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Author vs. Narrator: Voices and Agendas in Dictys Cretensis

Marc Bonaventura

University of Cambridge

This paper will examine whether there is a pro-Greek bias in Dictys Cretensis’ Ephemeris Belli Troiani, as many assert (Spence 2010: 134; Griffin 1908: 46-7; cf. Merkle 1994: 184), with a focus on distinguishing between the agendas of the author and the narrator.

In a narrative text, ‘the narrator cannot automatically be equated with the author; rather, it is a creation of the author’ (de Jong 2014: 17). In Dictys’ Ephemeris, the narrator is the fictional persona of Dictys, whereas the author is the Latin translator Lucius Septimius, but also the anonymous composer of the original Greek Ephemeris, to which Septimius’ translation adheres rather closely (cf. PTebt. 2.268; POxy. 31.2539, 73.4943, 73.4944). Conflict between the narrator and author of a text has been identified in Greek and Roman novels approximately contemporaneous with the original Greek Ephemeris (late 1st or early 2nd cent. AD), including Longus’ Daphnis and Chloe (Morgan 2003), Apuleius’ Metamorphoses (Winkler 1985), and Petronius’ Satyricon (Conte 1996). In Dictys’ case, however, although Merkle has traced the gradual Greek descent into barbarism in the text (Merkle 1994: 187-91; Merkle 1996: 567-71; Merkle 1999: 159-61), he does not analyse this phenomenon with reference to the narrator’s apparent pro-Greek bias, nor does he distinguish between narrator and author.

Accordingly, this paper will argue that although the narrator of Dictys’ Ephemeris expresses a consistent pro-Greek bias, the author consciously undermines this bias by including events which illustrate the gradual moral decline of the Greeks. First, it will outline the moralising agenda of the narrator (‘Dictys’). For instance, he denounces Alexander’s abduction of Helen as an indignissimum facinus (1.3), condemns Pandarus’ wounding of Menelaus during his duel with Alexander (pessimo exemplo, 2.40), and expresses disgust when the Trojans launch a surprise attack (barbari… nihil aliud quam turbata atque insidiosa cupientes, 3.10). Dictys’ bias, however, is most evident in his use of the term mos, through which he asserts Greek cultural superiority. While the Greeks observe patrius mos (2.2; 6.4), regius mos (2.6; 2.52), and mos militiae (2.36), the Trojans have inferior customs (pessimo more, 2.40; cf. 3.10). References to the customary habits (solitus mos) of the Trojans can refer to their desire to mutilate enemy corpses (4.12), or their tendency to launch cowardly attacks (3.17), and when Dictys condemns the Trojans for wounding Patroclus’ genitalia (exemplum pessimum, 3.11), he adds that such behaviour is unheard of among the Greeks (numquam antea a Graecis solitum, 3.11).

The focus will then switch from Dictys’ ‘fundamentally moralistic intentions’ (Lumiansky 1969: 200) to the objective facts of the narrative, which present a different picture, one in which the Greeks commit acts of barbarous violence and treachery. For example, they murder Polydorus before the walls of Troy (2.27), hurl Trojan corpses into the river (3.14), and Achilles cuts off the hands of a captured son of Priam (3.15). Greek atrocities reach a crescendo during the sack of Troy, which involves the slaughter of parents and children before their loved ones (5.12), Menelaus torturing and mutilating Deiphobus (5.12), and the Trojans being butchered like cattle (5.13). In addition, treachery and division repeatedly plague the Greeks. Diomedes and Ulysses successfully plot to murder Palamedes out of jealousy (2.15), many Greeks refuse to mourn Achilles due to suspicion that he was a traitor (4.13), and when Ajax dies under suspicious circumstances, a full-scale sedition erupts as the Greeks recall Palamedes’ earlier fate (5.15).

After examining how the author’s selection of events for narration, which depict the Greeks gradually descending into barbarity, contradicts the narrator’s unwavering belief in the Greeks’ cultural superiority, the paper will conclude by suggesting that the author’s decision to emphasise the moral decline of the Greeks is not due to favouritism or contempt for a particular race, but should be regarded as an ethical statement, demonstrating the destructive consequences of a prolonged war on a civilised society.

Session/Panel Title

Voicing the Past

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