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The Greek Novel, ‘Asianic’ Style, and the Second Sophistic

Lawrence Kim

Trinity University

In the history of scholarship on Imperial Greece, Erwin Rohde’s 1876 Der griechische Roman is considered groundbreaking for two primary reasons: not only was it the first comprehensive scholarly treatment of the ancient Greek novel, but it also provided the first extensive account of the ‘Second Sophistic’, seen as the backdrop against which the novels should be understood.  Less familiar, however, is another claim featured in the book, one that sparked a vigorous, twenty-five year debate: that the Imperial sophists were heirs of the so-called ‘Asianic’ (asianisch) orators of the Hellenistic era, whose rhythmic, theatrical, Gorgianic, and oft-criticized rhetorical style they were said to have adopted (cf. Rohde 1886).  In the first part of this paper, I explore the important part played in this debate by the Greek novelists deemed to have an ‘Asianic’ style—Iamblichus, Longus, and Achilles Tatius—and how this aspect of their work has been curiously neglected in the vast swell of recent novel scholarship. In the second part, I demonstrate how reconsidering the question of the novelists’ ‘Asianic’ style permits us to re-appraise the position of the Greek novels vis-à-vis the Second Sophistic.  

I begin by sketching the history of the novels’ crucial role in scholarship about ‘Asianism’ and the Second Sophistic; they were the primary examples of ‘Asianic’ style not only for Rohde, but also for Eduard Norden, who relied heavily on Iamblichus, Longus, and Achilles Tatius in his description of what he called ‘the new style’ in Die antike Kunstprosa (1898). Over the course of the twentieth century, however, as the study of ‘Asianism’ fell out of fashion, discussions of these novels’ unusual style became less and less common.  Despite the massive increase in recent scholarship on the novel, comments on ‘Asianic’ style or rhythm remain rare and cursory (cf. Hunter 1983, 90-91; Billault 1995; Doulamis 2011, 37-41), a fact rendered more unusual when one notes the increasing attention lavished on the novels as counter-cultural texts, or as marked by ‘Eastern’ influence (e.g., Whitmarsh and Thomson 2013). I conclude with some remarks on the paradoxical way in which Rohde’s somewhat dismissive view of an ‘Asianic’ Second Sophistic has been recast instead as a celebration of the movement as a bulwark of Hellenism against Roman and ‘eastern’ threats (Whitmarsh 2013, 3).

In the second half of the paper, I demonstrate how taking another look at the novelists’ style can help us rethink the relationship of the novel to the Second Sophistic.  I focus on the twenty-line excerpt that Norden (1898, 437) used to illustrate the ‘Asianic’ style of Iamblichus. The content of the passage (re-directing a river to flood a city) and the rhetorical conceit (a naval battle without boats) have parallels in other novels (Heliodorus 9.4; Achilles 4.14). But the excerpt is not by Iamblichus, but by the sophist Hadrian of Tyre (Naechster 1908, Amato 2009, lix).  After establishing how similar the ‘Asianic’ or Gorgianic features (tricola, homoeoteleuton, paromoiosis) of Hadrian’s style are to that of his late second-century CE contemporaries, Achilles Tatius and Longus, I consider the implications, first of the close correspondence between the two novelists’ styles and that of perhaps the most celebrated sophist of his generation, and second, of the misidentification of the fragment as coming from Iamblichus’ Babyloniaca.  I conclude that the ties between the novels and sophistic display oratory are much closer than previously assumed; by their adoption of ‘Asianic’ rhetoric, which was often criticized by Imperial authors who distanced themselves from sophistic oratory and favored more ‘classical’ styles (e.g., Plutarch, Dio, and Aristides), Longus and Achilles align themselves decisively with sophists like Polemo, Favorinus, and Hadrian of Tyre, who share their stylistic proclivities. They should be seen as figures standing, not on the margins of the Second Sophistic, but at its very heart.

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The Romance of Reception

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