As well as specifying one crucial text from each tradition which you really should
read in order to appreciate the myriad possibilities of the novel form, I've decided that it's probably a good idea to recommend at least one useful critical book as well. For the Eastern frame-story, the essential reading was (of course) The Thousand and One Nights
themselves, while the critical text was Andras Hamori's On the Art of Medieval Arabic Literature
(Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1974).
For the classical novel, I've selected The Golden Ass, Being the Metamorphoses of Lucius Apuleius
- with John J. Winkler's Auctor & Actor: A Narratological Reading of Apuleius's Golden Ass
(Berkeley & Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1985) serving as the most ingenious reading of Apuleius' text I've encountered to date.
However, like (I suspect) quite a number of other readers, I have to confess that my first acquaintance with Apuleius came via a battered second-hand copy of Robert Graves's 1950 Penguin Classics translation:
Wow, what a book! Talk about sex and violence! When I first came across it, some time in my teens, I could hardly believe how racy and modern it seemed. Since then I've consulted (and collected) a lot of other editions and translations:
Lucius Apuleius (c.125–c.180 AD)
- Apuleius, Lucius. The Golden Ass, Being the Metamorphoses of Lucius Apuleius. Trans. W. Adlington. Rev. S. Gaselee. Loeb Classical Library. London & New York: William Heinemann & The Macmillan Company, 1915. [dual text: Latin & English]
- Apuleius, Lucius. The Works of Apuleius, Comprising the Metamorphoses, or Golden Ass, The God of Socrates, the Florida, and His Defence, or a Discourse on Magic. A New Translation. To Which are Added. a Metrical Version of the Cupid and Psyche and Mrs. Tighe’s Psyche, a Poem in Six Cantos. Bohn’s Libraries. London: George Bell & Sons, 1893. [Literal translation]
- Apuleius, Lucius. The Golden Ass of Apuleius. Trans. William Adlington. 1566. London: John Lehmann, 1946. [The standard translation in English]
- Apuleius, Lucius. The Transformations of Lucius, Otherwise Known as The Golden Ass. Trans. Robert Graves. Penguin Classics. 1950. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1950.
- Apuleius, Lucius. The Golden Ass. Trans. Jack Lindsay. Indiana University Greek and Latin Classics. 1960. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1962.
- Apuleius, Lucius. The Transformations of Lucius, Otherwise Known as The Golden Ass. Trans. Robert Graves. 1950. Rev. Michael Grant. Penguin Classics. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1990.
- Apuleius, Lucius. The Golden Ass. Trans. P. G. Walsh. The World’s Classics. 1994. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995.
- Apuleius, Lucius. The Golden Ass, Or Metamorphoses: A New Translation. Trans. E. J. Kenney. Penguin Classics. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1998.
- Winkler, John J. Auctor & Actor: A Narratological Reading of Apuleius's Golden Ass. 1985. Berkeley & Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1991.
- Manara, Milo & Lucius Apuleius. Les Métamorphoses de Lucius. Paris: L’Echo des Savanes/ Albin Michel, 2007.
It's a bit hard to go past Graves's, though. While he doesn't really do justice to the tortuous complexities of Apuleius' prose style, it's doubtful that any translation into modern English could and still remain readable. Drastically abridged and simplified though it is, one might perhaps regard Milo Manara's graphic novel version of Apuleius' Metamorphoses
as a kind of visual companion to Graves. Here's his rendition of Lucius' crucial transformation scene (the servant-girl Photis has stolen the wrong vial of ointment from her mistress, the witch Pamphile, so instead of turning Lucius into a bird, instead he is in the process of becoming an ...)
And here's a slightly more decorous version of the same scene, from a late eighteenth-century French translation of the same book (I think you can also see how this scene influenced Shakespeare's magical translation of Bottom into an ass in A Midsummer Night's Dream
I guess the really interesting thing (to me) about Apuleius' masterpiece is the fact that how we read it depends very much on which literary era we happen to inhabit. St. Augustine of Hippo (as I mentioned in my previous post
) saw it as a confession of his sins by his fellow North African Lucius Apuleius - who had indeed been accused of witchcraft and a lack of sexual scrupulosity (i.e. seducing a rich widow) during his youth, and had been forced to defend himself (at great length) against these charges in court. Augustine accordingly used it as a model for his own Confessions
, which culminate with a similar conversion scene.
In the eighteenth century, it was seen instead as a somewhat risqué romance: along the lines of Gil Blas
or other picaresque tales of adventure. There was even a (very popular) rewritten version designed to compare and contrast Apuleius' versions of the "floating world" of the Imperial underclass with their Enlightenment equivalents:
One of the later editions of this work even had illustrations by Hogarth.
Robert Graves was (allegedly) introduced to the work by his friend T. E. Lawrence, who (again allegedly) kept a copy of it in his saddlebags all through the Arab revolt. Certainly his translation must have seemed like a breath of fresh air in the stultifying 1950s: the kind of book one always wished
the Ancients would have written ...
It also had the crucial advantage of being complete. The only other existing Latin novel, Petronius' Satyricon
, is little more than a collection of fragments - admittedly every bit as titillating and sexually frank as Apuleius, but somehow lacking his charm - particularly such interpolated tales as the "Cupid and Psyche" story which occupies most of the middle section of the latter's narrative.
Gaius Petronius Arbiter (c.27–66 AD)
- Petronius. Satyricon. Trans. Michael Heseltine. Seneca. Apococyntosis. Trans. W. H. D. Rouse. 1913. Rev. E. H. Warmington. 1969. Loeb Classics. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2005.
- Petronius. The Satyricon of T. Petronius Arbiter (Burnaby’s Translation, 1694). Introduction by C. K. Scott Moncrieff. The Abbey Classics. London: Remainder Centre, Ltd., n.d.
- Petronius. Satyricon. Trans. Paul Dinnage. 1953. Ed. Costas Panayotakis. Wordsworth Classics of World Literature. Ware, Hertfordshire: Wordsworth, 1999.
- Petronius. The Satyricon. Trans. William Arrowsmith. 1959. A Mentor Classic. New York: New American Library, 1960.
- Gillette, Paul. Satyricon: Memoirs of a Lusty Roman. A reconstruction in Modern English of the Classic Novel of Imperial Age Rome, The Satyricon of Titus Petronius Arbiter. Los Angeles, CA: Holloway House, 1965.
- Petronius. The Satyricon and The Fragments. Trans. John Sullivan. Penguin Classics. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1965.
- Petronius Arbiter. Satyrica. Trans. Frederick Raphael. London: the Folio Society, 2003.
- Walsh, P. G. The Roman Novel. 1970. London: Bristol Classical Press, 1995.
Probably the most familiar version of this is Federico Fellini's 1969 film, which certainly does full justice to the more decadent and pornographic elements of Petronius's satire. Whether there was more to the original novel or not is anyone's guess, unfortunately. We probably have less than half of the original text to judge from.
A kind of sea-change in reactions to Apuleius seems to have coincided with the growth of postmodernism in fiction. The fact that his story is not at all original
(it's based on an earlier Greek novel, which survives - possibly only in summary form - as Lucius or the Ass
, attributed to Lucian of Samosata, a contemporary of Apuleius, itself conjectured to have been based on an earlier version by a certain Lucius of Patrae, its author and protagonist) had new resonance in an age of adaptations and retellings of "originals" (Joyce's Ulysses
, among many others). The religious aspects of his novel, too, seemed less perfunctory and more worthy of analysis in the age of Jung. There were various new readings which saw it as a kind of embodiment of the Eleusinian Mysteries, or some other of the mystery religions of late Antiquity.
Winkler's book, cited above, situates Apuleius firmly in the poststructuralist era. Above all, he makes great play with the fact that the book has an entirely different resonance for a first-time reader (who is encouraged it as a rather amoral and decadent adventure story - up until the very end, that is, when the apparently sincere conversion scene takes place), and the repeat reader, who is forced to look for clues and prefigurings of this dénouement, and is thus caught in a complex of net of textual ironies and self-contradictions. Gérard Génette's classic work on Narrative Discourse
(1972) is brought into play, with its multiple levels of implied narrative, and the whole thing starts to sound very self-conscious and intentional indeed.
Winkler cites, on p.vii of his analysis, an very important point from Frank Kermode:
For the traditionalist in us all I would recall Frank Kermode's words: "what we are learning about narrative may be, in a sense, new, but narrative was always potentially what we have now learned to think it, in so far as our thinking is right." [Novel and Narrative, W. P. Ker Memorial Lecture 24 (Glasgow, 1972): 6]
our thinking on these matters "right"? Who can say? But I'm afraid that the days of reading Apuleius as a naive, semi-autobiographical wordsmith are long over. They can't stop his book from being lots of fun, though. If you like that kind of thing, that is.
If you don't
like that kind of thing - if you find the classical Roman novel a bit too much like Fellini's films: decadent, depraved, overlong, and packed to the gills with mostly irrelevant detail, there's always the Greek novel instead.
Most of these are pretty violent and sexy too, admittedly, but there's a certain sentimentality about them which shades them into something a bit more digestible for the more squeamish palate. The book above, which contains translations of all the classical texts which might qualify as "novels" (including "The Ass") is probably the best place to start.
Unless, of course, you'd rather just read the best of them on its own: some would call that the Aethiopica
(it's certainly the longest), but I greatly prefer the most famous of them all: Longus's Daphnis and Chloe
. There are a few scenes of rape and violence within it , admittedly, but for the most part it's a delightful tale of young love in a pastoral setting: The Blue Lagoon
There just isn't enough space here to go into detail about all of them, but I would certainly recommend part one of Margaret Doody's The True Story of the Novel
(1996) if you want an especially ingenious and comprehensive reading of the whole group. They're clearly rather more to her taste than the Latin novels she also discusses, and since my inclinations are in the opposite direction, this is one more reason to recommend her book!
[c.7th century BCE to 4th century CE] (chronological):
- Aesop (c.620-564 BCE): Fables
- Pseudo-Callisthenes (c.360-328 BCE): The Alexander Romance
- Chariton: Callirhoe (mid-1st century)
- Achilles Tatius: Leucippe and Clitophon (early 2nd century)
- Longus: Daphnis and Chloe (2nd century)
- Lucian of Samosata (c.125-c.180): Lucius, or the Ass
- Heliodorus of Emesa: Aethiopica (3rd century)
- Anthologies & Secondary Literature
Aesop (c.620-564 BC)
- Handford, S. A., trans. Fables of Aesop. Illustrations by Brian Robb. 1954. Penguin Classics. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1973.
- Aesop. The Complete Fables. Trans Olivia and Robert Temple. Penguin Classics. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1998.
- Aesop’s Fables. Illustrated by William K. Plummer / Arabian Nights. Illustrated by Mamoru Funai. Companion Library. New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1963.
Pseudo-Callisthenes (c.360-328 BC)
- Stoneman, Richard, trans. The Greek Alexander Romance. Penguin Classics. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1991.
Longus (c.2nd century AD)
- Longus. Daphnis & Chloe. Trans. George Thornley. 1657. Introduction by George Saintsbury. The Abbey Classics. London: Simpkin Marshall, n.d.
- Longus. Daphnis and Chloe. Trans. Paul Turner. 1956. Unexpurgated edition. Penguin Classics. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1968.
- Longus. The Pastoral Loves of Daphnis and Chloe. Trans. George Moore. Introduciton by Samuel Roth. N.p.: Boar’s Head Books, 1953.
Lucian of Samosata (c.125-c.180)
- Lucian. Satirical Sketches. Trans. Paul Turner. 1958 & 1961. Penguin Classics. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1968.
- Lucian. Chattering Courtesans and Other Sardonic Sketches. Trans. Keith Sidwell. Penguin Classics. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 2004.
Heliodorus of Emesa (c.3rd century AD)
- Heliodorus. An Æthiopian History of Heliodorus (Underdowne’s Translation, 1587). Introduction by George Saintsbury. The Abbey Classics. London: Chapman & Dodd, n.d.
- Heliodorus. An Æthiopian Romance. Trans. Thomas Underdowne. 1587. Revised and partly rewritten by F. A Wright. Broadway translations. London & New York: George Routledge & E. P. Dutton, n.d.
- Heliodorus. An Ethiopian Romance. Trans. Moses Hadas. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1957.
Anthologies & Secondary Literature
- Beaton, Roderick, ed. The Greek Novel AD 1-1985. London: Croom Helm, 1988.
- Reardon, B. P. ed. Collected Ancient Greek Novels. Berkeley & Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1989.
As for where either (or both) of these traditions began, well, the Latin novel presumably came from the Greek (like its tradition of epic poetry: Virgil from Homer, Horace from Hesiod and the other Greek bucolic poets). The Greek may well have come, by a round-about route, from Ancient Egypt, but there's little direct evidence of this beyond a few repeated motifs and plot devices.
Maybe all of these storytelling cultures come from the same Central Asian, Sanskrit-speaking roots - that was a favourite theory among the nineteenth century diffusionists, at any rate. For myself, I tend to suspect that similar cultural conditions produce similar effects even in completely independent traditions. That's really the point of trying to identify the earlier genres prose fiction may have arisen from in each of the seven traditions I'm looking at, in fact.
Actually it's probably a false dichotomy. There certainly has been a good deal of transmission of cultural freight between India, Persia, the Middle East and Europe over the past couple of millennia. I doubt that it's enough to allow us to postulate a single point of origin for the novel - defined here (for the sake of argument) as "an extended prose fiction incorporating action and character development in varying proportions" - either in Egypt or
the Ancient Aryan Highlands of Central Asia ...
- Petrie, Sir Flinders, ed. Egyptian Tales Translated from the Papyri. 1st Series: IVth to XIIth Dynasty. Illustrated by Tristram Ellis. 1895. London: Methuen, 1926.
- Petrie, Sir Flinders, ed. Egyptian Tales Translated from the Papyri. 2nd Series: XVIIIth to XIXth Dynasty. Illustrated by Tristram Ellis. 1895. London: Methuen, 1926.
- Wallis Budge, Sir Ernest A., trans. Egyptian Tales and Romances: Pagan, Christian and Muslim. 1931. Keystone Library. London: Thornton Butterworth Ltd., 1935.
- Lichtheim, Miriam. Ancient Egyptian Literature: A Book of Readings. 3 vols. Vol. I: The Old and Middle Kingdoms. 1973. Berkeley: The University of California Press, 1975.
- Lichtheim, Miriam. Ancient Egyptian Literature: A Book of Readings. 3 vols. Vol. II: The New Kingdom. 1974. Berkeley: The University of California Press, 1976.
- Lichtheim, Miriam. Ancient Egyptian Literature: A Book of Readings. 3 vols. Vol. III: The Late Period. 1978. Berkeley: The University of California Press, 1980.