A Byzantine Novel
Drosilla and Charikles by Niketas Eugenianos
Translated by Joan Burton
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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.
This is the first translation to appear in English of any of the four existing 12th-century Byzantine Greek novels. This bilingual edition includes:
- 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
Joan B. Burton is currently Professor and Chair of the Department of Classical Studies at Trinity University, San Antonio. Publications include Theocritus's Urban Mimes: Mobility, Gender, and Patronage (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1995); "Women's Commensality in the Ancient Greek World, "Greece and Rome 45 (1998), 143-65; "Reviving the Pagan Greek Novel in a Christian World, "Greek, Roman and Byzantine Studies 39 (1998), 179-216; "Abduction and Elopement in the Byzantine Novel, "Greek, Roman and Byzantine Studies 41 (2000), 377-409; "A Reemergence of Theocritean Poetry in the Byzantine Novel, "Classical Philology 98 (2003), 251-73.
Comments and Reviews
...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.
Exeter College, Oxford
Journal of Hellenic Studies 127 (2007) 253–254
Here is a delightful text -a fictitious love story from Komnenian Byzantium, written in a classicizing Greek of remarkable virtuosity. Burton's edition of Drosilla and Charikles, which contains an accurate and elegant English translation set beside the Greek original, accompanied by an informative introduction and a good set of notes, is a welcome supplement to a gap that has long existed in the study of Greek novels. While Byzantinists and classicists have written extensively on the medieval Greek revivals of the ancient novel, there is no single full English translation of these texts. The present volume at last makes the ipse fons of this curious genre accessible to the nonspecialist reader and will hopefully be followed by more of the same kind.
In a brief introduction (ix-xviii), Burton discusses the ancient novel and other literary antecedents represented in the text, its temporal and political contexts, possible connections with the Western European romances, and Christian themes lurking behind its ostensibly pagan setting. Burton displays great familiarity with these materials and backs up her discussions with a generous supply of references. I found it possibly wanting on just two counts: language and meter. On the Greek of Euganianos, a little more help could be given beyond a suggestion to look at Blass' grammar of the New Testament. Drosilla and Charikles, after all, is written in Byzantine, not ancient koine, and a sketch of the novel's sociolinguistic context or even a reference to some work of greater historical relevance may have more adequately satisfied a reader with an interest in this area; see, e.g., G. Horrocks, Greek: A History of the Language and Its Speakers (London 1997), esp. chs. 8-9. As for the meter, Burton says here and there that the novel is written in "twelve-syllable verse," but a little more could be said about its accentual characteristics and its descent from the venerable iambic trimeter. On which see, e.g., M. Lauxtermann, "The Velocity of Pure Iambs: Byzantine Observations on the Metre and Rhythm of the Dodecasyllable," JOByz 48 (1998) 9-33. It may be hasty to see a formal connection between the Byzantine novel and classical tragedy simply on metrical grounds, but the possibility is intriguing. See R. Harder, "Der byzantinisehe Roman des 12. Jahrhunderts als Spiegel des zeitgen?ssischen Literaturbetriebs," in S. Panayotakis et al., eds., The Ancient Novel and Beyond (Leiden 2003) 357-69, esp. 360.
The Greek text, as Burton acknowledges, is a reprint from Conca's 1994 bilingual edition. The decision is not a bad one, considering the great authority Conca enjoys in the philology of Byzantine novels. But it means that the errata in Conca's text, which seems to have been prepared with less care than his 1990 critical edition, also crop up in the present volume. Besides a couple noted by Burton, I noticed a few others and a pickier reader can probably uncover more (2.284, 3.276, 6.136, 6.259,6.325 (accent), 6.536, 6.561, 7.194, 9.137, 9.231). Otherwise, the Greek type is clear and esthetically pleasing.
Burton's English translation manages to follow the Greek almost word by word and yet remain quite readable. It provides valuable assistance to both beginning students and more advanced scholars, who may occasionally find the Greek of Eugenianos puzzling. When there are problems in interpretation, Burton conscientiously explains them in her notes. In general, the notes (195-202) are patchy; but in all fairness, a separate, and rather thick, volume would be needed if one were to come up with a full commentary (which was clearly not Burton's intention) for a work as compulsively allusive as the present one. Burton does a good job of furnishing basic mythological information to the lay reader, but it would not take much more space to point out the astonishing range of authors of whom one finds thematic/verbal echoes in Eugenianos. If the present text is to be used in a classroom setting, as Burton suggests doing, the instructor would still need to consult often Conca's 1990 critical edition and Boissonade's 1819 edition with notes.
The present volume succeeds brilliantly as an introductory text in a field that is still poorly represented in the English-speaking world. It will be of special interest to the student of the ancient novel, but those who want to learn something about the Byzantine Nachleben of the classics will also find it valuable.
— Akihiko Watanabe
University of Kentucky
Classical World 98.4 (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.
— Mark D. Merlino