The 'Aura Of Lesbos' and the Opening of Daphnis and Chloe


  • Hugh Mason


‘Lesbos,’ the setting of Longus’ Daphnis and Chloe, was a ‘place of the imagination’ as significant as the ‘Thebes’ of Athenian tragedy, as can be seen from Catullus’ use in poem 51 of the pseudonym Lesbia for his lover, about whom Havelock claimed in 1967 that the ‘aura of Lesbos was round her head.’ This ‘aura’ recalls the island’s position as the place where poetry and music have been most at home. The same ‘aura’ informs the portrayal of the island in King Apollonius of Tyre (33–47), in the appreciation by the citizens of Mytilene of Tarsia’s lyre-playing, education, and singing, qualities which enable her to escape degradation in the brothel and lead to her integration with her father.

Hugh Mason is Associate Professor of Classics at the University of Toronto. Besides ancient novels, he is interested in the history and culture of Lesbos. Publications include ‘Fabula Graecanica,’ Aspects of Apuleius’ Golden Ass, 1–15 (Groningen 1978); ‘Longus and the Topography of Lesbos,’ TAPA 109: 149–163; ‘Romance in a limestone landscape,’ CP 90: 263–266; ‘Chai-reas and Chariton and New Comedy,’ CB 78: 21–27; ‘Winter on Lesbos; Imagination and Reality,’ Mouseion 3,3: 285–294.