Did the ancient Greek novels have characters? The question is not so absurd or paradoxical as it may seem. Aristotle had opined that there could not be a tragedy without action or a plot (that is, a praxis) but that one without character was possible (Poetics 4, 1450a24). His word for character is êthos (in the plural, êthê), which does not mean “character” in the sense of a person in a story (in Greek this is prosôpon, plural prosôpa, as in dramatis personae or cast of characters) but rather the habits and other qualities that constitute a person's moral disposition. Aristotle's notion may seem similar to the idea of character today, but in fact it differs significantly, insofar as the modern notion tends to place the emphasis on traits unique to or distinctive of an individual. Ancient...

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