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Abstract and Keywords

The field once known as that of the ‘ancient novel’ evolved into that of ‘prose fiction’ and thence of ‘ancient narrative’, in part as a step towards inclusiveness, but also as a retreat from the anachronism of the term ‘novel’. The extant Latin novels spend more time in the world of ‘slum-realism’ than do the extant Greek novels/romances, and feature an inverted world in which libidinous women, slaves, freedmen, eunuchs, and robbers wield power. Where the ethos of the typical Greek novel/romance is essentially bourgeois, with a return after perilous adventures to a quiet married life amid the elite of one of the cities of the Roman Empire (though without explicit mention of Rome), scandalous adventures in Roman novels either do not lead to a spiritual life outside society. Reading Petronius and Apuleius, one can move imperceptibly from an epic intertext to a scene of sub-literary mime, both of which have contributed to the genre's making. This article looks at ‘Menippean satire’, the Satyricon, narrators, Cupid and Psyche, the History of Apollonius King of Tyre, and ‘novel-like narratives’.

Keywords: Petronius, Apuleius, novels, prose fiction, Menippean satire, Satyricon, narrators, Cupid and Psyche, History of Apollonius, novel-like narratives

‘Novel’ is a highly contested term, particularly when coupled with the word ‘ancient’: no ancient attestation of the category, a problematic relationship to the modern term, a motley collection of texts that fits into no other generic category, uncertainty about direct filiation from antiquity to the present, insistent rejection of categorization by the works themselves. The field once known as ‘ancient novel’ evolved into ‘prose fiction’ and thence to ‘ancient narrative’, in part as a step toward inclusiveness, but also a retreat from the anachronism of ‘novel’.

What are these texts? The Satyricon of Petronius and the Metamorphoses of Apuleius have conventionally been considered the prime, if not only, Roman novels, and felt to be of sufficient length and complexity to qualify for the name ‘novel’. Some would also add the History of Apollonius King of Tyre, though for others it is too late, Greek, Christian, and a romance rather than novel. Other works, Latin translations or recensions of the fictional-historical Alexander Romance or of the comic biography of Aesop, the prose ‘eyewitness’ accounts of the Trojan War by Dictys and Dares, Christian saints’ lives and Apocryphal Acts, are relegated to the ‘fringe’ conveying a sense of generic, religious, and chronological tenuousness as full relatives of the (very few) insider texts.

Certainly, the term ‘ancient novel’ is a convention with no satisfactory parameters, but for those who persist, the least unsatisfactory definitions are those that define it in terms of non-genre or (differently) anti-genre or in opposition to formally recognized and restricted forms, as such definitions recognize and celebrate both its hybridity and potentially oppositional nature. Bakhtin's work on the novel and its prehistory, though of an earlier era and somewhat overused, is still the place to begin, if only because it has shaped our current thinking. ‘Novel’ is defined (p. 478) largely by its opposition to epic: epic is antiquated, fixed, and authoritative, while the novel is new, developing, dialogized, polyphonic, and heteroglot, in contact with contemporary evolving reality and associated with dethroning laughter, with the profane and everyday speech. One may add the ability of the novel to shift across cultural categories and canonical configurations of the world such as gender, class, the Christian-pagan divide, and East vs. West (and I would add animal-human) and to avoid conforming to any one logic or set of expectations (Selden), even to erase the very boundaries between those categories. The once-maligned novel, marked with contempt even in antiquity by Macrobius, who disapprovingly refers to ‘fictional adventures of lovers’, and Julian, ‘fiction in the shape of history’, is triumphantly redeemed, though the definition is still open and vague.

Can we distinguish a Roman form of the novel? For once, the Roman genre does not labour under the weight of a venerable Greek forerunner; Greek and Roman prose fiction develop simultaneously and many Greek works are later than the Roman, though the Greek romance has the appearance of the originary form. What may be an accident of survival leaves the Latin novels looking just as puzzlingly anomalous as the extant Greek romances are predictably similar. The Satyricon baffles readers with its prosimetric form, episodic structure, and scholarly yet naive ego-narrator (not to mention the accident of its fragmentary state), while the Metamorphoses eludes interpretation for some of the same reasons, as well as its unexpected religious ending with the accompanying revelation of the narrator's identity. Even the relatively simple Historia Apollonii begins with a story of incest peripheral to the main narrative, dethrones the romance's central focus on separated lovers, and devotes a long section to riddles. Further, the two major Latin novels share the then-unusual feature of a first-person narrator protagonist, a picaro presenting a confessional narrative from which the author maintains an ironic distance. The extant Latin novels spend more time in the world of ‘slum-realism’ than do the extant Greek novels/romances, and feature an inverted world in which libidinous women, slaves, freedmen, eunuchs, and robbers wield power. Where the ethos of the typical Greek novel/romance is essentially bourgeois, with a return after perilous adventures to a quiet married life amid the elite of one of the cities of the Roman Empire (though without explicit mention of Rome), scandalous adventures in Roman novels either do not end or lead to a spiritual life outside society.

Still, even these distinctions between Greek and Roman should be tempered by what, as usual, we do not know: fragments from Iolaus, Tinuphis, and other lost novels reveal that some unpreserved Greek examples lacked the decorum of the five romances we know and were possibly prosimetric (Barchiesi); what looks like the epitome of Apuleius’ source (the pseudo-Lucianic Onos) was also narrated in the first person, irreverent and sexually explicit, and set in the real world of second-century Greece under Roman rule. Many speculate that the Satyricon, too, was based on a Greek original (Jensson). What surely does distinguish the Latin novel (p. 479) from the Greek, however, is the former's characteristically Latin engagement with Greek and especially Latin intertexts—Virgil, Ovid, Lucan, Seneca, and others.

Those who believe the creationist notion that the novel was conceived ‘on a Tuesday afternoon in July’ (Perry), even in its sensible form—a new genre for a new set of social circumstances, the world of the Empire with its political disengagement, its multiculturalism, and its social upheavals—do not take enough account of the hybridity and ‘impurity’ of prose fiction, particularly the Roman variety, its graftings and its dynamic relationship to the texts it alters and incorporates on the way to becoming itself and evolving. Two straightforward ways of looking at the novel's incorporation of other voices, parody and ornament, both have validity, but are static. Reading Petronius and Apuleius, one can move imperceptibly from an epic intertext to a scene of sub-literary mime, both of which have contributed to the genre's making. The novel does not merely parody epic, but novelizes characters like Dido, borrows the stucture of a hero's travels, creates characters who misunderstand and misrepresent their own status in relation to mythic heroes. The novel is theatrical, not merely linguistically, but in its polyphony, its presentation of dialogue, interchange, and a theatricalization of everyday life. The novel is satiric, not only in the sense that it parodies books and life, but in a literary sense—its chaos is held together by the single point of view of a first-person narrator. The genre absorbs and transforms all these other genres, often self-consciously, like Seneca's bee who flits about from flower to flower (in July?) and spews out a completely different metamorphic substance: honey.

Petronius and Apuleius: Disunity

While the novels of Petronius and Apuleius differ in significant ways, they also present many of the same interpretive enigmas and debates. In the following section they will be treated together. The most prominent feature of these works is surely their episodic and fragmented structure: in both, the central first-person narrative is punctuated by ‘embedded’ tales narrated by others. While sub-narratives are common to ancient prose fiction in general, Petronius and Apuleius outdo the Greek novels with the sheer volume of tales and poems extraneous to the main plot. The fact that Petronius’ book is now fragmentary (perhaps one-tenth of the original?) should not obscure its otherwise disjointed state. Disposing of earlier notions about sloppiness of composition or the frame narratives as a flimsy pretext to tell a string of merely entertaining stories (Perry), we should consider this disjunctiveness a sophisticated narrative strategy expressive of, variously, the disordered state of Rome under the Empire (Zeitlin), the psychological state of the (p. 480) pre-convert (Shumate), a challenge to the notion of any authorized meaning in the text (Winkler), and a play on the pretended orality of a written text.

Thematic approaches to disjunctiveness were and are still popular for both works. Critics in the 1970s and 1980s argued for the unity and consistent seriousness of the Metamorphoses by tracing thematic continuity (of curiositas or Fortuna in particular) running through both the tales and Lucius' adventures; the Actaeon sculptural group in Byrrhaena's atrium (2.4) represents a cautionary tale to Lucius about gazing on what is forbidden; tales of adultery in the later books represent the moral vacuum of a world without Isis. Analyses of recurring and intertwined motifs of death, food, sex, excess, and rhetoric in Petronius, like Arrowsmith's classic ‘Luxury and Death in the Satiricon’, offer the prospect of interpretation minimally affected by the fragmentary state of the text, though interpretation becomes somewhat subjective. Arrowsmith sees the work's obsession with death as an expression of the death of the spirit under the weight of excess and unbridled luxury in the early Empire. Others have read the book's focus on death differently: these characters, but not the society, are dead; or more recently, Trimalchio's obsession with death reflects his own vision of the transition from slavery to freedom as an apotheosis; or the freedman's existence occurs in a social underworld (Bodel).

Most of these thematic readings, fruitful as they are, still take it as a given that a literary text must cohere, rather than that fragmentation is the key to meaning. Zeitlin's 1971 essay ‘Petronius as Paradox’ proposes that the Satyricon is radically anti-classical, intentionally breaks the rules of classical genre theory, and, through its paradoxes, absurdities, and incongruities, ‘expresses a consistent vision of disintegration’ (Zeitlin 1971: 632). The mixing of genres both performs a rejection of traditional institutions along with canonical forms of literature and presents disorder as a vehicle to express the realities of his age. Apuleian criticism was slower to reach such conclusions, but more recent approaches to the unity of the Metamorphoses tend to emphasize the way that fragmentation, narratological games, and the capricious nature of the depicted world are expressive of a reality that has lost its coherence and meaning. Shumate's comparative examination of conversion ancient and modern and the ‘epistemic rupture’ and reintegration involved in shifting one's world-view somewhat similarly interprets the disorder as expressive. Lucius' bewildered state at 2.1, in which everything appears to be something other than what it is, magically transformed, depicts a pre-conversion disintegration of the system of values and ways of knowing. Shumate explains the sudden shift in Book 11 as the convert's radical shift in world-view. Winkler, more post-structurally, makes the multiplicity of perspectives offered by the many narrators and the mystery of the identity of the narrator an argument for the Metamorphoses as ‘unauthorized text’, a text about the process of interpretation whose ultimate meaning is undecipherable. Slater, with more orientation to the linear process (p. 481) of reading and more focused on reader-response theory than narratology, arrives at some of the same conclusions about Petronius.

Another aspect of this fragmentation is that both of these texts paradoxically insist on the orality of what is inscribed in writing. Minor characters enter the frame of narrative and tell stories (Cupid and Psyche), conversation poses as a realistic facsimile of what was said (the freedmen at the Cena). Apuleius, in his very first words, plays on the paradox that Lucius (or he?) as narrator is soothing our ears with delightful tales—but we must read his papyrus to achieve this effect (At ego tibiaures tuas permulceamsi papyrumnon spreueris inspicere, 1.1), creating a disruption between the ‘pretended’ and ‘actual’ modes of reception (Fowler). Petronius adds the oral elements of poetic performance and declamation, presenting an equally polyphonic text, dominated by the live voice. The parallel orality of eating is a dominant one in Petronius. Images of eating literature or the poet, or being devoured by it (Rimell), bring an immediacy that takes the reader beyond the silent and passive words on the page. The refusal to stick to fewer narrators is a recognition of the novel's roots in humble storytelling, a bid for closer intimacy with the reader who is imagined as a present listener. But the narrative strategy also tests the boundaries between the spoken and written word when (ironically?) this polyphonic oral production is validated in Metamorphoses 11 by Isis, goddess of writing (Finkelpearl).

Interlude on Menippea

Much has been written about ‘Menippean satire’, defined loosely as a prose text generously interspersed with poetry, and whether the Satyricon's anomalous form can be attributed to a set genre of this sort. Its refusal to stick to a single form Relihan links with a more generally renegade relationship to traditional literature; an ‘indecorous mix of disparate elements’, parodic, with no moral or aesthetic purpose. In form and spirit Petronius’ work fits, yet it lacks several of the essential qualities of the genre as written by Lucian and Varro. Menippean satire chooses a precise target of attack and is self-conscious about the oddity of its form, while Petronius favours ambiguity and flows seamlessly from prose to poetry and back without reflection (Conte). The Satyricon appears to deviate even from this deviant form, a picaresque novel onto which this genre has been grafted. Rather than combing through scant evidence to find a category in which to place the work, another approach is to observe how the poetry and prose interact in the text, how they explore the same themes via their ‘rival structures’ (Connors). The abundance of epic poetry allows for a fragmenting and reshaping (p. 482) of epic into fiction, (Connors) in ways not dissimilar to Apuleius’ dynamic incorporation of epic and other genres as a way to explore the novel's process of coming into being (Finkelpearl). Viewed in this way, verse is not simply fragmenting, but also cohesive.


The disjunctive texts are held together by unreadable narrators. As the extant portion of the Satyricon begins, Encolpius is declaiming on the disassociation of rhetoric from reality; all the youth can speak about is pirates dangling chains standing on the beach and oracles advising that three or more virgins be immolated (1). How do we read this attack on the lifeless formulaic quality of rhetoric and its deleterious effect on the youth? Presumably, although we are invited to endorse the truth of the tirade, we must also recognize that the narrator is mocked for parroting ideas already stale in Neronian literature. This position of the narrator as a critiqued critic is visible throughout the book. Further, the narrator is an impotent conman whose social status is mysterious, a drama queen with delusions of grandeur, what Conte calls a ‘mythomaniac narrator’, who constantly draws ridiculous analogies between his own life and that of great tragic heroes. Yet he is an elegant storyteller and stylist, and at several points even voices sentiments that some critics see as interferences by the author, particularly the ‘Catones’ poem (see below). Some argue that the inconsistencies and the disparity between the debased Encolpius-actor and the sophisticated narration can be explained by assuming that an older, wiser Encolpius is looking back on his younger foolish days, that he is responsible for moral judgements not heeded by the actor and for the artistic success of the book (Beck, Stöcker). Yet, like Lucius, he never explicitly looks back on his life to condemn his experiencing character.

The nature of the narrator of Apuleius’ Metamorphoses is just as elusive from the beginning; does author or narrator speak the prologue? One of the central interpretive problems of the Metamorphoses is that Lucius does not signal his ultimate identity, a problem Winkler made the centre of his reading, distinguishing between the experiencing I (actor) and narrating I (auctor). We are not told until almost the end of the work that the narrator became an Isiac priest and do not know whether he still is at the moment of narration—quite unlike the relentlessly self-revealing narrative strategy in Augustine's Confessions. Is Book 11 devout or parodic? Does the rereader who finally knows the narrator's identity then necessarily imagine that an Isiac convert narrates his past adventures with critical distance and disapproval?

(p. 483) Those readers who wish to come to some larger interpretation of the works are at a loss. If the narrator does not guide us, perhaps the author lurks behind him, and what does he want us to make of all the immoral goings-on? One hopes that ‘moralist’ readings are a thing of the past: Petronius shows immorality and expects the reader to condemn it (Highet); Apuleius’ tales and Lucius' life are negative exempla which show bad people coming to bad ends (Tatum, Schlam). Conte's ‘hidden author’ is a subtler approach, but motivated by the same impulse to find an overall meaning. Conte argues that both the narrator and the ‘hidden author’ yearn for the great old texts and for the sublime, but the narrator is a ‘scholasticus’ imprisoned in the artificial schemes he condemns, hopelessly out of touch with the old classics he degrades. The work is thus read in part as a satire on scholastici and a lament by the hidden author for the great age lost.

Many are also eager to read authorial judgement in the Metamorphoses as a way of skirting the problem of uninterpretability. Though the novel can, of course, be read as the voyage of a lost soul toward religious salvation, Winkler suggested a parodic interpretation, drawing attention to the closural image of Lucius as a ‘bald clown’, dupe to the machinations of avaricious priests. While Winkler had argued for two equally possible readings existing simultaneously, the more recent trend (problematic, in my view) is to view the mockery of Lucius as unambiguous, perhaps even a mockery by Lucius' older wiser self of the dupe he was then (Kenney; cf. Beck on Petronius) or an exposure by the author of the absurdity of religious fanatics (Harrison).

It may simply be preferable to consider other aspects of these two works: impossibility of interpretation is not the end of reading and interpreting. Petronius presents us with a model of multiple receptions after Eumolpus narrates the Widow of Ephesus story: the sailors laugh uproariously, Tryphaena blushes, Lichas declares that the wife should be put up on the cross, the townspeople within the story are perplexed—The End. The subjectivity of interpretive responses is thema-tized, but not presented as a problem. Elsewhere in both texts the process of interpretation, both by the reader (Winkler on Apuleius) and the characters (Schmeling on Petronius, in Ramus) is made visible just as it is at the centre of that other great ancient novel, Heliodorus' Aithiopika.

Novel and the Social World

Another response is to look outside the text. Something is known about Apuleius and perhaps Petronius, and hence also about the social, material, and historical world around them. Rather than using what is known about them to say, for (p. 484) example, that Apuleius turned into an ass (as St Augustine did) and/or had a life-changing spiritual experience, or that Petronius is depicting his own life of debauchery, we may consider what social realities in Rome, Madauros, or Carthage might be reflected in the texts.

The thematic approach to the unity of the Satyricon was discussed above; it is also possible to root Petronius’ recurring themes in the political realities of Rome under the Empire. Imposture, dissimulatio, and artificiality are at least as pervasive as death in the imagery and plot of the Satyricon. Food, sex, and language have all been deprived of their natural functions, the world is unreal and theatrical, a wooden hen sits over her pastry peacock eggs (33), the protagonists are impostors and conmen. These images may be read as critical reflections by an oppositional Petronius of the debased state of political existence under Nero, where fear prevents citizens from speaking the truth and where dissent must be covert (Rudich). Even if one questions the Neronian dating of the Satyricon (Laird), which perhaps too few do, seduced by the appropriateness of Tacitus’ Gaius Petronius (Annals 16.17–20) Nero's ‘arbiter elegantiae’, as author of our text, dissimulatio is a virus at many periods under the Empire. Petronius’ novel may still be read in political and social terms, a partially symbolic portrait of the strangle-hold of flattery and covertness in a once-free society.

In Apuleius' case, the Isiac priest's designation of Lucius as a man from Madauros (Apuleius', not Lucius', hometown) at 11.27 has encouraged interpretations of the novel as autobiographical symbolic voyage, either psychological (von Franz) or spiritual (Merkelbach, others). I suggest that Lucius' journey is a reflection of the life (not necessarily Apuleius' own) of the Roman colonial. In his Apology and Florida Apuleius speaks clearly and polemically about his ties to Carthage, and anchors himself in a specific set of African geographical and cultural markers. Most of these are absent from the Metamorphoses because Apuleius has adapted a Greek original and sets the story in Greece under Roman rule. Yet Apuleius’ parallel experience of living in a Roman province may surface in the novel when, for example, the Metamorphoses preserves and expands a scene in the source which portrays a Roman soldier badly mistreating a poor farmer, speaking Latin incomprehensible to the Greek subject and attempting to steal his donkey (9.39–42; Graverini).

Also noteworthy is Lucius' hybrid identity, revealed first in the Prologue, where he speaks of himself as coming from Athens-Sparta-Corinth and yet descended from Plutarch. He is both man and ass, called a ‘Madauran’ and becomes Roman at the end, yet with an overlay of Egyptian, and he tells ‘Milesian’ tales (Yun Lee Too). Salman Rushdie calls him ‘Lucius Apuleius, Moroccan priest, colonial of the old Roman Empire’, evoking our era's discourse of post-colonialism, but an argument can be made that Lucius' tale is in part that of the subject of Roman rule, unsure of his identity, a hybrid, descended into silence only to emerge and find a place in a community of the spirit rather than of place or nation. Many of the Greek novels, (p. 485) too, are the products of authors at the edge of the empire and the outskirts of Hellenism. At least in Heliodorus' case, his hybrid identity and ambiguous relation to the shifting centre are consciously reflected in the portrayal of characters with confused and multiple identities. Even within Italy, Petronius depicts, with a much different sensibility from Juvenal, immigrants with shifting identities. The travel and adventure of the novel occurs in an expanded ancient world of multicultural-ism, an element sometimes exploited to increase the sense of alienation and fragmentation, sometimes perhaps a casual and realistic backdrop.

Part of the same instinct to see social history in the novels are readings of the Metamorphoses which interpret Lucius' experience as ass in terms of the sufferings of the Roman slave (Bradley, Annequin, Fitzgerald). In fable, where animals represent different classes of humans, the donkey stands for the slave. Lucius-ass who, like the slave, is human and yet perceived as an animal, constantly abused, beaten, and overworked, voiceless, present yet erased, resembles a slave in many respects. Referring to his own state often as servitium, at 9.12–13 Lucius describes with vivid pity the human slaves in the mill where he works. Psyche's story can also be read as that of an overworked and abused ancilla who finally is freed (the formula ‘Psyche, immortalis esto’ echoes the Roman formula of emancipation) and marries her master, a wishful slave's tale which, like the story of Lucius' abuse, relates from the inside the vicissitudes of enslavement.

This novel (as well as the Life of Aesop) provides a perspective rare in Latin literature into the plight of victims and marginal members of society. This is true also of Petronius, and his Cena Trimalchionis sets freedmen at centre-stage, not primarily as an object of derision. Bradley cautions us that Apuleius himself owned many slaves and was of the provincial aristocracy; this is not an emancipation tract. Yet despite the anarchic and debauched atmosphere of the Roman novel, privileging alternative voices, breaking down boundaries, and close observation of details of everyday life, though not necessarily dissent or resistance, is some form of social awareness startling in antiquity.

In part, these texts invite scrutiny by social historians because of their apparent ‘realism’. Auerbach's well-known discussion of Petronius makes the claim that the Cena ‘marks the ultimate limit to which realism attained in antiquity’, because it is precisely fixed in a particular social milieu, and the guests speak the language of the freedmen of that milieu ‘almost without literary stylization’ (Auerbach 30). It is not the convention in classical epic and tragedy to distinguish lower-class speech, so Petronius’ largely unprecedented imitation of the colloquial Latin of uneducated and sometimes foreign speakers who confuse declensions and utter Greek expletives sets the work apart. Yet social historians reveal how much this is a fictional construction, how different are the casual scribblings of Pompei graffiti (Bodel, and see Boyce). Apuleius' brand of ‘realism’ springs more from his foregrounding of tales told by common men and women in flea-bitten inns and flour-mills. His language is expressive of social levels, but consists of what Callebat calls a ‘realisme (p. 486) atemporel’; Jupiter speaks in formal, legal style and Psyche's language is filled with archaisms and diminutives, language that is ‘realistic’ only in a literary sense, atemporally colloquial, often Plautine.

These two somewhat different sorts of realism characterize the novel as a genre in search of the illusion that it depicts life with accuracy. Yet this masquerade is set in fantastical worlds of dream-like logic; in Apuleius we hear about bed-wetting in a cheap inn, but the presence of witches demands that we rethink ‘realism’; in Petronius impotence is treated by the witch Oenothea in an episode configured with the Odyssey as intertext. The realism is also created in both cases by unreliable narrators (Conte) and further completely deconstructs what is real, making the unbelievable believable (Apuleius), the real surreal through detailed description of the monstrous (Petronius).

(A few words on Encolpius and impotence: this is not atypical of the way both novels treat sexuality—openly and lavishly displayed, not puritanically hidden, something shared with Greek romance to an extent—Achilles Tatius, anyway. Yet none of it closely conforms to Encolpius' misleading poetic pronouncement aimed at imagined censors (Catones) that he is narrating simply and straightforwardly the joys of love and what the common people do: ‘quodque facit populus, candida lingua refert’(132). Sexual practices in both books are non-normative: Lucius exploits the slave-girl Fotis and later engages in inter-species sex; Encolpius, Ascyltus, and Giton are engaged in a destructive triangle, Encolpius is habitually impotent. While this depiction of what is normally private and hidden announces a kind of realism, both authors constantly overlay such scenes with literary parallels, as if to fictionalize and advertise their status as literary creation at the very moment when the novel is most setting itself apart from other genres.)

The Tale of Cupid and Psyche

Cupid and Psyche is a complete folk-tale romance set within the Metamorphoses which emphasizes the distance between the work as a whole and Greek romance. The question most often posed about the tale is its relationship to the frame narrative: is it a mirror or antitype? Lucius and Psyche both look upon forbidden things, fall through ‘curiosity’, wander about oppressed by a goddess, and finally are brought closer to the divine, though neither has unequivocally deserved redemption. Yet Psyche's story, though mythical and situated in the realms of the gods, has a much more bourgeois outcome: she is raised to her husband's social level and settles down to take care of their child, whereas the denouement of Lucius' adventures is his spiritual enlightenment. It is as if a Greek romance about (p. 487) separated lovers, their trials and eventual nuptial union and reintegration into society, narrated without the complications of embedded tales, is inserted into the middle of a Roman novel showing off how much more complex that project is.

The surrounding narrative suggests that Apuleius was playing with variations, mostly disastrous, on the romance form. The robbers' cook narrates this tale to the abducted girl, Charite, ostensibly as consolation and encouragement, and although initially the maiden is rescued by her betrothed, a jilted suitor soon brings about the deaths of the couple and himself. The romance ending is not allowed to stand, a pattern repeated in several stories in Book 10 (James). Romance is relegated to the heavens, on earth saeva Fortuna intervenes, and Apuleius' book dwells on the earth, a reflection of the depths ordinary humans suffer, unsentimentally told. Apuleius also gives weight to the romance form by transforming the tale into a Platonic allegory about love and the soul.

It is worth noting, too, how much this is a female story, a story told by an old woman to a young woman about a young woman; the story's labours are all concerned with women's tasks—food, water-carrying, wool-gathering, and cosmetics; the oppressing deity is a female, and the child born to the couple is a girl. This female orientation and its internal female audience raises questions about the gender of the ancient novel's audience more generally—or perhaps it is the romance that is the female form.

The History of Apollonius King of Tyre

The History of Apollonius King of Tyre differs from the texts so far discussed by virtue of being a composition constantly reworked at different periods, characterized by Konstan, Panayotakis, and others as ‘fluid’ and ‘open’, not only because the text exists in two significantly different recensions, but because these recensions cannot be reduced to a single prototype and are subject to even more change by copyists. In this sense, the History has as much in common with productions of oral-formulaic composition as with the set literary texts of Apuleius and Petronius, which only play with the idea of orality. Because of its fluid nature, the History, over the course of its development from the third to sixth centuries ce, retains its earlier monetary units, its pagan deities, and literary allusions to Virgil and Homer, but also accretes a Christian layer (Panayotakis).

Advocates of a Greek origin for the History tend to focus on those elements kindred with the Greek romantic novel—travel, love, pirates, Scheintod—and on the dissimilarities with the Roman novel—its third-person narrative and (p. 488) serious-romantic plot as opposed to the comic ‘realism’ of Apuleius and Petronius. Yet, as S. Panayotakis notes, the opening scene of incest announces ‘the text's violent relation with the novelistic agenda and its representation as a transgressive narrative’ (in Rimmell 2007: 302), one that fixes attention on proper father-daughter relations and presents the males, Apollonius and Athenagoras, as strangely removed or uncommitted in courtship. The famed ‘sexual symmetry’ of the Greek romances gives way to a portrait of women who choose their destinies and demonstrate their wisdom and accomplishments, rather than cleverly and chastely finding their way back to a beloved. It is also a riddling narrative, not only by virtue of the inclusion of numerous riddles of Symphosius; riddles advance the narrative and are a form of communication as well as a mark, oddly, of the liberal and philosophical education of one able to solve them. Like the popular and equally fluid Vita Aesopi and the Alexander Romance, the History of Apollonius seems thus to advance a common man's vision of the nature and uses of education.

Like the Tale of Cupid and Psyche, the length and unironic tone of the History have more the quality of Greek romance, yet in both cases the authors have self-consciously reacted against the standard romance form either within the work itself or in the frame.

The ‘Fringe’, Novel-like Narratives

Given the already inclusive definition of the novel, it seems irrational to marginalize ‘novel-like narratives’, particularly since ‘novel’ is an anachronistic category (Keulen). The ‘fringe’ is so defined partly because the texts do not seem to be ‘novels’ in a modern sense, and partly because of the practice in Classical Studies which walls off pagan from Christian and Classical from ‘Late’—though the novel, extending unambiguously into the fourth century ce with Heliodorus, is already a bit anomalous. The arbitrariness of this practice is clear when we see the story-lines and narrative techniques directly evolve from Greek romance into Christian fiction like Paul and Thekla of the Acts.

In this chapter it is space rather than ideology that curtails discussion, but there are a few justifications. Once the fringe is limited to Latin, the texts in question are few. Whereas the Greek anonymous Life of Aesop, with its populist philosophical bent, comic dethroning of the pretensions of the educated elite, inserted fables, and episodic structure conforms well to many of the observations above, the Latin version is a translation or a poor recension of what is still essentially Greek. The same can be said of the Latin Life of Alexander. Most Christian fiction is written in Greek, though the argument can be made that ‘Roman’ is not coextensive with (p. 489) ‘Latin’, and that many works written in Greek under the Roman Empire might be called ‘Roman’, but that is an argument for another day. The case has been made as well that Christian (or Jewish) fiction is not part of the novel tradition proper, but already part of its reception, a new exploitation of the motifs and structures that make up Greek romance—and note that it is Greek romance that Christian fiction emulates—that it belongs to a different social and cultural milieu. Dictys' and Dares' ‘eyewitness’ accounts of the Trojan War do present ‘fiction in the form of history’, and, like Apuleius and Petronius in their different ways, these histories transform Homer into Latin prose, but they have at their centre not the life of an individual, but the events of the Trojan War, without embellishment of comic anecdotes and mirabilia (Merkle).

Concluding Comments

This survey has been more exploratory than exhaustive, and has circled around questions of definition rather than settling on one. The focus has been on what the extant novels have in common, with the result that several core topics have been passed over: philosophy, rhetoric, the Second Sophistic, mystery cults, Apuleius' lost novel Hermagoras; or given insufficient space: theatre, laughter, the continuity of the ancient novel into the present—for all of which, see the Further Reading section below. Very likely also, these comic texts have not been presented as comic enough, surreal, ironic, incongruous, playful, and full of life-force.

Further reading

General: G. Anderson, Ancient Fiction: The Novel in the Greco-Roman World, London, 1984; L. Graverini, W. Keulen, and A. Barchiesi, Il Romanzo Antico, Rome, 2006; S. J. Harrison (ed.), Oxford Readings in the Roman Novel, Oxford, 1999; H. Hoffmann (ed.), Latin Fiction, London, 1999; B. E. Perry, The Ancient Romances, Berkeley, 1967; G. Schmeling (ed.), The Novel in the Ancient World, Leiden, 1996; J. Tatum, The Search for the Ancient Novel, Baltimore and London, 1994; P. G. Walsh, The Roman Novel, Cambridge, 1970; T. Whit-marsh (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to the Greek and Roman Novel, Cambridge 2008.

Definition of novel genre (and romance) and its reputation in antiquity: M. M. Bakhtin, The Dialogic Imagination, tr. C. Emerson and M. Holquist, Austin, Tex., 1981; L. Callebat, ‘Le Satyricon de Petrone et LʼÂne dʼor dʼApulée sont-ils des romans?’, Euphrosyne, 20 (1992), 149–64; M. A. Doody, The True Story of the Novel, New Brunswick, 1996; H. Hofmann, ‘Introduction’ to Latin Fiction (above), 1–19; B. P. Reardon, The Form of Greek Romance, Princeton, 1991; G. Schmeling, ‘Quid attinet veritatem per interpretem quaerere? (p. 490) Interpreters and the Satyricon’, Ramus, 23 (1994), 144–68; A. Scobie, Aspects of the Ancient Romance and its Heritage, Meisenheim am Glan, 1969: 9–29; D. Selden, ‘Genre of Genre’, in Tatum, Search (above), 39–64.

Menippean Satire et al.: A. Barchiesi, ‘Tracce di narrativa greca e romanzo latino: una rassegna’, in Semiotica della novella latina, Rome, 1986; G. B. Conte, The Hidden Author, Berkeley, 1996, ch. 5, ‘Some Skeptical Thoughts on Menippean Satire’; J. Relihan, Ancient Menippean Satire, Baltimore, 1993.

Milesian Tale: S. J. Harrison, ‘The Milesian Tale and the Roman Novel’, in GCN 9 (1997), 61–73.

Petronius: Bibliography: G. Schmeling and J. Stuckey, A Bibliography of Petronius, Leiden, 1977; M. Smith, ‘A Bibliography of Petronius (1945–1982)’, ANRW II.32.3, 1628–65; Survey of criticism: M. Plaza, Laughter and Derision in Petronius' Satyrica, Stockholm, 2000, ch. 1; R. Bracht Branham and D. Kinney, ‘Introduction’ to Petronius Satyrica, Berkeley, 1996. Satyricon, size, date: H. J. Rose, The Date and Author of the Satyricon, Leiden, 1971; Schmeling, in Novel in the Ancient World (above), 460–1, for a putative reconstruction; A. Laird, ‘The True Nature of the Satyricon?’, in The Greek and Roman Novel: Parallel Readings, Groningen, 2007: 151–67. Petronius, miscellaneous: W. Arrowsmith, ‘Luxury and Death in the Satyricon’, Arion, 5 (1966), 304–31; E. Auerbach, Mimesis, Garden City, 1957; R. Beck, ‘Some Observations on the Narrative Technique of Petronius’, Phoenix, 27 (1973), 42–61; J. Bodel, ‘Trimal-chio's Underworld’, in Tatum, Search (above); id., ‘The Cena Trimalchionis’, in Hofmann, Latin Fiction (above); B. Boyce, The Language of Freedmen in Petronius' Cena Trimalchionis (Mnemosyne Suppl. 117), Leiden, 1991; C. Connors, Petronius the Poet, Cambridge, 1998; Conte, The Hidden Author (above); G. Jensson, The Recollections of Encolpius, Ancient Narrative Supplement 2 (2004); V. Rimell, Petronius and the Anatomy of Fiction, Cambridge, 2002; N. Slater, Reading Petronius, Baltimore, 1990; J. P. Sullivan, The Satyricon of Petronius: A Literary Study, London, 1968; F. Zeitlin, ‘Petronius as Paradox’, TAPA 102 (1971), 631–84.

Apuleius: Bibliography through 1998: C. Schlam and E. Finkelpearl, ‘A Review of Scholarship on Apuleius' Metamorphoses 1970–1998’, Lustrum, 42 (2001). General/introduction: S. J. Harrison, Apuleius: A Latin Sophist, Oxford, 2000; J. Tatum, Apuleius and the Golden Ass, Ithaca, NY, 1979. Miscellaneous: J. Annequin, ‘Lucius “Asinus,” Psyche “Ancilla”: Escla-vage et structures de lʼimaginaire dans les Métamorphoses dʼApulée’, DHA 24 (1998), 89–128; K. Bradley, ‘Animalizing the Slave: The Truth of Fiction’, JRS 90 (2000), 110–25; id., ‘Apuleius and Carthage’, AN 4 (2005), 1–29; L. Callebat, Sermo Cotidianus, Caen, 1968; E. Finkelpearl, Metamorphosis of Language in Apuleius: A Study of Allusion in the Novel, Ann Arbor, Mich., 1998; W. Fitzgerald, Slavery and the Roman Literary Imagination, Cambridge, 2000; D. Fowler, ‘Writing with Style: The Prologue to Apuleius' Metamorphoses between Fingierte Mundlichkeit and Textuality’, in Kahane and Laird, Companion (below), 225–30; L. Graverini, ‘Corinth, Rome and Africa: A Cultural Background for the Tale of the Ass’, in M. Paschalis and S. Frangoulidis (eds.), Space in the Ancient Novel, Groningen, 2002, 58–77; A. Kahane and A. J. W. Laird (eds.), A Companion to the Prologue of Apuleius' Metamorphoses, Oxford, 2001; E. J. Kenney, ‘In the Mill with Slaves: Lucius Looks Back in Gratitude’, TAPA 133 (2003), 159–92; R. May, Apuleius and Drama: The Ass on Stage, Oxford, 2006; F. Millar, ‘The World of the Golden Ass’, JRS 71 (1981), 63–75; M. OʼBrien, Apuleius' Debt to Plato in the Metamorphoses, Lewiston, NY, 2002; C. Schlam, ‘The Curiosity of the Golden Ass’, CJ 64 (1968), 120–5; N. Shumate, Crisis and Conversion in Apuleius' Metamorphoses, Ann Arbor, Mich., 1996; Y. L. Too, ‘Losing the Author's Voice: Cultural and Personal Identities in the Metamorphoses Prologue’, in Kahane and Laird, Companion (above), 201–12; (p. 491) D. van Mal-Maeder, ‘Lector, intende: laetaberis: The Enigma of the Last Book of Apuleius' Metamorphoses’, in GCN 8 (1997), 87–118; G. Sandy, The Greek World of Apuleius, Leiden, 1997; J. J. Winkler, Auctor and Actor: A Narratological Reading of Apuleius's Golden Ass, Berkeley, 1985; M. Zimmerman, ‘Echoes of Roman Satire in Apuleius’ Metamorphoses’, in R. R Nauta (ed.), Desultoria Scientia: Genre in Apuleius' Metamorphoses and Related Texts (Caeculus, Papers in Mediterranean Archaeology and Greek and Roman Studies 5), Leuven, 2006; L. Graverini, Le Metamorfosi di Apuleio: Letteratura e identità, Pisa, 2007.

Apollonius of Tyre: E. Archibald, Apollonius of Tyre, Medieval and Renaissance Themes and Variations (with text and translation), Cambridge, 1991; D. Konstan, Apollonius of Tyre and the Greek Novel, in Tatum, Search (above), 173–82; G. A. A. Kortekaas, Commentary on the Historia Apollonii regis Tyri, Leiden, 2007; id., The Story of Apollonius, King of Tyre: A Study of its Greek Origin and an Edition of the two Oldest Latin Recensions, Leiden, 2004; D. Lateiner, review of Kortekaas 2007, BMCR (June, 2007), 44 (good overview); S. Panayotakis, ‘Fixity and Fluidity in Apollonius of Tyre’, in Victoria Rimell (ed.), Seeing Tongues, Hearing Scripts: Orality and Representation in the Ancient Novel, Ancient Narrative Supplementum 7 (2007); G. Schmeling, ‘Historia Apollonii regis Tyri’, in Schmeling, Novel (above), 517–51.

The Fringe: G. Bowersock, Fiction as History, Berkeley, 1994; R. Hock, ‘Why New Testament Scholars Should Read Ancient Novels’, in R. Hock, J. Bradley Chance, and J. Perkins (eds.), Ancient Fiction and Early Christian Narrative, Atlanta, Ga., 1998; N. Holzberg, ‘The Genre: Novels Proper and the Fringe’, and ‘Novel-like Works of Extended Prose Fiction II’, in Schmeling, Novel (above), 11–28 and 621–54; G. Huber-Rebenich, ‘Hagiographic Fiction as Entertainment’, in Hofmann, Latin Fiction (above); S. Merkle, ‘The Truth and Nothing But the Truth: Dictys and Dares’, in Schmeling, Novel (above), 563–80 (and similarly in Hofmann, Latin Fiction and much else by Merkle); R. Pervo, ‘The Ancient Novel Becomes Christian’, in Schmeling, Novel (above), 685–709; R. Stoneman, ‘The Latin Alexander’, in Hofmann, Latin Fiction (above), 167–86.