Seeing Gods: Epiphany and Narrative in the Greek Novels


  • Robert L. Cioffi


This paper examines the Greek novel’s engagement with a central aspect of
Greek religious experience, namely epiphany. It focuses on “epiphanic situations,”
in which epiphanic language and protocols are used to describe the
appearance not of a god or goddess, but of an exceptional mortal. Through an
examination of the novels’ strategies for narrating the marvelous, it shows that
the novels’ use of the epiphanic metaphor is deeply engaged with ancient religious
experience, as refracted through the Greek literary tradition. It advances
three broad claims: first, that the novelists draw on, engage with, and
transform well-established Greek epiphanic conventions; second, that epiphanic
situations are so common as to be a convention of the novel that can
be remolded and reshaped by different authors to suit their individual narrative
strategies; and, third, that epiphany’s emphasis on sight and recognition is implicated
with other concerns that have been recognized as central to the novelists’

Robert L. Cioffi received his Ph.D. in Classical Philology from Harvard University
in 2013, and he is currently a Visiting Assistant Professor of Classics
at Bard College. His dissertation, Imaginary Lands: Ethnicity, Exoticism, and
Narrative in the Ancient Novel, examines the meaning of travel in the novels
and it rethinks the relationship between identity, narrative, and exoticism in
the genre. It argues that through their descriptions of wide-ranging travel and
exotic locales, the novels reflect a multiplicity of individual ways to be Greek
and the many models against which an individual’s Hellenic identity can define