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
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.
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.