAN 2000 conference at Groningen.

[[2]] Cf. also H. Mason, 'Lucius at Corinth', Phoenix 25 (1971) 160-65; P. Veyne, 'Apulée à Cenchrées', RPh 39 (1965) 241-51.

[[3]] M. M. Bakhtin (tr. C. Emerson and M. Holquist), The Dialogic Imagination (Austin 1981) 86-130.

[[4]] I have not seen Branham's defence of Bakhtin ('A Truer Story of the Novel?') in R. Bracht Branham (ed.), Bakhtin and the Classics (Evanston 2002) 161-86, mentioned by Konstan, p. 10.

[[5]] D. Konstan, Sexual Symmetry: Love in the Ancient Novel and Related Genres (Princeton 1994) 11, 46f. Cf. contra J. R. Morgan, 'Erotika Mathemata: Greek Romance as Sentimental Education', in Alan H. Sommerstein and Catherine Atherton (edd.), Education in Greek Fiction (Bari 1997) 166.

[[6]] The editorial preface introduces an unfortunate misconstruction of Panayotakis' argument on p. xii: 'The temple and the brothel, which are traditionally regarded as places standing for purity against pollution, in Apollonius accomodate female virginity and chastity.' Compare the author's formulation of this sentence on p. 99: 'the temple and the brothel, though traditionally representing purity and pollution, respectively, accomodate to the same extent female virginity and chastity.' The punctuation of this sentence does not help to make its rather obscure meaning any clearer. A further formulation is provided on p. 105: 'the temple and the brothel, both public places par excellence and mainly male territories, are in this way put on a par, for they accomodate to the same extent the untouchable and undefiled bodies of Archistratis and Tarsia.'

[[7]] The presentation of the book is on the whole good, but the following errors should be noted: p. 10 'Luginbill, Robert D. 2000' should be 'Luginbill, Robert D. 2002'; 'delightfull' should be 'delightful'; p. 15 'in in' should be 'in'; p. 22 'rest fo' should be 'rest of'; p. 24 'Lanscapes' should be 'Landscapes'; p. 40 '( I believe)' should be '(I believe)'; p. 81 'whithout' should be 'without'; p. 155 'somwhere' should be 'somewhere'. Italics are inconsistently applied to Greek and Latin words and punctuation can be erratic.