Byzantine novel

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The Byzantine novel represents a revival of the ancient Greek romance of Roman times. Works in this category were written by Byzantine Greeks of the Eastern Roman Empire during the 12th century.


Under the Comnenian dynasty, Byzantine writers of twelfth century Constantinople reintroduced the ancient Greek romance novel, imitating its form and time but somewhat Christianizing its content. Hence the Byzantine stories are traditional in their plot structure and setting (featuring complex turns of events taking place in the ancient Mediterranean, complete with the ancient gods and beliefs) but are also medieval, clearly belonging to the era of the Crusades as they reflect customs and beliefs of that time. A break of eight centuries exists between the last surviving romance novel of late antiquity and the first of this medieval revival.[1]

Only four of these novels exist today, just one of which is written in prose: Hysimine and Hysimines by Eustathios Makrembolites. Two are in the duodecasyllable metre: Rodanthe and Dosikles by Theodore Prodromos and Drosilla and Charikles by Niketas Eugenianos. And one is in "political verse," Arístandros and Kallithéa by Constantine Manasses, but exists only in fragments.

Of these four romances, one had been translated into English before the twenty-first century: Ismene and Ismenias, a Novel by L.H. Le Moine, (London and Paris: 1788).[1]. Le Moine, however, had made his translation from the 1756 French translation, Les amours d'Ismene et d'Ismenias, of Pierre-François Godart de Beauchamps [2], which had in turn been made from a Latin rather than a Greek text.

More recently, however, interest in these novels by English readers has increased, resulting in two new translations directly from the Greek.

  • A Byzantine Novel: Drosilla and Charikles by Niketas Eugenianos translated by Joan Burton (Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers, Inc., 2004) [3].
  • Four Byzantine Novels translated by Elizabeth Jeffreys (Liverpool University Press, 2012) [4]

Later medieval romance novels from around the fourteenth century continued this literary tradition. These are the anonymous

available in English translation as Three Medieval Greek Romances: Velthandros and Chrysandza, Kallimachos and Chrysorroi, Livistros and Rodamni, translated by Gavin Betts, Garland Library of Medieval Literature, 98 (B), (New York & London: Garland Publishing, Inc. 1995). One of them is available in French: M Pichard, Le roman de Callimaque et de Chrysorrhoé: Texte établi et traduit, (Paris: 1956).[2]

Still other medieval romance novels include the anonymous:

  • The Tale of Achilles
  • The Tale of Troy: a Byzantine Iliad
  • War of Troy (the latter in twelfth century Old French)
  • Florios and Platza-Flora (in Tuscan and Old French), and
  • Imberios and Margarona (in Old French).

Finally there is Giovanni Boccaccio's Theseid [2] or Teseida (in Italian), the source of Geoffrey Chaucer's "Knight's Tale" (in Middle English).[3]

The inspiration for these medieval prose and poem novels, the ancient Greek romance, also led to works in the Renaissance and Elizabethan periods.


  1. ^ The Medieval Greek Romance by Roderick Beaton, 1996, 2nd Revision, a work describing in detail all four twelfth century Byzantine romances, as well as those of later centuries, including complete plot summaries.
  2. ^ a b Byzantine Sources in Translation
  3. ^ The Canterbury Tales of Geoffrey Chaucer translated by R.M. Lumiansky. New York: Washington Square Press, 1960, pp. xiii and xxv.

For a definitive investigation of the broader sociocultural context of the twelfth-century Byzantine novel and its complex aesthetics, see Panagiotis Roilos, "Amphoteroglossia": A Poetics of the twelfth-century Medieval Greek Novel, Cambridge, Mass., 2005

See also[edit]