Viewing and Listening on the Novelist's Page


  • Ewen Bowie


The ancient Greek novels are (arguably) texts for private reading, and their (arguably) rhetorically trained authors frequently display their skill in bringing a scene, person or object vividly before the eyes of the reader, a procedure that Greek rhetorical handbooks of the Roman imperial period term ecphrasis. Most of these authors also, however, in varying degrees and in different ways, give attention to evoking for their readers the sounds to be imagined as accompanying the actions described.

This paper discusses the different ways of handling sound in Chariton(especially interested in using crowd-noises), Xenophon (perhaps predictably deaf to the possibility of aural phenomena) and Achilles Tatius (notable for his two evocations of citharoedic song). But its main section will compare how sounds are evoked by Longus – who offers a back-drop of cicadas, bird-song and the piping of shepherds, but destroys this idyllic landscape by the mysterious sounds attributed to an angry Pan in 2,25–26 – and by Heliodorus, examining in greatest detail Heliodorus’ account of the theoric procession of Aenianes at Delphi (Aithiopika 2,35–3,6) where he plays with and deliberately reverses the expectation that a sophistic writer will work towards conveying a visual image rather than an aural impression, and draws attention to his virtuosity in doing so. Within the aural effects of the procession the most important is the hymn to Peleus and Thetis, and the paper concludes from comparison between this and the hymn to Achilles in Philostratus’ Heroicus that in Book 3 Heliodorus is upstaging Philostratus, to whom he seem to owe the manoeuvre new to the novelists of recreating the sound of hymn.

Ewen Bowie teaches Greek language and literature at Corpus ChristiCollege, Oxford. He has published numerous articles on early Greek elegiac and iambic poetry, Attic Old Comedy, Hellenistic poetry and the Greek literature of the Roman empire. He is currently completing a commentary on Longus’ Daphnis and Chloe.