A Byzantine Novel: Drosilla and Charikles, by Niketas Eugenianos

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Translator: Joan Burton
Product Code: 536X
ISBN: 978-0-86516-536-6
Pages: 207
Availability: In stock.
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Niketas Eugenianos's Drosilla and Charikles is one of four existing Byzantine (12th-century) Greek novels. These novels represent the rebirth of the ancient novel after a hiatus of eight centuries in the deeply Christian world of Constantinople. Written under the Komnenian dynasty and during the time of the crusades these novels revived the pagan Greek world with its pagan gods and beliefs, and also reflected the customs and beliefs of their own time.


Drosilla and Charikles is notable for the prevalence of love songs, letters, lyrical passages, and pastoral motifs, as well as its sensitive representation of the enduring love of a young man and woman. Familiar characters from the ancient novels include stern parents, pirates who capture and separate the lovers, and a best friend with his own tragic love story. Other motifs include a helpful old woman, an inn-keeper's son inept at wooing, and a traveling merchant who offers salvation. Christian themes and imagery also come into play, particularly in the context of the discourse of love.


Special Features

This is the first translation to appear in English of any of the four existing 12th-century Byzantine Greek novels. This bilingual edition includes:

  • Introduction
  • Aids to reading comprehension:
    • Alphabetical list of characters
    • List of characters by relationship
    • List of gods and legendary figures
    • Select places and people

  • Greek text with facing English translation
  • Explanatory notes on the English translation
  • Bibliography

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Reviews

Review by: ELIZABETH JEFFREYS, Exeter College, Oxford - February 13, 2008
Journal of Hellenic Studies 127 (2007) 253-254. BURTON (J.B.) Trans. and Ed. A Byzantine Novel, Drosilla and Charikles by Niketas Eugenianos. Wauconda, IL: Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers, 2004. Pp. xxviii + 207. $30. 086516536X. The four novels that survive from twelfth-century Byzantium have increasingly attracted attention over the last three decades, ever since the conference held in 1976 in Bangor under the auspices of the Society for the Promotion of Hellenic Studies to mark the centenary of the publication of Erwin Rohde's Der griechische Roman (published as Erotica Antiqua, and heralding a series of conferences on this theme). While the novel in Late Antiquity has in general since then enjoyed an enhanced reputation and become a fertile field for research and undergraduate courses, its poor relation - the Byzantine novel - has also benefited. Once decried as tawdry specimens of mild pornography, there are now serious attempts to re-interpret them as respectable witnesses to the mentalité of the period, not least as evidence for the reading, and meaningful survival, of classical authors amidst Constantinopolitan scholars and creative writers. There are now acceptable scholarly editions for all four of these texts, and while debates continue over the dates at which they were written and the precise milieu which gave rise to them, there is progress towards a comprehension of all these issues, though not as yet a satisfactory solution. There are also an increasing number of translations into modern European languages: not that there has been a dearth in the past, since the Byzantine novels were often confused with their Late Antique models and - especially that of Makrembolites, and especially in 18th-century France - were included in omnibus volumes of ancient 'erotic' romances. The book under consideration here is a welcome addition to the current trend. It is a translation into English of Niketas Eugenianos, perhaps the most underrated of the four Byzantine novelists, and also includes the Greek text (without its critical apparatus) established by Fabrizio Conca (1990 and 1994). It is the first translation into modern English of any of these twelfth-century texts, and is to be welcomed as a means of introducing them more widely to students of mediaeval literature. There is no doubt that Burton knows thoroughly the material with which she is dealing: she has published several articles on the themes of the novels, their authors' uses of classical texts (especially Theocritus) and the audience on which they were focusing. However, little of this appears in the book under review. It is avowedly aimed at a 'school' audience, though whether this is undergraduate or graduate is not entirely clear: a certain competence in Greek is assumed (dictionaries and grammars are recommended for assistance), but the annotation is very limited and distinctly elementary. What annotation there is, is an uneasy combination of a few discussions of detailed textual points with some rather basic explanations of mythological allusions. This sits awkwardly with the introduction, which sets out the twelfth-century context very competently but with only a minimum of background explanation, and indeed the presumption is that the historical personages (Manuel Komnenos, John Tzetzes, etc.) need no explanation at all. The bibliography is, inevitably for texts of this sort and from this period, multilingual. So quite who is the intended readership for this book? The 'school' audience will be baffled and the academic is told nothing that is not known already. However, all that apart, the translation reads very well. B. has aimed, in a line-by-line prose version, at translating the Greek into 'a natural, readable English that preserves the spirit, style and thought of the original Greek' and at the same time aspiring to 'an accuracy of translation that might help the readers of the Greek'. By and large, she has succeeded, and is to be commended for the care with which the English version keeps pace with the lines of the Greek verse. But the reader needs to be warned that the notes barely skim the surface of what can - and should - be said about this text. ELIZABETH JEFFREYS Exeter College, Oxford
Review by: Mark Merlino - September 30, 2005
This is a very well done edition of a fascinating medieval romance. There is a bilingual text, the original Greek on one page and a good English translation opposite. The format is handy if you want to try to read the Greek and need to quickly check your translation. The story itself is poetic and the vocabulary often seems more classical than Byzantine. As the original introduction says, it is a story of ‘flight, wandering, storms at sea, abductions, violence, robbers, prisons, pirates, hunger..., unlucky separation from one another, and in the end bridal chambers and nuptials.’ A very worthwhile read.
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