The Uses of Bookishness


  • Ewen Bowie


This paper explores different ways in which some Greek novels draw readers’ attention to their status as written texts. Chariton’s narrator seems at first to be oral (διηγήσομαι) and the status of his ‘accounts’ (λόγοι) continues to be ambiguous until Book 8’s opening, confirmed by its closure, establishes the narrative as a text. Antonius Diogenes parades written texts’ power to preserve in his prefatory letters and their Tyrian Beglaubigungsapparat. It is contrasted repeatedly with oral story-telling, and also emblematized in Paapis’ bag of books, long known from Photius’ summary but now also from one of two new papyri, the second of which displays a writer very self-conscious of his narrative complexity. Longus eliminates textuality from his rustic world, where narratives take the form of μῦθοι, and, despite insistence on his own four books’ bookishness, parodying ‘factual’ writing and perhaps even Antonius Diogenes, invites us to see his narrative too as a μῦθος.

Ewen Bowie was Praelector in Classics at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, from 1965 to 2007, and successively University Lecturer, Reader and Professor of Classical Languages and Literature in the University of Oxford. He is now an Emeritus Fellow of Corpus Christi College. He has published on many aspects of Greek literature and culture from the first century BC to the third century AD, including the Greek novels. He has edited (jointly with Jaś Elsner) collection of papers on Philostratus (CUP 2009).