Blog: Lockdown Days, Arabian Nights. NIGHT 1

— This blog post was written by Dr Claire Rachel Jackson, postdoctoral researcher in the Novel Echoes research group.


Some things change, some things don’t. At the start of 2020, just as our Novel Echoes project got off the ground, Covid-19 struck and Belgium went into lockdown. At the start of this academic year, just as soon as we were all together again…Belgium went back into lockdown. It’s hard not to have a sense of déjà vu about all of this, especially with yet another nail-biting US presidential election and more tense Brexit negotiations taking over the headlines. At the moment, life seems to ricochet between unstructured uncertainty and the predictable rhythms of lockdown, teleworking, and so forth.


People need stories more than bread itself

One pleasing bit of continuity over this period has been the Novel Echoes reading group, where we meet to analyse a text with relevance to the wider aims of the project. Thanks to the varying corona restrictions, we’ve been seesawing between meeting online, then in persona, then online again (and likely for the foreseeable future), meaning that our now-prohibited in-person meetings have taken on a near-mythical status. (As my colleague Nick put it, we’ll always have Rozier room 2.3…) Despite these difficulties, however, our commitment to meeting regularly, reading our way through a text, and building up a sense of its themes and context adds some certainty to an otherwise uncertain time.

Our text of choice has been the One Thousand and One Nights, the miscellany of narratives also known in English as the Arabian Nights, and what follows are my initial musings on reading the text together.[1] The overarching narrative involves Shahrazad telling stories to her husband in order to postpone her death, as his desire to hear the next story keeps him from getting bored and uxoricidal. (The story goes that after his first wife cheated on him, the tyrant married a new woman every night and murdered her in the morning before she could betray him, a mix of unpleasant sexual politics and incredible quantities of homicide). Within this framework, however, the Nights consists of a variety of inset narratives, composed at different times, from different locations, and covering a multitude of topics. Given the remit of the Novel Echoes project to investigate the early reception of the ancient novel throughout late antiquity and beyond, a compilation like the Nights which brings together a variety of post-classical fictions is an obvious flashpoint for these questions.

But if the Nights is an important landmark in novelistic reception, it is also a major problem. The reception of the Greek novel in what was the Eastern half of the Roman empire and beyond has been asserted for a long time, but pinning down the specifics has proved trickier. Most prominently, Tomas Hägg and Bo Utas have shown that the eleventh-century Persian epic poem Wamiq u ‘Adrha derives from the barely-extant first-century novel Metoichus and Parthenope, which seems to have been well-known due to live performances in Syriac-speaking regions.[2] But does this testify to the prevalence of the novel as a genre, or to the limited reception of single texts? Can we interpret this more widely to find out something about the continuity of fictional traditions, a single thread unspooling across time periods and cultural contexts – or is this simply a reflection of specific and isolated influences?

This question was raised as far back as the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, when theorists such as Pierre-Daniel Huet and Clara Reeve saw both the ancient novel and Eastern fables as a key part of the genealogy of the contemporary French roman and early modern English novel.[3] As such, the Nights stands at a paradoxical crossroads: if the ancient novel as a genre has any significant purchase in the fictional traditions of the Middle East (very widely defined), surely there would be some evidence of it in the miscellany of tales which makes up the Nights. Conversely, the tradition of placing the Nights into a continuous history of fiction, in which all novels, romances, and sagas across chronological periods and cultural contexts can be linked, undercuts that possibility. After all, if a fiction is a universal trend, can we really trace any direct cross-cultural influence? The Nights epitomises these issues, but offers no easy answers.


My story is of such a marvel!

This is exemplified by the story of Budur and Kamar, which has been described by von Grunebaum as particularly rich in novelistic motifs.[4] In its outline the narrative is distinctly novelistic: the progression of mutual infatuation between two exceptionally beautiful young people, marriage, separation, and reunion has antecedents across the extant ancient novelistic corpus. But while the generalities track, the specific details are more complicated. The protagonists’ initial meeting is not a chance encounter at a festival, as the novelistic stereotype goes, but they instead suddenly appear in bed next to each other, having been brought together magically by a pair of mischievous jinn. After this initial meeting, however, they are returned to their homelands, where no-one believes their story (quite reasonably), and they begin to waste away with longing for each other. Only Budur’s foster-brother recognises her disease as love-sickness and brings the two together by disguising Kamar as an astrologer who arrogantly promises to cure Budur without even seeing her. Kamar writes a letter to the princess, ostensibly a healing spell but in actuality a letter explaining who he is, and includes her ring, the physical proof of their night together.[5]

The prince folded this letter and, slipping the ring inside it,

sealed it and handed it to the eunuch. The slave gave it at once to his mistress, saying:

“Madam, there is behind your curtain a certain young astrologer, so audacious that he pretends to be able to cure folk without seeing them.

He has sent this paper to you.”

No sooner had the princess opened the paper than she recognised her ring

and cried aloud; pushing aside the eunuch, she ran through the curtain and knew her lover.

Then it might have been thought that she was really mad; she threw herself upon his neck,

and they kissed like two doves which had been long away from each other.


Numerous novelistic parallels can be adduced here: love at first sight; love-sickness which is misunderstood as ordinary disease by almost everyone; a helper who stands somewhere between a philosophical advisor and a manipulative charlatan; recognition following their separation.[6] But none of this is exclusively novelistic – in many ways, the archetype for this kind of long-enduring love, disguise and protracted recognition is the relationship between Odysseus and Penelope in the Odyssey. If these parallels are proof of some kind of connection between the Nights and the Greek novel, it’s undeniably general, based on thematic interests and motifs rather than specifics.


I took in anything that was new and strange

This also demonstrates the wider issues invoked by this text, especially for Classicists. As a traditionally-trained Classicist, I’m confident with Ancient Greek and Latin traditions ranging from the archaic period to Late Antiquity – or at least, I know where to go to get answers. But this pushes me beyond the limits of my knowledge. The Nights has a complex transmission history, has likely been compiled from different sources at different times, and different parts of the narrative have been added at various points ranging from the eighth to the thirteenth centuries.[7] If I see a link between the Greek novel, the genre I’ve spent my entire academic life studying, and the Nights, a text I’m looking at in isolation from its cultural and literary contexts, might there be traces of a genuine connection there? Or might it be instead be me importing my own perspective onto a text that doesn’t fit the framework through which I’m used to viewing literature? As the old saying goes: ‘when you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail’. Or, more accurately, when you have a variety of extant and fragmentary Greek novels and an academic who probably should get out more, all other fictional texts can end up looking like variations of the ones they know best.

So given all these difficulties, why should we look at the Nights? The flipside of these drawbacks is that studying a text from a totally different cultural context exposes the limitations of this viewpoint. As a discipline, Classics has historically been particularly interested in direct relationships between texts, but a work like the Nights, which is a literarily sophisticated, chronologically sprawling miscellany, challenges that model of intertextuality. For those of us who work on texts conventionally aligned with a so-called Western literary tradition, looking at this kind of text compels us to re-examine our assumptions about the nature of ancient reception and the utility of a Greco-Roman framework for exploring other literary contexts. While it is likely impossible to conclusively prove or disprove a direct connection between the Nights and the Greek novel, placing the two in dialogue forces us to confront these kinds of tensions and reconsider our own perspective on and vested interests in such a relationship.




[1] Many different titles and transliterations of names have been used to discuss the Nights in English – my choices here reflect the translations I’ve used rather than any ideological or linguistic preferences.
[2] Tomas Hagg and Bo Utas (2003) The Virgin and her Lover: Fragments of an Ancient Greek Novel and a Persian Epic Poem, Leiden. See also Daniel King (2018) ‘Translation’ in Scott McGill and Edward J. Watts (eds.) A Companion to Late Antiquity, Hoboken NJ: 523-38.
[3] Pierre-Daniel Huet (1670) Lettre-traité sur l’origine des romans; Clara Reeve (1785) The Progress of Romance. Huet’s work can be called the first history of fiction and traces a direct link between the Greek novel, building on Eastern prototypes, and the French roman, whereas Reeve’s sees similar origins for the novel but draws a sharper distinction between the old-fashioned ancient romance and the contemporary English novel.
[4] Gustave E. von Grunebaum (1942) ‘Greek Form Elements in the Arabian Nights’,  Journal of the American Oriental Society 62.4: 277-92.
[5] This translation is taken from E. P. Mathers (1986) The Book of the Thousand and One Nights: Rendered into English from the Literal and Complete French Translation of Dr J. C. Mardrus, London and New York, Vol. 2.
[6] All of these motifs can be seen in more than one novel, but particularly visible here is the recognition via letter as seen in Achilles Tatius’ Leucippe and Clitophon, and via voice in Chariton’s Callirhoe: on this see in particular Silvia Montiglio (2013) Love and Providence: Recognition in the Ancient Novel, Oxford. The diagnosis of love-sickness and medico-magical treatment recalls Heliodorus’ Aithiopika, whereas Longus’ Daphnis and Chloe dramatises the protagonists’ love-sickness as a mystery to them in particular. The advisor skilled in deception and trickery brings to mind in particular Heliodorus’ Calasiris, whose intentions have been long debated in scholarship: Jack Winkler’s (1982) ‘The Mendacity of Kalasiris and the Narrative Strategy of Heliodoros’ Aithiopika’, YCS 27: 93-158 remains a classic on this subject.
[7] This transmission history is also complicated by the role of European translators who popularised the Nights from the eighteenth century onwards, who appropriated and reworked the Nights to suit their own purposes and assert their own cultural cachet within the imperialist contexts of the period. See Paulo Lemos Horta (2017) Marvellous Thieves: Secret Authors of the Arabian Nights, Cambridge MA on this (and my thanks to my fellow postdoctoral researcher, Simon Ford, for this reference).

Blog: A Very Frankensteinian Business. On ancient films and ancient novels

— This blog post was written by Dr Nicolò D’Alconzo, postdoctoral researcher in the Novel Echoes research group.


Frozen in Time

About seventy-five per cent of early silent films are lost, not least because of self-combustion, a spectacular defect of the cellulose nitrate (essentially, a bomb) with which they were made. I learnt this figure from Bill Morrison’s 2016 documentary Dawson City: Frozen Time.[1] Morrison tells the story of Dawson City (Yukon, Canada), the epicentre of the 1898 Klondike gold rush which started waning soon after, when more gold was found in Alaska. Its story is the story of those who made it, those who failed, those who left, those who stayed, and the few who really profited.[2] But what Morrison is really after is the story of the films that found their way to deep Yukon to entertain the Dawsonians. They arrived two or three years after the original release, had nowhere to go further West, and no one in the East needed them back. Dawson City became a cinematic cul-de-sac, and the silent films started piling up. Doom struck at the end of the 1920s for a number of reasons: the occasional fire, the arrival of the talkies, and most of all the lack of storage space. Tons of reels were thrown in the river Yukon and may still be floating somewhere, hundreds of films were burned, and a bunch of them were used to fill a swimming pool turned into an ice rink. These buried films were the lucky ones.

Films are either exposed to light or they don’t exist. Without light, their contents don’t materialize, and their memory is eventually lost. Come spring, the odd fragment of film would emerge from the ice rink, but it wasn’t until 1978 that an entire hoard was discovered during construction work. Light fell on the films (533 reels for 372 titles, almost all unique copies that don’t exist anywhere else) for the first time in 49 years, and people started remembering. It’s a story of love, loss, and resurrection that made my eyes a little watery more than once, but the real magic is in the filmmaking. Dawson City, mostly silent itself, is not just about once-lost silent films, it is made of them. Some of this is normal documentary work, like the story of the gold rush told through original footage. But Dawson City really flies when Morrison entrusts the storytelling almost entirely to the surviving films, which he has painstakingly segmented and rewoven, and connected by means of short captions. One such caption tells us that after 1921 the lucky bunch is stored first in the bank and then moved to the library’s basement: a sequence of shots of stairs, doors, door knobs, people behind doors, people spying, thieves. Whatever their original function in their respective stories, these shots now signify, collectively, preoccupation with the films’ destiny. Who says that one shot, one scene, can only live once, in one story? Another caption reads that eastern distributors authorize the destruction of the films: shot of a pirate throwing a treasure chest overboard. The films are moved from the library’s basement to be used as landfill: long sequence of shots of sad, inconsolable, and angry people. Who cares what worried these characters in the first place, now they’re all sad about the loss of the films they’re in! The forgotten films are reactivated to contemplate their own story in a continuous loop that ensures they’ll never be forgotten again. Dawson City is a Frankenstein of a film (but come to think of it, show me one that isn’t). It’s also born out of love. It doesn’t just tell the story of once-lost films; it gives them a second life.

Last Stop: Constantinople?

It’s possible that around twenty per cent of ancient Greek novels (1st-4th century C.E.) survived in their entirety. Could be less; I don’t think it’s more. We don’t know why or when the rest were lost more than we know why or when the survivors were not. Whatever happened, Constantinople is one of the places where it happened. Having emerged in Asia Minor in the 1st century C.E., the novels didn’t have to travel far to get there. We don’t know if they travelled further East, but we know they started (or re-started) travelling West around the 12th century. Constantinople is the last known location of at least two lost novels as well as the place where the ones we have were secured for posterity. We also know that these novels were read because their titles and authors resurface in a handful of Byzantine texts, but it’s what happens below the surface that gives us a better idea of how novels were read and used. Buried in the pages of works of any kind, from history to funeral orations, lie fragments (a few words, sometimes a sentence) taken from novels written centuries before. This is not in itself unusual, literature of all times being a very Frankensteinian business, but it becomes important when it involves a genre that came close to extinction. Perhaps authors’ ability to create a memorable scene is key to their survival.

Montage tricks

The most copied scene from Heliodorus’ Ethiopian Story  (4th century C.E.) is a bird’s-eye view of a beach at dawn: “The smile of daybreak was just beginning to brighten the sky, the sunlight to catch the hilltops, …”.[3] This scene was reused about ten times in a time span of a thousand years after it was composed. Placed conveniently at the very start of a long novel, it seems to have been an easy taking for anyone in need of a great shot of dawn. Those who read further also got more creative with the material they found and transformed it to their heart’s content, and I quite like it when people do that. Take Michael Psellus (see image) and his family drama (11th century).[4] Psellus describes himself crying by the tomb of his recently deceased sister, with his parents trying to drag him away. “Have pity on us!” his parents cry, “Have mercy of the grey hair that raised you!” Fast-forward to the moment when Psellus realizes that his father is going to die, and to a close-up of him “standing in incoherent horror”. If these reactions look a bit melodramatic for real-life events it’s because they are. There’s a scene in the Ethiopian Story where one Cnemon dashes into his stepmother’s bedroom, sword in hand, to catch her and her lover in the act when… surprise! The lover is no other than his dad, who’s now begging: “Have pity on your father! Have mercy of the grey hair that raised you!” Cnemon is reasonably shocked (he’s been tricked by the stepmother, whose advances he has scorned), a feeling captured in a close-up of him “standing in incoherent horror”. And so we can see that Psellus has segmented a scene of desire and betrayal (and a certain amount of irony) in the Ethiopian Story, and re-montaged it for two different and very personal moments of his life. Did these moments really happen? Or did he see himself a little bit like Cnemon (minus the quasi-Oedipal aspects, one thinks)? Maybe he just wanted to feel like his life belonged in a novel, like the one he’d read and loved.

One century later, Nicetas Choniates uses a similar montage trick when describing warriors from Scythia (roughly between the Black and Caspian Seas).[5] We see them like we see the bandits in Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai: “They’re great fighters: brigandage is a way of life to them, and they hold death in all its forms in contempt”. Their special move also belongs in a film: “They would take to their heels and outrun the enemies by some margin, though even as they ran they would shoot arrows backwards over their shoulders”. Impressive, but these aren’t Scythians at all, or, to put it better, they are now, after reincarnation. In their previous lives in the Ethiopian Story, eight hundred years before, the first scene was created for a description of brigands from Northern Egypt, and the second of warriors from the Land of Cinnamon (modern Somalia). Choniates combines in one continuous sequence what were originally two distinct shots about completely different people. But does it matter if actual Scythians used to perform the run-and-shoot? Isn’t a little liberty with accuracy a reasonable price to pay for a shot worthy of John Ford?

You can recognize the century-old films in Dawson City immediately. They’re in black and white, silent, blurry, shaky. And they’re fragile, with white scratches running through them like little veins, and full of holes. Next to them the aerial shot of present-day Dawson City, the camera embracing river and land to show exactly what it means to build a city where there wasn’t one before, looks like a space shuttle next to a wheelbarrow. That’s the point of Dawson City, to juxtapose old and new and make you think about time and memory. How quickly cinema ages, I’ve also thought. It’s a little older than one century and its beginnings already look ancient. Not so Greek prose of the first millennium. The words of Heliodorus and those of Psellus and Choniates many centuries later are made of the same stuff, which means the scenes from the novel blend into their surroundings without a glitch. In fact, whenever I spot one of them, I feel like I’ve seen through perfect camouflage. But maybe I’m wrong and these authors never intended to hide anything. Maybe the readers in Constantinople saw through the montage of old and new and drew a lot of pleasure from it. And I wonder, if we can recognize these scenes because we have the original to compare them to, how many scenes from lost novels are also there, undistinguishable from the rest but still floating somewhere?


[1] I had already learnt plenty about nitrate films’ inflammability from Tornatore’s Nuovo cinema paradiso.

[2] Not far from Dawson City, in Whitehorse, one Frederick Trump built a brothel and made a fortune (paternal grandfather, in case you’re wondering).

[3] John R. Morgan’s translation of the Ethiopian Story, the source of all my quotes in this piece, can be found in B. P. Reardon’s Collected Ancient Greek Novels.

[4] Michael Psellus was a literary, political, and religious factotum. The following scenes are taken from Encomium for his mother.

[5] Nicetas Choniates was a historian. This scene is taken from his Orations (2).

CfP: Enchanted reception: Religion and the supernatural in medieval Troy narratives 

Call for Papers :

Enchanted reception: Religion and the supernatural in medieval Troy narratives  

Date: Thursday-Friday, 3-4 June 2021
Place: Ghent University
If necessary due to the current circumstances, we will arrange a hybrid version (partly online), or a strictly digital version.

Enchanted Reception is a two-day workshop with the aim of exploring the place of enchantment, myth, and religion in both Eastern and Western medieval narratives about Troy, or narratives that are influenced by motifs related or parallel to the narrative of the Trojan war. Together with scholars specialising in the different language traditions of medieval literature, we aim to explore the following questions from a transnational approach:

•    How did contemporary (e.g. literary and socio-cultural) developments influence medieval adaptations of the supernatural and pagan religion in medieval Troy narratives?
•    What role does the Troy motif play in other literary works?
•    How are rationalization and “Christianization” used to deal with the medieval unease evoked by certain aspects of ancient mythology?
•    From a comparative perspective, how can we map such processes transnationally, e.g. in the different language and literature traditions of the medieval world?
•    How do these questions engage with themes such as gender, sexuality, ethnicity and cross-cultural connections?

Please send your abstract to Dr Tine Scheijnen ( or Dr Ellen Söderblom Saarela ( no later than 15 January 2021. Colleagues who have submitted an abstract will be notified by 1 February 2021.

This workshop is organized as part of and supported by the ERC project Novel Echoes and the FWO project The romance between Greece and the west (see

If you have any inquiries, please do not hesitate to contact Tine or Ellen. We look very much forward hearing from you and receiving your abstracts!

Blog: On the significance of details: Black Achilles medieval and modern

— This blog post was written by Dr Tine Scheijnen, postdoctoral researcher in the Novel Saints research group.


Google Oops 

When googling ‘Black Achilles’, hits pop up such as ‘blackwashing history’, ‘politically correct inaccuracy’, or ‘racist backlash’ (on 4/9/2020), all related to the 2018 BBC series about the Trojan War. Why? Because the black actor David Gyasi was cast as Achilles. Most of the internet reactions are from people who are either outraged or feel the urge to defend what appears to be a daring choice… It is a detail, surely; one among many in a 21st-century interpretation of ancient heroes, yet visibly a sensitive one. Tim Whitmarsh points out that one of the issues often raised – ‘whether it is historically correct to depict Achilles as a black man?’ – is not the right question to ask in a context of cultural reception. That the debate concerning historical accuracy has raged so furiously is an indicator of our modern day controversies.

I was completely unaware of the media storm and on my own ‘black Achilles’ business. But browsing through the pages of search results about the TV show, the parallel with my own reason for googling those words struck me: I, too, was curious about a dark-skinned Achilles I had come across in a source, and I (too?) was wondering what might have inspired the artist to make such a remarkable choice. I was looking for texts, paintings, or others that might have set the example – I found none. Only, the source that had raised my curiosity was not a 21st-century TV show, but a 14th-century poem. Indeed, the BBC was not the first to stage Achilles as a black man. A brief Middle English romance (which I doubt BBC would have been aware of) beat them to it by centuries. The skin colour of ‘my’ medieval Achilles is mentioned as a detail in two verses – easily missed, even when reading the text carefully. Still, it is not an innocent detail – not today, but neither in the Middle Ages.


Medieval Troy

The Middle Ages were wild about the Trojan War, because the story was believed to explain European roots: the Trojans who survived the fall of their city travelled west to become the ancestors of Europeans, among whom the English. For this reason the topic was popular in medieval songs, romances, and even historical texts. The middle English poem I have been researching, Seege or Batayle of Troye, is a bit of everything: it contains love intrigue, is written in rhyme, and was probably meant to be sung aloud for an audience; and in one manuscript, it serves as the introduction to a historiographical treatise. It is brief in comparison to the other Troy texts from the Middle English tradition: only ca. 2,000 verses long. Still it recounts the entire Trojan War, which is a tale of generations: Jason and Hercules’ expedition for the Golden Fleece results in a first sack of Troy. King Priam then rebuilds the city, but years later his son Paris brings home the Greek queen Helen, with the Greek fleet furiously on their heels. The second siege, ‘the one we all know’, takes a decade. Eventually, Troy is once more (and now forever) reduced to ashes.[1]

The Seege has a lot to tell in few words. Precisely this brevity makes the poem so interesting: it needs to be selective. The Middle Ages had a lot of story material available about the Trojan War and indeed other Middle English Troy texts stayed closer to what earlier authors had already written: they only translated or made very limited changes. The Seege faced an additional challenge: to size down the story to ‘performable length’. Scenes needed to be shortened, details deleted, characters changed, perhaps rendered less complex – you might compare it to reworking a book into a movie: the general idea remains the same, but a new format calls for new choices. Essentially, the plot has to become more compact.[2]


Rewriting Achilles

Achilles is one of the main heroes in the Seege, so his characterization naturally undergoes this process. He is described as a strong fighter, invincible on account of his impenetrable skin (his mother gave him a divine bath when he was young). Most importantly, he slays Hector (the Trojan champion), so the Greeks owe part of their victory to him. Readers from any time would recognize Achilles in these features. The Seege has done a good job in capturing his essence. But there is also a new detail: Achilles’ mother, who is traditionally a sea goddess, is said to be ‘a witch’. She uses ‘the water of hell’ to render Achilles invulnerable.[3] Her dark magic has an unusual side effect: it literally blackens Achilles’ skin. He turns ‘black as Mohammed’, to be precise (line 1350). And as if to confirm that, Achilles swears ‘by Mohammed’ once as well (line 1334). Although these details are mentioned in two minor passages, there is no room for doubt: the Seege portrays Achilles as the Greek warrior hero we all know… and as a black Muslim (in the medieval context, we might commonly think of a  ‘Saracen’ or a ‘Moor’, although the precise term is never specified in the text).

This is neither neutral nor innocent. Western medieval literature is known to use a clearly racial discourse at times: in stories about the crusades, for example, features such as a black skin characteristically portray non-Christians as Other; the ones to be defeated. The Seege, too, is a story about ‘East vs. West’, but with a twist: the ‘Eastern’ Trojans are supposed to be the ancestors of the medieval audience and thus ‘the good guys’. The Greeks are the enemies. With this in mind, it makes sense to a medieval audience that a narrator depicts the Greek Achilles as black: they would remember other stories and songs where the English knight defeats his black opponent (e.g. Guy of Warwick vs. the black giant Amoraunt)[4]  and analogously recognize a black Achilles as ‘the enemy’ in the Seege. In the same fashion, witchcraft is easier to understand than the divine powers of an unknown pagan goddess. So the black skin – alongside his Muslim religion and mother’s witchcraft –  is perhaps ‘just’ a narrative trick. The Seege also gives Achilles credit for his prowess. He is a strong fighter and more honest than several Trojans; a real champion. But the suggestion that he is Othered persists: Achilles is branded as someone opposed to the ‘Us’ that the audience would relate to. This is in stark contrast with the staging of a black Achilles in the modern TV series, which offers a clear message of inclusion.

Still, from one end of the spectrum to the other, both sources can be seen to engage in the same debate. The black skin detail in the Seege evokes a West/East clash with underlying messages about religious superiority and political supremacy of one part of the world over another, those groups being (at least partly) defined by the colour of skin. Sound familiar?


Unsettling? Good. 

If it does, we owe it to our present-day context not to ignore this detail. With #BlackLivesMatter fresh on our minds, the connection is evident. The ongoing protests aim to raise awareness about the fact that, while racism can manifest itself in obvious ways, it also often lingers in less tangible places – sometimes hidden in the details. Black Achilles in the Seege is such a detail. Fully aware of the risks of anachronism, a modern reader can still legitimately identify the added layer of significance that our present-day situation adds to a medieval text. In fact, this is what is going on in the academic field as we speak. Medieval studies about ‘race’ and ‘ethnicity’ are thriving – not merely because the Middle Ages were indeed a melting pot of interacting (and conflicting) peoples, cultures, and religions, but also because there are still too many (accidental, but also conscious) misconceptions about the medieval past, even in academic contexts.[5] The current call to raise awareness is loud. By being more open and explicit about these issues, we can use them as ‘a springboard for improving our contemporary world’.[6] In this context, the Seege might indeed be used to build a bridge from the past to the present.


Back to the future…

An important job of a literary scholar – and indeed any reader – is to keep reading texts that unsettle us; to try and understand the contexts in which they were written; and to ensure we understand what happened in the past. Our second job is about today: to describe these findings, publish them, and talk about them at conferences and (yes, also, and importantly) informally, e.g. in pubs. The past should not be censured, but it should be contextualized. When information is passed on, this has to happen with attention to the present-day socio-political contexts. I experienced this not long ago, when an editor of my forthcoming article about the Seege (see footnote 3) helpfully suggested I rephrase a few words in order to avoid ‘an unintentional racist slur’. What, in something I drafted?! The devil is, indeed, in the details! So my best intention in this piece may also be corrected by those who find fault here – raising awareness works both ways.

And then there is our third, perhaps most important task: to use these findings as a stepping-stone towards the future. We must consider how best to give texts such as the Seege new significance, a place in our education: what message can we draw from the past to reflect on the future? I strongly believe that we must dare to face these texts. History is never complete. For centuries, authors have used and reused old Troy stories to create new ones; what no longer fitted in their own context was updated. In the same way, we can now select passages from the Seege to scrutinize them in current debates about diversity and equality. It is our responsibility to use what we have read to constructive ends. What follows will be more than mere textual criticism: it forms a catalyst for new ideas, a call to action.

For me, this is a recent realization but I’m eager to join the debate, since this does concern us all. Colour of skin on the screen, in a text, or in the street ought to be but a detail. Literary scholars can help to make that difference. The impact of my Seege text may be minor, but offered up in sufficient portions, plankton feeds the whale. As Josephine Quinn reflects on racism in classics, ‘we have an opportunity here (…) to show how relevant, inclusive and positively anti-elitist our field can be.’ Similar voices grow louder in Medieval studies. And only if all fields join forces, the whale will start to move…



[1] If you are a classicist and/or currently frowning: yes, this sounds rather unhomeric and unvergilian. Two important inspirations for Troy stories in the Middle Ages were Dictys and Dares: their versions sounded more like history and were easier to accept for a Christian audience with a political interest in the story (though Vergil and the Ilias Latina were not forgotten in certain milieus).

[2] The best edition in which to read The Seege or Batayle of Troye still dates back to 1927 (Barnicle: No. 172 of the Early English Text Society series). Middle English is more or less understandable with some knowledge of modern English, given a glossary and if you read the difficult pieces out loud.

[3] If you are curious about the details: I have an article forthcoming on this topic: ‘The wicked witch of the West? Thetis’ controversial transformations in 14th century Middle English vernacular’ (in a volume about the reception of Thetis). So no spoilers here!

[4] You can read about this and more examples in McDonald’s volume Pulp Fictions of Medieval England (2004). E.g. McDonald’s on Richard Coeur de Lion (chapter 6), Jane Gilbert on King of Tars (chapter 5) and Rebecca Wilcox on Guy of Warwick (chapter 10).

[5] I cannot explain this issue in detail here, but a very recent and informative overview of current research and the issues at stake can be found in chapter 13 of the 2020 Companion to Geoffrey of Monmouth (edited by Smith & Henley, Brill; chapter ‘Geoffrey of Monmouth and Race’ by Lumbley: 369-396).

[6] Quote drawn from Thomas Jenkins’ book Antiquity Now (p. 159), which indicates that similar debates are ongoing in other fields than Medieval Studies as well.

Blog: Uncertainty’s potential: reading the new normal through Xenophon of Ephesus

— written by Dr Ellen Söderblom Saarela, Postdoctoral Researcher in the Novel Echoes research group


May you live in interesting times

After months of living in the new normal, I feel that my tempo has decreased. Focus has shifted as society has closed down. From an endless chase for productivity, protecting people from the virus appears as the new main objective. In the blink of an eye everything has changed: habits, priorities, and tempo. In this new normal, I send neatly sown facemasks to my parents back home, hoping that my sign of affection could not only make them happy and cut our geographical distance, but also keep them safe. In the new normal, I grasp for ways of managing an unmanageable situation. I turn my days of orientation into my normal. Through my purchase of these – to me new – pieces of clothing, I’m seeking for my place in a world I don’t know.

Collectively, we’re living in a state of uncertainty. Critically, we analyze our ways of living, calling out destructive habits, opening our minds to something new. In these so-called strange times, moreover, political movement is discernable in many places of the world. Anger and determination enact change in existing social structures and physical public spaces. In the new normal, it seems, things can actually change. Stores are closed down, statues are taken down. How will we move on from these days of uncertainty? What will take shape from the new normal?

In this blogpost I would like to reason that the experience of uncertainty carries an inherent potential, by exploring some passages from Xenophon of Ephesus’ ancient Greek novel An Ephesian Tale. This novel is dated to the first or second century CE and is, together with Chariton’s one, among the earliest of the ancient Greek novels. In the next few paragraphs, I want to explore the state of uncertainty in which the female protagonist, Anthia, finds herself after she falls in love with the male protagonist, Habrocomes. Maybe the lack of place for female desire, as it is expressed by Anthia as she finds her emotions unfitting a young girl, is echoed in a current collective experience of uncertainty?

 –Joseph Paelinck’s painting The Fair Anthia Leading her Companions to the Temple of Diana in Ephesus


“I feel a new pain!”
The story of Habrocomes and Anthia falling in love plays out differently for both. Habrocomes, for his part, is immature in the beginning of the story, unaware of his own sexuality. As he sees Anthia at the local festival of Artemis, Habrocomes falls instantly in love with her and subjugates – finally – to Eros. His desire is constructive, turning him into a civilized man through the act of transgression. Having exposed a naïve boyish arrogance towards erotic desire, he now discovers eros through his love for Anthia, and grows up. In this sense, Habrocomes’ desire results in the opposite of uncertainty.

Anthia’s story is different. She is introduced in the story during a local festival of Artemis. Her introduction is focused around her beauty and resemblance to the maiden huntress, the goddess of chastity, Artemis. In her introduction, Anthia is described as aligned with Artemis through the gaze of an observing crowd. Moreover, this perceived link between goddess and mortal girl is described as something which occurs often: Anthia is often seen and greeted as Artemis, the narrative says. In the narrative, her character is developed through the public eye.

When Anthia falls in love with Habrocomes and experiences desire for the first time, her emotions come into conflict with her own, as well as the public, view of her as a young girl, a resemblance of the chaste divinity. She finds herself in a bad state. She asks herself: “What has happened to me?” Anthia is miserable: “I feel a new pain, inappropriate for a young girl. I am mad about Habrocomes.” Anthia does not know what will happen, what is going on: “Where will this desire take me?”
How could we interpret these expressions of uncertainty? To what do they respond? If male characters learn about love as a way to grow up, what space is there for reciprocity, for the female characters to go through an equal transgression? Of course one finds literary representations of women in love in antiquity. The presence of female characters in love is not remarkable in itself. But how is it narrated, and what space is there for it to be acted out? The disruption traceable through Anthia’s words could perhaps be interpreted as the representation of a girl’s experience of dissonance between her bodily emotion and her assigned cultural identity. Anthia is not only in love, but madly so (the verb μαίνομαι mainomai is echoed in the English word ‘manic’); she has lost her senses due to her desire and now finds herself at a loss.

As Anthia expresses the inappropriateness of her emotion, desire is not viewed (by her) as positive in relation to her female chaste identity. However, as for Anthia, when she falls in love with Habrocomes, her body expresses something different from this female ideal of beauty, for which she is admired at the festival. As the crowd sees both the beautiful Anthia and the handsome Habrocomes, they shout that the two would make a nice couple. The awakening of desire is, in other words, instantly placed within a cultural context.


Seeking social identity
Though reciprocity is present in the novel, the connection between love and identity differs, depending on gender. Eros sets Habrocomes on the right track; he is taught to respect and oblige desire. He realizes his own arrogance and begs Eros to be merciful towards the naivety of his ignorant youth. Anthia, for her part, appears to experience herself set off track through her desire. She expresses a shift in her being, wondering what the cause is to her misery. Although Habrocomes’ rite of passage is in clearer line with the genre, Anthia experiences also an internal change caused by desire. This change, she continues, is inappropriate, not fitting a young girl. In Anthia’s first encounter with erotic emotions, a conflict is exposed between the female ideal and her body language, or herself.

An experience of transgression can be discerned in Anthia’s words. Anthia wonders how far her yearning may go, and where she may find an end to her misery. Her beloved one awakens her desire, putting her on the verge between being a civilized girl and a mad lover. Thus, in this scenario, Habrocomes appears to Anthia as a mirror against which she can assert herself – what has happened to me?

In response, Anthia states that she is a virgin under supervision; her social identity prevents her from acting out her emotions. Her social identity stands in the way of the new, uncertain, subject that she is. Although Anthia realizes that her room for agency is limited, she finishes her speech by nonetheless grasping for that which she desires, asking herself: “where will I see Habrocomes?” As a contrast to the scene of her introduction, where focus lied in the public’s gaze on Anthia and her stature in comparison to the goddess Artemis, the narrative now tells the female protagonist’s inner yearning, her bodily emotion, along with an experienced uncertainty. A cultural, ideal female role is put in conflict with Anthia’s inner self.


Desire for change

By experiencing an uncertainty of identification with imposed femininity in culture, Anthia could be interpreted as embodying the potential of a form of (female) subjectivity that is defined in its very lack of definition. Anthia desires Habrocomes, and by her lack of him, she realizes her own limits. She immediately asks herself how to grasp that which she yearns, where she will see her beloved.

Anthia’s uncertainty resonates in our own unpredicted times. Orienting in the new normal we are, in whichever corner of the world we live, faced with new openings. The tempo has slowed down, and still, in the very moment, we are experiencing radical change. In the unknown, we change our habits and priorities. I worry for my beloved ones back home, whom, out of fear of exposing them to a dangerous virus, I mustn’t hug. So I keep strolling in the new normal, sending my father a facemask that suits his rock’n’roll aesthetic.

— Ellen’s father with face mask

Searching for a path to follow in the unknown, I orient in a world I don’t know. I wouldn’t wish to romanticize neither the time of pandemic nor political reactions against social injustice by suggesting erotic uncertainty is like political and socio-economic uncertainty. The new normal isn’t beautiful, it’s undefined. In the undefined there’s risk, but also potential. Now, my limits are clearer – so I can seek to transgress them. “I feel a new pain”, Anthia exclaims. Yet because of her lack of resonance with the world as she knew it, Anthia finds herself in a state that is yet to be defined. Desire has resulted in a personal crisis, in misery. But then again, through her anguish Anthia reaches herself out, grasping towards that which is yet to be explored.

Blog post: Photius, Fiction, and the Ancient Novel

— written by Dr Claire Rachel Jackson, Postdoctoral Researcher in the Novel Echoes research group


What’s in a name?

Who reads novels, and why? If you ask most people this question, they’ll likely give you a strange look as if it’s a trick question. There are so many different and diverse novels in the modern world, after all, that it’s hard to imagine that there isn’t one to appeal to everyone’s taste. This has never been so true as now. During the lockdown prompted by Covid-19, sales of fiction in the UK have surged [1], and customers seem to be shunning dystopian stories for ones which can comfort, soothe, and entertain us through this unusual period. Now more than ever, novels are a fairly universal way of distracting ourselves from the current social and political situation, entertaining ourselves, and comforting ourselves with fiction.

But if you ask this question about antiquity, the answer looks quite different. The texts known in modern scholarship as ancient novels are not clearly identified in antiquity, and there is a long debate about exactly how firmly ancient readers categorised them as a single genre across their heyday in the 1st-4th century CE. The term novel is not an ancient one, and has come down to us from a seventeenth century French theorist, Pierre-Daniel Huet, whose use of the word roman for both ancient and early modern fictions has encouraged this kind of transference between ancient and modern novels [2]. Modern readers expect novels to be fictional because of our familiarity with the conventions of the genre. If ancient readers did not have a fixed concept of novels or a lot of examples to establish these conventions, would they automatically think of novelistic fiction as something natural and normal? Or would it be something more complex, something they had to confront and grapple with?

If we wanted to ask these questions about the modern world, there’d be a simple answer: ask the readers of novels and see what they say. But our evidence for who read novels and why in antiquity is extremely sketchy. The latest ancient novel dates from the 4th century CE at the latest, but the influence of the novels on hagiography, medieval romances, and early modern novels make it clear that they held significant appeal in the centuries after they were composed. Proving this, however, is a different matter. The extant testimonia to the novels in the centuries after their composition are problematic. They suggest that the novels were considered low-brow, even obscene. My personal favourite is Theodorus Priscianus, a late fourth/early fifth-century doctor who offers an unusual cure for impotence.

It is good to use readings that draw the soul towards pleasure, like those of Philip of Amphipolis or of Herodian or undoubtedly of the Syrian Iamblichus, or to others that pleasantly narrate erotic tales (Euporista 2.11.34, 133 Rose)

It’s not clear who Philip of Amphipolis or Herodian are. Ewen Bowie has ingeniously suggested it might be a corruption for Heliodorus, author of the Aithiopika (Ethiopian Stories) [3], but given how chaste this novel is by comparison to the others, it seems a bit of a stretch. But the reference to the Syrian Iamblichus suggests that Priscianus is talking about ancient novels. We know that an Iamblichus, said in one version of his authorial biography to be a Syrian, wrote a novel called the Babyloniaka (Babylonian Stories), which seems to have been quite racy. As such, this has often been interpreted as a paradigmatic example of how the ancient novels were perceived in late antiquity – essentially as a kind of low-rent pornography. But this is just one mention of one now-lost novel, not of the genre as a whole, and given the genre’s influence on religious hagiography, this cannot be the whole story. This epitomizes the paradox of the ancient novel’s reception: on the one hand, the explicit mentions of the texts are often thin, partial, and focus on just one facet of this complex genre; on the other, the subtler evidence of their influence on hagiography and later genres suggests a much more multifaceted reception. How then should we investigate the early reception history of the ancient novel?


Fallible Photius

These questions form the core of my current research as part of the Novel Echoes project. My work looks at how the novels were read in their earliest reception, and how we bridge the gap between the explicit testimonia to the novels like Theodorus Priscianus and the subtler but more pervasive signs of their influence across late antiquity and Byzantium. A key figure for this research is Photius (see image 2), the ninth-century patriarch of Constantinople. Photius seems to have been a prodigious literary figure, writing letters, dictionaries, theological works, and more. But of particular interest to scholars of the ancient novel is the Bibliotheca, literally a ‘collection of books.’ The Bibliotheca is essentially Photius’ reading journal, in which he describes the 279 texts he read while separated from his brother Tarasius, the work’s addressee [4]. In this work, Photius includes a number of novels and other fictional narratives in this work, such as Heliodorus’ Aithiopika, Achilles Tatius’ Leucippe and Clitophon, the pseudo-Lucianic Ass and its likely source-material in Lucius of Patrae’s Metamorphoses. Photius even discusses lost novels such as Antonius Diogenes’ The Wonders Beyond Thule and Iamblichus’ Babyloniaka, works that would only exist in a handful of fragments each if not for Photius’ detailed descriptions of their plots [5]. Photius’ detailed summaries of a wide variety of different novels makes him a uniquely important figure in the reception history of the novel, as without Photius our knowledge of these fragmentary novels would be just barely north of nothing.

But Photius is not an infallible source. Some of the novels he describes are still extant, and by comparing the novel with Photius; version of it, we can see the differences. Heliodorus’ Aithiopika, likely written in the third or fourth century CE, is famously complicated and twisty. It starts enigmatically with two unknown figures left alive after the aftermath of a battle, and it takes roughly half of this 80,000 word novel to find out who these people are and what sparked this battle. The eleventh century Byzantine writer Michael Psellos comments on how twisty Heliodorus’ plot is, comparing it to snakes hiding their heads in their coils so you can’t see where they end or begin. Photius, however, doesn’t mention this at all. Instead, he begins the plot at the earliest chronological point of the story rather than the actual beginning of the book. This is not entirely wrong, but tells us something about Photius’ priorities that he reorders the complex plot into a chronologically linear fashion.

With this in mind, how should we interpret Photius’ assertion that Antonius Diogenes’ novel was likely composed near the time of Alexander? The very name Antonius Diogenes must date from the Roman empire due to its mix of Greek and Latin names, and the only mention of Alexander comes from inside the novel itself. One of the novel’s origin stories for itself is that the manuscript of the narrative was rediscovered by Alexander the Great’s soldiers. Has Photius mixed up fiction and reality? If so, how can we take any of what he says for granted?

This is one of the key questions my current research tackles. What I’m interested in is how Photius’ priorities as an editor and compiler might affect the way he discusses the novels. In other words, why did Photius compose the Bibliotheca, and what might this tell us about his interest in novelistic fiction? One possible answer comes in the prefatory letter to the Bibliotheca. This letter, which is only preserved in one manuscript and is textually pretty corrupt, is written from Photius to his brother Tarasius. In it, Photius explains that to console his brother during their absence whilst he goes on an embassy to the Assyrians, he has summarised some texts he does not think Tarasius has read before, focusing especially on the unusual and exotic (which would explain why he doesn’t mention Homer or other texts likely to be taught in schools at this time). Photius stresses that Tarasius should not expect complete accuracy from him, as everything in the Bibliotheca is the product of Photius’ memory and might well be faulty. A lot of ink has been spilled identifying exactly which diplomatic mission Photius might have been a part of, how this dates the work, and the reliability of his implicit suggestion that he and Tarasius shared reading material. But this focus on the veracity of Photius’ letter ignores the wider point, namely that Photius is clearly trying to present the work as the product of his memory and his reading tastes. Regardless of how truthful this is, Photius places a lot of emphasis on that this is his memory of the text, and thus reflects his own priorities and interests.


Fixing Fiction?

So if Photius is clear that the Bibliotheca reflects his own interests in literature and his memory of the texts, what does this tell us about his approach to the novels? Firstly, Photius’ use of language is really surprising. He does use interesting language of fiction, but not in a fixed way, as he does not use different words to describe fictional texts than non-fictional ones, or to distinguish pagan fictions from Christian ones. Most famously, he calls several of the ancient novels dramatika, deriving from the word drama, but he also uses this word to describe speeches which are theatrical and…well, dramatic. What this tells us is that Photius does not seem to have a fixed idea of fiction as something intrinsic to novels, but responds to it differently in different contexts.

Photius often describes the texts he describes in moral terms. He criticises Achilles Tatius for being obscene (not entirely unfairly), while he praises Heliodorus’ interest in chaste love. This might suggest that Photius is interested in fiction for its ethical value, where the obsessive, borderline over the top chastity of the protagonists of the Aithiopika is far superior to the cavalier, lecherous approach to sexuality of Leucippe and Clitophon. And yet, while Byzantine churchmen like Photius can have a reputation for being staid, Photius’ wide and eclectic reading tastes suggest that he was fairly adventurous in his approach to fiction. After all, while Photius criticises Achilles Tatius, he at no points tells Tarasius not to read the novel. This suggests that Photius is grappling with the same issues that often confront modern readers about whether we should read works that we feel are worthy and moral, or ones which are temptingly entertaining. Perhaps, therefore, Photius’ approach to reading isn’t so different from some of our modern assumptions about novels and fiction [6].

By looking at Photius’ approach to novels, fiction, and reading, my research considers what Photius can tell us about how some of the earliest readers of the ancient novels engaged with these texts, and how Photius’ perceptions of them as fictions can change the way we think about novels and fiction across time. It shouldn’t change your enjoyment of whatever novels you are reading though!



[2] The irony is that Huet’s work, Traité de l’origine des romans (1670), was first published appended to a novel, Marie de la Fayette’s Zayde, which demonstrates literally this crossover between ancient novel and modern romance (or ancient romance and modern novel, depending on how you prefer to think about it).

[3] Ewen Bowie (1994) ‘The Readership of Greek Novels in the Ancient World’ in J. Tatum (ed.) The Search for the Ancient Novel, Baltimore MD: 435-59.

[4] There are actually 280 entries in the Bibliotheca, but in one entry (codex 268) Photius admits he has not actually read the book he is describing.

[5] I’ve written about these novels and Photius’ role in transmitting them in two forthcoming articles: ‘The Genuine Article? Fictions of Authenticity in Antonius Diogenes’ The Wonders Beyond Thule and Photius’ Bibliotheca’ in K. Ní-Mheallaigh and C. R. Jackson (eds.) The Thulean Zone: New Frontiers in Fiction with Antonius Diogenes, CUP, and; ‘Fragmentary Fictions: Author, Text, and Reader in Iamblichus’ Babyloniaka’ in F. Middleton, T. Geue, and C. R. Jackson (eds.) Triangulationships: Between Authors, Readers, and Texts in Imperial Literature, CUP.

[6] These tensions between ‘worthy’ and ‘escapist’ fictions are visible especially in discussions of romance novels because of their subject matter, their intended audience, and perceived low-brow style.

Julie Van Pelt at workshop KU Leuven

On 15th May 2020, Julie Van Pelt will take part in a workshop at the KU Leuven entitled ‘Foreign Monks in Byzantium: Migration Trends and Integration Policies in Religious Context’.

CfP: The Pseudo-Clementine Homilies: a philosophical and rhetorical novel from Late Antiquity


The Pseudo-Clementine Homilies: a philosophical and rhetorical novel from Late Antiquity

International conference at Ghent University, Belgium (September 10-12, 2020).

Organizing committee: Benjamin De Vos, Danny Praet and Koen De Temmerman


Deadline for submission of abstracts: April 30, 2020.

Keynote speakers:

Dominique Côté (University of Ottawa/Université d’Ottawa)

Meinolf Vielberg  (Universität Jena)


Other confirmed speakers

William Adler (North Carolina University)

Patricia Duncan (Texas Catholic University)

George Gereby (Central European University)

Tobias Nicklas (Universität Regensburg)


This conference wants to bring together four fields of study: the ancient novel, ancient philosophy, ancient rhetoric, and Jewish-Christian narrative. We aim to study one Greek novel from different perspectives: the so-called Pseudo-Clementine Homilies.

The conference sets out to explore the intellectual context of this novel and the ways in which the Homilies had an impact on readers in Late Antiquity. By approaching the Homilies as a philosophical and rhetorical work in its own right, the conference seeks not only to improve our understanding of the Homilies as a late ancient novel, but also the role of philosophy and rhetoric in the religious narratives of Late Antiquity. We welcome studies on

1. the role of philosophy in the Homilies: e.g. the presentation of Christianity as the true philosophy, the influence of Plato, the Sophists, and other philosophical traditions in the Homilies.

2. rhetorical techniques used in the numerous disputations within the novel and in the characterisation of the main protagonists, and

3. novelistic topoi as structural elements: the function of novelistic motives in the Homilies

Scholars interested in contributing to this conference, are requested to send an abstract (ca. 250 words) in either English or French together with a short CV stating your affiliation and current occupation to, no later than April 30, 2020.

We will send out confirmations about acceptance by May 15, 2020.


For further questions, please contact (Benjamin De Vos).

Julie at Regensburg University workshop on the Apocryphal Acts of the Apostles

On the 28th November, Julie Van Pelt will be taking part in a workshop at Regensburg University, entitled ‘The Apocryphal Acts of the Apostles in Late Antiquity: Tradition and Innovation’. She will be presenting a paper on ‘Heliodoros the Magician and the Rhetoric of Deception: creating religious authority through the figure of the magos’.

CALL FOR PAPERS: The Tale of Two Traditions. Roman Culture and Ancient Greek Narratives under the Principate

International workshop at Ghent University, Thursday 28th – Friday 29th May 2020.

Deadline for submission of abstracts: 29/02/2020.

Confirmed speakers include: Dr. Romain Brethes (Paris, AnHiMa); Dr. Casper de Jonge (Leiden); Dr. Daniel Jolowicz (King’s College London).


Ancient imperial Greek narrative literature, in a wide variety of genres (fables, novels, epic poetry, historiography, biography, etc.), has been shown to be a product of its rhetorical, philosophical, and linguistic environments. It also is in dialogue with other genres (such as New Comedy, elegy and epigrams, to name just a few), and is impacted by complex processes not only of intercultural connections and education, but also of literary self-awareness and representations of otherness. While many studies have concentrated on the way Greek imperial narrative absorbs preceding Greek and eastern traditions, less systematic attention has been paid to how it uses, addresses or confronts preceding Latin traditions.

This conference sets out to explore ways in which Greek narrative responds to or engages with Latin literature and culture at large. By studying cases of Latin interactions within ancient Greek narrative under the Principate, the conference seeks not only to improve our understanding of Greek-Latin overlaps in general, but also to find new ways of conceptualising this corpus in particular. More specifically, we aim 1. to discussing new methodological tools concerning reception; 2. to situate Greek works in their intellectual, bilingual and multicultural environment; 3. to account for the conspicuous absences of Rome from certain Greek productions under the Principate and investigate the notion of cultural identity. We invite abstracts that address these topics.


If you are interested in contributing to this conference, please send an abstract (ca 200 words) in either English or French together with a short CV stating your affiliation and current occupation to, no later than 29/02/2020. We will send out confirmations about acceptance by 20/03/2020.


For any queries, please contact