User:Jahsonic/AHE/Greco-Roman/The two "novels" of the Romans
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
The novel as we know it today has not yet emerged in Antiquity. Precursors exist in the form of frame tales and they can all be safely called licentious. We qualify them for convenience as "novels" because they are written in prose and consist of a certain length. The text by Petronius, nowadays known as Satyricon (1st century AD.), is only partially preserved. The only fully preserved novel, The Golden Ass of Lucius Apuleius (c. 123-175 AD) is thematically very similar to the picaresque novel that will rise to the fore in the 16th and 17th centuries. Racy passages with sexual overtones are found in abundance. The Golden Ass (the work is confusingly called Metamorphoses officially) is an imaginative and humorous story about the adventures of one Lucius who experiments with magic and accidentally turns into a donkey, without however losing his human faculties of mind. In this unwanted disguise he hears and sees a lot of unusual things. Within this frame story, we get several short stories, the longest and the most famous is that of Cupid and Psyche. Before Lucius turns into an ass, he and a friend experience some adventures as human beings. In one of the first stories, his travelling companion is killed by witches. The witches ponder if they will let Lucius live, since he is a dangerous witness. They spare his life, but take revenge with a cruel and humiliating punishment: "and then they strid over mee, and clapped their buttocks upon my face, and all bepissed mee until I was wringing wet" leaving him "on the ground like one without soule, naked and cold, and wringing wet with pisse."1 Poor soul.
Fortunately, our hero fares much better later in the book, when he has a very pleasant and intimate encounter with a maid. This provides one of the earliest passages in world literature in which the game of love is described realistically and explicitly.
Passage awaiting translation:
- De meid ‘rukte zich alle kleren van het lijf ... en zei: “neem me, neuk wild”. ... Ze klom op het bed en liet zich beetje bij beetje op me neerzakken, haar ruggengraat golfde van de snelle stoten en geile bewegingen en met haar wellustige geschommel deed ze me heerlijk klaarkomen.’
The Satyricon is also a frame story, in which the protagonist Encolpius, along with his brother in arms Ascyltus and their lust slave Giton, get caught up in a series of adventures. Just as Odysseus roams the seas to escape the wrath of Poseidon, this trio is propelled by the vagaries of the fertility god Priapus. Among the numerous fragments of this "novel" that have been preserved, the meal of Trimalchio (Cena Trimalchionis in Latin) takes centre stage, due to the accurate characterization of the wealthy parvenu Trimalchio and his friends. Another fragment, the widow of Ephesus illustrates the prosaic and transitory nature of human love.
A very pious and recently widowed woman decides to starve herself to death while mourning at the grave of her husband. Not far from where she is slowly killing herself, a rather handsome soldier is guarding the crucified corpses of some robbers. The widow and the soldier start to chat and despite her grief, she increasingly starts to like the young man. After a while she succumbs to his charms but their happiness is suddenly disrupted. While making love on the grave of her deceased husband, one of the crucified men is stolen. The guard faces a severe punishment, but the widow has a cunning plan. She wisely proposes to exchange the body of her husband to take the place of the crucified corpse. Petronius borrowed the story of the Greeks, where the genre was known as the 'Milesian tale.'
2 Footnote: A frame story is a narrative technique where one story is the frame for a series of embedded stories. For example, different characters tell each other stories that happened in the past, as flashbacks. The best-known of these frame stories are 1001 Nights, Boccaccio’s Decamerone and Chaucer's Canterbury Tales.