AP/HUMA 4107 6.00
The Ancient Greek And Roman Novel
"The five surviving Greek romance-novels, which date to the period between the first century AD and perhaps the later fourth century, all belong to the Greek literature of the Roman Empire. Curiously none of these texts makes reference to Rome; instead, they tend to fix their gaze in temporal terms on a distant, classical past, while geographically they look towards the outlying regions of the Greek world where Hellenism rubs shoulders with the other cultures of the Mediterranean, Africa, and the Middle East. The narratives of these works typically involve a young and beautiful couple, a hero and heroine whose love for each other endures pirates, shipwrecks, incarceration, and the spectres of seduction, rape, and betrayal. Normative and unsurprising though these romantic narratives of youthful passion and fidelity may seem to a twenty-first-century readership, their literary representation stands in pointed opposition to the realities of ancient Greek marriage practice, and it is all but without parallel in any other genre of ancient Greek literature.
The extant Roman novels, which date from the first and second centuries AD, drew on the pre-existing genre of the Greek romance, but they parody its emphasis on the faithful, youthful devotion of a young man and a young woman with an admixture of everything from underclass realism and ribald comedy to magic, witchcraft, and mystery religion: what survives of Petronius tells the story of the picaresque adventures of a homosexual couple, while the plot of Apuleius is based around the transformation of a young man into a singularly unfortunate, long-eared equine.
Methodologically this course emphasizes reading the ancient Greek and Roman novels in the historical and cultural context of the Roman empire in the first few centuries AD, with special attention to their form, narrative dynamics, and generic self-fashioning: the ancient Greek and Roman novels are large-scale prose texts that claim as their territory culturally and politically centrifugal fictional narratives. In other words, the ancient novels self-consciously avoid the political and cultural mainstream in an attempt to pioneer new literary cartographies of social space, enthusiastically seeking the geographical boundaries of the known world and exploring a demimonde of socially-excluded deviants, criminals, and other outcasts; they therefore make fertile ground for the investigation of such issues as canon-formation and perpetuation, generic filiation and alienation, narratology, cultural identity, and the history of sexuality. This course explores the politics of trying to escape the orbit of the cultural centre of gravity, and questions the successes, failures, and the sincerity of the attempts of the ancient Greek and Roman novelists to do so. "