BMCR 2007.06.44

Commentary on the Historia Apollonii Regis Tyri

, Commentary on the Historia Apollonii Regis Tyri. Master and use copy. Digital master created according to Benchmark for Faithful Digital Reproductions of Monographs and Serials, Version 1. Digital Library Federation, December 2002.. Leiden: Brill, 2007. 1 online resource (xivi, 935 pages).. ISBN 9789047411802. $228.00.

This king unto him took a peer
Who died and left a female heir,
So buxom, blithe, and full of face,
As Heaven had lent her all his grace.

Shakespeare?, Pericles, Prince of Tyre

This large commentary on a small text provides an excellent line-by-line discussion of HA’s fifty-one chapters. It repeats in small chunks both quite different texts in Latin, usually translating only the fuller RA tradition, and then examines textual and narrative topics with rich quotation and discussion of relevant passages in earlier and contemporary, pagan and Christian, Latin and Greek texts. For example, Kortekaas’ [K’s] chapter 30 has 9 lines in RA, 8 lines in RB, and ten pages (451-60) of commentary divided into six sections. K also notices later adaptations or parallels (e.g., Gesta Romanorum #153 (a very full “version”), Gregory of Tours), as well as scholarly discussions of unexpected but relevant topics. This commentary provides the evidence to support K’s principal theses regarding the origin and most faithful presentations of the text(s) of HA. Since K printed the text and all the indexes and bibliography in an earlier volume (see the final bibliography), one needs access to both to profit fully from this commentary.

An idiosyncratic text in a largely unknown genre, or even in an unidentified genre or no (recognized) genre, makes linguistic correction and literary criticism difficult. K conscientiously avoids normalization of orthography and syntax, and leans rather to the vulgar texts, the unclassical word and construction, following the texts of eccentric recensions and subrecensions. Principles of Ciceronian Latin or even mere consistency do not apply. K’s command of the arguably relevant texts, their many instantiations, and of related Christian literature offer this generation an unprecedented collection of historical, codicological (K found a number of these mss. himself), and literary data and comparanda concerning an understandably neglected text. All further work on HA will build on this monumental contribution, whether or not one agrees with K’s most striking theses about the work.

Least among the least read or studied of the arguably “complete” ancient novels must be the now anonymous History of Apollonius, King of Tyre. This disregard was not always the case; “throughout the Middle Ages HA was read as mankind’s favourite novel” (K (2004) 31). Later, in English, Chaucer, Gower, Shakespeare, and T.S. Eliot found the romance of HA useful to think with. Twenty-five pages or so of Latin text have occupied the leisure and energies of several scholars, especially, for the last thirty years, of George Kortekaas and Gareth Schmeling. K’s earlier but truly indispensable companion publication, provides Bibliography, Prolegomena, Text, and even the invaluable Indexes for both volumes. That volume, briefly noticed by this reviewer in CHOICE 42.4 (2004) 42-2047, presents the essential facing-page texts of RA and RB, the two chief manuscript traditions and versions, and a full apparatus. While this review addresses the vast materials collected and analyzed in the 2007 publication, many of K’s justifications and understanding of the HA appear in, and grow out of, the arguments of the 2004 volume. K gives full information ad loc. for articles cited in only one note, but sometimes the reader loses time searching in two books for a full reference (e.g., p. 535: “Betz, p.79 n.2”).

Three main issues have produced both much heat and considerable light: the possibility of a Greek original for the existing Latin texts, the significance of Christian elements in the story, and the transmission of the “text” from its first written version to those that we possess today. Unaligned spectators of the clearly incompatible positions on the HA’s origin and possible religious Tendenz must wonder at the certainty with which the two sides express their mutually exclusive truths.

GREEK ORIGIN? No issue seems more contentious than whether the present Latin texts derive from a Greek original or the story has only ever existed in Latin recordings. Current evidence cannot decide the issue. K belongs to the former school. Klebs (1899), Perry (1967), Schmeling (1996), and Garbugino (2004), inter alios, belong to the latter school. The author would have written the Ur-text in either case sometime between the late second and fifth centuries CE, judging from the late antique Latin and the lamentably few useful chronological Realien.

Perry stated in a lengthy and opinionated appendix (1967: 304) that “the burden of proof must rest with those who assume a Greek original about which nothing is known.” He objected to “special pleading” to explain the Greek origin of a text that employs inorganic and agglutinative techniques familiar in Latin prose literature. The very fragmentary novel of Petronius and the complete novel of Apuleius share these characteristics of disconcerting “illogical” development, though clearly to a lesser degree. The ire and free use of exclamation points remind me of the infamous “odium epigraphicum” shared among disputants arguing the date of the introduction of the three-bar sigma. If there is a longer original, that fact by itself does not require a Greek Vorlage any more than a Latin one. The distressingly fluid text without an author may have found a creative reader who made a long story shorter. Quid multa ? (as the narrator thrice says, perhaps hinting at excisions: 23 RA 9, 33 RA 15, 47 RA 19; but RB never).

Parallels to the “ideal” Greek novels are many, such as the surpassing beauty of young protagonists, love-sickness (here the beautiful princess’s one-sided passion), travel, shipwrecks, pirates, and cataleptic Scheintod, trials (with riddles), dreams, and the spicy brothel. Some phrases are inappropriate in their context such as HA’s use of Latin dos (bride-gift) where a known Greek word for bride price seems once to have lurked. While Hellenic idioms can be hypothesized for an “original” text, the possibility does not force us to stipulate that the original was Greek, especially in the hybridized commercial and literary world of the late eastern Roman Empire. A Greek word or two might have added color to the atmosphere of Antioch, Tyre, Tarsus, Cyrene, etc. (The indexes oddly contain no entry for “Grecisms” although one finds, e.g., apodixis, gymnasium.) Some critics in turn may regard the skeptical argument as “special pleading.” No erotic attachment, however, of the usual Greek type between two separated young heterosexual protagonists propels the plot. Instead of sexual symmetry (in D. Konstan’s phrase), we meet incestuous and generational asymmetry: father Antiochus rapes his only daughter; the fathers Apollonius and Archistrates sacrifice all other concerns for their only children, their chaste, chased daughters. Athenagoras delegates the orphan Tarsia to ply her considerable charms on the recluse Apollonius. (This father figure eventually becomes her husband.) No one yet knows she is Apollonius’ daughter, and her entertainment’s modus operandi clearly does not include copulation, but the narrative promotes the reader’s thoughts of sex and even unwitting, titillating, and “near miss” incest. These fathers have no evident living wives in the plot. Sons are also in short supply—we need at least one to be born for the transmission of noble Apollonius’ collected kingdoms. Then only can the genteel, recessive narrator quickly ring down the curtain (51).

Schmeling’s edition (Teubner 1988) of HA dismisses the Greek chimera for the Historia pristina. He prints three texts sequentially. His 2003 essay recapitulates the now prevailing orthodoxy. This scholarly sect rejects arguments claiming a “Greek origin” and a Greek original. Dismissing Rohde’s thesis, he argues (526-9) that RB derives from “the tradition of RA,” and there never was a Greek original. He points out significant echoes and quotations of Vergil and Ovid (chh. 11-12, 48), intertexts that one does not expect in a Greek work, epitomized or not (530-1). Some phrases work only in Latin such as the pun queror/ quaero (8 RB 6-7; K does not explore this). He also mentions stylistic parallels to Latin inscriptions, the use of Roman monetary units, etc. Roman institutions include proscription, the salutatio, and the presence of women at banquets. These relevant Realien do not, however, adequately prove a Latin origin. Fluid textual traditions for this “open text” render tenuous any conclusion based on one or another piece of evidence, or even any five of them. Homer, at the other, early end of the history of ancient literature, also shows contamination and interpolation over many centuries.

Parallels to the magpie “realistic” Latin novels are also many, such as verse interspersed with prose, quests for restorative justice, and disjointed plots. Its fundamental singularities, however, render the HA sufficiently sui generis to puzzle students of literary forms. Szepessy (1988: 380) proposed a new or otherwise under-attested genre, the “broken family romance.” HA’s penultimate phrase casus suos suorumque gives some internal lift to the idea of a genre describing a family’s disintegration and reintegration. Similarly (external evidence), the family plots of Euripides’ middle and late tragedies and Menander and Diphilus’ middle and new comedies (and their Latin imitators) suggests plots composed of lost children, wide travel, and restored vast fortunes. No other Latin novel (to phrase the matter grandiosely) moves forward so plainly; neither flashbacks nor anticipations vary the pace. No other Latin novel has a third-person, omniscient (however little s/he knows about the hearts and minds of the protagonists), and personality-deficient narrator. We never much like or dislike the chaste, paternal euergetist (10, 32) and protagonist Apollonius. Encolpius and Lucius—odious, ludicrous, and/or greedy for the forbidden—defend their errors of commission and omission. They exhibit roguish characteristics that alienate and endear them to us. Apollonius remains distant, perhaps like those virtuous Christian saints that K sees hovering like angels in the literary context of the text. Like Tarsia, this novel presents itself as an orphan.

K rarely cites Apuleius’ novel as a comparand. Since Klebs made much of it, K does mention Met. 10.2 (the Phaedra-like lovesick stepmother) at 18 RA 13-18, but, on the whole, he minimizes the influence of, and even the parallels to be found in, earlier Latin novels. This weakens his case. On the other hand, he rightly cites parallels in chapter 18 to Chariklea’s love-sickness ( Aeth. 4.7), including some mild mockery of the medical profession.

CHRISTIAN OVERLAY? K believes that the text “has been overrun by Christianisms” (2004: 17). The combination of pagan and Christian elements, Neptune and Diana on the one hand, Biblical quotations and allusions on the other, jerks the first-time reader in puzzling, antithetical directions. As when grappling with Beowulf, another transitional pagan-Christian text originating from oral story telling, critics falter when analyzing the authors’ or tradition’s mentalities, wondering whether the Christian elements and paraphrases are later interpolations in a texte vivante. Idioms, near quotations, phrases, and incidents recall Christian historiography and hagiography. HA, never explicitly Christian, could be early and hesitantly crypto-Christian, or late and triumphantly tolerant of atmospheric paganism. If originally, or in revision, Christian, cui bono ? One ought to be able to find a Christian purpose stated or implied somewhere, if it exists. The parallels with pagan texts and with Biblical and Christian hagiographical texts (differing Christian expressions are sprinkled in both texts), do not determine the direction of the loans (e.g., Panayotakis 2003: 153 on HA’s trials, executions, and martyrdoms).

A proper commentary on HA requires a Classicist’s knowledge of the ancient novels, of paleography and codicology, and a Medievalist’s knowledge of both later Latin and the Christian tradition that seep into this text in various ways. K has devoted his scholarly career to the elucidation of its many enigmas. He presents all the evidence honestly, even when it weakens his case. If one disagrees with K’s interpretation of the Greek elements and idioms in the work and the Biblical and Christian quotations and paraphrases, their comprehensive collection by a believer in a Greek original provides the clearest case that the other-minded critic must refute. K’s presentation of parallels from the Greek novels, the OT and NT, hagiographical texts, and “romantic” Christian ones such as the Clementine Recognitions, provides students of the novel and of late Latin prose with massive documentation—a most valuable tool in an under-explored corner of Latin literature. His citations of recent scholarly literature examining various minutiae helped this reviewer. (I did not notice, however, Szepessy’s interesting 1988 suggestion about HA’s genre, but it may be buried somewhere.) K’s contribution remains impressive and worthy of thanks, whether or not one accepts his thesis of the Greek prehistory (the source before translation) of the present Latin texts or his conviction that the novel is profoundly Christian. If Christian, it is so far from a document ad propagandam fidem that it sees no need to mention that monotheism, even while it freely embraces a pagan setting and gods (Apollo, Diana’s angel [48], etc.).

TRANSMISSION. K argues for an original Greek pagan romance written ca. 250 C.E. near Tarsus in Asia Minor, then a fifth-century Greek Christian redaction, then two Latin versions, in the early sixth century, a longer semi-poetic product, a prose “translation/adaptation” rather than recension, and finally (within fifty years) a shorter, more logical version exhibiting “better” Latin. (In brief (p. 14), HAGr > RGr > RA + RB). Both traditions of HA may be collateral descendants of a common ancestral tradition, oral or textual, or RB may depend on RA, as K believes. The lost RGr may have constituted both a Christian transformation and an epitome. Indeed, the latter change seems clearer than the former. Incoherence argues for epitome more persuasively than analogues in saints’ stories prove dependence on Christian texts, since the influence may have flowed in the other direction, from the romance to composers of saints’ lives.

RB, the later version, now a substantial group of texts, apparently examined both RGr and RA, since it is usually close to but nevertheless “improves” on RA’s Latin and details. K argues forcefully that RB slightly later (within fifty years) revised the logic, language, and prosody of RA, and both were produced near Rome. One hundred and fourteen mss. attest the work’s exceptional subsequent appeal to copyists all over Western Europe. The narrator states that Apollonius deposited two copies ( volumina) of his adventures, one in his own personal library and the other in Diana’s Ephesian temple library (51 RB 26-8). This sphragis, comparable to the pseudo-documentary topos found in Xenophon of Ephesus’s fiction (5.15.2) and the triumvir Antony’s own historical deposit (Plut. Ant. 58), confirms the placement of the present ending of both RA and RB, and unintentionally prophesies the dual transmission. Even the explicits differ!

Any reader of Petronius, Longus, or especially Heliodorus remarks their sophisticated intertextuality, narratorial surprises, and complexity of plot. The HA is naïve, relative to these and to other ancient fictions. Not just faux-naïve but downright clumsy, whatever its unexpected charms. Were it established, or if it be thought, that it was a translation from the Greek, or an epitome of a Greek or Latin text, or a text continuously modified by accretions ( contaminatio) and subtractions up to the ninth century, no significant judgment of the putative original would be possible. No peruser of those big, fat collections in Reader’s Digest Condensed Books or other epitomated texts has any faith in the curtailed product for judgments beyond the plot, for example their texture, rhetoric, dialogue, characterization, psychological insight, complexity, etc. etc. When one judges RA or RB on its own merits, as freestanding texts, narrative ambition seems to have outrun the authors’ resources. Both texts lack adequate motivation, psychological analysis, often even natural or credible connections between incidents. K (2004: 43-6) provides a handy list of non-sequiturs that suggest the need to hypothesize an epitomizing process. Many (but not all; cf. O’Sullivan 1995, neglected here) have said the same of Xenophon’s unsubtle Ephesian novel and its similarly hyperactive (but hypomotivated) plot. HA’s lack of motivation for various characters’ travels and unexpected actions attract similar criticisms and conjectures (concerning earlier versions, audience expectations, and generic constraints). The rather artless narrations are repetitive, deficient in tropes and rhetorical embellishment, and short on irony or any other kind of humor. The irritating riddles, many known from Symphosius’ collection of one hundred (ca. 500 C.E.) and all of them known from at least one other ancient source, sometimes have no acceptable answers or inconsistent answers.

A perusal of one chapter’s comments will give the flavor. Chapter 18 describes Archistrates’ daughter falling in love with Apollonius. HA creatively quotes from Aeneid 4.1-12: verses, words, and symptoms of the vulnera of love-sickness. K quotes analogues in the five major ancient novelists and several ancient physicians’ narratives of young insomniacs languishing in sudden passion (250). RA, anachronistically or proleptically or intratextually, calls the girl regina —activating the Dido paradigm. RB here produces the princess’s putative Greek name, K arguing of course that RB had a Greek text. RB omits Vergil’s pagan phrase, credit genus esse deorum, because it is “cautious in matters of [Christian] faith” (251). K argues for a “Greek substrate” for thought and grammar for many specific phrases (e.g., iuro tibi). He comments on the repeated use of vero as a basic, quite neutral, Late Latin continuative. RB has the princess pretend another, presumably more respectable, illness when lovesick, while RA had her simply lie helplessly sick in bed. K notes that the topos of women’s feigned illness (not “feigned love” as p. 258 twice has it) appears in Christian hagiography (and Latin elegy) for women seeking to escape their sexual duties in marriage. Throughout, K cites parallel passages in both languages that illuminate the lexical range of words and their development of special meanings.

SOME SMALLER PROBLEMS IN HA. Few besides K (2004: 54) have explained to their own satisfaction another narrative infelicity in HA: how and why did Tyrian Apollonius inherit his persecutor Antiochus’ foreign Antiochene kingdom (24). Some merciful or angry god decided to fry to a crisp that criminal with his unfortunate daughter, so no heirs are obvious. But, why does the proscribed outlaw and foreigner get it? K’s esoteric explanation expects that readers recalled the parallel myth of the incestuous Peloponnesian king Oenomaus. Apollonius hears that cum filia sua concumbens, dei fulmine percussus est. K is sure that this single but not singular god is the Christian god of the Greek revision. He presents three parallel passages (326-7), in Greek and translation, that might lead others to a different conclusion. Herodotus’ single, thunderbolt-heaving god strikes down the mighty ( Hist. 7.10, a Persian’s speech). Pausanias (5.20.6) visiting Olympia cites epigraphic (!) evidence on a wooden pillar that “the god [or “God”—in any case, no name but here editor K confidently supplies “Zeus”] also struck with lightning and ‘disappeared’ [incestuous] Oenomaus’ palace.” Finally (in a passage even more oblique for proving any relevant godhead), Heliodorus’ Delphic priest Charikles provides pseudo-historiographical alternatives when explaining his sweet birth-daughter’s wedding-night incineration. The father believes that someone set a fire, or lightning struck her bedchamber ( Aeth. 2.29.4), but he never suggests that a god caused the phenomenon or why one would.

HA contains some intentionally humorous one-liners, like the response (39. 28-9) of the helmsman (RA: gubernator) or cabin boy (RB: iuvenis) being bribed by the wealthy Mytilenean Athenagoras to enter the hold to confront the morose, currently misanthropic Apollonius: “[I’ll do it,] if I can get four limbs for two gold pieces!” Perry and others have believed that Roman stage comedies ( palliatae) lie behind two preposterous “courting” episodes. First, the three feckless suitors request the immediate hand of the young Cyrenian princess, Apollonius’ future wife. Second, Athenagoras and another disappointed customer overhear through a keyhole the virginal Tarsia’s farcical fleecing of her pimp’s customers (19-21, 34-5). This noble woman defending her virtue against all comers in the seedy brothel variously reprises one of Seneca’s weirder novelistic Controversiae argued in a court of law (1.2).

Other studies of HA mentioned in this review:

Garbugino, G. 2004. Enigmi della Historia Apollonii Regis Tyri. Bologna. non vidi.

Klebs, E. 1899. Die Erzählung des Apollonius aus Tyrus. Berlin.

Konstan, D. 1994. Sexual Symmetry. Princeton.

Kortekaas, G. 2004. The Story of Apollonius, King of Tyre, A Study of its Greek Origin and an Edition of the two Oldest Latin Recensions. Leiden. [the companion volume]

O’Sullivan. J.N. 1995. Xenophon of Ephesus: His Compositional Technique and the Birth of the Novel. Berlin.

Panayotakis, Stelios. 2003. “Three Death Scenes in Apollonius of Tyre,” in S. Panayotakis, M. Zimmerman, W. Keulen, edd., The Ancient Novel and Beyond. Leiden.

Perry, B.E. 1967. The Ancient Romances. Berkeley.

Rohde, E. 1960 (4th ed.) Die Griechische Roman und seine Vorläufer. Leipzig.

Schmeling, G., ed. 2003. The Novel in the Ancient World. Leiden.

Szepessy, T. 1988. “The Ancient Family Novel (A typological proposal),” AAAc Sci. Hung. 31 357-65.