The Active Reader and the Ancient Novel


  • David Konstan


This paper argues that the reading of novels in classical antiquity, like that of other texts, was a more active process than it is imagined to be in the case of modern fiction; rather than surrender oneself to the fictional world of the literary work, ancient readers were accustomed to engage in a dialogue with the text, arguing back, challenging, even accusing it.  Various examples of ancient reading practices are offered, from Plutarch and Synesius, to school texts and scholia, along with Virgil, Heraclitus the Allegorist, the Historia Apollonii regis Tyri, and Philip the Philosopher (on Heliodorus’ Aethiopica).

David Konstan is the John Rowe Workman Distinguished Professor of Classics and the Humanistic Tradition, and Professor of Comparative Literature, at Brown University.  Among his books are Sexual Symmetry: Love in the Ancient Novel and Related Genres (1994), and The Emotions of the Ancient Greeks (2006).  He is currently working on a book on forgiveness in the classical world.