Decoding the Ancient Novel

Decoding the Ancient Novel: The Reader and the Role of Description in Heliodorus and Achilles Tatius

Shadi Bartsch
Copyright Date: 1989
Pages: 216
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  • Book Info
    Decoding the Ancient Novel
    Book Description:

    Using a reader-oriented approach, Shadi Bartsch reconsiders the role of detailed descriptive accounts in the ancient Greek novels of Heliodorus and Achilles Tatius and in so doing offers a new view of the genre itself. Bartsch demonstrates that these passages, often misunderstood as mere ornamental devices, form in fact an integral part of the narrative proper, working to activate the audience's awareness of the play of meaning in the story. As the crucial elements in the evolution of a relationship in which the author arouses and then undermines the expectations of his readership, these passages provide the key to a better understanding and interpretation of these two most sophisticated of the ancient Greek romances.

    In many works of the Second Sophistic, descriptions of visual conveyors of meaning--artworks and dreams--signaled the presence of a deeper meaning. This meaning was revealed in the texts themselves through an interpretation furnished by the author. The two novels at hand, however, manipulate this convention of hermeneutic description by playing upon their readers' expectations and luring them into the trap of incorrect exegesis. Employed for different ends in the context of each work, this process has similar implications in both for the relationship between reader and author as it arises out of the former's involvement with the text.

    Originally published in 1989.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-6048-7
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-2)
    Shadi Baitsch
  4. ONE Description and Interpretation in the Second Sophistic
    (pp. 3-39)

    The first four centuries A.D. have bequeathed to us the curiously familiar and yet curiously strange Greek prose romances: works with a precarious position in our literary canons, born moreover of an epoch undistinguished for its literature. These novels seem familiar because they revolve around certain time-honored plot staples—boy-meets-girl, the obstacles to their union, a final happy marriage—and as such evoke enduring aspects of literature and popular culture. But they also appear strange, not only because their patent use of these plot components can seem artless but also because the advance of the plot is frequently interrupted by...

  5. TWO Pictorial Description: Clues, Conventions, Girls, and Gardens
    (pp. 40-79)

    Shortly after the beginning ofLeucippe and Clitophonthe unnamed narrator—ostensibly Achilles Tatius himself—comes by chance upon a painting of the abduction of Europa, which is then described in careful detail.¹ To one side of it is portrayed a luxurious meadow, which borders on the Phoenician sea shown to the other side. Europa’s handmaidens are at the edge of the meadow, gazing out to sea with a mixture of fear and joy; far from the shore the bull is swimming away with a scantily clad Europa on his back, and with Eros leading him on. When our narrator...

  6. THREE Dreams, Oracles, and Oracular Dreams: Misinterpretation and Motivation
    (pp. 80-108)

    In the Second Sophistic, as indeed almost universally, the description of a dream is a conventional device for signaling the presence of a “deep meaning,” and oneirography, like pictorial description, is a process of foretelling the future through the interpretation of surface signs. Thus, Artemidorus in his treatise defines the ởνειρoι ἅλληγοριχοί as “δι’ ἅλλων ἅλλα σημαίνoνεζ” (ed. Pack 1963, 5, 1.2; “signifying certain things through others”), and it is under this rubric that dreams are put to literary use in the works of second-century sophists. Oneirography, like pictorial description, provides both readers and characters with a visual image that...

  7. FOUR Descriptions of Spectacles: The Reader as Audience, the Author as Playwright
    (pp. 109-143)

    It is a striking feature of Heliodorus’sAethiopicathat a large number of descriptive passages depict what can only be called spectacles, macroscopic events in which a few individuals or a group of people form the focus of interest, whether deliberately or not, for an emotive crowd that functions as audience. In fact, an intent to present critical developments in the narrative as spectacles seems to characterize the work, and “the author’s imagination appears to move readily in a world of spectacles: theater, pantomime, circus” (Feuillâtre 1966, 15). Of course, the ecphrasis of spectacleper secannot be pointed to...

  8. FIVE The Other Descriptions: Relation to Narrative and Reader
    (pp. 144-170)

    Heliodorus and Achilles Tatius use descriptions of paintings, dreams, and spectacles for various purposes. In the passages considered thus far, foreshadowing is predominant in descriptions of paintings and dreams, whereas the identification of the readers with the viewers in the text characterizes descriptions of spectacles. Both these uses of description also contain a message to the readers on how to read the work in which they are found. InLeucippe and Clitophon, descriptions of pictures and dreams play with expectation, convention, and hindsight such that the sophisticated readers’ confidence in their ability to read or “decode” is shaken; in the...

  9. SIX The Role of Description
    (pp. 171-178)

    Because the role of description in the ancient romances has long been considered a merely decorative or dilatory one, the often complex relation that exists between these passages and their framing narrative has not been granted the recognition that it merits. CertainlyLeucippe and Clitophonand theAethiopica,read by a reader who dismisses their descriptive elements as mere rhetorical embellishment, can cease to interest. The descriptions function as the key to the works, and to ignore them is to make misjudgment inevitable: to a greater or lesser degree almost all of them are relevant to the text, and in...

  10. Appendix. Summaries of Leucippe and Clitophon and the Aethiopica
    (pp. 179-184)
  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 185-190)
  12. Index Locorum
    (pp. 191-195)
  13. General Index
    (pp. 196-201)