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This paper will be part of a larger discussion on elites in the five complete Greek novels. The choice of this subject is not due to the fact that elites would be the only social category which would deserve a specific attention from contemporary historians. It happens that they naturally focus the main stream of narration in idealistic novels. The young heroes are themselves members of the upper class, which the novelists must have belonged to or, with a greater probability, must have been familiar to. Besides, elites are better known by historians than any other part of Greek imperial society. Funerary steles, honorific decrees, dedications of monuments, statue bases, town houses and villas, household decoration, as well as home furniture, all these forms of epigraphical and archaeological material converge with literary texts to offer a rather good survey of the elites milieu. Thus, since realia can frequently be brought as elements of comparison, the status of elites is likely to throw an illuminating light on the question of contructing representations in the Greek novels.

This paper will examine under which conditions the novel of Achilles Tatius, Leucippe and Cleitophon, written in the second half of the 2nd century A.D., could be a valuable source to the history of Greek elites in the Eastern provincial society of the Roman Empire. Melite of Ephesos and her husband Thersandros will especially draw our attention. By her birth (genos) and her fortune (ousia), Melite of Ephesos belongs to the very first citizens of the city. As a widow, she is one of those big landowners who prefer to live in town and share their time between managing property and living a life of leisure, made of travels, banquets and intellectual culture — to which hunting should be added, were she a man. In the couple formed with Thersandros, she seems to be the one whose ascendants are true Ephesian citizens and most of their properties seem to be hers, since, for instance, during the trial, Thersandros seeks a refuge at a friend’s home while she keeps living in the house, even if suspected of adultery. In fact, Thersandros, whose education in a gymnasion of Ephesos can be compared with the ideal model offered by the young Callisthenes, keeps an agrios temper which makes him a particularly interesting figure. Could he be one of those hellenized notables whose parents came to Ephesos from abroad for commercial or administrative reasons ? Ephesos was a cosmopolitan city where an important foreign community lived, especially Italian. As for Melite, her seducing and sensual character of “merry widow” seems to spring up from a Milesian tale, from a satire of the Roman poet Juvenal or from a Latin novel like the Metamorphoses. To some extent, she offers the image of a Greek woman considered through Roman eyes... Thus, both members of the couple display fine portraits of the Ephesian upper society by illustrating a mixed cultural milieu which is half way between realistic and parodic Greek society.

So, in the particular case of Leucippe and Cleitophon, one has to deal with two specific questions : the taste of Achille Tatius for cultural and ethnic diversity which is expressed also by the geographical setting of the novel — the choice of Tyr, Byzance, Alexandria and Ephesos is nothing but a matter of chance — and the parodic dimension of the text which has been underlined on many occasions. After having examined the social practices which illustrate the fact that Melite and Thersandros belong to the elite society of Ephesos, the paper will end on a comparison with the tumultuous reception of the Liaisons dangereuses, the famous novel of Choderlos de Laclos, in the aristocracy of pre-revolutionary France : is it possible to conceive that the adulterous relationship between Melite and Cleitophon intended to denounce Greek elites’ behaviours through mockery ?

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