Novels and Romances
Fiction in its origin is with difficulty separated from mythmyth, however, being unconscious and due to a desire to give concrete form to various beliefs that spring up in the primitive mind; while fiction, as a literary motive, originates in a desire to amuse and occasionally to instruct. Hence, the earliest form of fiction is the Beast Fable, which is found in every quarter of the earth and at every period of history. A papyrus dating from B.C. 1200 gives an Egyptian version of the Aesopic fable of the Lion and Mouse; the inscribed Babylonian bricks afford examples of the same thing, and the Hindus probably originated most of the fables which Aesop, Babrius, and Phaedrus made popular in Europe. Akin to conscious fiction and at the same time allied to myth are the folk-tales of nymphs, satyrs, ghosts, fairies, demons, and vampires which Greeks and Romans alike propagated, but which have nearly all been lost to us because they seemed to the ancients unworthy of preservation in formal literature; so that we have now only here and there tantalizing half-glimpses and vanishing suggestions of the curious and fascinating legends told by the common people. Such bits as remain, however, are quite sufficient to prove the existence of a great unwritten literature, and examples of these may still be found, though no longer preserved in their original simplicity, in the stories of the love of Echo for Narcissus, the legend of Hylas and the Naiads, of Cupid and Psych, and in the various allusions to the monsters known as the Lamiae, Mormolyc, Incubus, and Empusa, the spectre with the brazen leg and the ass's hoof. Ghosts figure in Greek literature as early as Homer, and are introduced with striking effect in the Odyssey, as also by the Romans Attius and Vergil, and in the famous story preserved by Pliny the Younger. To this informal fiction belong also the tales of the Lares and the Larvae.
The earliest form of literary prose fiction, however, is to be found in the short stories collected by Herodotus, most of which have their origin in the East, the home of storytelling. Such are the famous anecdotes of Candaules (i. 8-12), of Arion and the Dolphin (i. 24), of Rhampsinitus and the Robber (ii. 121), and of Polycrates and the Ring (iii. 39), all being admirable instances of the short story in its earliest formbrief, simple, and embodying a single incident.
Of a more formal type are the so-called Milesian Tales (Μιλησιακά), a generic term for the short anecdotes which were produced in great numbers in the luxurious cities of Asia Minor prior to the second century B.C., and first ascribed to one Aristides, who is said to have written six books of them. No actual examples are known to exist, though their nature may be judged of by the short stories found in later writers, especially Petronius, from which it would appear that they were very much like the stories told in the Decameron of Boccaccio and the Cent Nouvelles Nouvelles of Louis XI. of Francebrief, witty, and indecent. The choice of subjects in these early novelettes is seen in the existing collection of Parthenius of Nicaea, who taught Vergil Greek. From him have come down thirty-six skeleton stories, or rather hints for stories gathered by Parthenius for the use of Cornelius Gallus, and intended to be treated by him poetically. They can be found in both Greek and Latin versions in the Didot Collection (Paris, 1856). Other stories of this sort, written in other cities than Miletus, were produced by a host of storywriters who gave to their collections the titles Ephesian, Babylonian, Cyprian, Egyptian, Sybaritic, Naxian, Lydian, Trojan, and Bithynian Tales, though these do not seem to have differed, except in name, from those of Miletus. Some of them are preserved in epitome by Photius (q.v.). One of the most important writers of them after Aristides was Conon , from whom Cervantes borrowed an episode in his Don Quixote. While the short story was reaching its full development, it was used philosophically by Plato in the story of Er, and by Prodicus in his epilogue on the Choice of Heracles.
At about this time fiction underwent a further development as a result of the contact of the Greeks with the East at the time of the Persian Wars and of the spirit of adventure resulting from the conquests of Alexander. We now have instances of the historical romance in the Atlantis of Plato and the Cyropaedia of Xenophon, which find their echo in modern times in the Utopia of Sir Thomas More and the New Atlantis of Francis Bacon. The Cyropaedia contains the first romantic love-story in Greek fiction. These works, however, are partly political, and are of less literary consequence than the romance of adventure which was afterwards introduced, and which finds an illustration in the novel entitled Τὰ Ὑπὲρ Θούλην Ἄπιστα (Marvels Beyond Thul), by one Antonius Diogenes, the Munchausen of antiquity. It relates to the love-adventures of an Arcadian youth, Dinias, [p. 1107]
with a Tyrian girl, Dercyllis, and abounds with most extraordinary incidents. It is, in reality, nothing more than a collection of short stories or episodes strung together by a very slender plot. More homogeneous and artistic are the later romances of Lucius of Patrae of uncertain date called Metamorphoses, drawn upon by Lucian and Apuleius; of Iamblichus of Syria, who wrote Βαβυλωνικά, the adventures of a married pair, Sinonis and Rhodanes, with a double plot; of Xenophon of Ephesus, author of Ἐφησιακά, the loves of Abrocomas and Anthia, the ultimate source of Romeo and Juliet; and especially of Heliodorus of Emesa, in the fourth century A.D., whose Αἰθιοπικά is still in existence, and is regarded as the best of the novels of adventure produced by the Greeks. It is in ten books, and relates the adventures of two lovers, Theagenes and Chariclea. It has some quite interesting episodes, is regularly developed, and contains one curious passage on the influence of pre-natal conditions upon the unborn child. It was much read in its day, and again in the seventeenth century, when it was the favourite novel of the French poet, Racine. See Heliodorus.
Other instances of the romantic novel are those of Achilles Tatius of Alexandria, entitled Τὰ κατὰ Λευκίππην καὶ Κλειτοφῶντα (The Loves of Leucipp and Clitophon) in eight books; the Chaereas and Callirrho of Chariton of Aphrodisias; and the novelette called Apollonius Tyrius, of unknown authorship, preserved only in a Latin version, in which it was much read in the Middle Ages, and suggested a part of Gower's Confessio Amantis (iii. 284 foll.), and probably Shakespeare's Pericles, Prince of Tyre. Of very late origin are the trashy Greek novels by Theodorus Prodromus of Constantinople, and the imitation of this by Nicetas Eugenianus (both in doggerel verse), and last of all the eleven books on the adventures of Hysmin and Hysminias, perhaps the original source of the story of Don Juan.
Early in the Christian era, fiction was written in the form of letters by Alciphron, a Greek sophist, of whose imaginary epistles 118 are still preserved and give valuable pictures of low life in Athens during the second century A.D. They are very lively and entertaining, and are the best character sketches that Greek fiction can show us. Other writers of the same class are Aristaenetus of Nicaea (?), the author of two books of erotic letters written in a cynical spirit; and Theophilus of Simocatta (A.D. 610), from whom we have 85 letters, rhetorical and epigrammatic, but of no literary merit.
The prose pastoral was created by Longus (perhaps not the author's name), whose romance Ποιμενικὰ τὰ κατὰ Δάφνιν καὶ Χλόην, usually called Daphnis and Chlo, is one of the most original and pleasing things in ancient literature. Its theme is the growth of the sexual instinct in two children, a boy and a girl, who have been brought up together in a state of perfect innocence. Its physico-psychological motive makes it unique in the history of early fiction, and the warmth and beauty of its descriptions of nature are also very striking. It has been many times translated into all the modern languages, and is the original of Bernardin de St. Pierre's Paul et Virginie, of Allan Ramsay's Gentle Shepherd, and of many other less important works.
The Romans have left us only two specimens of true prose fictionthe Satiricon of Petronius Arbiter and the Metamorphoses of Apuleius; but these are in many ways superior to anything of their kind in Greek. The Satiricon, in fact, though incomplete, is one of the first great novels of our time, and is remarkable for its modern tone, its subtle touches of character, its wit, its vivid pictures of life in the Roman provincial towns, and for the grace and elegance of its style. It also gives us some of the best existing specimens of the sermo plebeius, the colloquial Latinity of uneducated men. (See Petronius; Sermo Plebeius.) The Metamorphoses of Apuleius is based upon the Metamorphoses of Lucius of Patrae, and possibly upon the Λούκιος ἢ Ὄνος of Lucian, the contemporary of Apuleius; but it is more likely that both Apuleius and Lucian drew independently from the earlier writer. The novel of Apuleius, which is in eleven books, tells the story of one Lucius, who, by a mistake, swallowed a magic potion which turned him into an ass, in which form he passed through a maze of curious and amusing adventures, until at last he regained his natural shape. The novel is highly diverting and is told with much cleverness, though often with a disregard for even an elemental sense of propriety. Among its episodes is the very famous one giving the story of Cupid and Psych, one of the most exquisite things in literature and one that has inspired innumerable works of art. See Apuleius; Psych.
In the Middle Ages, when the knowledge of ancient literature and history became lost to Western Europe, confused recollections of them still existed in the minds of men, and, together with many Teutonic folk-tales, became blended into a curious collection of stories known as the Gesta Romanorum, which were told and retold in many forms by the medivals. They mingle together the characters of antiquity in a most remarkable way, having no chronological or historical accuracy, but reproducing the legends of the past in a sort of literary mirage. Vergil, Homer, Alexander the Great, the Roman emperors, and Hercules, Romulus, and Remus, appear and reappear side by side with knights and wizards and dragons; but the tales have a certain value in literary history as forming the connecting link between the fiction of Greece and Rome and the fiction of modern times, which took its early themes largely from those monkish legends.
The ancient novel is far inferior to the modern, because (1) it was developed only after literature had entered upon its decline;
(2) because of the difference in the social spirit of antiquity which made impossible the modern romantic treatment of the relations of men and women; and
(3) because the true fiction of the Greeks was to be found, not in prose, but in the great epics which more perfectly represented the highest manifestation of the Hellenic imagination.
Bibliography.For the general subject of the origin of pure fiction, see Clauston's Popular Tales and Fictions (London, 1887); Rutherford's introduction to his edition of Babrius (1883); Rhys-Davids, Buddhist Birth-Stories (1880); Benfey's introduction to the Panchatantra (1859); Bedier, Les Fabliaux (1893); and Lang, Custom and Myth (1885). On the Greek and Roman novels, see Dunlop, History of the Novel (last ed. London, 1887); Salverte, Le Roman dans la Grce Ancienne (Paris, 1893); Chauvin, Les Romanciers Grecs et Latins (Paris, 1862); Chassang, Histoire du Roman dans l'Antiquit Grecque et Latine (Paris, 1862); Rohde, Der Griechische Roman (Leipzig, 1876); Warren, History of the Novel (N. Y. 1895). The principal Greek romances are printed in the Erotici Graeci of the Didot Collection (Paris, 1856); and the epistolographers in the Epistolographi Graeci of the same collection. For special texts, translations, etc., see the separate articles in this Dictionary on the writers named above. The Gesta Romanorum will be found edited by Oesterley (Berlin, 1872); and translated into English by Swan, revised by Hooper (London, 1877).[p. 1108]