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Glasses and Other Tableware in Achilles Tatius: Making Sense of a Complex Novel by Looking at Objects

Marine Glénisson

Université Paris-Sorbonne

In this paper, we intend to show how the inclusion of glasses, cups and other tableware in Achilles Tatius’ Leucippe and Cleitophon contributes to unify a novel with a complex narrative structure by closely link the literal level of the narrative to its figurative and metaliterary sense for the educated reader of the Second Sophistic. This novel indeed is an elaborate construction whose content, narrated in the first person by Cleitophon, is embedded in a primary narrative whose narrator remains unknown. From the opening scene on, Cleitophon makes clear that he lived through difficult events whose sense he struggles to make clear. Doing that, he constantly pays attention to the objects populating his world and uses them to understand what prevented him to live happily with Leucippe. in this process, tableware occupy a discrete but prominent place. If this category of objects is sometimes pointed upon through long ekphraseis, explicitly linking them to a metaliterary sense in the novel, they primarily signify on the narrative level of the story: they facilitate relationships between characters because they encourage conversations during the numerous banquets of the oeuvre, or become the substitute to kisses when Cleitophon poses his lips on the glass from his beloved drank from [Zeitlin]. They also provoke peripeties when they serve to mix the poisons that cause the lovers to part ways. At the same time, they also support and deepen the reader’s reflection on the degree of credence he must accord to Cleitophon’s narrative: discussions provoked by wine were, since Homer, linked to the tenuous frontier between truth and lie, whereas poisons are also symbolic for the power of words, which can be soothing but also poisonous. Finally, tableware, when extensively described, emphasize the discussion on the power of art and fiction because they are often described as perfect and can outdo nature. Glasses and tableware in Leucippe and Cleitophon, hence, are essential component of the narrative and contribute to shape its complex sense, bounding the narrative to the metaliterary interpretation of its dubious autobiographical texture. In the first part of our paper, we will observe the contexts of appearance of glasses and other tableware in the novel, and to examine what they mean on the literal level of the novel, separating their erotic role from their more dramatic role. Then we will focus on the different ways these objects allow a reflection on the status of the narrative, constantly balanced between truth and lie, an important dichotomy in ancient fiction. Finally, we will see how these objects contribute to metaliterary strategies constituting the novel itself as a work of art whose fiction is, in a sense, more perfect than nature. Our twenty-minute paper will then underline the importance of objects in Achille Tatius’ novel when it comes to unify the components of a narrative developed on many levels, to advocate for its complexity and for the mastery of the author.

Session/Panel Title

The Ancient Novel and Material Culture

Session/Paper Number


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