Scholia Reviews 3 (1994): 11

James Tatum (ed.), The Search for the Ancient Novel. Baltimore and London: John Hopkins University Press, 1994. Pp. xvi + 463. ISBN 0-8018-4621-8. UK£20.50.

John Hilton
University of Natal, Durban

In 1957 a famous study of the rise of the novel by Ian Watt argued that this literary form first came into existence during the Industrial Revolution in eighteenth century England and was different in kind from ancient prose fiction.(1) Watt argued that the eighteenth century novel broke with the tradition of ancient fiction in a number of ways; by not using ‘timeless stories to mirror the unchanging moral verities’ (p. 21), by avoiding coincidence as an explanation for the action of the plot in favour of consistently establishing the causal connection between past experience and present action (p. 21), by eschewing rhetoric and stylistic euphuism (p. 28) and by orienting the total literary structure towards formal realism (p. 33). In his introduction Watt admits that he glossed over the earlier traditions of fiction (p. 7) and these generalisations about the ancient Greek novel now look increasingly pale and insubstantial in the light of recent studies of the genre. In 1990 a similar work complained that the inclusion of classical and eastern prose fiction in the definition of the novel is pedantic, trivial, self-interested and confusing.(2) The present collection of articles refutes such charges by revealing strong lines of connection between Heliodorus and Tasso; Helidorus, Richardson and Burney; Apuleius and Cervantes; Antonius Diogenes, Cervantes and Rabelais; Apuleius and Chre/tien de Troyes; ancient and modern Greek fiction; and Longus and Margery Hilton. Attempts to Balkanise the genre on the basis of language and culture simply ignore the clear evidence of generic continuity between the ancient and the modern novel.

A further difficulty lies beyond the question of continuity. What exactly _was_ the ancient novel? The term itself is an oxymoron, as the editor of this collection acutely observes (p. 3) and notoriously difficult to define. It is, of course, modern, since the ancients did not have a name for the genre. Selden’s valuable essay (‘Genre of Genre’, pp. 39-64) side-steps the question by referrring to Todorov’s view that genres exist if readers think that they exist (p. 45 and n. 62).(3) Selden aptly draws out the consequence of this point of view–that the discussion ceases to be concerned with literary form and shifts into the domain of the sociology of fiction. Selden’s own answer to the question of the definition of the genre derives from a rhetoric trope, syllepsis or ‘double-directedness’, in which two divergent codes are deployed by the author simultaneously (p. 49). In support of his argument Selden invokes the late Jack Winkler’s now celebrated reading of Apuleius.(4) Such an approach works very well for the North-African writer but can hardly be used to characterise the genre as a whole. The Aethiopica of Heliodorus is one example of a romance whose plot unravels in a linear rather than a circular direction.(5) The linearityÔ an ideological purpose.(6) Winkler’s own contribution (‘The Invention of Romance’, pp. 23-38) views the genre from a cultural perspective. Romance, for Winkler, is ‘the elaboration of the period between initial desire and final consummation’ (p. 28) and to understand romance the reader must ‘understand how, when, and why these two spheres of activity–call them gamos and eros–came to be defined together’ (p. 28). This leads Winkler into a wide-ranging and eclectic pursuit of evidence from Aristomachus of Colophon to Walt Disney for the ideal of romantic marriage, which turns out to be, in his view, ‘a resident alien in Greek culture, a literary form born in and (presumably) appropriate to the social forms of Near Eastern culture, and which has (sic) been Hellenized in the wake of Alexander’s conquests’ (p. 35).(7) The diversity of the approaches of Selden and Winkler is an indication that there is no critical consensus on the question of typology.

The title of this collection of twenty-four articles from the ninety given at the 1989 Dartmouth conference on The Ancient Novel: Classical Paradigms and Modern Perspectives requires a very broad interpretation. In addition to critical studies of the genre, there are pieces on the novels themselves, their nachleben, their readership, their realism, and their religious and literary nature. The wide variety of interests reflected in these articles is an indication of how popular the novels have now become with scholars from many different disciplines.(8) The centrifugal expansion of enquiry from the novels themselves to their historical, social and cultural context and their reception in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, is a consequence of energetic growth in this area of classical scholarship, which is also shown by the large number of recent publications on the ancient novel. On a more negative note, substantive readings of the novels themselves are restricted to short discussions by B.P. Reardon (‘Mu=thos ou) lo/gos: Longus’s Lesbian Pastorals’, pp. 135-147), Froma Zeitlin (‘Gardens of Desire in Longus’s Daphnis and Chloe: Nature, Art and Imitation’, pp. 148-170), David Konstan (‘Apollonius, King of Tyre and the Greek Novel’, pp. 173-182) and John Bodel (‘Trimalchio’s Underworld’, pp. 237-259). It is, however, rather a merit of this collection (particularly in view of the problem of typology discussed above) that the scope of the term ‘ancient novel’ has been widened to include inter alia the Acts of Peter, Dictys of Crete and the Byzantine romances. Of the articles which do focus on the novels both Konstan’s and Zeitlin’s articles have since been published elsewhere (as have other contributions to the collection). To some extent this is inevitable in a publication of this kind, though the proportion of such pieces is quite high in this case.

The editor has tried to impose some order on this medley of disparate scholarship by dividing the articles into eight categories. On examination, however, these turn out to be rather arbitrary. For example, the categories ‘Remembering and Revising’ and ‘Pursuing the Idea of Ancient Fiction’ are both concerned with the afterlife of the novels (Diana de Armas Wilson’s discussion [‘Homage to Apuleius: Cervantes’ Avenging Psyche’, pp. 88-100] is assigned to the first category butÔ and Enide’, pp. 347-369] in put into the second). Some categories, such as ‘Theorizing Ancient Fiction’ and ‘Romance at a Critical Distance’ are thinly represented (each consists of only two articles). Others, such as ‘The Real World’ and ‘Fictions Sacred and Profane’ are heterogeneous in the extreme (in the first case, the discussion ranges from Geoffrey Arnott’s rather eccentric study [‘Longus, Natural History, and Realism’, pp. 199-215] to Brigitte Egger’s sociological analysis [‘Women and Marriage in the Greek Novels: The Boundaries of Romance’, pp. 260-280]; the second category includes ‘Novel and Aretalogy’ (pp. 283-295) by Reinhold Merkelbach and ‘A Legacy of the Alexander Romance in Arab writings: Al-Iskandar, Founder of Alexandria’ (pp. 323-343) by Faustina Doufikar-Aerts).

Despite these cosmetic blemishes this collection contains much that will be of value and interest to scholars, students and readers of ancient fiction. For example, the collection contains important studies of the readership of the genre. Susan Stephens’ piece (‘Who Read Ancient Novels’, pp. 405-418), taken together with Ewen Bowie’s more comprehensive chapter, (‘The Readership of Greek Novels in the Ancient World’, pp. 435-459) call into question theories that hold that young people, women, devotees of religious cults or the bourgeoisie read the ancient novels. Instead, these two studies point to the conclusion that the readership was no different in kind from the readership of other classical literary genres, namely the educated e/lite. Ken Dowden (‘The Roman Audience of The Golden Ass’, pp. 419-434) also suggests, rather more tenuously in my view, that Apuleius wrote for an elite, educated audience in Rome rather than for readers in his home province of North Africa.

I have been able to discuss only some aspects of this diverse compendium in this review. The book will provide engrossing reading for readers of the Greek novel, the Roman novel, the early European novel, literary theory and students of Graeco-Roman culture at the time of its slow transition to the medieval age. In the case of this reviewer the editor’s aim in collecting these essays was successfully realised. This reader did enjoy. There will doubtless be many others who will do the same.


(1) Ian Watt, The Rise of the Novel, Berkeley and Los Angeles 1957. The first chapter ‘Realism and the Novel Form’ (pp. 9-34) is especially relevant.

(2) J.P. Hunter, Before Novels: The Cultural Contexts of Eighteenth-Century English Fiction, New York 1990, 7.

(3) T. Todorov, ‘The Origin of Genres’, New Literary History 8 (1976) 162.

(4) J.J. Winkler, Auctor & Actor: A Narratological Reading of Apuleius’s ‘The Golden Ass’, Berkeley and Los Angeles 1985.

Ô Ste/re/otypes grecs d’aventure & d’amour, Leiden 1993, 108-9.

(6) See B.P. Reardon, Courants litte/raires grecs des IIe et IIIe sie\cles apre\s J.-C., Paris 1971, 385. (7) For discussion along similar lines (but with a different conclusion) see D. Konstan, Sexual Symmetry: Love in the Ancient Novel and Related Genres, Princeton 1993. (8) See E.L. Bowie & S.J. Harrison, ‘The Romance of the Novel’, JHS 113 (1993) 159-178.