BMCR 2003.01.04

Les personnages du roman grec. In collaboration with Christine Hunzinger and Dimitri Kasprzyk. Collection de la Maison de l’Orient 29, Litt. 7

, , Les personnages du roman grec : actes du colloque de Tours, 18-20 novembre 1999. Collection de la Maison de l'Orient méditerranéen, Série littéraire et philosophique ; 7. Lyons: Maison de l'Orient méditerranéen-Jean Pouillon, 2001. 460 p. : ill., couv. ill. ; 25 cm.. ISBN 2903264228

This massive volume collects the papers of a conference held in Tours, in November 1999, on the subject of personnages in the Greek novel. This is a promising subject for a conference, but this volume as a whole is patchy. There are, for sure, some good pieces here: the contributions by (e.g.) Kaspryzk and Labarthe-Postel are excellent, and there are other creditable contributions. Overall, however, this volume has the all-too-familiar feel of hastily press-ganged and hastily pressed conference proceedings.

This is a mammoth review: I have devoted a paragraph to each of the 28 chapters. Hardy specialists may want to read what I have to say about the individual pieces; indeed, I hope they do, since there are certainly some important discussions here. But I begin with some general comments about the volume as a whole.

The chapters vary in focus: not all address the question of personnages, and of those that do some do so in a rather tangential manner. Some, indeed some have no relation to the Greek novel at all. Why did the editors not insist on a sharper focus to the volume? The quality of the pieces also varies greatly: some are serious research pieces, others are chatty and aleatory, as though unchanged since the oral delivery. Surely novel studies have reached the stage where editors can raise the quality threshold? It does a disservice to both readers and contributors alike to produce a volume as uneven as this.

Readers of English, German and Italian scholarship on the novel will also find much material here frustratingly otiose. Some — though by no means all — of the contributions misdirect their energies to the reinvention of the wheel, often less ergonomically. What is one to make of, for example, a chapter on the narratology of (among other texts) Apuleius that shows no awareness of Winkler’s Auctor & actor 1 (Puccini-Delbey)? Or a discussion of Jason as a prototype of the novel that does not address Heiserman’s The novel before the novel 2 (Cusset)? Other examples could be cited; the particular frustration with these two examples is that in other respects they are both promising contributions.

An overall intellectual ‘direction’ is hard to establish, but two trends are salient. First, as with most areas of classical literature, there is a heavy weighting towards reception (11 out of the 28 chapters). Second, many contributors adopt a strongly synchronic perspective, attempting a taxonomy of ‘the novelistic’. This synchronism may perhaps be a structuralist hangover, or it may reflect the influence of Françoise Létoublon’s Les lieux communs du roman : stéréotypes grecs d’aventure et d’amour,3 or both. Two of the most interesting (albeit inconsequential) contributions, those of Molinié and Daude, approach the novels with a view to constructing semiological typologies of a neo-Barthesian cast. Too many contributors, however, assume that ‘novelistic’ is a monolithic category, whatever period is under discussion. Thus, for example, Billault’s chapter compares the Ninus romance with the (later) Chaereas & Callirhoe, implicitly presenting the latter as a norm against which to measure the former. There are, more particularly, several discussions of later texts (Wolff, Calvet-Sébasti, Berranger-Auserve, Laurence) that fail to explain any precise relationship between the text under discussion and the novelistic paradigm. Surely we cannot take any genre, least of all one so labile and elusive as the novel, as self-evident?

Completists will want to buy this; others are likely to find better value for money elsewhere.

1) B. Pouderon, ‘Introduction’

A brief and descriptive account of the volume and its origins. Little to note whether for praise or blame, except the peculiar ascription of the editing of The search for the ancient novel (Baltimore, 1994) to Simon Swain, and (conversely) Oxford readings in the Greek novel (Oxford, 1999) to Jim Tatum.

2) G. Molinié, ‘Le roman grec: perspectives sémio-narratives’

This chapter represents the strongest attempt in the whole volume to theorise ‘character’. It proposes a ‘semionarrative’ approach, which is to say it presents a call to a general typology of the characters in the novels. The argument is intriguing. M. claims that the novel as a genre is defined by the specific tension between two ‘invariant’ impulses, the ethico-pathetic (what we might call the ‘affective’ motifs, typified by desire and lamentation), which yield a sense of fixity and repetition, and the narrative, which responds to the fluidity of situation. But the chapter is entirely abstract and programmatic — and indeed only 5 pages long — and its tantalising proposals are not worked out in any detail.

3) B.P. Reardon, ‘Callirhoé et ses soeurs’

R.’s discussion addresses the centrality of women to the novels. It is leisurely and genial, suggesting minimal revision since the oral performance. There is no allusion to any scholarship published since 1967 (other than editions of fragments), so the sophisticated arguments proposed by Brigitte Egger arguing for a female readership are not addressed, nor is any of the ever-growing bibliography on the history of sexuality.4 R.’s claim is at one level incontrovertible (the narrative centrality of women is something new in the novels); at another level wholly unsatisfactory (the label ‘sentimental’ does not get us very far, nor does the concluding observation that Greek men were frightened of women); and at another again patronising (there is no natural link between women, emotion and vulnerability (p. 24)).

4) S. Dubel, ‘Le beauté romanesque, ou le refus du portrait dans le roman grecque de l’époque impériale’

D. treats the peculiar unwillingness of the novelists to describe their protagonists. Her knowledge of the texts is exemplary, and she is able to explore her topic with subtlety and authority. The contrast between the protagonists and the (often heavily) individuated lesser figures is illuminating and convincing. D.’s (brief) conclusion is that the hero and heroine are presented in terms primarily of their effect upon others, ‘comme si le détail particulier entraînait nécessairement une dégradation de l’idéal’ (p. 57). If this chapter has a fault, it is the lack of wider contextualisation for the phenomenon, which can be paralleled in other contemporary texts (e.g. Lycinus in Lucian’s Imagines resorts to comparing fragments of statuary); and, concomitantly, the broader implications of the conclusion are not developed. How and why are the lovers ‘idealised’? But overall this is a solid and useful chapter.

5) D. van Mal-Maeder, ‘Déclamations et romans: la double vie des personnages romanesque. Le père, le fils, et la marâtre assassine’

This chapter argues for narrative and character links between the novels and the declamatory tradition, focusing particularly upon the story of Cnemon in Heliodorus and Apuleius 10, on the one hand, and the murderous stepmother topos in oratory, on the other. Van M.-M. proceeds to show how the topoi are adapted to their new circumstances: the characters are individuated, named, and given a narrative dynamism of their own. This is satisfactory as far as it goes.

6) J. Alaux & F. Létoublon, ‘La nourrice et le pédagogue’

This chapter explores the symbolic and narrative roles of adults who nurture children who are not their own. Nurses and paidagôgoi have a rich literary history going back to tragedy and the Odyssey; A. & L. show how the novel exploits this material to create liminal figures with an idiosyncratic but crucial role in driving or redirecting the narrative. Two important conclusions are drawn. Firstly, the Eurycleia / Cilissa paradigm of the benevolent mother-substitute (which A. & L. present in terms drawn from Melanie Klein) is regendered in the novel: nurses are usually malevolent or destructive (drawing on the nurse in Hippolytus). Secondly, Daphnis & Chloe transfers the nurturing onto animals, in line with its general exaltation of the role of nature. This is a subtle and thought-provoking chapter.

7) G. Puccini-Delbey, ‘Figures du narrateur et du narrataire dans les oeuvres romanesques de Chariton d’Aphrodisias, Achille Tatius et Apulée’

P.-D. addresses the role of narrators and narratees (the conventional, though rather ungainly, English translation of the French narrataire). There is some useful material here, but thirteen pages are not enough to do justice to the treatment of a complex topic in three complex authors. For example, the opening frame of Achilles Tatius is discussed (p. 91), but there is no discussion of the old problem of the apparent dissonance between the beginning and the end of the narrative. Moreover, as I have already indicated, some of this chapter recaps, albeit less fully, discussions that already exist outside of the exclusively Francophone bibliography she cites. Not only is the work of Jack Winkler not cited (either on Apuleius or — more tangentially — on Heliodorus5), but also Shadi Bartsch’s analysis of narrative prognostication in Achilles is neglected (it is most relevant on p. 94).6

8) J.-P. Guez, ‘Pourquoi Théron n’est-il pas amoureux?’

The title of this chapter succinctly states the problem it treats: other novelistic pirates fall for their victims, why not Theron? G.’s answer is that Chariton varies the paradigm because his narrative is differently motivated: he presents Callirhoe as the object of exclusively upper-class affections. Chariton’s approach is contrasted with that of Achilles, who presents all lovers of Leucippe as actual, potential or metaphorical pirates. The novelists are, then, capable of adapting motifs to suit their aims. This conclusion — hardly earth-shattering in itself — is reached via a questionably synchronic construction of novelistic ‘stereotypes’; a diachronic approach (though not without its own problems), on the other hand, would no doubt attack the presumption that the amorous pirate paradigm could have presented itself to (probably) the earliest of our novelists.

9) M.-F. Marein, ‘Les substituts de la Pythie dans le roman grec’

M.’s subject is narrower than her title suggests, treating the theme of prophecy in Heliodorus (with a brief excursus into Antonius Diogenes). She writes with elegance and perception about the various episodes of prophecy: Delphi, dreams, the Egyptian necromancy. Again, however, a wider acquaintance with non-Francophone literature (including Winkler and Bartsch, who both discuss the prognostication episodes, and with contiguous interests) would have made for a stronger and more interesting case. That Heliodorus’ text is dominated by a divine superstructure is indisputable and widely understood; the crucial question is how we might move beyond that position.

10) A. Billault, ‘Les personnages du Roman den Ninos

B. helpfully explores the literary background of the Ninus romance, applying a characteristic sagacity to his search for intertextual resonances. The text emerges as a complex and sophisticated literary artefact. This is an important and convincing piece, if perhaps predictable in its conclusions. The one major drawback is a certain lack of nuance in describing different forms of intertextuality. When we read that Ninus’ status as a returning soldier peut rappeler (p. 133) Menander, it is perhaps easy to supply, according to a more modish formulation, the notion of allusion. But what of texts that are later in time? What is the status of the various similarities that ‘recall’ ( faire penser de three times on pp. 131-3) Chariton? (Incidentally, nowhere is it acknowledged that the Ninus romance is (all but certainly) earlier than all the fully extant novels.) References to Molière (p. 126) and Dante (p. 130) are even further off the scale. There are interesting — if now rather well-worn — theoretical questions to be addressed here about bi-directional intertextuality, but B. does not address them.

11) C. Daude, ‘Le personnage d’Artaxerxès dans le roman de Chariton, Chaeréas et Callirhoe : fiction et histoire’

D.’s chapter is uneven and peculiar. The writing is wonderful, sumptuous and flamboyant but nevertheless lucid and sharp. There are some helpful pointers towards conceptualising the role of historicity in the novels (pp. 137-9; though the diagram on p. 139 is rather mysterious to me). The last 5 pages, however, descend into plot summary, and the ultimate conclusion — that the Persian king Artaxerxes is ideologically polarised against idealised Hellenism — is wholly unremarkable (and pre-empted by Ewen Bowie, not cited here7). Overall, this is a rather disappointing piece from a usually impressive critic.

12) D. Kasprzyk, ‘Théron, pirate, conteur et narrateur dans le roman de Chariton, Chaeréas et Callirhoe

The second of the two chapters devoted to Chariton’s Theron is arguably the best in the volume. Paying close attention to the language that describes Theron, K. shows how he is characterised by intelligence, malign cunning, decisiveness and strategic thinking; he also monopolises much of the text’s narrative energy, propelling Callirhoe towards Dionysius and Chaereas towards Callirhoe. He is, moreover, a narrator of deceptive διηγήματα (1.10.6, 1.12.8; p. 157), culminating in his magnificent Cretan lie (3.4.9; pp. 158-9). This Odyssean note, K. argues, presents him as a warped Doppelgänger of the author, and serves to highlight the novel’s investment in the new category of the fictional. An exemplary fusion of originality, sophistication and detailed reading, both in primary and secondary literature.

13) A. Cheyns, ‘Le dieu Pan et l’expression de la violence dans Daphnis et Chloé

This chapter begins, rather ominously, with the phrase nul ne s’étonnera …; but the somewhat predictable nature of its results are enlivened by some comments of wider significance in conclusion. Its contention is that the representations of Pan can be divided into three categories: protective of Daphnis and Chloe, sexually aggressive (in the included myths), and supportive of the benign mission of Eros. The conclusion (pp. 179-80) argues that this ambiguous representation of Pan bespeaks his status as an intermediary between nature and culture. This is Borgeaud’s position on the god,9 but it also (though this is not stated) accords well with the now widely understood status of nature and culture in Longus.

14) R. Brethes, ‘Clitophon ou une anthologie de l’anti-héros’

This readable and lucid chapter proposes that Achilles’ Clitophon is constructed as an antitype to the established paradigms of epic heroism, qua both actor and narrator. For the most part the argument is well-informed, although Heiserman — who anticipated the argument thus far — is unfortunately not cited (see n.2 for details). But. B. proceeds to propose a more radical position, that Leucippe & Clitophon dramatises a new, and positively valorised, view of the world. The ‘passivity’ of Clitophon as an actor, his carefully focalised narration, his emotional subjectivity: all testify, argues B., to the emergence of an ‘ontological emancipation’ of the individual. This position is close to those of Perry and Reardon (neither of whose key works is cited),9 and the broad-brush historicism feels rather undernuanced now.

15) M. Woronoff, ‘Rapports de pouvoir entre les personnages dans les Éthiopiques’

W. argues that relationships in the Aethiopica are structured by power relations, eventually transcended by the spiritual authority of the gymnosophists. The focus shifts somewhat in the course of the discussion (is the power of beauty the same as political / military power?), and the major point is rather elusive.

16) C. Cusset, ‘Le Jason d’Apollonios de Rhodes: est-il un personnage romanesque?’

C. argues that Apollonius’ Jason, in that he is characterised by eroticism rather then traditional heroism (represented by Heracles), is close to the novelistic paradigm of the hero. This approach to the characterisation of Jason will be (over)familiar to many, and has been ably reassessed by Richard Hunter (not cited here)10; and the assimilation to novelistic heroes has been pre-empted, once again, by Heiserman (not cited; n. 2 for details).

17) A. Farnoux, ‘L’art dans les romans grecs’

The bibliography on artistic description (which many of us still knowingly conspire to misname ecphrasis) in the novels is immense and international; disappointing, then, to find exclusively francophone footnotes in this thin chapter. F. surveys the descriptions of artworks in the novels from an archaeological perspective, listing the preoccupations (illusionism, materials, theatrical motifs and so forth). Few specialists in the novel will learn anything from this. (There is not even any attempt to discuss the theme of personnages.)

18) É. Wolff, ‘Les personnages du roman grec et l’ Historia Apollonii Regis Tyri

This discussion of Apollonius, king of Tyre assumes perhaps too readily its unfamiliarity (‘peu connue’, p. 233) to Hellenists: there is a certain amount of familiar material and otiose recapping here. W.’s principle point is simple and unremarkable: much of this text is ‘dans la tradition du roman grec’ (p. 238, a rather blunt phrase: what form of engagement is imagined?), but the erotic theme is downplayed and the narrative has been crudely Christianised. Another almost entirely francophone bibliography, and again others (notably Schmeling) have been there first.11

19) A.-M. Taisne, ‘À propos du Satyricon (LXXXIX): faut-il jeter la Pierre à Eumolpe?’

Another chapter with little to do with personnages (or indeed — in this case — the Greek novel) and another case where the conclusions are wholly unremarkable: T. offers a stylistic and literary analysis of Eumolpus’ Trojan poem and concludes that it is not very good. Another case where the argument is banal and — not unrelatedly — the bibliography entirely francophone; Cathy Connors’ excellent 1998 book and Froma Zeitlin’s classic article are surely sine quibus non for this topic.12

20) R. Poignault, ‘Les usurpateurs du Quadrige des Tyrans dans l’ Histoire Auguste : des personnages de roman?

This is a well-informed, detailed and sophisticated chapter arguing for a sophisticated intertextuality and ludic fictionality in the Historia Augusta. The Quadrigae tyrannorum, P. claims, consciously manipulates the resources of the novel to invent the new category of mythistoria. Though there are patches where it becomes a rather inconsequential list of resemblances and differences (particularly pp. 257-60), overall this chapter makes a thoughtful and helpful contribution to the study of the novel’s Nachleben.

21) B. Pouderon, ‘Dédoublement et création Romanesque dans le roman pseudo-clementin?’

P.’s own contribution is lively and intelligent, albeit rather difficult for the non-specialist (and, particularly, those unfamiliar with his earlier work) to follow. His argument is that the Pseudo-Clementine Recognitions represents a narrative pattern overlaid with two ideological imperatives, of Judaism and Christianity. This effect is the result of a historical process: the novel began as a Jewish text, the Christian overlay coming later. But the text is doubled at the level of theme as well as textual history: it is fundamentally about twinning and opposites.

22) M.-A. Calvet-Sébasti, ‘Femmes du roman pseudo-clémentin’

Argues that the Pseudo-Clementines present a number of novelistic features, the most glaring omission being the role of women as sexual agents. Women nevertheless surface at crucial junctures in the text: they ‘jouent un rôle théologique sous un déguisement romanesque’ (p. 294). An interesting discussion, though another chapter that fails to come clean about the precise form of engagement with novelistic texts that is to be imagined.

23) D. Berranger-Auserve, ‘Cyprien, personnage romanesque dans La confession de saint Cyprien

Another chapter arguing for novelistic influence on Christian hagiography. According to β The confession of St Cyprian employs novelistic motifs, leading to a historical palimpsest: the ‘real’ Cyprian was overwritten by the novelistic. But B-A’s case for novelistic influence is not especially strong. That the would-be bishop succumbs to temptation in his youth does not make him novelistic, at least in the Greek tradition (even Clitophon hardly commits to a life of vitia, p. 302); nor is the adoption of first-person narrative itself a convincing generic index. The comparison of the love-rival motif is on stronger ground, but even there a subtler articulation of the connection is required than ‘le sens est différent, mais c’est le même thème romanesque’ (p.304). Like other contributors to this volume, B-A is content with contingency (‘le rapport’, p 304; ‘Comme un héros romaneque …’, p. 305; ‘font penser de’, 306), as a substitute for any precise description of the intertextual process.

24) P. Laurence, ‘Gérontios et la Vie de sainte Mélanie : hagiographie et roman’

This chapter is of a different order of scholarliness from those preceding: for a start, it packs 143 footnotes into 18 pages, with an impressive range of primary and (multilingual) secondary sources. Even so the gains are limited. The chapter consists of a straightforward comparison of Chaereas & Callirhoe and The life of Melania; L. concludes that a development can be traced between the earlier and the later text, so that spiritual values have replaced mundane, and women have a new freedom. Again, there is no precision in relating the two texts: why compare these two texts? Is there a special relationship between them?

25) C. Jouanno, ‘Les jeunes filles dans le roman byzantin du XIIe siècle’

In the case of the Byzantine novels, on the other hand, strong intertextual relationships can (of course) be traced. J. shows with exemplary lucidity how the Byzantine novels adapt the figures of novelistic parthenoi to express the new social conditions of the 12th century. This is a sophisticated treatment, dealing effectively with both cultural practice and sophisticated literary tropes such as doubling (pp. 338-9) and faux-semblance (pp. 342-4). It would have benefited from engagement with Joan Burton’s work on the same topic,13 which however may well have appeared too late for inclusion in an already full bibliography.

26) J. Labarthe-Postel, ‘Hommes et dieux dans les ekphraseis des romans byzantins du temps de Commène’

Little here to do with personnages, but never mind: this is one of the highlights of the volume. This chapter considers how the Byzantine novelists exploit the traditional novelistic figure that moderns tend to call ekphrasis for their own devices. L-P writes with purpose and direction, pointing to the background of iconoclasm and relic worship (pp. 350-1) and showing wonderfully how the novelists exploit geometry, colours and moral allegory; how they bid for the cultural superiority of Byzantium over the western empire; how they exploit intertextuality as a form of literary catasterism. This really is an excellent piece; my scanty summary does it no justice.

27) M. Lassiothiotakis, ‘Achille et Digène: réflexions sue la fonction de quelques épisodes et motifs acritiques dans l’Achilléide’

This chapter takes on the difficult question of Akritic themes in the mediaeval Achilleid. It is a well-informed and full discussion of the topic, the competence of which I cannot fully judge. In brief, the argument is that the novelistic Achilleid takes onboard the Akritic themes of betrayal and abandonment, to the extent that it becomes an ‘anti-novel’.

28) H.-A. Théologitis, ‘Digénis Akritas et la littérature Byzantine: problèmes et approches’

This final chapter of the volume addresses Digenis Akritis soi-même. As with the previous chapter, it is equally prodigiously learned and difficult for the outsider to judge. The argument is that Digenis Akritis dramatises a responsive form of heroism, developed and adapted from existing literary models. It is somewhat obfuscated by an overcommitment to matters of (rather monolithically defined) genre: questions such as ‘est-ce que Digénis Akritas est vraiment une épopéee?’ (p. 400) are bound to frustrate; and, indeed, Th. has no ‘réponses adéquates’ (p. 401).


1. J.J. Winkler, Auctor and actor: A narratological reading of Apuleius’ The Golden Ass (Berkeley, 1985); also ‘The mendacity of Kalasiris and the narrative strategy of Heliodoros’ Aithiopika‘, YCS 27 (1982), 93-158, repr. in S. Swain ed. Oxford readings in the Greek novel (Oxford, 1999), 286-350.

2. A. Heiserman, The novel before the novel (Chicago, 1977).

3. F. Létoublon, Les lieux communs du roman: stéréotypes grecs d’aventure et d’amour (Leiden, 1993).

4. B. Egger, ‘Zu den Frauenrollen im griechischen Roman’, Groningen Colloquia on the Novel 1 (1988): 33-66; ‘Women and marriage in the Greek novels’, in Tatum ed. The search for the ancient novel (Baltimore, 1994): 260-80; D. Konstan, Sexual symmetry: love in the ancient novel and related genres (Princeton, 1994); S. Goldhill, Foucault’s virginity (Cambridge, 1995); K. Cooper, The virgin and the bride: idealized womanhood in late antiquity (Cambridge MA, 1996).

5. See n. 1.

6. S. Bartsch, Decoding the ancient novel: the reader and the role of description in Heliodorus and Achilles Tatius (Princeton, 1989).

7. E.L. Bowie ‘Hellenes and Hellenism in writers of the early Second Sophistic’, in S. Saïd ed. Ἑλληνισμός : quelques jalons pour une histoire de l’identité grec (Leiden, 1991), 183-204.

8. P. Borgeaud, Recherches sur le dieu Pan (Geneva, 1979).

9. B.E. Perry, The ancient romances: a literary-historical account of their origins (Berkeley, 1967); B.P. Reardon The form of Greek romance (Princeton, 1991).

10. R. Hunter, The Argonautica of Apollonius: literary studies (Cambridge, 1993), 8-45.

11. G. Schmeling, ‘ Historia Apollonii regis Tyrii‘, in G. Schmeling ed. The novel in the ancient world (Leiden, 1996): 517-51; ‘The history of Apollonius king of Tyre’, in H. Hofmann ed. Latin fiction: the Latin novel in context (London, 1999): 141-52.

12. C. Connors, Petronius the poet: verse and literary tradition in the Satyricon (Cambridge, 1998); F.I. Zeitlin, ‘ Romanus Petronius : as study of the Troiae halosis and the Bellum civile‘, Latomus 30 (1971): 56-82.

13. J. Burton, ‘Abduction and elopement in the Byzantine novel’, Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Studies 41 (2000): 377-409.