Academic journal article Ancient Narrative

Defining Greek Narrative Edinburgh Leventis Studies, 7

Academic journal article Ancient Narrative

Defining Greek Narrative Edinburgh Leventis Studies, 7

Article excerpt

D. CAIRNS, R. SCODEL (eds.): Defining Greek Narrative Edinburgh Leventis Studies, 7

2014. Pp. XII, 380. Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press. Hardback, [pounds sterling] 95 ISBN 9780748680108

The scholarly debate and the book's Introduction

Since 1987, when Irene de Jong published Narrators and Focalizers, classicists have become familiar with the taxonomies of structural narratology typologized by Genette and Bal. (1) De Jong's series Studies in Ancient Greek Narrative is a glowing testimony to the ways in which these taxonomies have been helpful for the literary analysis of ancient Greek texts. (2) In more recent times, however, classicists have begun to problematize the use of structural narratology by pointing out its possible limits: the risk of making narratology "an end in itself" rather than that it "be made fruitful for interpretation", (3) and its formalistic nature, as a result of which structuralist taxonomies fail to describe the actual experience of reading. (4)

Meanwhile, scholars working on post-classical and modern literature have elaborated new kind of narratologies, (5) within which cognitive theory is offered as a new tool to investigate the actual experience of reading. (6) The application of these new narratologies to Classics, especially the narratology of cognitive theory, is still at an initial stage, as shown by two forthcoming volumes covering the whole of ancient literature. (7) These publications are expected to problematize further the limits of structural narratology, and to uncover new aspects of both Greek and Latin narrative.

The volume under review (henceforth DGN) enriches this scholarly discussion by criticizing the a-historical nature of structural narratology and by offering an inquiry into what is specifically Greek in ancient Greek narrative. DGN contains revised versions of fifteen papers delivered at "The Seventh Leventis Conference", held in Edinburgh on 27-30 October 2011; the title of the conference was "What's Greek about Ancient Greek Narrative?".

The precise goal of this volume is addressed in the excellent Introduction written by Ruth Scodel, which offers a very clear sense of what the book is about. In Scodel's view, "the application of narratological method to Greek texts tended to erase both the process of development of Greek narrative itself and the differences between Greek and modern texts, or between Greek and other ancient literatures" (5). An overt target of this criticism is precisely de Jong's abovementioned series Studies in Ancient Greek Narrative, which in Scodel's view has failed to trace a "story of historical development" (5) within ancient narrative forms. This failure shows the need to develop a historical narratology within Classics that is able "to present a meaningful narrative about how the practices of telling stories developed within Greek literature" (1). (8) This ultimate goal, however, is still far from scholars' reach, and Scodel sees this volume as a first step towards it: "Before anyone can write a history,... the historian needs to be certain that the field has been meaningfully defined, both temporally and spatially" (1). How does this volume define the field of Greek literature?

Having acknowledged the "ideological implications" (1) of defining historical boundaries within literature, and having stated that language is no sufficient marker of Greek literature (since, for example, many texts written in Greek belong to Jewish and Christian narratives), Scodel summarizes the method used throughout the volume: "if there are features that appear more consistently within Greek narratives of all periods than in other narrative traditions, or that mark off particular forms of Greek narrative, or that develop within the history of Greek literature, we have a valuable tool of studying the boundaries" (3). In this explanation, the word "consistently" is important, since this method implies a certain deal of approximation: "'Greek narrative' can be a meaningful category even if individual features are not unique. …

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