Power of the Prude: Configurations of the Feminine in the Greek Novel


  • Katharine Haynes


This paper functions as an attempt to explain the prominence of the heroines in the texts of the five canonical Greek Novels of Chariton, Xenophon of Ephesos, Achilles Tatius, Longos and Heliodoros. This paper utilises the anthropological notion of ‘woman as sign’ to postulate the use of the heroines as symbols of the cultural integrity and superiority of the Greek elites under the Roman Empire. Comparanda such as early Christian texts are introduced to establish the novelistic heroines’ conventionality, and the manner in which they act to confirm male subjectivity. Their interactions with figures such as the barbarian male demonstrate their countercultural tendencies as they appropriate eloquence, the defining characteristic of Hellenic male culture, in order to preserve their chastity. Their asymmetrical relationship with the deliberately more passive heroes acts to destabilise the image of marriage as symbol of political stability; an image routinely deployed in Imperial iconography. Rather than prudery, their behaviour is better coded as the subliminally provocative response of the Greek elites to Roman ‘domination’.