BMCR 2007.04.17

Metaphor and the Ancient Novel. Ancient Narrative Supplementum 4

, , , Metaphor and the ancient novel. Ancient narrative. Supplementum, 4. Groningen: Barkhuis, 2005. 1 online resource (xiii, 281 pages) : illustrations.. ISBN 9789491431395. €60.00.

[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

This book is a collection of papers which together constitute the fourth thematic supplement of the electronic journal Ancient Narrative. The papers were, pre-revision, delivered at the Second Rethymnon International Conference on the Ancient Novel (RICAN 2). While the three earlier supplements focused on space, Petronius’ Satyrica, and the “Bakhtin Circle”, this fourth book explores metaphor in the ancient novel.

In “Metaphor, Gender and the Ancient Greek Novel”, Helen Morales explores the ‘drama of metaphor’ (2-8). Using mostly Chariton, Achilles Tatius, and Heliodorus, Morales notices an analogue between the ‘workings’ or ‘activities’ of metaphor, and the plots of ancient novels: each is concerned with ‘exchange’, ‘transfer and displacement’, comparison, as well as the dynamic between the familiar and the foreign (3). Just as metaphor (according to Aristotle and others) negotiates between the every-day and the exotic, so does the novel; in this negotiation, there is a certain admiration of cultural otherness. Morales argues that there is more than analogy at work: the activities of metaphor are acted out in the narrative of the novel.

Morales examines the ‘metaphorics of sex’ (8-15), concentrating on whether novels justify and reproduce, or demand re-evaluation of male dominance. However a sexual event is portrayed, both the events and the metaphors within the events perpetuate, resist, or change gender roles. Thus, woman might be metaphorized as a ship, as food, or she might be presented in a masculine role; in any case the reader is invited to evaluate the significance of that presentation even as the narrative denies an absolute answer. Morales’ paper closes with an exploration of how ancient novels literalize metaphor (15-20). In ‘sophisticated’ Greek novels, everything is a sign; there is excessive signification, what the author calls ‘hypermetaphoricity’ (15).

In “Greek novel and the ritual of life: an exercise in taxonomy”, Ken Dowden explores the relationships between the novel, Homer’s Odyssey, and the rituals of ancient mystery cults. He also traces the history of allegory in order to work towards a new, inclusive taxonomy of interpretation. The novel, the Odyssey, and ritual are all allegoria, and they are all types of language that might “instantiate a sort of passage-rite archetype” (24). That said, the interpretation of, and relationships between these allegories is complicated. Scholars such as Ps.-Herakleitos, Fulgentius, and Merkelbach have provided overly didactic, limiting, and “bald” interpretations. There is, nonetheless, something redeemable here; but a certain softening must happen, and a schema needs to be set up wherein the relationships between the three can be seen (and not trapped). Dowden proposes such a schema (33), and suggests that the novel, the Odyssey, and mystery rites are allegories whose “ultimate referent becomes an ancient world sense of a bios, a choice of direction and identity amidst uncertainty” (34). That bios rests in all of us, and we are compelled to investigate it.

Gareth Schmeling (in “Callirhoe: God-like Beauty and the Making of a Celebrity”) examines Callirhoe’s celebrity status, and claims as a paradigm Helen of Troy. If metaphor is the articulation of some thing, or someone, in a different way, Callirhoe becomes a metaphor of Helen. Schmeling presents the parallels between beauties, and shows how Callirhoe’s celebrity status comes from her likeness to Helen, from Chariton’s presentation of her, and especially from Φήμη. Φήμη is responsible for, because it produces and reproduces the celebrity; it spreads via various media, including story-tellers, graffiti, letters, and paintings. Φήμη (“the story-spreader” 41) is comparable to contemporary mass media.

Schmeling points towards, but could do more with the relationship between celebrity and author, as well as between author and author. He expresses a similarity between Callirhoe and Chariton (37). He also (supra) articulates the similarities between Callirhoe and Helen. It seems to me that the next step would be first to compare Helen and Homer, and then explore the relationship between Homer and Chariton. We might ask (following Schmeling, 45), Do Chariton’s parallels between Callirhoe and Helen encourage the reader to identify parallels between the authors? All four are, after all, wrapped up in beauty, popularity, mass-viewing, and transcendence.

In “The Narrator as Hunter: Longus, Virgil and Theocritus”, Michael Paschalis first shows how the hunter in the prologue of Daphnis and Chloe is a metaphor for the narrator. In the rural locus amoenus, the hunter comes across a sacred grove where his eye is captured and his desire enchanted by paintings. These paintings provide him (now narrator) with writing material. Paschalis then looks at hunters as they are portrayed generally in Longus’ novel, before turning to Vergil and Theocritus. Comparison with Vergil ( Eclogues) is viable since in each, the urban world intrudes upon the countryside, rather than the reverse. In addition, in certain of the Eclogues (2, 6, and 10), we spy urban hunters much like those in Longus’ novel. Such hunters are not, however, spied in Theocritus; instead, what Theocritus (Idyll 7) and Longus have in common is the element of terpsis. Pleasure is linked with desire which in turn is linked to (occasionally) violent possession. Thus, the metaphor of the narrator as hunter is invested in pleasure, desire, and possession of the object.

In “Metaphor in Daphnis and Chloe“, Ewen Bowie provides a taxonomy of metaphors in Longus’ tale. Metaphors fall into one of four groups: (1) terms describing the psychosomatic and social aspects of desire (69-74); (2) terms which ascribe human responses to animals, plants, and inanimate nature, and which ascribe plant-like features to humans (70-78); (3) terms which carry a literal and a metapoetic meaning, the latter calling the reader to be aware of the literariness of the work (78-83); (4) terms which “allude to the world of learning inhabited by writer and reader” (83-84). Metaphors that do not fit into any of the above, Bowie includes in an appendix (84-86). Bowie’s contribution seems unfinished to me. It is as though his taxonomy places the reader on a springboard (ready to dive into the depth of analysis), but there’s no spring. Taxonomies can be helpful, to be sure; but when there are no apparent fruits of the taxonomic project, and when the project doesn’t seem to work very well (the fourth group “may be seen as a sub-species of the third” (68), plus the ‘overspill’ of metaphors that don’t fit), one feels a little under-whelmed. Illo dicto, hopefully Bowie has worked, or will, work on the potential that his article offers, and engage in the analytic grit that his taxonomy invites.

Tim Whitmarsh (“Heliodorus Smiles”) explores the metaphor that starts Heliodorus’ novel. Arguing that metaphor “constitutes a kind of cognitive puzzle” (88) which engages the reader as well as other texts in an inviting yet distancing way, Whitmarsh contemplates how we might approach the significance of the specific metaphor, the ‘smiling day’. He starts with an analysis of the lexical range of διαγελάω, showing that Heliodorus has literary precedents, and that we need to supplement this philological exploration with a contextual one (92). In his broader approach, Whitmarsh uses the theories of Shklovsky (on ostraneniye), Aristotle (on metaphor), Eco (on intertextuality), and Freud (on das Umheimliche). He then explores the sublimity of the sun metaphor, showing that “the smile of daybreak announces the sublime power of Helio(doru)s not only within the narrative cosmos of the text, but also within the very weft of its words: the sun figures, self-reflexively, the power of Heliodorean language as well as theology” (101). Thus, the opening metaphor of the smiling sun (A) demands that the reader ask a series of questions about text and intertext, and (B) constitutes a “meeting-point” whereto issues of authority, culture, text, and intertext are placed, but never fully explained. Such is the beauty and (oft-frustrating) power of the metaphor.

In “And There’s Another Country: Translation as Metaphor in Heliodorus”, Niall Slater explores the ways in which translation and comprehension between languages and cultures (Greek, Egyptian, and Persian) demonstrate cultural identity. Slater shows that language-use in the Ethiopica provides a means of forming social bonds (Thyamis and Charicleia), of insuring exclusion (Arsace and Theagenes), and of enabling recognition (Nausicles and Charicleia). He considers whether Heliodorus might have dreamt of a “universal translatability” (121), whether that be through a fusion of languages, or through not just verbal but visual communication as well, or, perhaps, through one shared language, Greek. Citing examples that highlight the complexities of troubled communication between characters, Slater turns to a particularly interesting example: the ability to speak one language or another, and the significance of language in terms of cultural identity, become complicated when we consider Charicleia and Calasiris. Charicleia was not a “native” Greek; and Calasiris, although he looks Greek, speaks Greek, and shows knowledge of Greek literature, is not actually Greek. Nevertheless, his “translatability from one cultural system to another…is central to the novel’s meaning” (117). As Slater reveals in all of his examples, and states explicitly at the end, Heliodorus seems to play with, and question what it means to be linguistically and culturally “native”.

Richard Hunter, in “‘Philip the Philosopher’ on the Aithiopika of Heliodorus”, examines the ‘lower’ (literal) and ‘higher’ (interpretive) modes of reading as they are conducted both in Heliodorus’ text and by the philosopher Philip. Although ancient novels can be read in literal ways, some novels demand interpretation. Hunter focuses on Heliodorus, since the Aithiopika and its characters (Kalasiris principally) are hermeneutically engaged, and because of the later, parallel concerns of Philip the Philosopher.

Once Philip has acquiesced to his friend’s request that he discuss the virtue of Charikleia with a crowd of philologoi, he presents his reading as Kalasiris does within the story itself, via ‘higher’ modes of interpretation. Having established that ‘higher’ reading is better, Philip provides two ways of ‘intellectual’ reading: by moralizing and by allegorizing, the latter of which is superior. Thus, as Philip progresses in his hermeneutics of reading, he sets up a “hierarchy of interpretation” (which, again, Kalasiris also does). Thus, the novel not only demonstrates different modes of interpretation, it “proceeds up the hierarchy of interpretation to culminate with that known only to the true sophos” (134). Philip shows that the Aithiopika is “an improving work”, not simply an erotic novel to be taken literally. Thus, the texts of Heliodorus and of Philip raise important questions about “the relationship between the work being studied and the hermeneutic tools to be applied to it” (137).

In “Trimalchio: Naming Power,” Judith Perkins explores the ways in which Trimalchio inverts traditional philosophy and metaphysics whose theories on language, materiality, and education both refuse the notion of change, and (thereby) perpetuate and reify social hierarchy. Through puns on names (Carpe, Liber, Corinthus), Trimalchio shows that a change in name does, contrary to Aristotle’s claims, effect a change in essence. Language is more fluid than conventional metaphysicians have claimed. Names change; so do bodies. Conventionally, philosophical schools rejected the material body, and privileged the transcendent mind. Trimalchio, in his discussion of a constipated body, and elsewhere, undoes tradition, and argues for a fluidity to bodies (149).

Trimalchio’s botched-up retelling of myths is not a sign of an ill-educated, pretentious host. Rather, his ‘errors’ might “function to suggest the absurdity of investing so much in empty signifiers” (153); myths were always fictional, and the notion that social hierarchy maintained its hold because of one’s ability to get fiction ‘right’, may have seemed preposterous to Trimalchio. His errors are a means of educational and social criticism, and a way to challenge the status quo. Life to Trimalchio is “a becoming” (157); his words and actions simultaneously celebrate life and challenge the rigid and traditional notion of stasis.

In ” ‘Waves of Emotion’: An Epic Metaphor in Apuleius’ Metamorphoses” Stephen Harrison demonstrates how the epic metaphor of the “waves of passion” is used in pre-Apuleian authors; he then shows how Apuleius uses, and parodies, this metaphor in the Metamorphoses. Examples from Homer as well as from Pindar and the tragedians reveal that waves in Greek are associated with passion (as desire, passionate indecision, a bodily experience, or misfortune). Lucretius, Catullus, Vergil, Ovid, Seneca, and Lucan also use the metaphor of waves at key points of confusion, conflict, and irrational passion. Apuleius does as well. Yet, despite the thematic and linguistic parallels between the Metamorphoses and other texts, the “waves of emotion” in Apuleius are mostly inverted, as Harrison’s well-selected examples show. As for Apuleius’ motivation for adopting and inverting epic waves, Harrison suggests, “the use of this recognisably elevated image in a number of non-elevated contexts underlines the literary ambition of the Metamorphoses in alluding to epic texts, its self-definition as a work of self-consciously lower genre than epic, and its reliance on an elite educated readership to spot and enjoy such entertaining incongruities” (175).

Luca Graverini’s article, “Sweet and Dangerous? A Literary Metaphor ( aures permulcere) in Apuleius’ Prologue”, focuses on a six-word phrase at the start of the novel ( auresque tuas benivolas lepido susurro permulceam, 1.1.1). These words demand interpretation via rhetorical, poetic and philosophical comparison.

In rhetorical criticism, aures permulcere denoted an unlearned speaker. Quintilian argued that there should be nothing in oratory of the ‘singing style’ (which threatens Romanitas and was considered effeminate). Other Roman critics (Seneca and Fronto) argued as much, as did earlier Greek (Aelius Aristides, Demonax) and later Christian (Clemens of Alexandria) writers. Apuleius’ words involved him in a circle of rhetorical criticism that would rank his text as Hellenized and melodic.

Susurrus finds poetic precedent in Vergil ( Eclogues) where the hum of the bees causes Tityrus to fall asleep. This sort of sleep was associated with poetic creativity (bees were associated with the Muses). In Plato ( Phaedrus) the association between noise (cicadas) and sleep is dangerous, since it causes the dozing philosopher to “[neglect] the difference between truth and falsehood” (185). Given the positive and negative associations to susurrus, Graverini asks, should one read the Metamorphoses in a carefree manner or cautiously? Greek epic fuels the remaining discussion, as Graverini explores the parallels between Homeric and Apuleian speakers, all of whom tell stories that are at once enchanting and possibly deceptive. Ultimately, the Metamorphoses is tied simultaneously to prose and poetry, and it aims both to persuade and to enchant (189).

In “A Pivotal Metaphor in Apuleius’ Metamorphoses : Aristomenes’ and Lucius’ Death and Rebirth”, Stavros Frangoulidis interprets Aristomenes’ metaphorical death and rebirth, and shows how this story should be read against the larger narrative of Lucius’ own physical and spiritual death and rebirth.

In Lucius’ first encounter with magic (Pamphile), there are similarities to Aristomenes’ experience, including a death and rebirth of sorts. There are also important distinctions, particularly that Aristomenes escapes the next morning, whereas Lucius faces his ‘trial’. Aristomenes, having learned of the dangerous powers of magic, tells his story to others in order to warn them of sorcery. Lucius does not learn of magical dangers; instead, his curiosity drives him to Fotis, a witch, and he experiences a new sort of death.

Aristomenes’ and Lucius’ experiences, wherein transformation is the negative result of magical dabbling, contrast Lucius’ ultimate encounter and transformation at Kenchreae. This time, with Isis at the transformative fore, the rebirth is a positive renewal for the former ass. Any similarities between this experience and that of Aristomenes prove to be superficial: the metaphor of death and rebirth in Aristomenes’ story is a negative one, showing the dangers of witches, whereas for Lucius it is a positive one, showing the benevolence of the divine.

In “Real and Mimicking Birds in the Metamorphoses of Apuleius”, Paula James investigates the novelist’s use of ‘speaking’ birds, and considers them in light both of other characters within the novel (Psyche and Lucius) and of other Latin literature (Petronius, Persius, and Martial).

Referencing Apuleius Florida 12 and Persius ( Prologue), James shows how the speaking parrot functions as a praiseworthy animal, as one that is linguistically limited, and as a “metaphoric means of insulting literary rivals” (212). In the tale of Cupid and Psyche, there are two speaking birds. The eagle has both rhetorical skill and a persuasive (manipulative) streak. The sea mew reports to Venus the goings on between her son and Psyche; this gossipy gavia recalls the housekeeper’s tale to a listening (but unspeaking) Lucius. Even though Lucius cannot speak, he and the sea mew have something in common: curiosity. Pysche too is curiosa. This common characteristic simultaneously unties and (yet) divides the characters.

Lucius had wanted to become a bird. That he became an ass must have been frustrating: he cannot speak (even a bird can say something!), and that inability prevents him from praising Caesar (which Martial’s parrot does sua sponte), and from defending himself in court. But, in the end, during and after Lucius’ Isiac initiation, he comes back into language (at first qua parrot, mimicking the various rituals), and becomes a famous speaker.

In “Metaphor and the riddle of representation in the Historia Apollonii regis Tyri“, Andrew Laird identifies a complexity about the metaphor that cannot find clarification via Aristotle’s definition of the term: fiction is itself a sort of metaphor; what then are readers to do with metaphors within fiction?

Laird turns to the Historia Apollonii regis Tyri, a text that is all about riddles. Riddles are not ‘lower’ forms of wit: they are oracular and philosophical. As such, they are a type of metaphor, and they raise questions about the notion of representation. Representation is re-presentation, the presentation of something that is no longer present. Through various re-presentations, (mis)understanding takes place: “Different eyes,” shows Laird, “draw different comparisons and make different inferences” (239). Confusion of interpretation has literary precedents (Ovid, Xenophon, Vergil, Apuleius). In the Historia Apollonii, “techniques of leitmotiv, intertextuality, significant repetition of diction, and naming (or the lack of it) are what draw attention to the metaphors of representation in this work” (237). Hence “representation itself is a riddle” (231).

Laird cleverly points out that not only the stories within the narrative, but the text itself presents and re-presents: the text re-presents themes and types from earlier literature. In addition, we should reflect on the ending (in recensions B and C) where we learn that Apollonius made two copies of his text, one for the Temple of Diana, the other for his library collection. Accordingly, the text becomes an offering to the deity that was a principal agent in the narrative; as recipient, she reads a representation of her very self. As for the library copy, the other books housed there were oracular, philosophical and magic. We infer (with our different eyes) that this new addition has found an appropriate space to be shelved, even as it tells stories of the mysteries that constitute the surrounding books.

In “Metaphor and politics in John Barclay’s Argenis“, Catherine Connors examines the ways in which fictional novels are encoded reflections on contemporary politics and religion and how many of those novels present a female character who represents the state. Citing Zabibah wal Mailk and Paul Scott’s The Raj Quartet as examples, Connors focuses on 17th Century John Barclay’s Latin Argenis.

Like the court poet Nicopompos, Barclay argues that a pleasant and entertaining fable is an effective means of encouraging reflection on society. Thus, within an ancient and mythological setting, contemporary issues of race, gender, religion and politics are embedded. Through characters and events, Barclay’s novel permits the author to make veiled comments on, for instance, the current problems of Catholic versus Protestant, and Christian versus Moslem (251). Ovid’s myths of Sicily ( Metamorphoses) constitute one of Barclay’s principal influences. Argenis is a Proserpina figure: threats to her can be read as threats to the king’s power and to his country. The theme of preserving physical integrity is seen also through Polyarchus. Despite setbacks, Polyarchus always recovers, often astonishingly quickly, and so his strong constitution “[dramatizes] the process of recovery from military and political strife that Barclay was so concerned to teach through his fiction” (259). Barclay does not simply advance monarchic rule. Through Radirobanes’ masque, we see Barclay’s promotion of “political harmony” (260), where a “multiplicity of rulers [co-exists] in peace” (262). Ultimately, though, as Connors points out, the novel still “reveals the operations of deep religious and ethnic rifts, conflicts and prejudices that persist today” (271).

Overall, this collection of papers is a very good one. Some contributions are more rigorous (Whitmarsh, Laird, Connors); others are a little less so. I would submit only three minor quibbles. First, of the fifteen papers, eight of them concentrate on but two authors (Heliodorus and Apuleius). Though this may be expected, greater variety would have been helpful. Second, more incense needed to be burnt at the altar of Dactylographia; that way, inconsistencies and pesky typos might have disappeared. (For instance, there is no English translation on 236, though all other Greek and Latin citations are translated; also, the English translation on 219 needs to be tabbed over. Then, the typos: ‘bibiography’ for ‘bibliography’ (47), ‘continue’ for ‘continues’ (87), ‘an’ for ‘a’ (92), ‘here’ for ‘her’ (95), ‘evrything’ for ‘everything’ (136), ‘seeem’ for ‘seem’ (189), ‘stumble’ for ‘stumbles’ (222), ‘Antichus’ for ‘Antiochus’ (227), etc. Plus there is an egregious editing job at 56-57 (“… old Philetas is second only to Pan in playing the syrinx and tells the is second only to Pan in playing the syrinx and tells the tale of Syrinx and Pan” ). Third, some of Graverini’s comments (“Admittedly, I can only offer some weak hints to prove my statement…” (189), and “Going further with such abstract speculations…” (191, footnote 59)) come off not as modest or healthfully self-conscious but as self-depreciative in a way that undermines some otherwise very insightful observations.

Nevertheless, scholars of the ancient novel will certainly find this book worth their while; the contributions are varied, refreshing, and (for the most part) rigorous and thoughtful. But I suspect that the book will appeal to a wider audience as well, and that is because of the ‘metaphor’ theme. The contributors have shown a pleasing and provocative richness and complexity both to the concept of ‘metaphor’ and to its application in ancient literature. In this regard, and as a result, philologists of all literary niches will find new ways of thinking through ancient texts.

Table of Contents

Helen Morales, ‘Metaphor, Gender and the Ancient Greek Novel’, 1-22;

Ken Dowden, ‘Greek novel and the ritual of life: an exercise in taxonomy’, 23-35;

Gareth Schmeling, ‘Callirhoe: God-like Beauty and the Making of a Celebrity’, 36-49;

Michael Paschalis, ‘The Narrator as Hunter: Longus, Virgil and Theocritus’, 50-67;

Ewen Bowie, ‘Metaphor in Daphnis and Chloe‘, 68-86;

Tim Whitmarsh, ‘Heliodorus smiles’, 87-105;

Niall W. Slater, ‘And There’s Another Country: Translation as Metaphor in Heliodorus’, 106-122;

Richard Hunter, ”Philip the Philosopher’ on the Aithiopika of Heliodorus’, 123-139;

Judith Perkins, ‘Trimalchio: Naming Power’ 139-162;

Stephen Harrison, ”Waves of Emotion’: An Epic Metaphor in Apuleius’ Metamorphoses‘, 163-176;

Luca Graverini, ‘Sweet and Dangerous? A Literary Metaphor ( aures permulcere) in Apuleius’ Prologue’, 177-196;

Stavros Frangoulidis, ‘A Pivotal Metaphor in Apuleius’ Metamorphoses : Aristomenes’ and Lucius’ Death and Rebirth’, 197-209;

Paula James, ‘Real and Metaphorical Mimicking Birds in the Metamorphoses of Apuleius’, 210-224;

Andrew Laird, ‘Metaphor and the riddle of representation in the Historia Apollonii regis Tyri‘, 225-244;

Catherine Connors, ‘Metaphor and politics in John Barclay’s Argenis (1621)’, 245-274.