Novel Echoes. Ancient Novelistic Receptions and Concepts of Fiction in Late Antique and Medieval Secular Narrative from East to West


Funded by: ERC-CoG– European Research Council Consolidator Grant 819459, Horizon 2020, 2019-2024

Researchers: t.b.a.


This project offers the first comprehensive reconstruction and interpretation of receptions of ancient novels (1st-4th cent. AD) in (Greek, Arabic and western vernacular) secular narrative from Late Antiquity and the early Middle Ages. Novel Echoes follows up from the ERC Starting Grant project Novel Saints (on hagiography). It does so by taking ancient novelistic receptions towards entirely new, unexplored horizons.

Our knowledge about the early history of the novel is incomplete. Receptions of ancient novels have been studied for periods from the 11th and 12th cent. onwards but not systematically examined for preceding eras – much to the detriment of the study of both narrative (then and later) and the history of fiction. This project pursues the hypothesis that different secular, narrative traditions in this period were impacted (directly or indirectly) by ancient novelistic influences of different kinds and adopted (and adapted) them to various degrees and purposes; and that, since the ancient novel is a genre defined by its own fictionality, its reception in later narrative impacts notions of truth and authentication in ways that other (often more authoritative) literary models (e.g. Homer and the Bible) do not.

Novel Echoes strikes a balance between breath and depth by envisaging three objectives:

  1. the creation of a reference tool charting all types of novelistic influence in secular narrative from the 4th to the 12th cent.;
  1. the in-depth study of particular sets of texts and the analysis of their implicit conceptualizations of truth, authentication, fiction and narrative;
  1. the reconstruction of routes of transmission in both the West and the East.

Given the project’s innovative focus, it will enhance our understanding of both the corpus texts and the early history of the novel; place the study of corpus texts on an improved methodological footing; and contribute to the theoretical study of the much-vexed question of how to conceptualize fiction.


Novel Saints. Ancient novelistic heroism in the hagiography of Late Antiquity and the early Middle Ages


Funded by: ERC-SG – European Research Council Starting Grant 337344, FP7-IDEAS-ERC, 2014-2019

Researchers: Dr Ghazzal Dabiri, Dr Flavia Ruani, Dr Tine Scheijnen, Klazina Staat


The novel is today the most popular literary genre worldwide. Its early history has not been written yet. In order to enhance our understanding of this history (both conceptually and cross-culturally), this project offers the first comprehensive reconstruction and interpretation of the persistence of ancient novelistic material in hagiographical narrative traditions in the Mediterranean in Late Antiquity and the early Middle Ages (4th-12th cent.). This period constitutes a blind spot on the radar of scholars working on the history of the novel, who conceptualize it, much to the detriment of the study of narrative in subsequent periods, as an ‘empty’ interim period between the latest ancient representatives of the genre (ca. 3rd-4th cent.) and its re-emergence in 11th/12th-century Byzantium and 11th-century Persia.

This project, on the other hand, advances the hypothesis that different hagiographical traditions throughout Late Antiquity and the early Middle Ages were impacted (directly or indirectly) by ancient novelistic influences of different kinds and adopted, rehearsed, re-used and adapted them to various degrees as tools for the representation of saints as heroes/heroines. In this sense, constructions of heroism in these traditions should be understood to varying degrees as ‘novelistic’ and raise crucial issues about fictionalization and the texts’ own implicit conceptualizations of fiction.

Three stages of the project will test different aspects of this hypothesis. Firstly, the project will chart for the first time all novelistic influences in the hagiographical corpus texts. Secondly, it will analyze the impact of these influences on constructions of heroism in specific hagiographical traditions (mainly Latin, Greek and Syriac Martyr Acts, hagiographical romances and saints’ Lives) and examine implications for notions of fictionalization and/or strategies for enhancing verisimilitude and authenticity. Finally, diachronic and cross-cultural dimensions of the research hypothesis will be articulated through the study of continuity of hagiographical traditions (and their constructions of heroism) in narrative genres from the 11th and 12th centuries in the West (medieval romance), Byzantium (novels) and the East (Persian romance).

By generating an improved understanding of the impact of ancient novelistic material in different hagiographical traditions throughout Late Antiquity and the early Middle Ages, this project aims to contribute not just to the history of the idea of fiction but also to the study of hagiography, the early history of the novel and to all disciplines that study these literary genres.


“The Romance between Greece and the West.” Heroes and Heroines in French, Anglo-Norman and English Medieval Narrative.

Funded by: FWO-Vlaanderen, GO56118, 2019-2021.

Researcher: Dr. Tine Scheijnen


Medieval romance is arguably the most influential secular literary genre of the European Middle Ages. Its history has not been written yet. In order to enhance our understanding of this history (both conceptually and cross-culturally), this project offers the first reconstruction and interpretation of the persistence of (ancient) novelistic and (late antique and medieval) hagiographical traditions in French, Anglo-Norman and English medieval romance. Whereas it is assumed that ancient novels influenced medieval romance only if there were Latin versions of them, this project aims to explore the importance of hagiography as a possible narrative bridge between ancient (Greek) novels and medieval vernacular romance. The research hypothesis is that medieval romances were impacted (directly or indirectly) by ancient novelistic and late antique and medieval hagiographical influences of different kinds, and that they adopted, rehearsed, re-used and adapted them to various degrees in order to construct their protagonists as heroes/heroines. Two interrelated sets of research questions will test this hypothesis, one tracing diachronic continuity and the other examining synchronic differentiation. Methodologically, this project complements two literary-theoretical models, one modern (narratology), one ancient (rhetoric). The project will contribute to our knowledge about both reception of ancient novels in the Middle Ages and the literary complexities of medieval romance.


Reception of the First and Second Sophistic and Platonic philosophy in the Pseudo-Clementine Literature


Funded by: Ghent University, 2016-2022

Researcher: Benjamin De Vos (supervisor: Prof. dr. D. Praet; co-supervisor Prof. dr. K. De Temmerman)


The aim of this research is an analysis of the influences of Plato and the First and Second Sophistic in the Pseudo-Clementines. Until now, the study of philosophy in the Pseudo-Clementines has largely remained limited to the possible stoic and epicurean influence. Nonetheless the influence of Plato cannot be underestimated, nor that of his contemporaries: the sophists. Similarities with the platonic dialogues and sophistic works as Gorgias’ Helena need to be examined more closely. This stands in combination with a narrative and rhetorical approach of this work. How is the work constructed, where can we notice the influence of Plato or the Sophists and how does that fit in the whole construction? But the context (3rd -4th century) may not be lost out of sight. This context is much debated, so caution with probable notions of anti-Paulinism, the Neoplatonic Iamblichus and his Theurgy, Elcesaitic influences, etc. is necessary. In this respect, the question of the Jewish, Christian, pagan identities will be treated in this literary corpus. To conclude, it wants to achieve a greater understanding of this literary corpus making use of a combination of methodologies from the fields of philosophy, religious studies and philology. By combining these fields of research, it wants to shed a fundamentelly new light on this corpus.


Latin to Greek. The Latinity of the Ancient Greek Love Novel

Funded by: FWO-Vlaanderen, G0B7516N, 2016-2020

Researcher: Olivier Demerre (co-supervisor: Dr Y. Maes)


While the ancient Greek novels have been shown to absorb preceding Greek and eastern traditions, not much systematic attention has been paid to how they use, address or confront preceding Latin traditions. This project is designed to fill this gap, a course of action supported (even invited) by recent scholarship that (rightly) challenges unidirectional conceptualizations of the influence of Greek on Latin literature.

This project aims at a systematic analysis of the presences (in different forms) of a number of Latin literary genres in the Greek novels that have come down to us (i.e. the five extant novels, the fragments and a number of so-called ‘fringe novels’). The driving research hypothesis is that Greek novels to varying degrees and in different ways address, respond to and make creative use of not just Greek and eastern narrative traditions but also of Latin ones, and, more specifically, that they use Latin narrative traditions in order to (a) conceptualize the intertwined notions of love and heroism, and (b) develop metaliterary thoughts about the generic encoding underlying these notions. Its method is defined by three stages: (1) taking stock of overlaps, (2) interpreting/conceptualizing them, and exploring metaliterary strategies. Given the project’s approach, it impacts the study of both Greek and Latin (meta)literature, and that of fiction.


Saints in Disguise: Literary Performance in Greek Late Antique Hagiography

Funded by: FWO-Vlaanderen, 3F025616, 2016-2020

Researcher: Julie Van Pelt (co-supervisor: Prof. dr. K. Demoen)


This project seeks to examine the literary representation of performance in Greek late antique hagiographical Lives of ‘saints in disguise’ (4th-10th c.), holy types that are usually not studied together but that may arguably be compared on the basis of their adoption of a false identity. Among them are Lives of cross-dressers, of holy fools, and of other saints who take on other forms of disguise. The project investigates the narrative strategies that are used in these stories to represent disguise and theatrical performance, characteristics which are not readily associated with saints and holiness. More specifically, the project examines aspects of the saint’s performance vis-à-vis other characters as well as aspects of the text’s performance vis-à-vis the reader and its narrative effects. By highlighting fictional aspects of the texts, the project aims to show also that the theme of disguise was sought out for its narrative qualities and entertaining effect as much as its edifying value.


Santità e potere nelle collezioni agiografiche in lingua siriaca


Funded by: Ghent University BOF, 2015-2019

Researcher: Annunziata di Rienzo (Joint PhD La Sapienza – Università di Roma; Prof. A. Camplani; co-supervisor: Dr F. Ruani)


This research project explores the relationship between holiness and political power in a selection of lives of saints preserved in Syriac hagiographical collections. It is based on the philological study of both these writings and the manuscripts in which they are preserved, and analyses the ideological reasons according to which the collections were formed in the course of time.


The Rhetoric of Democracy. Elites and Popular Power in Second Sophistic Literature


Funded by: Ghent University BOF, 2014-2018

Researcher: Dr Thierry Oppeneer (co-supervised with Prof. dr. A. Zuiderhoek)


A literary-rhetorical analysis of speeches, essays and biographies from the Second Sophistic (50-250 AD) will test the hypothesis that democratic elements in politics in Greek cities continued to exist under Roman imperial rule. This hypothesis challenges a long-standing and influential common opinion among both literary scholars and ancient historians. The methodology combines ancient rhetoric and New Historicism.