Bryn Mawr Classical Review 95.12.26

S. A. Stephens and J. J. Winkler (ed.), Ancient Greek Novels: The Fragments. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1995. Pp. xvi + 541. $59.50. ISBN 0-691-06941-7.

Reviewed by Gerald Sandy, University of British Columbia (

The editors have provided both the specialist and the non-classicist with everything needed safely to navigate through the previously insufficiently charted waters of the scattered, truncated, sometimes misidentified and unidentified remains of ancient Greek novels that have emerged from the sands of Roman imperial Egypt during the past 100 years. They have also included the summaries provided by Photius in the ninth century of Antonius Diogenes' Wonders beyond Thule and Iamblichus' Babylonian Story, the portions of the latter narrative contained in two fifteenth-century manuscripts and a damaged Vatican palimpsest and the numerous short quotations preserved in the Suda that have been assigned with varying degrees of certainty to Iamblichus' novel. The editors present the fragments under two headings: "Part I: Novel Fragments" and "Part II: Ambiguous Fragments." They also provide matter-of-fact translations of all the fragments on facing pages. Appendices include a very useful collection of testimonia and a "Chart of Provenances and Dates."

The General Introduction surveys the qualities of the extant ancient Greek novels -- the "big five," as the editors refer to them -- in order to place the fragments in their literary context. The presentation of each fragment follows a uniform format. The introduction to each fragment attempts to interpret the often obscure activities of the fragment and to reconstruct the plot in which they might have appeared. This is not always easy. For instance, in the fragment entitled Goatherd and the Palace Guards the reconstruction of the plot will vary radically depending on whether the "fresh wound" was suffered by a person or a goat, whether the feminine plural participle in line 7 agrees with a missing noun or pronoun referring to women or nanny-goats and whether the partially preserved verb in line 11 is restored to denote an attack against or the closing up for the night of the fourteen-letter word "of the women's quarters" that the editors have conjecturally restored from the preserved first three letters. The introduction to each fragment is followed by a short description of the scrap of papyrus on which it appears. Information provided here such as the dimensions of the papyrus and of the script and the presence or absence of hiatus is valuable for defining the limits of conjectural restoration.

The editors state that they have been deliberately conservative in reconstructing the fragmentary texts (p. ix). On the few occasions when they appear to deviate from this policy, they signal their conjectural restorations very clearly in the apparatus criticus and the commentary. In column I, lines 6-7 of Metiochos and Parthenope?, for instance, they print in the translation "Parthenope." They and a previous editor have restored the name from its preserved first four Greek letters, which are followed by a badly broken letter restored as epsilon and at the beginning of the next line (7) the letter nu. A lacuna with space for four characters follows this letter. The editors conjecturally assign to this space the last three letters of genitive form of the name "Parthenope." These restorations may not satisfy everyone's notion of "conservative," but they are not unreasonable if the fragment belongs to the romance about Metiochus and Parthenope, which is known from other sources.

The question mark that follows the title is the editors'. It acknowledges that Zimmermann's restoration of the name "Pathenope" and his assignment of the fragment to the romance Metiochus and Parthenope was nothing more than an inspired guess. Since the time of Zimmermann (1935) 372 lines of a Persian poem of the late tenth or early eleventh century that was based on the Greek romance have been published. The Persian poem includes a character named Damchasinos, whose name has been equated with the Greek equivalent "Demoxenos." On this basis the editors propose that the preserved first four letters of that name be supplemented with the unpreserved remaining four letters of the putative Greek equivalent of the Persian name. This does not strike me as conservative, but the editors fully describe every uncertain step that led to their decision to print "Demo[xenos?]."

In the Preface the editors state that they have combined "two normally exclusive modes of scholarship: the edition of texts, and literary interpretation." They have succeeded admirably in accomplishing this. The General Introduction is a model of elegant utility, setting out in only seventeen pages the major issues of interpretation and the contributions made by the various fragments to our understanding of the ancient Greek novel. The introductions to the individual fragments are equally helpful. To cite just one example, the introduction to Antonius Diogenes' novel succeeds more than any other account that I have read in recapturing its literary and structural qualities and in clarifying the complex geographical, historical and philosophical issues that stand in the way of understanding Photius' summary of an extremely convoluted novel.

The General Introduction sometimes gives a misleading impression of the five extant novels. The editors characterize them as a monolith centring "on an erotic pair of high station..., who fall in love at first sight,... undergo a series of harrowing adventures and testings of their faithfulness -- kidnapping, shipwreck, slavery, even marriage to another party -- before being reunited" (p. 4). In fact, two of the so-called "big five" -- Longus' Daphnis and Chloe and Achilles Tatius' novel -- do not fit this mould. I also question whether the parallels set out on pp. 322-3 between Lollianus' fragmentary Phoenicica and an episode in Book 4 of Apuleius' Golden Ass warrant the conclusion that "the two novels must be deliberately interconnected" (p. 8). Their points of contact seem equally understandable as the inevitable similarities to be found in the works of two writers independently basing their fictional accounts on the characteristic behaviour of outlaws -- of art imitating life.

The book is exceptionally well written. The introduction to Nightmare or Necromancy? concludes:

The narrator describes two coincident transitions: his passage from life to death and his immediate realization of the identity of the phantom. At the moment of fading or vanished consciousness, the obscurity surrounding the image is illuminated -- an Aha-Erlebniss (p. 424).
The recognition "on which the rest of the novel must have been built" could not be expressed better than that.

I noticed very few typographical slips, none of which will cause problems. Stephanie West might, however, be surprised that the possessive adjective "his" has been assigned to her (p. 423). Something appears to have gone amiss in the printing of the short "ambiguous fragment" the Inundation. The introduction (p. 452) assigns "the imperative 'Come!'" to column II, line 7, but it actually appears in II. 11. The introduction (ibid.) also confidently refers to the "daughter" in II. 12. However, only five letters of the apparently reconstructed word are preserved, and neither the apparatus criticus nor the commentary sheds any light on the editorial process. The commentary, in fact, remarks only on lines 7 and 19 of column II, which leads me to suppose that a mistake occurred at the printing stage.

It would be altogether inappropriate to end on this fault-finding note. Susan Stephens and the late Jack Winkler have written a splendid book that is a delight to read and will be an indispensable source of information for anyone interested in ancient Greek literature or the history of the novel.