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Greek Novels and Inscribed Epigrams: Jacqueline Arthur-Montagne and Alan Sheppard Present Papers at Classical Association Annual Conference

Apr 9 2015

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Two graduate scholars in Classics will present their work at the annual conference of the Classical Association, hosted by the University of Bristol (UK). The conference runs from April 10-13. Jacqueline Arthur-Montagne and Alan Sheppard will present their research on April 12th. For the complete program, visit the University of Bristol website

About the Association: Founded in 1903, the Classical Association is now the largest organization dedicated to Classical studies in Great Britain. In addition to hosting an annual conference, the CA produces three academic journals per year, publishes a biannual newsletter, and maintains a network of local branches throughout the UK. 

Program Abstracts

Jacqueline Arthur-Montagne - “Women’s Tales on Trial in the Greek Novel”
Abstract: The label ‘Greek novel’ has been applied to a range of ancient prose fictions, whose thematic and chronological limits remain endlessly contested. No issue has drawn more debate than the origins of this nebulous genre, but recent scholarship has emphasized the novel’s reliance on popular, oral folktales (Graverini 2006, Kim 2013). Critics from Plato to Cicero had disparaged such stories of romance and adventure as ‘old wives’ tales’ (aniles fabellae), low fictions that could offer no moral or intellectual instruction. They scorned the tales of old women for their triviality, and the superstition they inspired in their listeners (Massaro 1977, Ziolkowski 2002). This paper argues that the Greek novel was not a genre designated ‘low’ in its reception, but one that actively appropriated material from a narrative tradition long belittled by elite audiences. The challenge for the novelists was therefore to redeem this spurned tradition for an audience of sophisticated and predominantly male readers. As Lucian proposes in True History, they strove to combine for serious scholars the relaxation of playful fictions with “Muse-worthy contemplation” (θεωρίαν οὐκ ἄμουσον). I claim that their effort is embedded in the way female characters in novels narrate (or fail to narrate) their own adventures aloud. Heroines are acutely aware of the negative connotations of their narratives, and their concerns are often validated by the responses of their audiences, which include mockery and mistrust. Listeners who do respond positively nevertheless demand corroboration from male witnesses or attempt to transform women’s oral accounts into more authoritative, written sources. But as the Greek novels put the testimony of their heroines ‘on trial’ before listeners and even law courts, the tall tales of women prove both trustworthy and instructive about Fortune and the fates of virtuous Greek citizens
Alan Sheppard - “Classical Historiographers’ Use of Inscribed Epigram”
Abstract: This paper investigates the attitudes of Classical Greek historiographers towards inscribed documents and material culture, examining how historians incorporated one particular category of evidence, inscribed epigram, into their own historical narratives. Building on work concerning the quotation of epigrams in different genres (Petrovic 2007) as well as individual historians’ use of documents (e.g. West (1985) on Herodotus; Smarcyzk (2006) on Thucydides; Schepens (2007) on Hellenistic historians), this paper charts how attitudes towards inscribed epigram, and thus material culture more generally, changed in Classical Greek historiography. The paper will first discuss the contrasting approaches of Herodotus and Thucydides towards inscribed epigram before considering what can be recovered concerning the attitudes of fourth-century universal and local historians respectively. While Herodotus quotes epigrams and refers to their material context relatively frequently (e.g. Hdt 4.88, 5.77, and 7.228), Thucydides restricts himself to direct quotation of surviving epigrams in the tyrannicides episode alone (Thuc 6.54-59), using them to prove that Athenian popular memory about the episode was incorrect. Despite indirectly referring to epigrams elsewhere in the work, Thucydides avoids direct quotation (except at 1.132 where he quotes an epigram which was subsequently erased) and it is this stylistic decision, in contrast to Herodotus, which influences his fourth-century successors. While fourth-century ‘universal’ historians generally avoid direct quotation and ignore material remains, ‘local’ historians continue to quote epigrams. Yet, in contrast to Herodotus, late-Classical local historians tend not to engage directly with the material context of the epigram and often seem to quote from collections instead. This lack of interest in material context parallels the quotation of epigram in other late-Classical genres such as oratory or philosophy. Moreover, the separation of epigrams from their inscribed context in fourth-century historiography pre-figures the rise of the book epigram in the Hellenistic world.