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Longus


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Greek writer of The pastoral Story of Daphnis and Chloe (Poimenika ta kata Daphnin kai Chloēn), which he presents as a guide's explanation of a painting he saw while hunting on Lesbos. His apparently detailed knowledge of Lesbian topography is imprecise and inconsistent, and although Longi appear on Lesbian inscriptions, ours may have been a visitor rather than resident. There are hitherto no papyri, but his mannered sophistic apheleia (simplicity), often using short rhyming and rhythmically balanced cola, suits the late 2nd or early 3rd cent. ad, as do similarities to passages in Aelian and Alciphron (though priority is disputed). Few accept Hermann's identification with the Hadrianic grammarian Velius Longus.

Longus' four books miniaturize and rusticate the standard novel. Daphnis and Chloe, foundlings brought up by shepherds on the estate of a Mytilenean aristocrat, gradually fall in love. Obstacles there are—rivals, abductions by pirates and by a task-force from Methymna. But everything happens on a few miles of coastline near Mytilene; the chief obstacle to union is their rustic naïvety; and the central theme is their gradual discovery of what love is, by precept, example, and experiment. This is represented as a grand plan of Love, and the Nymphs and Pan help the couple in trouble; Longus dedicates his work to all three. In book 3 Daphnis is sexually initiated by an older city woman, Lycaenion, but only after eluding further admirers and discovering their aristocratic urban origins do Daphnis and Chloe return from their taste of Mytilene to a country wedding and a life in which their children too will be shepherds. Like the countryside and seasons to which they respond and the incidents which catalyse change, the couple's developing sexual awareness is described in lingering detail. That detail sometimes cloys, the careful motivation of actions sometimes seems contrived, and the teenagers' sexual naïvety may stretch credibility. The style too can be monotonous, albeit well suited to naïve monologues and pretty ecphrases (descriptions) of rustic scenes and seasons. But the Thucydidean narrative (see THUCYDIDES) of war between Mytilene and Methymna brings variety, and well-educated readers could enjoy recognizing the many allusions to earlier texts, especially to that Hellenistic pastoral poetry which Longus is crossing with the prose tradition of the novel. Despite the preface's claim, the text is written for entertainment rather than to instruct readers in love or allegorically (as argued by R. Merkelbach, Dier Hirten des Dionysos (1988) in the Dionysiac mysteries.

Among the Greek novelists Longus vies with Heliodorus for the palm. Readers can admire vivid and convincing detail while aware that they need not be convinced, and, as with Achilles Tatius, Longus' description of physical attractions, bodies, and swelling emotions has attracted more than it has repelled (the latter included Wilamowitz, the former, Goethe, who in his Gespräche mit Eckermann recommended reading Daphnis and Chloe once a year). Since Amyot's French translation (1559) some 500 translations into modern languages and editions have appeared. In the 18th and early 19th cents. Longus influenced Bernadin de St Pierre (Paul et Virginie) and S. Gessner's pastoral idylls in rhythmical prose. Illustrators have been numerous and often distinguished, including Corot, Maillol, Chagall, though many know the story only from Ravel's ballet score (1912).

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Subjects: Classical Studies.


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