Academic journal article Ancient Narrative

An Ass from Oxyrhynchus: P.Oxy. LXX.4762, Loukios of Patrae and the Milesian Tales

Academic journal article Ancient Narrative

An Ass from Oxyrhynchus: P.Oxy. LXX.4762, Loukios of Patrae and the Milesian Tales

Article excerpt

The rubbish dumps of Oxyrhynchus have gradually supplied scholars of the ancient novel with ever new evidence of hitherto unheard-of novels, (2) and there has always been the hope that one day a piece of 'Loukios of Patrae''s Metamorphoseis might emerge. The latest find from the Oxyrynchus archive, LXX 4762, now published by Dirk Obbink, at first sight seems to fill this gap, and supply us with a fragment of a hitherto unknown version of the ass story, on a papyrus written in the early third century AD. In this paper I will look at the papyrus' possible link to 'Loukios of Patrae', but I hope to show that it is more likely something even more rare, a probable fragment of Aristeides' Milesiaka. This discussion will also have some implications, I hope to show, on how we judge the complicated intertextual relationship between novels and Aristeides' Milesian Tales.

The Various Ass-Stories Known in Antiquity

Antiquity knew several versions of the ass novel, of which two are still extant today, and at least one is lost. The Pseudo-Lucianic Loukios or the Ass (here I will use the short title Onos) and Apuleius' Metamorphoses go back to the same common source by an otherwise unknown author erroneously called 'Loukios of Patrae', (3) whose Metamorphoseis were still read by Photios in the 9th century. (4) This is not the place to enter the discussion as to who the authors of the Greek original and the epitome were (5), although it is evident that the over-hasty Photios must have mistaken the name of the protagonist Loukios of Patrae, who is the hero of both Greek stories, for the author of the lost original. (6) This indicates that also in the lost text the protagonist must have been the first-person narrator. Lacking a better candidate for the author, some scholars assume that the lost original was by Lucian, whereas the epitome transmitted in the Lucianic corpus, which is definitely not by Lucian, was used to substitute the original. Since we do not have a better candidate for the author of this remarkable text, he has to be referred to as 'Loukios of Patrae', until further evidence for Lucianic authorship can be found or rejected.

No other trace of or evidence for this text has hitherto survived, (7) and many scholars have tried to reconstruct the lost Metamorphoseis by comparing its epitome, the Onos, with its Latin adaptation by Apuleius, and using Photios' description of 'Loukios of Patrae''s text to validate their attempts. (8)

Photios thinks that the main difference between the nature of the two Greek texts lies in the attitude of the first-person narrator to his own story: the Pseudo-Lucianic epitome, the Onos, he believes, takes an ironic stance to the content: [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (9), whereas 'Loukios of Patrae' believes what he tells: [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] ... (10). 'the only [exception being] that Lucian [i.e. the Onos], ridicules and disparages Greek superstition, whereas Lucius [sc. of Patrae] takes both seriously and believes to be true the transformations of men into others ...'

This assessment may or may not be due to Photios' prejudices. Believing the Onos to be by the satirist Lucian, he is predisposed to assume a satirical view-point in its narrator, (9) whereas his confusion of author and first-person narrator in his report of the Metamorphoseis indicates that he may also be wrong about the lack of ironic distance in this text. 'Loukios of Patrae' might have been as detached from his subject as the writer of the Onos or Apuleius, for that matter. (10)

The epitomator must have cut down the text of 'Loukios of Patrae''s book, the length of which is still a matter of discussion, by leaving out some of the inset tales, which may also have constituted a substantial part of the original, and by only retaining the outlines of the main plot. Hence he changed the title from Metamorphoseis to Loukios or the Ass (Onos), because he only kept the story of Loukios, his metamorphosis into an ass by magic, his odyssey as an ass with changing owners, and his retransformation into a human being again by the aid of roses. …

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