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Stephen J. Harrison

Pyramus and Thisbe are the hero and heroine of a love story mainly known from Ovid, Met., 4. 55–165. They were next-door neighbours in Babylon, and, as their parents would not let them marry, they talked with each other through a crack in the party wall between the houses. Finally, they arranged to meet at Ninus’s tomb. There Thisbe was frightened by a lion coming from its kill; she dropped her cloak as she ran and the lion mauled it. Pyramus, finding the bloodstained cloak and supposing Thisbe dead, killed himself; she returned, found his body, and followed his example. Their blood stained a mulberry tree, whose fruit has ever since been black when ripe, in sign of mourning for them. The story is likely to be derived to some degree from Hellenistic sources, according to which the two lovers may have been transformed into a river and a stream, and can be linked with the eastern Mediterranean and the river Pyramus in Cilicia. Ovid’s narrative, told by the daughters of Minyas who show stereotypically ‘feminine’ romantic interests in Roman terms, may draw on a lost Greek novelistic source, as well as taking elements from the plots of new comedy (young neighbours in love). Ovid’s narrative is highly popular in art, especially in Pompeian wall paintings; it is notably picked up by Shakespeare in the 1590s, in comic form as the subject of the parodic play of the rude mechanicals in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and in tragic form in its adaptation in the suicides of the protagonists in Romeo and Juliet.

Article

Reception in historical novels set in ancient Greece and Rome differs fundamentally between the 19th and the 20th/21st centuries. In the 19th century, reception was governed heavily by imperial attitudes and religious controversies, particularly in regard to claims about the true Christian faith under the Roman Empire. Hence, novels set in Rome or the Roman Empire dominated the field. In the 20th century, attitudes to empire and religion were drastically revised in the wake of World War I. The growing authority of academic history in an age of scientific progress was another factor which helped to produce a decline in the reputation of historical fiction. Other changes, however, were more stimulating in nature, including the use of ancient Greece as a setting, more impressive source analysis, the rise of female novelists, different subjects and perspectives, and new social and sexual attitudes. These and other developments lifted the reputation of historical fiction once more.

Article

Heliodorus was the author of the Aethiopica, the latest and longest Greek novel to survive from antiquity. In his work, Heliodorus claims to be a Phoenician from Emesa, but there are good reasons against treating this as an authoritative autobiographical statement. The Aethiopica tells the adventures of Charicleia, the white daughter of the black queen and king of Ethiopia. Her mother abandons her, and she is brought up by foster-fathers in Ethiopia and Delphi. There she falls in love with the young Greek Theagenes, with whom she travels via Egypt to Ethiopia. They are almost sacrificed to the local gods, but Charicleia’s parents eventually recognise her. The protagonists become priests and marry. The novel is a narratologically ambitious work that draws on the structure of the Odyssey (in mediis rebus beginning, embedded heterodiegetic narratives) and takes these devices to a whole new level. A wide range of topics play important roles in the Aethiopica, such as religion, multiculturalism, identity, and epistemology.