Longus’s Daphnis and Chloe differs from the earlier Greek novels in many obvious ways, one of which is an almost Aristotelian unity of place. While the fictional young lovers of Chariton, Xenophon, and Achilles Tatius are flung from one exotic location to another, nearly all the action in Daphnis and Chloe takes place within the confines of a country estate on Lesbos, a self-contained and largely self-sufficient pastoral world-within-a-world. And yet, every important event in this novel happens because someone appears who does not really belong in this idyll (to use the word rather literally). The proposed paper will explore how Longus uses transgression, i.e. the crossing of the boundaries between worlds, to transform a speciously silly story into a genuine novel, which Goethe called “ein Meisterstück, ...wogegen der gute Virgil freilich ein wenig zurücktritt” (Eckermann, 9 March 1831).
Some of these “transgressors” are patently dangerous (a she-wolf, hunters, pirates, an enemy army), while others seem quite innocent - such as the author himself, who informs us in the Prologue that he was hunting on Lesbos when he saw a picture that inspired him to write a novel (á¼€ντιγρÎ¬ψαι τá¿‡ γραφá¿‡). His protagonists, then, are two exposed infants, i.e. not born to the world in which they have been raised and which they believe to be their home. Only their parents (and we, the readers) know this, but until the fourth and final book only the astute reader will occasionally notice a reference to this fact, as when Chloe’s unbelievable erotic naivete is explained at I.14 with the remark that she is νÎα κÏŒρη καá½¶ á¼ν á¼€γροικÎ¯á¾³ τεθραμμÎνη. As many scholars have noted (Goldhill, MacQueen, Morgan, Wouters, Reardon, Zeitlin), the task of teaching Chloe about Eros is protracted and complicated, and requires the intervention of several “teachers,” including especially Philetas and Lykainion. The latter (whose name links her thematically to the real she-wolf in Book I, while ironically identifying her as a retired prostitute) is a transgressor in several senses, but she performs an essential task: it is from her that Daphnis finally learns what Eros is all about. By the end of Book III, all is tending towards an expected and fully satisfying conclusion: the marriage of Daphnis and Chloe, to which both “fathers” have given their consent. In Book IV, however, the owner of the estate appears, Dionysophanes, a wealthy man from Mytilene, and in his entourage is a pederastic parasite named Gnathon, whose attempts to seduce Daphnis lead directly to the revelation of Daphnis’ true identity as his erstwhile master’s son. In the meantime, a brutish local shepherd abducts Chloe, but then she is found and rescued by none other than Gnathon, who returns Chloe to his would-be-catamite-turned-young-master and regains his former position of trust. Once it is revealed that Chloe is also of suitable birth and the two “real” fathers consent, the marriage finally takes place, and is duly consummated in the last sentence of the novel. Daphnis and Chloe will be restored to the world of their birth only briefly, however: we are informed in the penultimate paragraph that they will leave Mytilene and live out their days in the country.
The contrast between the worlds of country and city thus turns out to be highly complex and deeply ironic: the vices and inadequacies of both are ruthlessly exposed, while Eros leads Daphnis and Chloe to an almost Hegelian Aufhebung, that is, not a compromise or synthesis, but transcendence of a destructive and insoluble antithesis, moving to a plane where the issues are no longer of any importance. The various planes of antithesis that permeate this novel from the first sentence to the last (male and female, nature and art, hunter and prey etc.) are thus transgressed and thereby rendered harmless. Goethe’s admiration was not, after all, misplaced.