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This paper examines the figure of the wolf in Longos’ Daphnis and Khloe. I argue that the wolf – always depicted as absent – is a complex and multi-dimension figure within the novel’s pastoral world: as an “absent presence,” it offers an ideal locus to problematize the act of mimesis. Specifically, I suggest that each of the three wolf episodes (1.11-12, 1.20-2, 3.15-19) illustrates a different kind of mimesis (plastic arts, dramatic performance, and literature). By portraying the successes and failures of these lupine mimeseis, Longos reflects on his own project of representing the natural world, while also positioning his landscape within the tradition of pastoral. The lesson of the wolf is the lesson of the novel: successful mimesis requires the fusion of nature and culture.

Previous discussions of wolves in Daphnis and Khloe have focused on their role as (sexual) predators, injecting violence or realism into an idyllic pastoral world (Winkler 1990; Pandiri 1985) or on their narrative function as catalysts for Daphnis’ and Khloe’s sexual development (Epstein 1995). More generally, scholarship on the natural world in Longos has focused on the accuracy of his description (inaccurate: Naber 1877, Reardon 1971, 201; accurate: Arnott 1994) or on the possible sources for his descriptions with an emphasis on the pastoral tradition (Cresci 1999, Effe 1999, Mason 2003, Morgan 2004).

In contrast, this paper argues that the wolf and by extension the natural world also serves a meta-narrative function. Longos uses the wolf to reflect on the way in which different kinds of art can represent the natural world. I begin with the observation that although wolves are mentioned or alluded to some 31 times in Daphnis and Khloe, they are always depicted as absent. In fact, zooarchaeological research suggests that wolves were not on Lesbos in antiquity (Yannouli 2003). Rather, Longos’ wolf takes its cue from the pastoral tradition of the absent threatening wolf, but goes well beyond its predecessors.

In the first wolf episode (1.11-12), villagers try to trap a she-wolf by digging pits and covering them with sticks in order to “make an imitation (μεμίμητο) of earth” (1.11.2). The trap does not catch the wolf – for she can perceive “false earth (γῆ σεσοφισμένη)” – but it does ensnare Daphnis and his goat. I argue that this episode illustrates that the natural world alone is an insufficient model for mimesis.

The next episode (1.20-2) moves from mimesis in the plastic arts to performance. Dorkon, the lovelorn cowherd, dresses as a wolf and tries to snatch Khloe. Dorkon’s efforts at dramatic mimesis, reminiscent of Dolon’s in [Euripides’] Rhesos and Homer, Il. 10, flop. His disguise is too realistic. Khloe’s dogs mistake him for a real wolf and remove his costume (1.21.3). In contrast to the villagers, Dorkon’s mimesis failed to consider the realities of the natural world or the lessons of his literary models.

My final wolf, Lykainion (“little wolf”), the wife of Daphnis’ neighbor Khromis (3.15-20), explores mimesis in narrative. Like other “wolves,” Lykainion is an outsider, but she comes from the city, not from the wild, and she pursues Daphnis rather than Khloe. She engages in literary mimesis (μιμησαμένη) when she modifies Penelope’s dream in Odyssey 19.535-58 and pretends that an eagle has snatched one of her geese (3.16.2-4). Similarly, her sexual instruction (3.18) teaches Daphnis what he could not learn by imitating nature (3.14). Lykanion’s successful mimeseis combine both natural and literary models.

I conclude by suggesting that the wolf is one instance of a broader pattern in which the natural world creates meaning in the novel. Like Longos’ description of art, gardens, and humans imitating animals (cf. Hunter 1983, Zeitlin 1990, 1994), the wolf allows Longos to problematize the act of mimesis and the relationship between his work and the pastoral tradition. The figure of the wolf reminds readers to pay attention to Longos’ own construction of the natural.