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Bruce MacQueen Myth Rhetoric and FictionWell, I've certainly gone deep on Longus. I can't remember the last time I read a book that was completely about another book. Of course, despite its title this 1990 book isn't entirely about Daphnis and Chloe. Amongst other things, it's also an exploration of the roots of prose fiction. MacQueen says he started out to write a book about Sallust's Roman histories, but he got embroiled in issues around Sallust's narrative embroidering of historical fact and thereby was lead down the rabbit hole of the origins of fiction. This gets him into the origins of the novel, of which Daphnis and Chloe is one of the earliest European examples.

Regarding his reading of Longus, the main focus is structure, and MacQueen does a fascinating job of exploring what he describes as a specular structure in the novel. Each of the four books that comprise Daphnis and Chloe is found to have a specular structure, by which MacQueen means a mirror structure of sorts, where story elements echo each other forward and backward around a central node. He finds two such mirror structures in each book, one that focuses on an instance of rhetoric and one that focuses on the telling of a myth. These instances of rhetoric and myth in turn create a stepwise lesson in love between the two protagonists. MacQueen admits that other people see other kinds of structure in the novel, and that the one he finds is subjective. Even though it seems he has to stretch his rules to find the rhetoric and myth in the fourth and final book, he does a compelling job of it, discovering the instance of rhetoric in the ekphrasis of the temple of Dionysus at the heart of the landowner's pleasure garden and the instance of myth in the abduction of Chloe by Lampis, which echoes the myths about male aggression toward women (e.g. Pan and Syrinx) in the other three books. Longus himself, via a dream message from Pan to a character in the novel, tells us that Eros intends to make a mythos of Chloe, although one would think that the whole novel does that rather than just the Lampis abduction. Still, MacQueen's analysis does a good job of teasing out some narratological reasons that the book feels so self-referential and tightly structured.

Regarding the origins of fiction, MacQueen delves into the difference between myth and history, and the sense the Greeks had that myth was a received story that couldn't be altered in any meaningful sense and that history was the truth of what had happened and therefore also couldn't be altered without distorting the truth. Myths were told in the form of poetry and song, and history was told in the form of prose. Gradually the problems inherent in telling stories that were true caused prose to become a vehicle for fictional truth: novels. These were stories that were made up by the storyteller, not received from tradition or from past events. Most of the five existing ancient Greek novels pretend to be histories, thus playing with this very concept, and MacQueen shows that Longus was very sophisticated in the way that his novel comments on historicity and on the way that previous novels lied about the truth.

MacQueen also writes about the reception of the ancient Greek novels and about how it has only been recently that they've been taken seriously by classical scholars. In the past they were all seen as frivolous fluff, especially compared to the two existing Roman novels, The Golden Ass and Satyricon, which were both considered sophisticated satires compared to the naive romances of the Greeks. MacQueen wrote his book in 1990 as the tide was turning, and he already finds evidence that the sophistication of Longus in particular was finally gaining recognition. The apparent naivety of Daphnis and Chloe belies a studious literary mind who structured his novel to be a resonant device in tune with the shifting tides of a changing era. Whether Longus was conscious of it or not (and MacQueen argues that the Greeks of that era, having been conquered by the Romans, had a strong sense of changing status) the pagan era was coming to an end, and his novel can be read belatedly as a kind of valedictory for the passing order.

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