Daphnis and Chloe, a pastoral romance attributed to the Greek author, Longus (flourished 3rd century), inspired other writers, scholars, musicians and artists for centuries. Little mattered to them but the spirit of the work, a quality that endured and made it a popular predecessor to the modern novel.
As the writer of an enduring work, Longus was a man about whom virtually nothing was known. Only through the diligent work of scholars and historians could he be placed into an approximate time period and locale. According to William E. McCulloh, Classics professor at Kenyon College in Ohio until the late 1990s, in his 1970 work entitled Longus, there were four factors that went into determining when Longus might have lived and wrote. The first argument is based on the literary influence of Longus over the work of Alkiphron, a Greek writer who is easier to date. Other arguments relate to an analysis of the linguistic style of Longus and its relation to a transient idyllic fashion in wall painting. A final argument is based on the purchasing power of the drachma, as described in Book III 28-32 of Daphnis and Chloe . The work was set on the Greek island of Lesbos, which indicated that Longus, (whether a native of the island or not), knew it well enough to have lived there. McCulloh added a list of other authors who were likely to have lived during the same period. They included the Greek, Lucian; and the Philostrati: Aelian, Alkiphron, Hermogenes, Athenaios, Clement of Alexandria, and Origen. Of the Latin writers, Apuleius and Tertullian were also mentioned.
The Tale's Mastery
Daphnis and Chloe is the story of two orphans raised by shepherds on the Greek island of Lesbos. The plot centers on the innocent love that develops between these children of nature, unspoiled by urban life. Daphnis and Chloe are taught by hard experience and the cruel selfishness of the real world, but manage to survive and return to their idyllic past. This pastoral romance, one that paints a picture in words of a story and its place, was not, perhaps, intended for the widespread audience which has followed it throughout the ages. It was particularly popular with readers in 17th and 18th century France and England.
In his book, McCulloh offered that, "a claim that should perhaps never be made except in private, shall nevertheless be made here in public: After the fifth century B.C. only three narrative works (excluding history) achieve an inclusive imaginative grasp of the world from a pagan viewpoint: Vergil's Aeneid, Petronius' Satyricon, and Daphnis and Chloe. All three were intended for a highly educated, sophisticated audience, not for average readership." At the end of his prologue, the author as narrator said that, "I formed [these] four books to be a delightful possession for all men, one which will cure the sick and console the sorrowful; remind him who has loved and instruct in advance him who has not. For no one has ever escaped Eros entirely, nor ever will, so long as there is beauty and men have eyes to see it. But I pray the god to keep me sober as I depict others' passions."
An Inspiration for Artists
The writing of Longus served to inspire works of art that entertained people in other mediums. His tale became the basis for one of the 20th century's most beloved ballets, Daphnis and Chloe, whose music by Maurice Ravel and choreography by Michel Fokine, revived the passion of audiences since its opening on June 8, 1912. With the legendary ballet master, Vaslaw Nijinsky starring in the production performed by the Ballets Russes at the Theatre du Chatelet in Paris, the sweet romance worked its way further into a place in history. Premier violinist, Efrem Zimbalist, Sr., created a tone poem of Daphnis and Chloe. Its debut performance was presented by the Philadelphia Orchestra and conducted by Leopold Stokowski. Its acclaim from the Masterpieces of World Literature, boasts that the work was, "… highly romantic in both characterization and incident, alive with extravagant improbabilities, and laced with humor." Its theme of unspoiled love between two innocents lent to universal appeal. "It gives us a vision of a desirable world of nature, fertility, and nobility to which we can aspire if never reach," noted the critic.
Praise from Goethe
The famous German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe once proclaimed about Longus that, "One would have to write an entire book in order to do justice to all the great merits of this work." In 1831, when Goethe was in his eighty-first year, McCulloh reported that he had a lengthy conversation further praising this work of Longus. "The work is so beautiful that, amid the wretched circumstances in which one lives, one cannot retain its effect, and one is always amazed anew when one rereads it. Sheer sunshine is in it, and one thinks he is seeing nothing but the wall paintings of Herculaneum, while these pictures reciprocally influence the book by helping our imagination during reading. For all its restricted scope, it develops a complete world. And the landscape, which a few decisive strokes so establish, that we see on the heights behind the persons vineyards, fields, and orchards, and down below, the pastures with the stream and a little woods, while in the distance are the reaches of the sea. The entire work manifests the highest art and culture. It is so thought out, that no theme is missing. And a taste, a sensitive perfection of feeling, which is equal to the best elsewhere. All the disagreeable elements which disruptively intrude from outside upon the happy situations of the work, such as assault, kidnap, and war, are dismissed with utmost rapidity and leave hardly a trace behind. In all this there is immense intelligence; also the preservation of Chloe's virginity through to the end of the novel, despite the aims of both lovers, who know no more than lying together naked this also is superb, and so well motivated, that matters of greatest human import are given utterance. It is well to read it once every year, to learn from it again and again, and to sense freshly its great beauty."
Further Reading on Longus
An Introduction to Daphnis and Chloe by Longus, edited by J.M.Edmonds, The Putnam Group, 1916.
McCulloh, William E. Longus. Twayne Publishers, 1970.
Three Greek Romances, translated by Moses Hadas, 1953.
An Introduction to Daphnis and Chloe by Longus, edited by Joseph Jacobs, Available at: http:www.galenet.com/servlet/LitRC/hi.
Masterpieces of World Literature. Daphnis and Chloe. Harper-Collins Publishers, 1989. Available at: http://web2.infotrac.galegroup.com/itw/.
The Columbia Encyclopedia. Columbia University Press, 1993.Available at: http:web2.infotrac.galegroup.com/itw.