The Greek Novel

Tim Whitmarsh

in Classics

ISBN: 9780195389661
Published online December 2009 | | DOI:
The Greek Novel

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In the first century ce large-scale fictional works written in Greek prose began to appear, generally erotic and focusing upon invented figures and scenarios. The origins of what we have come to call the Greek novel or romance (the ancient world has given us no term for these texts) are murky. There are certainly elements of continuity with the Odyssey and stories in Herodotus (e.g., the Gyges and Candaules story). The near-total loss of early and mid-Hellenistic prose makes it impossible to trace the emergence of the form in the post-Classical period, although we certainly have some evidence for inventive narrative (e.g., Euhemerus’s Holy account, Iamblichus’s so-called Islands of the Sun, and the earliest strata of the Alexander romance), albeit in a form very different from the novel. What is more, our earliest texts (seemingly Chariton’s Callirhoe and/or the fragmentary Ninus) are not securely dated (see Dating and Titles): some have taken them to be late Hellenistic, although a majority of scholars now see them as early Imperial. Given the relative absence of Greek antecedents, some scholars have explained the novel as the result of influence from Egyptian or Near Eastern cultures (see Cultural Context). Origins apart, the novel quickly achieved a canonical form: a young girl and boy meet, fall in love, and are separated by circumstances and adventure, before being reunited at the end. Marriage is an ever-present feature, whether at the beginning (as in the earlier novels) or as the culmination (in those of the 2nd century and later). This is the form on which this survey focuses; other fictional texts from the era, such as the Life of Aesop, the Alexander romance and Lucian’s True stories, are beyond its scope. The Greek novel was influential on contemporary, Byzantine, Persian, and later European literature (see Reception). Unlike their Roman counterparts Petronius and Apuleius, the Greek novelists themselves are shadowy figures: some testimony survives (see Individual Works), but this seems to have been invented after the fact.

Article.  6437 words. 

Subjects: Classical Studies ; Classical Art and Architecture ; Classical History ; Classical Literature ; Classical Philosophy

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