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...
Did the Ancient Greek Novels Have Characters?
david konstan is professor of classics at New York University. Among his books are Roman Comedy (1983); Sexual Symmetry: Love in the Ancient Novel and Related Genres (1994); Greek Comedy and Ideology (1995); Friendship in the Classical World (1997); Pity Transformed (2001); The Emotions of the Ancient Greeks: Studies in Aristotle and Classical Literature (2006); “A Life Worthy of the Gods”: The Materialist Psychology of Epicurus (2008); Before Forgiveness: The Origins of a Moral Idea (2010); and, most recently, Beauty: The Fortunes of an Ancient Greek Idea (2014).
David Konstan; Did the Ancient Greek Novels Have Characters?. Novel 1 August 2016; 49 (2): 385–392. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00295132-3509197
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