Reading Inscription in the Ancient Novel


  • Niall W. Slater


Inscriptions in the ancient novel function both as ‘reality effects’, tying the narrative to a plausible contemporary world, and as ‘unreality effects’, dramatizing the role of the reader/ explorer.  While Trimalchio’s inscriptions in Petronius echo contemporary epigraphy, they also allow for multiple readings.  With Xenophon’s Ephesian Tale and the Alexander Romance, interest shifts more to the reading, rather than the writing, of inscriptions, as the hermeneutically and narratologically more intriguing activity.  In Apollonius King of Tyre inscriptions play a role in guaranteeing identity over time and thus aid in recognition.  Their public nature takes them one step beyond the private recognition tokens in the world of New Comedy.

Niall W. Slater is Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor of Latin and Greek at Emory University (Atlanta, Georgia).  His research focuses on ancient fiction and drama, as well as their production and reception.  His books include Plautus in Performance (1985; rev. 2000), Reading Petronius (1990), and Spectator Politics: Metatheatre and Performance in Aristophanes (2002).