Reflections - Part I - Roman Tales in the Ancient World

© Copyright Vittorio Carvelli 2016

warning: these sections may feature nudity and sexually explicit and violent  text and images
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The novel was not a popular form in the Ancient world.
The mime, the theatre, the Games (of course) were all more popular.
The Romans, like most ancient peoples, were fundamentally gregarious - social.
Solitary reading was a predilection only of the highly educated upper classes.
Only five ancient Greek novels survive complete from antiquity:
Chariton's 'Callirhoe' (mid-1st century), Achilles Tatius' 'Leucippe and Clitophon' (early-2nd century), Longus' 'Daphnis and Chloe' (2nd century), Xenophon of Ephesus' 'Ephesian Tale' (late-2nd century), and Heliodorus of Emesa's 'Aethiopica' '(third century).
Daphnis et Chloé
François-Louis Français Paysage
Δάφνις καὶ Χλόη - (Daphnis and Chloe), is the only known work of the 2nd century AD Greek novelist and romancer Longus. The story is set on the isle of Lesbos during the 2nd century AD, where and when scholars assume the author to have lived. Its style is rhetorical and pastoral; its shepherds and shepherdesses are wholly conventional, but the author imparts human interest to this idealized world. 'Daphnis and Chloe' resembles a modern novel more than does its chief rival among Greek erotic romances, the 'Aethiopica of Heliodorus', which is remarkable more for its plot than for its characterization. Daphnis and Chloe is the story of a boy (Daphnis) and a girl (Chloe), each of whom is exposed at birth along with some identifying tokens. A goatherd named Lamon discovers Daphnis, and a shepherd called Dryas finds Chloe. Each decides to raise the child he finds as his own (adoption theme. Daphnis and Chloe grow up together, herding the flocks for their foster parents. They fall in love but, being naive, do not understand what is happening to them. Philetas, a wise old cowherd, explains to them what love is and tells them that the only cure is kissing. They do this. Eventually, Lycaenion, a woman from the city, educates Daphnis in love-making. Daphnis, however, decides not to test his newly acquired skill on Chloe, because Lycaenion tells Daphnis that Chloe "will scream and cry and lie bleeding heavily [as if murdered]." Throughout the book, Chloe is courted by suitors, two of whom (Dorcon and Lampis) attempt with varying degrees of success to abduct her. She is also carried off by raiders (abduction theme) from a nearby city and saved by the intervention of the God Pan (Theme of the intervention of a God). Meanwhile, Daphnis falls into a pit, gets beaten up, is abducted by pirates (Pirate theme), and is very nearly raped. In the end, Daphnis and Chloe are recognized by their birth parents, get married, and live out their lives in the country. As can be seen, many of the themes of this story, apparently common in ancient literature, make their appearance in 'The Story of Gracchus'.
There are also numerous fragments preserved on papyrus or in quotations, and summaries by the Byzantine bishop Photius. The unattributed 'Metiochus' and 'Parthenope' may be preserved by what appears to be a faithful Persian translation by the poet Unsuri.
Αἰθιοπικά Aethiopica - (The Ethiopian Story) or 'Theagenes and Chariclea'. is an ancient Greek romance or novel. It was written by Heliodorus of Emesa and is his only known work. The Aethiopica is indebted to the works of Homer and Euripides. The title is taken from the fact that the action of the beginning and end of the story takes place in Ethiopia. The work is notable for its rapid succession of events, the variety of its characters, its vivid descriptions of manner, and of scenery, and its simple, elegant writing style. But what has been regarded as most remarkable is that the novel opens in the middle of the story ("in medias res"), and the plot is resolved by having various characters describe their prior adventures in retrospective narratives or dialogues, which eventually tie together. Homer utilized this technique in both his epic poems 'Odyssey' and 'Iliad'. This feature makes the Aethiopica stand out from all the other ancient Greek romances. Chariclea, the daughter of King Hydaspes and Queen Persinna of Ethiopia, was born white because her mother gazed upon a painting of the naked Andromeda just after her rescue by Perseus while Chariclea was being conceived (an instance of the theory of Maternal impression). Fearing accusations of adultery, Persinna gives her baby daughter to the care of Sisimithras, (adoption theme) a gymnosophist, who takes the baby to Egypt and places her in the care of Charicles, a Pythian priest. Chariclea is then taken to Delphi, and made a priestess of Artemis. Theagenes, a noble Thessalian, comes to Delphi and the two fall in love. He runs off with Chariclea with the help of Calasiris, an Egyptian who has been employed by Persinna to find Chariclea. They encounter many perils: pirates,(Pirate theme - again), bandits, and others. The main characters ultimately meet at Meroe at the very moment when Chariclea is about to be sacrificed to the gods by her own father. Her birth is made known, and the lovers are happily married.
Ἐφεσιακά or Τὰ κατὰ Ἄνδειαν καὶ Ἀβρακόμην - (The Ephesian Tale of Anthia and Habrocomes) by Xenophon of Ephesus is an Ancient Greek novel written in the mid-2nd century CE. In the city of Ephesus, Habrocomes, an attractive, cultured, and arrogant young man of 16, and Anthia, an attractive and chaste young woman of 14, fall helplessly in love with each other after briefly meeting at the festival of Artemis. But because each is afraid to reveal this love to the other, they suffer miserably. Their families, in the hopes of curing them, consult the shrine of Apollo at Colophon. The soothsayer predicts that Habrocomes and Anthia will undergo travails involving pirates, tombs, fire, and flood, but their condition will improve. In an effort to avert such evils, the parents arrange that the lovers will quickly be married to each other and then sent to Egypt for their safety. En route to Egypt, Habrocomes and Anthia pledge that if they ever became separated they would remain faithful. When their ship stops at Rhodes, it attracts the attention of a crew of Phoenician pirates (Pirate theme), who plunder it, set it aflame, and take Habrocomes and Anthia captive. The pirates convey them to Tyre. Their captain, Corymbos, falls in love with Habrocomes, and his fellow pirate Euxinos falls in love with Anthia. Corymbos and Euxinos agree to each talk persuasively to the love object of the other, encouraging cooperation. Habrocomes and Anthia both say they need more time to think before deciding. Later Anthia is shipwrecked and captured by robbers and sold to the Cilicians (slavery theme). Some time later, Anthia is sold into slavery for a second time. There is also a homosexual subplot. It ia all somewhat confusing, but very exciting.
Petronius Satyricon
 Trimalchio's Catamite
The Greek novel, as a genre, began in the first century CE, and flourished in the first four centuries; it is thus, ironically, a product of the Roman Empire.
Encolpius and Asciltos
The exact relationship between the Greek novel and the Latin novels of Petronius and Apuleius is debated, but both Roman writers are thought by most scholars to have been aware of and to some extent influenced by the Greek novels.
The 'Satyricon', or 'Satyricon liber' ("The Book of Satyrlike Adventures"), is a Latin work of fiction believed to have been written by Gaius Petronius. The 'Satyricon' is an example of Menippean satire, which is very different from the formal verse satire of Juvenal or Horace. The work contains a mixture of prose and verse (commonly known as prosimetrum); serious and comic elements; and erotic and decadent passages. As with the 'Metamorphoses' (also called 'The Golden Ass') of Apuleius, classical scholars often describe it as a "Roman novel", without necessarily implying continuity with the modern literary form.
The work is narrated by its central figure, Encolpius, a former gladiator. The surviving sections of the novel begin with Encolpius traveling with a companion and former lover named Asciltos, who has joined Encolpius on numerous escapades.
Asciltos and Giton
Encolpius has Giton, a 16 year old slave boy as a sexual partner. Giton, is at his owner's lodging when the story begins. In the first passage preserved, Encolpius is in a Greek town of Puteoli, where he is standing outside a school, railing against the Asiatic style and false taste in literature, which he blames on the prevailing system of declamatory education. His adversary in this debate is Agamemnon, a sophist, who shifts the blame from the teachers to the parents. Encolpius discovers that his companion Asciltos has left and breaks away from Agamemnon when a group of students arrive. Encolpius locates Asciltos, and then Giton, who claims that Asciltos made a sexual attempt on him. After some conflict, the three go to the market, where they are involved in a dispute over stolen property.
Encolpius and Quartilla
Returning to their lodgings, they are confronted by Quartilla, a devotee of Priapus, who condemns their attempts to pry into the cult's secrets. The companions are overpowered by Quartilla and her maids, who overpower and sexually torture them, then provide them with dinner and engage them in further sexual activity. An orgy ensues and the sequence ends with Encolpius and Quartilla exchanging kisses while they spy through a keyhole at Giton fucking a very young virgin girl. 
Trimalchio's Convivium
Trimalchio with one of his Catamites
Trimalchio's 'Convivium' dinner is regarded by classicists as  as emblematic of Menippean satire, takes place a day or two after the beginning of the extant story.
Encolpius and companions are invited, along with Agamemnon, to a dinner at the estate of Trimalchio, a freedman of enormous wealth, who entertains his guests with ostentatious and grotesque extravagance. After preliminaries in the baths and halls, the guests (mostly freedmen) join their host for the dinner. After the dinner, Encolpius returns with his companions to the inn but, having drunk too much wine, passes out while Asciltos takes advantage of the situation and fucks Giton. On the next day, Encolpius wakes to find his lover and Asciltos in bed together naked. Encolpius quarrels with Asciltos and the two agree to part, but Encolpius is shocked when Giton decides to stay with Asciltos. After two or three days spent in separate lodgings sulking and brooding on his revenge, Encolpius goes to a picture gallery, where he meets with an old poet, Eumolpus. The two exchange complaints about their misfortunes, and Eumolpus tells how, when he pursued an affair with a boy in Pergamon while employed as his tutor. Encolpius invites Eumolpus to dinner. As he returns home, Encolpius encounters young Giton, who begs him to take him back as his lover. Encolpius finally forgives him. Eumolpus arrives from the baths and reveals that a man there (evidently Asciltos) was looking for someone called Giton. Encolpius decides not to reveal Giton's identity, but he and the poet fall into rivalry over the boy. This leads to a fight between Eumolpus and the other residents of the insula (apartments), which is broken up by the manager Bargates. Then Asciltos arrives to search for Giton, who hides under a bed at Encolpius' request. Eumolpus threatens to reveal him but after much negotiation ends up reconciled to Encolpius and Giton. In the next scene preserved, Encolpius and his friends board a ship, along with Eumolpus. The ship is wrecked in a storm . Encolpius, Giton and Eumolpus get to shore safely, near Crotona. When the text resumes, the companions have apparently been in Crotona for some time. A maid named Chrysis flirts with Encolpius and brings to him her beautiful mistress Circe, who asks him for sex. However, his attempts are prevented by impotence. Circe and Encolpius exchange letters, and he seeks a cure by sleeping without Giton. When he next meets Circe, she brings with her an elderly enchantress called Proselenos, who attempts a magical cure. Nonetheless, he fails again to make love, as Circe has Chrysis and him flogged. Encolpius is tempted to cut off his penis, but prays to Priapus at his temple for healing. Proselenos and the priestess Oenothea arrive. Oenothea, who is also a sorceress, claims she can provide the cure desired by Encolpius and begins cooking. While the women are temporarily absent, Encolpius is attacked by the temple's sacred geese and kills one of them. Oenothea is horrified, but Encolpius pacifies her with an offer of money. Oenothea tears open the breast of the goose, and uses its liver to foretell Encolpius's future. That accomplished, the priestess reveals a "leather dildo," (scorteum fascinum) and the women apply various irritants to him, which they use to prepare Encolpius for anal penetration. Encolpius flees from Oenothea and her assistants. In the following chapters, Chrysis herself falls in love with Encolpius. At this point the fragments end.
The Metamorphoses of Apuleius ('The Golden Ass' - 'Asinus aureus') - is the only Ancient Roman novel in Latin to survive in its entirety. The protagonist of the novel is called Lucius. At the end of the novel, he is revealed to be from Madaurus, in ancient Algeria, the hometown of Apuleius himself. The plot revolves around the protagonist's curiosity ('curiositas'), and insatiable desire to see and practice magic. While trying to perform a spell to transform into a bird, he is accidentally transformed into an ass. This leads to a long journey, literal and metaphorical, filled with 'inset tales'.
Cupid - (Eros)
© Copyright Zac Sawyer 2016
The most well known 'inset tale' is the 'Story of Cupid and Psyche'. In Book Four, an elderly woman tells the story to comfort the bandits' captives. The story is continued through Books Five and Six. Psyche, the most beautiful woman in the world is envied by her family as well as by Venus. An oracle of Venus demands she be sent to a mountaintop and wed to a murderous beast. Sent by Venus to destroy her, Cupid falls in love and flies her away to his castle. There she is directed to never seek to see the face of her husband, who visits and makes love to her in the dark of night. Eventually, Psyche wishes to see her sisters, who jealously demand she seek to discover the identity of her husband.
Cupid and Psyche
Annie Swynnerton
That night, Psyche discovers her husband is Cupid while he is sleeping, but wakes and scars him with her candle. Infuriated, he flies to heaven and leaves her banished from her castle. In attempted atonement, Psyche seeks the temple of Venus and offers herself as a slave. Venus assigns Psyche four impossible tasks. First, she is commanded to sort through a great hill of mixed grains. In pity, many ants aid her in completing the task. Next, she is commanded to retrieve wool of the dangerous golden sheep. A river god aids Psyche and tells her to gather clumps of wool from thorn bushes nearby. Venus next requests water from a cleft high beyond mortal reach.
An eagle gathers the water for Psyche. Next, Psyche is demanded to seek some beauty from Proserpina, Queen of the Underworld. Attempting to kill herself to reach the underworld, Psyche ascends a great tower and prepares to throw herself down. The tower speaks, and teaches Psyche the way of the underworld. Psyche retrieves the beauty in a box, and, hoping to gain the approval of her husband, opens the box to use a little. She is put into a coma. Cupid rescues her, and begs Jupiter that she may become immortal. Psyche is granted Ambrosia, and the two are forever united. The story is the best-known of those in 'The Golden Ass', and frequently appears or is referenced directly in later literature. Lucius finally finds salvation through the intervention of the goddess Isis, whose cult he joins.
In this story we also find the theme of  'Initiation.

© Copyright Vittorio Carvelli 2016


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