I was hunting on the island of Lesbos when I saw the most beautiful sight I have ever seen in the grove of the Nymphs. It was a story about Eros. The grove was a beautiful place, abounding in trees and flowers. Streams of water gushed down, flowing from the same spring that nourished the trees and flowers. But I found more pleasure in the painting, instilled as it was with unparalleled artistry and the fortunes of Eros. … as I watched and stood amazed, passionate longing came over me to paint a response in writing to the painting. I searched out someone to interpret the images, and I completed four books. I offer them to Eros and the Nymphs and Pan as well as to all my fellows to be their delight and possession. It will heal whoever is ailing, console and comfort whoever is mourning, evoke memories for whoever has felt Eros, and educate whoever has yet to feel Eros. No one has escaped Eros or will escape Eros as long as there is beauty, and eyes see.
‘Proem’, from translation by William Blake Tyrell
Our Book Club selection this month is a pastoral love story: Longus’ Daphnis and Chloe.
Britannica describes this prose work as:
…the first pastoral prose romance and one of the most popular of the Greek erotic romances in Western culture after the Renaissance.
The story concerns Daphnis and Chloe, two foundlings brought up by shepherds in Lesbos, who gradually fall in love and finally marry. The author is less concerned with the complications of plot, however, than with describing the way that love developed between his hero and heroine, from their first naïve and confused feelings of childhood to full sexual maturity.
Longus was a Greek novelist of the 2nd century CE, about whom little is known. In his introduction, J.M. Edmonds says of Longus, “He described Mytilene as if he knew it well … but such local colouring need not have been gathered on the spot, nor if so, by a native. His style and language are Graeco-Roman rather than Hellenistic…” (page vii). Edmonds points out some possible influences on Longus’ writing, such as New Comedy, Sappho, Theocritus, and other Bucolic poets (pages vii–viii), and also considers him to be a Sophist (page xii).
As always, you can read any translation(s) you like. Here are links to some that are available online for free:
- William Blake Tyrell (undated, but modern) PDF
- George Thornley (1657), revised and augmented by J.M. Edmonds (1916), to read online or download at archive.org
- Unnamed translator (1890) to read online or download at archive.org
- Rowland Smith (1889) to read online or download at archive.org
- W.D. Lowe (1908) to read online or download at archive.org
A handwritten note in the scanned book says that the text and translation have been “expurgated”!
- The Athenian Society (undated) PDF
The Greek text is available on Perseus.
Discussion will start and continue in the Forum, and we will meet via Zoom on Tuesday, February 28, at 11 a.m. EST.