Ancient Greece and the Art of Storytelling in George Moore's Aphrodite in Aulis

By Doulamis, Konstantin | DQR Studies in Literature, January 1, 2013 | Go to article overview

Ancient Greece and the Art of Storytelling in George Moore's Aphrodite in Aulis


Doulamis, Konstantin, DQR Studies in Literature


Aphrodite in Aulis, George Moore's last complete novel, is a fine example of the strong current of Hellenism found in nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Western culture. The strong Hellenic presence in this work, ubiquitously in evidence in the use of names, themes and images deeply rooted in the Greek past, is combined with modem fiction to create an interesting story with a historical colour. Even though this has been recognized by critics,1 and the usefulness of contextualizing Aphrodite in Aulis with respect to its sources has been well demonstrated,2 the ancient Greek historical and literary texture of this work has thus far received very little scholarly attention. Yet, a closer examination of the Greek images can furnish an insight not only into this novel but also into Moore's literary sophistication.

How accurate are references to historical events and characters in this novel? What purpose do allusions to the ancient Greek world serve? Does the prominent Hellenic element affect a reading of this novel, and, if so, in what way and to what extent? To attempt a largescale examination of the above questions would be a task extending far beyond the limits of this essay. However, it is both useful and important to bring out the connotative and cultural significance of some of the ancient Greek symbols and images employed by Moore, while looking more closely within the novel at statements about storytelling which, I will suggest, can be read as Moore's selfconscious allusions to his own art of writing.

Anachronisms and inconsistencies

How historically accurate is this "historical" novel? In George Moore: l'homme et l'oeuvre, Jean Noël praises Moore's thorough research into Classical antiquity, including various aspects of Greek life and topography, and states that "one could hardly reproach him for so painstakingly seeking to avoid anachronisms and topographical impossibilities".3 Noël's claim notwithstanding, Moore's novel is not without anachronisms and historical inconsistencies,4 as will be demonstrated below.

It is known that Phidias' famous gold and ivory statue of Athena was completed and dedicated in 438 BC and that Aristophanes' Banqueters was produced by Callistratus in 427 BC. The two events, however, are presented as simultaneous in Moore's novel, where Phidias says that his statue of Athena has just been completed, and, later on, a very young Aristophanes (mistaken for a teenaged boy by Rhesos) announces that he is preparing to stage his Banqueters.5

Moreover, Kebren's speech at Otanes' funeral is likened to Pericles' funeral oration, which is cited by Thucydides in his History of the Peloponnesian War6 Pericles' speech was delivered at the burial of the first Athenian war dead a year after the outbreak of the Peloponnesian War in 431 BC. This means that the opening of Aphrodite's temple in Moore's novel, on which occasion Pericles' funeral oration is recalled, must be at least one year later than 430 BC. The statement that "Aulis would soon rival Corinth",7 on the other hand, which is one of Thyonicus' arguments in support of the view that the temple in Aulis should be dedicated to Aphrodite, is more likely to be a reference to Corinth at the time when the city was still powerful and prosperous, and certainly before the late 430s BC, when Corinthian economy started to decline dramatically due to its active involvement in the Peloponnesian War.

However, if the early 420s BC are accepted as chronological backdrop to the second half of Moore's novel, the picture of the Greek world that the novelist draws is different from the historical events of that period: relations between Greek city-states had been particularly tense in the years leading up to the outbreak of the Peloponnesian War.8 Boeotia, with the sole exception of Plataea, had sided with the Peloponnesians against the neighbouring city-state of Athens, and had been engaging in hostile action for several decades before the war started. …

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