Longus [fl. 2nd century C.E.], Daphnis and Chloe


        Longus writes his romance/novel in a generic tradition that was already well-known in the Alexandrian Greek-speaking empire when he took up his (probably) reed pen to write.  Although he transports his young lovers to his home island of Lesbos, it is a suspiciously idealized version of the place.  Greek romance plots are really set in some version of a poetic landscape conventionally called "Arcadia."  It is an idyllic pastoral world said to be inhabited by poetic shepherds and shepherdesses who often are prone to burst into song or short mythic narratives to pass their abundant leisure time.  Unlike real rural peoples, they do not appear to labor very hard, but they usually have abundant food and drink.  Arcadian settings make their last appearance in English literature in the late Renaissance in works like Spenser's Shepherd's Calendar, where political satire is couched in the already quaint speech of smooth-talking shepherds, and in Christopher Marlowe's "The Passionate Shepherd to His Love," a sweet but somewhat ditzy lyric that was almost immediately satirized by ironic replies (viz., "Go take a hike, you big liar!") written from the lady's point of view by rivals like Sir Walter Raleigh.  In Longus' era, the genre still had some freshness, but irony was almost always on the horizon of every episode.

        The action in pastoral romances typically involves lost noble children disguised by mistaken identities, sexual exploration of an innocent sort, abductions and escapes, surprise recognitions based on hidden signs, and amazing reconciliations of lovers, parents and children, or enemies.  The sheer happiness of the plots' outcomes and the somewhat ironic tone of their narration marks these works for some readers as escapist literature, inherently not worth serious literary consideration.  Nevertheless, they have their defenders as literary works, and you certainly can see that they have had enormous influence upon the narratives of modern American popular culture. 

        One way to imagine the original audience's attraction to the so-called "ancient Greek novels" is to reimagine the implied realities in which their readers lived by reversing the situations and actions of the plots, which may have offered contemporary readers things they presumably did not have.  Instead of hidden nobility residing in humble characters' identities, perhaps we are looking at a social milieu in which hidden humble origins lurked behind many a wealthy or noble reader.  These tales are from the century after the satires of Juvenal, who railed against the upstart freedmen who thronged to Rome with their newly acquired wealth and attempted to build fictitious ancestries for themselves and their fortunes.  Juvenal, himself, was a freedman's son.  Narratives depicting the lives of secret nobles living in idealized rural settings would offer such readers an imaginary homecoming from the corrupt cities they really inhabit to the romance/novels' (mostly) honest, reliable folk who made their livings herding animals rather than gathering rents from poor tenants (many of whom would have come to the city to avoid real rural poverty).

        A second kind of reverse-reader-rule we might imagine would infer that readers' ordinary lives were prone to sudden disasters that did not result in their reunion with lost lovers, parents or children.  Instead, the upheavals of the late empire may have disrupted families and love affairs with no hope of restoration.  Coincidences in wartime and eras of social disintegration tend to be unhappy ones.  Plots that offered improbable escapes and fortuitous reunions would console readers who had no hope of either in their own lives.

        A third possible reader attribute we might infer by reversing the romance/novel's nostalgic depiction of sexual exploration by innocents would be to assume that a degree of sexual openness, coarseness, or even depravity was being openly observed, perhaps existing beside a reactionary culture that preached sexual abstinence.  The imperial libertines can be found in Suetonius' The Twelve Caesars, where he describes the debauched aristocracy of Rome during the reigns of Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, Nero, and the rest.  Once again, Juvenal's satires from the previous century also offer us more than a hint that Roman sexuality had become startlingly open, violating the strict mores obeyed in previous eras.  The parallel "reactionary culture" can be found among the Christians and Stoics, for instance in the epistles of the Christian Apostle Paul (ca. 5-67 CE) and the Discourses and Encheiridion of the Greek ex-slave, Epictetus (55-135 CE). Epictetus taught that the mind should control the body to restrain "immodest desires," a constant but mostly gentle threat in Daphnis and Chloe.  Paul, from an ascetic tradition, was somewhat more severe in his condemnation of eros.  In his first letter to the Christians of the Greek city of Corinth, Paul advised them that chastity was the highest spiritual state, but he conceded that if one could not renounce sexuality entirely, "it is better to marry than to burn" in the fires of lust, or of Hell in the afterlife (1 Corinthians 7:9).  The romance/novel's innocent young lovers offers a safe alternative to these two bleak views of human sexuality.

        To the extent that modern narrative genres like the "Harry Potter" novels and the Star Wars series offer similar combinations of hidden nobility, happy coincidences, and innocent sexual exploration, we may be sharing some of the same cultural attributes motivating Roman readers of Juvenal and the romance/novel.  They allow us to imagine a world that is both more dangerous and more benevolent than our own, and one in which our cultural universe, though threatened, always remains intact.


2)  The introductory vignette of Daphnis and Chloe is a  markedly different kind of writing used to beautify and enchant the image of a painted story found in a grove on the isle of Lesbos.  The sophistication of Longus's narrative technique can escape us unless we keep in mind that frame narrative and its multiple layers of transmission. 1)  the sight of the "painted picture of love" inspires 2) the creation of the narrative we are reading which required 3) the aid of an interpreter of the visual images into a verbal story, which Longus 4) retells to us for the manifold purposes of 5) pleasing Eros, the Nymphs, and Pan and 6) giving us all a "delightful possession" (which has us as we have it?--Jonson's Volpone on greedy people: "These possess wealth as sick men possess fevers, / Which trulier may be said to possess them.") which will 7) "remedy disease, solace grief, bring fond recollections to him who has loved, and instruct him who has not loved" (3). When you attempt to interpret the significance of any of the improbable events in this story, remember that they might be the result of any of the first four creative processes and/or designed to perform one or more or all of last three functions.         You will notice that the wildly episodic plot does have organizing principles, but they are hard to discover unless you think like a Structuralist critic.  Northrop Frye's theory of the seasonal origins of literary genres is one structuralist theory that might help. Philetas and Eros: "Peddler of Erotes," Antioch Mosaics (3rd Century CE) Baltimore Museum of Art


Unlike most classical literature, whose origins are lost in pre-history, the "romance" of the Alexandrian period arose from a combination of known precursor genres that poets artfully combined to create something new and immensely influential.  The romance is, with the classical epic and satire, one of the most important sources for our rules for reading and writing modern novels, and for online gaming, fan fiction, and a host of post-modern digital genres.  The "pastoral" was a mode of composition that created poems about idealized country folk who talked and sang of the basic facts of the human condition, love, disappointment, hope, fear, friendship, misfortune, etc.  The epic, which you know of from Homer and will encounter in Virgil, treats of high ambitions and great events involving characters socially far above the ordinary folk of the pastorals, but the romance sometimes brings them into the plot as beginning or end points.  The Alexandrian love poem, especially as composed by Callimachus (Catullus' great teachers), expresses lovers' raw emotions as they desire, seek, find, lose, and hate each other.  Designed to reveal tenderness as well as savage power, these poems give romance characters the voice to observe many things unknown to characters in epics, and the technique to beautify those observations far beyond the talents of the pastoral's shepherds and wanderers.  Can you see the various threads of these generic ancestors emerging in Longus' plot?


3)  Longus frames his narrative with the story of his discovery of the painted original of this tale in a grotto sacred to nymphs, minor deities of the woods and streams.  He also invents an interpreter who converts the images he reports seeing into narrative which he claims to reproduce for us.  How does this "discovery narrative" frame the truth value of what he tells us?  Does it give the tale any peculiar powers to impress or inform us because of its association with the sacred site?  The classical Greek term for the narrative representation of visual art is ekphrasis, and a famous example of it is the long description of Achilles' shield in Iliad Book XVIII. 


4)  The plot's opening with the dual discoveries of children exposed to die by their parents recalls Oedipus, but in this case the intent appears to be that the children will be rescued and protected.  The signifiers of this wish, in both cases, are articles of clothing and jewelry found with the children.  How does each set of artifacts, together with the child, constitute a riddle or rebus of identity that their finders, Lamon the goatherd (Daphnis) and Dryas the shepherd (Chloe) fail to decode.  How many of Longus' readers would be so dense, and what does this dual narrative code do for our reading as privileged "insiders" who already can guess at secrets the plot will take many pages to reveal?


5)  The onset of love by means of "first sight" is a cliché which Longus and the other romance/novel writers might be said to have under copyright.  The later uses of the motif by poets and novelists and dramatists become so ritualized as to become codified as a rule for love by a medieval writer known to us as Andreas Capellanus (Andrew the Chaplain) in The Art of Courtly Love.  Click on the link and read some of Andreas' other rules for love.  How many others owe their prominence to their use in these early classical narratives?


6)  Both Daphnis and Chloe are given extended internal monologues, what on stage would be called "soliloquys."  How does Longus use them to show readers the psychological states of both characters, especially to continue the dual narrative game he began playing with us when he revealed tokens of identity to characters who were unable to decode them?


7)  Poor Dorcon, the false suitor, has a strategy that involves an elaborate disguise.  Were this an allegory, perhaps, or one of Ovid's tales of metamorphosis, you would instantly be able to understand what the disguise suggests about his character.  What's going on?


8)  Just before the pirates arrive ("oh no, pirates!"), the couple has an adventure with a bold cricket and Daphnis tells the story of a young female cowherd (Pytis) transformed into a ring dove by the gods when she had lost her cows.  The pirates arrive, and after killing the luckless Dorcon, they try to abduct the lovers.  How does Chloe turn Pytis' story into a bovine rescue mission, and how are we supposed to treat this event?  Hint: is it serious drama?


9)  The arrival of the festival of Dionysus and the story of Philetas about his encounter with Eros, son of Venus, marks a turning point in the narrative.  What effect does this new "mythos" have upon the mental state of Daphnis, and how does that change the kind of story we are reading?  You are watching Longus' readers being instructed about a way to read myths--what is the lesson?


10  The "rich young gallants of Methymna" offer a challenge to the increasingly eroticized idyll Daphnis and Chloe are exploring.  Like the pirates, they are disruptive, but motivated by wine and the god rather than greed.  The Methymnians can do what the pirates could not, separate the two lovers and seemingly put an end to their sexual exploration of each other.  Instead, they are intent on bringing Chloe to "the city," that anti-idyllic place where Longus' readers live.  How does this bring the abductors into contact with Pan, the half-goat god associated with the divine "panic" which drives worshipers mad?  How is Pan associated with the agenda of the god Eros, and what do you make of this implicit equation?  (i.e., Pan + Eros = X?)


11) After their rescue, Daphnis and Chloe listen to the embedded tale of Syrinx and Pan, told by Chloe's foster father, Lamon.  What thematic purposes is this tale serving other than to delay the conclusion of the main narrative?  Remember the harpers' inset tales in The Odyssey.


12)  While we have been reading, the plot has moved from Spring to Winter, and the events grow more serious.  Northrup Frye, a famous Structuralist critic, evolved a theory of genres based on seasonal associations that he claimed literature could appeal to because they were innate in human consciousness (at least in the temperate zone!).  Click here for a quick tutorial on Frye's theory of seasonal genres.  How might this help us understand what Longus is up to here?


13)  During Winter, both Chloe and Daphnis become artists.  Chloe learns to pretend ("to be angry with [Daphnis] because having come so far, he was going to run away without seeing her") and Daphnis and Chloe sing antiphonal songs to each other in the ivy arbor.  What kind of maturation of character/intellect is Longus showing us, and how might it work into the plot of the two lovers' growing sophistication of relationship?


14)  Spring returns, and with it, a new vision of what love might be comes to Daphnis and Chloe.  How does the sight of animals mating pose an interpretive problem for Daphnis that it does not pose for Longus' readers, and how does that relate back to our "double narration" of insiders and outsiders?


15  Lycanion, the wife of Chromis, is specifically described as one "who came from the city."  How does this make her appropriate to be the agent of Daphnis' sexual initiation?  Note that it is described as a "lesson" and "mystery."  Whose knowledge of what is being flattered here?  Also, look up "lycan" in any dictionary and discover the Greek root of her name.  Compare the late Dorcon's disguise?


16) Apparently with no logical justification, Daphnis and Chloe find themselves on a boat offshore and Chloe hears her first echo, furnishing an opportunity for the retelling of the story of Echo, but it is not the one familiar to Longus' readers who knew Ovid's Metamorphoses, where she is paired with the vain Narcissus rather than the violent Pan.  Some mythos is being invoked here for thematic purposes much as the story of Syrinx and Pan was retold to establish a point about destructive performance (and on the verge of Chloe's defloration).


17)  Finally, the long awaited courtship produces the long-deferred revelation of the birth tokens in what Roland Barthes would probably call a "partial disclosure" of the riddle of the lovers' identity.  How does Longus handle the revelation?  Mystery writers from Poe to Chandler and Hammet to Elroy Leonard, Roman Polanski (Chinatown) and Patricia Cornwell have used the same technique--i.e., the bad detective given all the clues but unable fully to assemble them before the audience can do so. 


18)  The solitary apple offers the opportunity for Longus to allude respectfully to a famous fragment of Sappho's poetry.  If you are reading in Hadas' translation, see page x of the introduction.  How is this apple used to introduce the scene in Lamon's wonderful garden, which follows?


19)  Lamon's garden combines artful order with natural disorder in such a way that two kinds of beauty are formed.  The garden's inherent beauty, arising from nature's fruits, surrounds another temple of Dionysus whose altar is decorated with briefly named mythological narratives associated with the god's life.  Unlike the ekphrasis of Longus' original discovery of the narrative in images, these are flashed rapidly before readers' eyes.  If you slow them down and look them up, what pattern do they create in their associations of human fates with the god's powerful effects?


20)  Just as the lovers might be coming close to finally consummating their relationship, two "spoilers" show up, the rowdy cowherd Lampis and the paederast, Gnathon, the former hot for Chloe and the latter for Daphnis.  These kinds of narrative devices are sometimes called "episodic," in that they seem to come from a standard pool of possible delaying devices by which a kind of plot can be developed.  Do the kinds of love each alternate suitor prefers make thematic sense with the romance/novel's overall themes about what love is and how it should be pursued?


21)  When Dionysophantes and Cleriste, the master and mistress of the land, arrive, the narrative finally begins to head toward its conclusion.  What does the master's name mean, and what does that suggest about the ruling mythos of this work of literature?  What effect does his arrival have on Gnathon and Astylos?  Surprise and recognition now succeed each other at a rapid pace.  Once the riddle of the lovers' identity is disclosed, little remains for the poet to do other than to conclude.  But Longus slips a sweet quasi-allegorical detail into the work's thematic texture by having Dionysophantes name the nurse who was entrusted with the child, Daphnis.  What does it mean that she is named "Sophrosyne"?


22)  Finally, Megacles, the true father of Chloe arrives and recognizes the tokens identifying his formerly exposed daughter.  He briefly describes the circumstances which led to his decision to abandon her to the grotto of the Nymphs.  How does this narrative, including his bizarre dream, articulate Longus' views on war and peace, generosity and folly, and the nurturing power of rural culture?  Compare the two temples built by the lovers after their long-delayed marriage.  How have those two gods been the motivating forces of this narrative, and what happened to Dionysus?