BMCR 2022.03.20

Latin poetry in the ancient Greek novels

, Latin poetry in the ancient Greek novels. Oxford classical monographs. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2021. Pp. 416. ISBN 9780192894823. £90.00.

Daniel Jolowicz’s intention is to show that Greek novelists had a good knowledge of Latin poetry and displayed in their works “sophisticated, playful, and occasionally subversive” (326) allusions to the elegists—mostly Ovid, but not only—and to Vergil. The broader purpose of the book is to contribute to the better understanding of the “status and function of Latin poetry in the Greek-speaking world during the first 200 years of Roman rule” (2), an objective well achieved. Three chapters are devoted to Chariton (1: elegiac language; 2: Ovidian letters and the theme of exile; 3: marriage and despair in the Aeneid), three to Achilles Tatius (4: elegiac themes; 5: love in the Aeneid; 6: destruction of the body in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Lucan, and Seneca’s tragedies, mostly Phaedra); and a long chapter is dedicated to Longus and Vergil’s oeuvre (7).

A lengthy introduction details the choice of the novels for the study and explains their homogeneity, despite uncertainty about their dates and the difficulty in defining the literary “genre” of this body of works. It also examines the status of Latin in literary context in the second-century East, a highly contested issue, as Jolowicz is well aware, because of the obsession of first-century literature with classical Greece in its construction of a Greek identity under Roman rule (3-8). Against the prejudice that the Greeks were not at all or not very familiar with Latin literature, he reviews evidence of circulation of Latin poetry in the Empire and claims that citizens who had privileged relations with the Roman power knew Latin literature well and probably made it available in libraries (16-28). In this cultural context, the cumulative weight of parallels in vocabulary, syntax, phrasing and ideas, in specific passages as well as throughout the novels, is convincing enough to say that at least three Greek novelists had read Latin poetry (29-30).

Four types of allusions are distinguished and examined: the stand-alone reference, devoid of interference; a combination of allusions to Latin poetry and to Greek literature of another genre; a reference of a Greek source that is mediated by Latin poetry; and a combination of various Greek and Latin texts on a same trope (30).

Chariton’s treatment of the lover’s complete and exclusive obsession with the loved one, revealed by his use of vocabulary in the semantic fields of totality and exclusion, echoes Greek and Latin love poetry (36-39). His depictions of male characters, however, mirror the expression of jealousy of lovers in Latin elegy: while Chaereas reacts with physical violence at   suspicion of Callirhoe’s infidelity (so Propertius), Dionysios silently fears potential rivals (so Tibullus, 48-53). Jolowicz notes that the happy ending of the novel frames this elegiac material in a “less tragic key” (58).

One point frequently reiterated is the combination of allusions in one passage, one scene, or around one character. To this effect, if Chaereas and Dionysios can be read as elegiac lovers, Chariton also depicts them like heroines abandoned by their lover, Callirhoe; he places the male characters in the position of Ovid’s heroines in the Heroides. Chaereas’s letter to Callirhoe and Callirhoe’s letter to Dionysios both borrow the following conventions of elegiac epistles: context of writing, tears shed during composition, evocation and appeals to memory and, mostly, eroticisation of the material letter as embodiment of the absentee (62-79). As the writer of letters, Callirhoe dons the role of the exiled Ovid, separated from her homeland by a whole (cultural) universe. Her beauty and Ovid’s muse are responsible for  their respective fama and exile (85-89). I could not help wondering, at the close of chapter 2 and given what is said of Chariton’s “less tragic key” at the end of chapter 1: if Callirhoe is the exiled poet, what are we to make of her triumphal return to Syracuse at the end of the novel? Is the poet (or, rather, the poet’s glory), after a stay in the East, returning triumphantly in the West? Given that Longus reflects on the place of Vergil in the development of pastoral literature (see below), couldn’t Chariton have had the same kind of metaliterary view on Ovid?

Chariton’s use of the fourth book of the Aeneid is acknowledged well, but Jolowicz argues that Chariton knew and alluded to the poem to a larger extent, and that he had read it in Latin (92). Books 1, 2 and 3 are undeniably present, for example in apparitions of the “deceased” Chaereas, the memories of loved ones (Callirhoe’s memory of Chaereas and Dido’s memory of Sychaeus), and the presence of an empty monument as a place of mourning (the cenotaph for Chaereas and the monument to Hector built by Andromache). Nonetheless, the bulk of allusions are still to book 4 of the Aeneid, with themes like infidelity to a deceased husband, the presence/absence of a child, funerals and (attempted) suicide. The more interesting part of the third chapter shows that Chariton plays with these numerous allusions to build the character of Callirhoe as a reverse image of Dido: she wants to preserve Chaereas’ memory (instead of forgetting him), she has a child from him (instead of wishing for one, like Dido), she is the one who abandons Dionysios, and the outcome of her story is a happy one (98-107). Meanwhile, Chaereas appears as Dido in his pre-suicide monologue. Thus, Jolowicz argues, Chariton created a love triangle that undermines the epic plot: here, a woman leaves behind two husbands instead of being widowed then abandoned (114-118).

Chapters 4 is, with chapter 7, the longest (respectively 67 and 70 pages) and deservedly so, because Achilles Tatius’ prose is so filled with elegiac elements that some have read in his work an attempt to propose a generic redefinition of the novel (122), a hypothesis to which Jolowicz adheres (188). While the choice of first-person narration is not determined by imitation of the elegy, he argues that the result of a subjective perspective—that of Clitophon—on the object of love is similar to the one in elegiac poetry. Clitophon’s lack of interest in marriage also mobilizes the subversive undertones of elegy (123-128). At least two characters pose as praeceptores amoris, in speeches suffused with echoes from the Ars amatoria, but also from other elegiacs and from Plato (128-159), and the scene of seduction during a banquet combines contextual and lexical allusions to Ovid and Propertius (159-162). The exploration of Achilles Tatius’ treatment of “the eroticization of female fear and tears” (4.9), of “erotic theft” (4.10) and of the famous Ovidian episode of impotence (Am. 3.7; 4.11) completes the demonstration that he is conversant with Latin elegy (163-187). Jolowicz also presses Achilles Tatius’ humour (comedy, pastiche, parody and ironic use of elegy 121, parody 123, 140, parodic limits 178, irony 137-138, 141) and his “systematic dismantling of generic conventions” (179) in a “playful mission of redefining the terms of the novelistic genre” (187), so that Clitophon often “misreads” or misapplies “the Ovidian advice” or allusion (169, 177) with, as a result, a kind of elegia buffa.

Achilles Tatius’ dialogue with the epic genre is no less playful. Homeric quotations and allusions adorn references to adulterous or homoerotic relations (189-190). The novel is also replete with references to the episodes of the Aeneid that have erotic potential (211-220). Clitophon, like Chaereas, plays the part of Dido, as he first resists and eventually gives in to Melite’s plea to consummate their union. Melite herself offers a reversed version of Dido: initially angry with Clitophon’s refusal, she thereafter softens and stages a banquet for the purpose of seduction (191-202). At another level, the description of Leucippe upon her arrival in Tyr uses a simile of reddened ivory to describe her beauty. The simile is borrowed from Homer, where it describes Menelaus’ white skin reddened by blood flowing from a wound. Only in Achilles Tatius and Vergil’s Aeneid, observes Jolowicz, is it applied to feminine beauty (205): in the Latin epic, Lavinia blushes at the mention of her marriage. However, Jolowicz treats a similar instance in Ovid, where Corinna blushes with shame when confronted about her infidelity (207, Am. 2.5.40-42). Because of the Vergilian echo to Lavinia’s flush, he contends that the literary effect of Leucippe’s flushed complexion is possibly a prolepsis of her future marriage to Clitophon. On the other hand, he also argues that Leucippe cumulates several layers of allusions and is a model both of novelistic virginal innocence and of an experienced elegiac puella (202-211). In keeping with the habit of the novelists to combine references, could it be that, in this instance as well, the erotic potential of the Ovidian allusion is exploited for “playful effect” (220) on the epic one, and announces Leucippe’s plea with Clitophon to elope, just as he was coming to take her away?

The chapter dealing with bodily destruction in Achilles Tatius shows Jolowicz’s capacity to explain in a clear argumentation the complicated ramifications of multiple allusions working at the same time. The example of Charicles’ death from a horse fall will suffice to convince, even if I necessarily simplify it. Upon a rash decision from his father, Charicles rushes away on his horse and, when the animal is frightened by a noise and dashes, is projected on a tree. As he falls, Charicles gets entangled in the reins and is trampled by his horse. The episode closely follows Euripides’ Hippolytus, with the exception that the latter survives long enough to reconcile with his father. On the contrary, Charicles’ father is brought to identify the body and laments that his son has died a double death, because he is barely recognizable and is “completely a single wound”. The lament seems to allude both to Seneca’s Phaedra, where Theseus deplores “a double corpse and the twin death” of his wife and his son, and to Ovid’s  Metamorphoses, from whom Achilles Tatius borrows the sentence “the whole man is a single wound”. Moreover, in Ovid and in Vergil’s Aeneid, Hippolytus is restored to life by the science of Aesculapius with the help of Diana, and comes back under the name Virbius. Latin etymology explained the new name as uir bis, “twice a man”. Jolowicz concludes that if Achilles Tatius knew of the etymology of Virbius—and it can be suspected that he did—then the pun on the “double” death of Charicles is richer with allusions to the Latin poetic tradition, than to Greek tragedy (223-235).

The last chapter explores Longus’ engagement with literature, both Greek and Latin, but mostly Vergil’s Eclogues,Georgics and Aeneid. This reviewer was particularly struck by the analysis of Longus’ metaliterary commentary on Vergil’s place in the history of the pastoral genre, after a lengthy and convincing argument for the presence of Vergilian echoes in Longus (262-304). When Philetas orders his son named Tityros—the name being a “persistent avatar for Vergil” (282, also 307)—to fetch his pipes, it is for Daphnis to play on them. Daphnis’ music so delights the master-figure Philetas that he gifts his pipes to the young herdsman. Tityros-Vergil, who could have had a claim to this inheritance, is thus side-lined in the history of the pastoral literature that goes from the master Philetas-Theocritus to the worthy heir Daphnis-Longus (305-309).

Jolowicz also proposes to read political overtones in the novel. The hunting misadventures of the Methymnaeans echo those of the Trojans in Vergil: both lead to the beginning of hostilities between the locals and the outsiders, stoked in one case by the disturbing action of Allecto, whereas, in the pastoral world, order is restored by Pan, who discourages the Methymnaeans from pursuing the “war” (310-315). On the basis of the hypothesis of Longus’ family ties with Theophanes of Mytilene, a close relation of Pompey the Great (255-262), Jolowicz proposes to read this reversal of outcome as a criticism of “the Julian claim to autocracy” celebrated in Vergil’s epic, and as a “pastoralized history in which the Roman Empire never actually happens” (311), since the war is cut short and the attackers-Trojans are sent back home. Additionally in this episode, Daphnis “narrowly escapes” retribution from the Methymnaeans, not unlike the Mytilenians, who, in Thucydides, “narrowly escaped” the death voted by the Athenian assembly. Longus thus balances his criticism of imperialism with a discreet allusion to the historian’s criticism of democracy (318-324).

The book is convincing, well written, and a model of methodology: repeatedly, Jolowicz warns that he does not claim that allusions—especially stand-alone ones—are globally meaningful, but, rather, that they reflect the novelists’ knowledge of Latin poetry and that they often provide a momentary frame of reference for a specific image, scene or character (e.g. 211-212). The book is remarkably well proof-read and completed with a copious and recent bibliography and indices.