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A Land Without Slavery: Daphnis’ Civil Status in the Pastoral Landscape of Longus

Christopher Cochran

Harvard University

Many scholars have recognized that Longus’ novel Daphnis and Chloe constructs a pastoral landscape isolated from the ordinary social hierarchies of the ancient world, for example the violence of unequal sexual relationships (Winkler 1989), or the structures of formal priesthoods (Bowie 2015). Furthermore, these social hierarchies are imposed on the pastoral landscape by the incursions of characters from the city. Modern scholarship, however, has not addressed perhaps the most important social hierarchy of the city, which is conspicuously downplayed in the text’s pastoral landscape: slavery. Although a careful reader would know from the beginning of the text that Daphnis is enslaved (we are told that Daphnis’ adoptive father Lamon works on the estate of a wealthy man, 1.1), within the pastoral landscape the distinctions between free and enslaved persons appear to have little significance. In this paper, I argue that Longus constructs a social underworld, in which Daphnis’ enslavement only becomes significant through incursions from the city. This is similar to Trimalchio’s social underworld in Petronius’ Satyrica, in which the usual hierarchical relationships between freeborn persons and freedmen are disrupted (Bodel 1993).  

Prior to the final book, there is only one moment where Daphnis’ slave status is substantially important to the plot: when he is attacked by young Methymneans whose ship has drifted away because Daphnis’ goat ate the vine which had tied it to shore (2.12-18). The difference in wealth between Daphnis and the Methymneans has been noted (Sánchez Hernández 2015), but the importance of Daphnis’ civil status in the episode has not been recognized. By applying Roman law to the trial scene which follows the Methymneans’ initial attack (2.15-16), I show that the Methymneans’ prosecution hinges on accepting that Daphnis is a slave. Yet the ad hoc rustic court, presided over by a cowherd, rejects the Methymneans’ legal arguments, a decision which the Methymneans do not accept (2.17-18). The court’s failure to resolve the dispute demonstrates the gulf between the urban world of the Methymneans, who expect to assert their legal rights in accordance with the rules of slavery, and the pastoral world, where those rules don’t apply. 

The final book of the novel crashes apart the slavery-free pastoral world with the announcement that Daphnis’ δεσπότης is coming from the city to visit (4.1). The rest of the book is concerned with the implications of Daphnis’ enslavement, namely his inability to marry Chloe and his vulnerability to the sexual advances of Gnathon. At the moment that his enslavement becomes a vivid reality, the tokens found with Daphnis are revealed, proving his freeborn status and putting him in the position of a slaveholder (4.21-22). This reveals a curious paradox. Under Roman law, a freeborn foundling is de jure free, but usually de facto enslaved (Dig. Before book 4, Daphnis appeared to be de jure enslaved, but de facto free by the special rules of the pastoral landscape. Now it appears that Daphnis was a free person who believed that he himself was a slave, but who nevertheless enjoyed freedom.

Daphnis’ shifting civil status adds a new dimension to Winkler’s argument that Daphnis and Chloe’s relationship is marked by increasing violence and domination as the text progresses (Winkler 1989). Daphnis enjoys two separate relationships with Chloe. The first exists in a world of equality, in which slavery does not play a significant role, a symmetrical relationship.  The second exists in a world of inequality in which Daphnis’ freedom is not due to the absence of slavery, but rather the presence of slave ownership, an asymmetrical relationship (on symmetry, see Konstan 2014).

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Greek and Roman Novel

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