Imaginary Lands: Ethnicity, Exoticism, and Narrative in the Ancient Novel

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Imaginary Lands: Ethnicity, Exoticism, and Narrative in the Ancient Novel

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Title: Imaginary Lands: Ethnicity, Exoticism, and Narrative in the Ancient Novel
Author: Cioffi, Robert Louis
Citation: Cioffi, Robert Louis. 2013. Imaginary Lands: Ethnicity, Exoticism, and Narrative in the Ancient Novel. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University.
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Abstract: This dissertation is centered around two related questions: How does literature contribute to the creation of identity? How does narrative locate individuals in the world? It studies how both individual and ethnic identity is shaped by the imagined landscapes encountered by the protagonists of the Greek novel over the course of their journeys. In this dissertation, I develop a model for reading the protagonists' travels across the Mediterranean as an integral part of the genre's narrative strategy. I begin by tracing the novels’ conceptual geographies of the Mediterranean world and the relationship between geographical movement and narrative. The core of my project examines three aspects of the imaginary worlds encountered by the novels’ protagonists: exotic animals, the relationship between humans and their natural landscapes, and exotic societies, customs, and religions. My study ends in Meroë, in the tenth and final book of Heliodoros’ Aithiopika. Meroë is a terminus in two senses: located on the edge of the known world, it is the most exotic of any place visited in the extant novels; it also represents the undoing of exoticism. Heliodoros’ novel describes a gradual process in the course of which Meroë becomes a Greek cultural enclave in an alien land, one that is parallel to, and associated with, Delphi, the religious center of the Hellenic world. Using literary and epigraphic sources alongside ancient visual media and archaeological evidence from Greco-Roman and Egyptian contexts throughout this study, I rethink the relationship between identity, narrative, and the exoticism in the novels. I argue that through their descriptions of wide-ranging travel and exotic locales, the novels reflect a multiplicity of individual ways to be Greek and the many models against which an individual’s Hellenic identity can define itself. The ancient novel is therefore an important expression of Greek identity in the Roman Imperial period.
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