Ancient Greek novel

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). There are also numerous fragments[1] 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.[2] The Greek novel as a genre began in the first century CE, and flourished in the first four centuries; it is thus a product of the Roman Empire. 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.

Although the plots of the surviving novels appear to be relatively conventional, based around the fulfilled heterosexual desire of a beautiful and usually virtuous young couple, this impression of uniformity and moralism may be an illusion created by later Christians, who decided which to copy for posterity. Writers now lost such as Lollianus (the author of Phoenician Tales) and Iamblichus seem to have been much more experimental and lurid. Even so, the surviving texts (arguably with the exception of Xenophon's Ephesian romance) show great sophistication in their handling of character, narrative and intertextuality.[3]

Most scholars agree that the five surviving Greek novels constitute a coherent if flexible genre, but no name for this genre is known from antiquity. Contemporary literary critics usually omit the extended prose narratives of antiquity from discussions of the novel. There are no clear distinctions of genre between the five 'romantic' novels and other works of Greek prose fiction, such as Lucian's True Stories, the Alexander romance and the Life of Aesop.

The influence of the novelists is demonstrable on Musaeus' Hero and Leander, the late antique epic by Nonnus titled Dionysiaca, Procopius, the Byzantine novel, and Byzantine historiography in general. Thanks in large part to Jacques Amyot's translations, they were rediscovered in early modern Europe, and played an influential role in the formation of the modern novel, particularly the 'romance' variety.


  1. ^ S.A. Stephens and J.J. Winkler, Ancient Greek Novels: The Fragments (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1995).
  2. ^ T. Hägg and B. Utas, The Virgin and her Lover: Fragments of an Ancient Greek Novel and a Persian Epic Poem (Leiden: Brill, 2003).
  3. ^ See in general G. Schmeling ed. The Novel in the Ancient World, 2nd ed. (Leiden: Brill, 2003) and T. Whitmarsh ed. The Cambridge Companion to the Greek and Roman Novel (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008).


This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.