Academic journal article Akroterion

Some Classical Hypotexts in Margaret Doody's Aristotle and Poetic Justice

Academic journal article Akroterion

Some Classical Hypotexts in Margaret Doody's Aristotle and Poetic Justice

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

The aim of this article is to examine hypertextual allusions in Margaret Doody's novel Aristotle and poetic justice. (2) The novel is thus approached as a work of fiction which reflects literary and historical hypotexts rather than as a detective mystery. First, the author and her genre are introduced; then, narrative strategies are examined, the personae of the novel introduced, and a plot summary provided. After a theoretical section on hypertext, its application is tested especially on two levels: explicit quotations of or references to Greek literary sources, and implicit allusions to Greek hypotexts. In the penultimate section, I evaluate the way Doody employs her classical hypotexts, using my modified version of Genette's scheme as hermeneutic paradigm. In conclusion, I argue that the intertextual adaptation of the classics in modern novels is a valid mechanism for popularisation.

2. The author and her genre

The author of Aristotle and poetic justice, Margaret Doody (born 1939), is a professional academic who has lectured at a number of prestigious American universities. Although her field of specialisation is Restoration and Eighteenth-century British Literature and the Novel, on which she has published extensively, (3) she has also managed to write seven novels featuring Aristotle as detective. Her work has been translated into French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Greek and Turkish. (4)

Established authors such as Rosemary Sutcliff, Mary Renault and Colleen McCullough have pioneered historical novels about ancient Greece and Rome. In recent years, 'ancient detective fiction' has evolved as a separate sub-genre in which Lindsey Davis' M. Didius Falco (Mench 1993:54) and Steven Saylor's Gordianus the Finder (Mench 1993:49) are perhaps the best known Roman PI's. Compared to the now established canon of Roman detective fiction, however, ancient Greek detective fiction is such a novelty (5) that Doody's Aristotle has yet to be properly evaluated.

3. Narrative strategies andpersonae

In Doody's novel Aristotle, as Makedonian (6) metoikos, is in charge of the Lyceum in Athens. As a former student and now a friend of Aristotle, the Athenian Stephanos is used throughout as first-person narrator. One of the functions of Stephanos is to act as sounding-board for the amateur detective Aristotle to test the hypotheses of his mentor as he makes progress with his investigation. In this, Stephanos perhaps plays a role comparable to that of Sokrates' interlocutors in a Platonic dialogue, albeit with somewhat more independence of thought. In fact, the youthful and somewhat naive Stephanos plays Watson to Aristotle's Holmes, thus acting as intermediary for Aristotle's thought processes and obviating the need for too many ex cathedra pronouncements by the Stageiran. As the most empirically minded and incorrigibly inquisitive of all Greek philosophers, Aristotle is ideally cast in his role as amateur detective. Aristotle had extensive knowledge of a wide range of subjects, but it is especially his knowledge of human psychology and logic that stands him in good stead in the novel. He combines knowledge of human motives and a flair for making deductions to arrive at sometimes unexpected conclusions. As is implicit in the title, his poetics also comes into play.

The length of the novel (399 pages) can partly be ascribed to Doody's predilection for complicating the plot, but also to digressions on a Herodotean scale. The plot does not move inexorably forward with Aristotelian 'probability' or 'necessity', but is sometimes interrupted by episodic scenes. Delaying the plot by red herrings which ultimately prove necessary for the unfolding of the plot would have been a valid strategy to create suspense; however, these digressions are frequently incidental to the plot and apparently inserted primarily for the sake of intertextual games (see Section 6.3.5-9).

Since the cast of characters is rather large and mostly not known from classical history or mythology, the most important characters, and the relationship between them, will first be identified as an aide-memoire before a summary of the plot is provided. …

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