BMCR 2005.10.16

Parthenope: Studies in Ancient Greek Fiction (1969-2004). Edited by Lars Boje Mortensen and Tormod Eide

, , , Parthenope : selected studies in ancient Greek fiction (1969-2004). Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum Press, University of Copenhagen, 2004. 493 pages ; 25 cm. ISBN 8772899077. $58.00.

In Parthenope: Studies in Ancient Greek Fiction, two of Tomas Hägg’s colleagues at the University of Bergen have gathered some of his most influential writings on the Greek novels and related literature. In a brief introductory memoir Hägg traces his career from his early work on Xenophon’s narrative technique to his most recent work on the origins of the novel, recognizing along the way the many scholars who have provided encouragement and cooperation. The comprehensive bibliography accompanying the memoir attests the author’s many accomplishments beyond the limits of this volume, notably in his work on ancient biographical writing and on the use of Greek in Nubia. Sixteen articles follow, one published here for the first time, models of rigorous philological examination in areas ranging from textual criticism to the reception of the novels in later ages. Following the articles, seven reviews voice support for a broad array of scholarly approaches to Greek prose fiction, admiration for scrupulous philological inquiry, and a respect for innovative theories moderated by wariness of fancifully playful interpretations. A postscript written by the editors expresses heartfelt gratitude to the author for the leadership and guidance he has generously given to colleagues and students. The collection as a whole provides for specialists a welcome scholarly complement to Hägg’s widely respected The Novel in Antiquity, first published in English 1983 and still a standard introduction for students and a useful reference for researchers.

Careful analysis of narrative technique forms the basis of Hägg’s argumentation in several chapters throughout the volume, including his important study of the novels’ likely readership, “Orality, literacy, and the readership of the early Greek novel”. Taking issue with those who would restrict the novelists’ intended audience to an intellectual elite, Hägg instead proposes to include both the novelists’ social peers and “people a step or two further down the sociocultural ladder” (p. 118), particularly in the cases of the earlier novelists. Pointing to stylistic and narrative elements characteristic of oral story-telling (e.g., linking formulas and recapitulation), he argues that the early novelists “directed themselves to people who had not yet moved definitely from orality to literacy, i.e., to inexperienced readers, or to listeners” (p. 130). Hägg admits that the surviving novels do show distinct literary pretensions and that they may have found highly educated readers among their audience. But fluent literacy was not a requirement for enjoyment of the novels wherever public or private recitation was available. Narrative technique also figures prominently in Hägg’s influential “The Ephesiaca of Xenophon Ephesius — Original or Epitome?”, first published in German in 1966 and now translated by the author for this volume. Examining one by one the arguments made by K. Bürger in 1892, Hägg finds no compelling internal evidence that Xenophon’s novel originally existed in a longer form. The stylistic unevenness of the narration and inconsistencies in the narrative are more easily attributed to the carelessness and whim of the author and a few errors in the text’s transmission. Rejecting speculation about an incompetent epitomizer, Hägg instead offers several interesting observations on Xenophon’s own narrative practice. For example, a kind of abridgment may have played a role in the composition of the Ephesiaca, as Xenophon borrowed conventional motifs from the more detailed narratives of other authors and condensed them to accord with his own plain style and his interests of the moment. The chapter ends with a survey of relevant epitomes and abridgments, which detects no close parallels to Xenophon’s text. One additional study of narrative technique, an investigation of how Chariton designates characters — whether by name, function, or title — reveals Chariton’s pervasive sensitivity to the distinction between the language of the omniscient narrator and the direct and indirect speech of the characters.

The fragmentary Metiochus and Parthenope, which figures prominently in five chapters and provides the name for the entire collection, yields some of Hägg’s most exciting discoveries and most stimulating discussions. In “The Parthenope Romance Decapitated?”, first published in 1984, Hägg proposes that the martyrdom story of St. Bartanuba/Parthenope is a Christian adaptation of this Greek novel. The Parthenope Romance furnishes not only a set of motifs but the entire framework for the plot of the martyr’s tale. The suitors who threaten the heroine’s devotion to her beloved Metiochus are transformed into suitors who threaten the saint’s devotion to her deity; and novelistic Scheintod, minus the heroine’s miraculous resuscitation, translates into hagiographic martyrdom. Despite the lack of absolute proof in the fragmentary remains, Hägg makes a very compelling case for the connection.

A postscript to this article announces another surprising discovery: the recognition of an eleventh-century Persian romance, Vamiq and ‘Adhra, as a close adaptation of the same Greek novel. A critical edition of the fragments of both works, together with a detailed treatment of the relationship between them, can be found in The Virgin and Her Lover, published by Hägg and his co-discoverer Bo Utas in 2003. The present volume contains three earlier articles arising from the discovery. The first, a review of the principal papyrus fragment of the Greek novel in light of the Persian material, observes how the latter preserves the scene presented in the Greek novel while significantly adapting details. Thus the Persian material facilitates reconstruction of the plot of the Greek novel but offers limited assistance in reconstructing the text of the papyrus. In the next chapter, which surveys various possible forms of reception of Greek fiction in the Near East, Hägg traces a likely route for the transmission of Parthenope to its Persian descendant via an Arabic intermediary. The piece closes by considering stories among the Arabian Nights collection previously identified as derived in part from Greek novels. Particularly intriguing is Hägg’s final speculation, that a frame story for one of these tales, which narrates the search for a story more wonderful than any previously heard, offers a possible model for the transmission of Greek romances to the East. A third article concerns an account of the invention of the lyre preserved only in the Persian fragments but clearly derived from the Greek novel. Departing from the familiar account in the Homeric Hymn to Hermes, the novel’s account features an adult Hermes rather than an infant, and requires the assistance of a mortal, probably Terpander. The origin of this alternate version, Hägg suggests, predates the version found in the Hymn, which may then be understood as an innovative combination of previously distinct elements, joining Hermes’ invention of the lyre with his birth narrative.

Parthenope plays a major role also in the stimulating article ” Callirhoe and Parthenope : the beginnings of the historical novel”. To be categorized as a historical novel, Hägg stipulates, a work must focus on fictional protagonists acting within a reasonably authentic historical setting. The effect of the historical novel, for Hägg, depends upon the consequent blending of historical and personal: “The author introduces private individuals with whom the audience can identify … and makes them personally witness great historical events and figures” (p. 96). Thus Callirhoe is the daughter of the Syracusan general Hermocrates, familiar from Thucydides. And in the recent past lies the historical conflict between Syracuse and Athens. Metiochus and Parthenope also meets the criteria, as the heroine is the daughter of Polycrates of Samos and the hero the son of the younger Miltiades. Heliodorus’ novel, however, lacking identifiable historical figures, cannot be included in this group. Nor can works like Xenophon’s Education of Cyrus and the Alexander Romance, which despite their fictional elements pay no attention to the private experiences of fictional characters. In addition to the charming play of history and fiction Hägg observes in Chariton, I would suggest that there is also a deliberate subordination here of the historical to the fictional, as the love story repeatedly overshadows the historical background.

Much of Hägg’s work shows an interest in links between the novels and the contemporary world, always with the caveat that the novelists were writing neither as nor for historians. A brief survey of epiphanies, including instances in which heroines are misidentified as goddesses, asks to what degree such scenes may reflect actual religious belief, and contrasts the sense of genuine awe that accompanies Callirhoe’s “epiphanies” with the playful artificiality of Eros’ appearance to Philetas recounted in Daphnis and Chloe. A chapter on the naming of the characters in Xenophon’s Ephesiaca includes attention to the occurrence of the novel’s personal names in the contemporary Greek world. Noteworthy here is Hägg’s observance that the anonymity of the figure generally recognized as the praefectus Aegypti departs from Xenophon’s normal practice of giving names to significant actors. While subsequent scholarship (Hägg’s articles was originally published in 1971) might see here an example of the general ambivalence toward Roman authority discernible in contemporary Hellenic literature, Hägg provides a compelling explanation consistent with the logic of the fiction. Another article searches Heliodorus’ text for links between his imaginary, pre-Hellenistic Aethiopia and the historical Nubia. Heliodorus drew primarily from a range of older Greek literary sources and supplemented these freely with his own invention, but Hägg detects a few reflections of the region’s actual customs and history in Heliodorus’ day, which, following Bowersock and others, he views as of the later fourth century. These include the use of the Greek language among the Aethiopian nobility, which has suggestive Nubian parallels in later antiquity; the designation of the Aksumites as allies of Hydaspes rather than subjects, which, as others have noted, recalls the contemporary political dominance of Aksum in the region; and the fictional dispute between Egypt and Ethiopia over emerald mines, which Hägg connects with late fourth-century regional conflicts involving emerald mines. Moving beyond the erotic novels proper to related prose fiction, another article finds evidence for popular Hellenistic attitudes toward slaves and philosophers in the treatment of Aesop and his master Xanthus in the Life of Aesop. Particularly interesting here is Hägg’s attention to Xanthus’ love for his wife, one of the philosopher’s few endearing characteristics, and a noticeable contrast to the misogyny of Aesop. Hardly a stock motif in literary portrayals of philosophers, Xanthus’ affection is in Hägg’s view “potential testimony to actual gender rôles among Hellenistic Greeks” (p. 60).

A final cluster of articles devoted to Apollonius of Tyana begins at yet another intersection of history and fiction. A chapter not previously published traces the metamorphosis of the famed first-century wonder-worker into the chaste philosopher idealized by Philostratus early in the third century, and then into a religious figure rivaling Christ in a pamphlet of Sossianus Hierocles nearly a century later. Included is a useful survey of recent views on the nature and purpose of Philostratus’ work. The subsequent chapter in this section offers notes on Hierocles’ lost pamphlet and on the response this work provoked in Eusebius’ Contra Hieroclem. These include a reconstruction of the pamphlet’s title and a challenge to Eusebius’ authorship of the polemic response. Next, a careful analysis of Photius’ treatment of Philostratus’ Life of Apollonius of Tyana suggests that while Photius may have composed his summaries from memory, as he claims, he nevertheless copied his excerpts directly from manuscripts. A final chapter announces the discovery of four specimen pages for Richard Bentley’s never completed edition of Philostratus.

The editors deserve thanks and congratulations for bringing together so many valuable articles in a single volume, as well as for producing a text virtually free of typographical errors.