Ancient Fiction: Romances and Novels of Ancient Greeks, Romans, Jews, and Christians

Online Seminar

Course Title:
Ancient Fiction: Romances and Novels of Ancient Greeks, Romans, Jews, and Christians

Harry Attridge

Tuesdays at 11:00 - 12:30 p.m. eastern
February 2 - March 2, 2021
Wednesdays at 1:00 - 2:30 p.m. eastern
February 3 - March 3, 2021

Registration Fee:

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Course Description

This course will explore a side of antiquity that receives less attention than classical drama or historiography or the canonical texts of Jewish and Christian tradition. Imaginative stories delighted a wide variety of audiences in the Hellenistic and Roman worlds. Some highlighted adventure and the mystery of exotic lands. Many recounted lovers torn apart by cruel fate and finally happily reunited. Some told bawdy and picaresque tales, garnished with hints of profound religious truth. Some played with the conventions of romantic fiction to inspire a spiritual romance.

Each week the course will focus on one major work of ancient fiction. In addition to the primary reading, there will often be another comparable ancient work for participants who want more experience with this literary world. There will also be some recommended secondary literature for those who want to dig more deeply. Classes will consist of discussion of these sometimes strange, often delightful works of ancient imagination.

Information Links

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  • About The Professor

Harry Attridge

Harold W. Attridge, Sterling Professor of Divinity and Dean of Yale Divinity School from 2002 to 2012, has made scholarly contributions to New Testament exegesis and to the study of Hellenistic Judaism and the history of the early Church. His publications include The Interpretation of Biblical History in the Antiquitates Judaicae of Flavius Josephus, Nag Hammadi Codex I: The Jung Codex, Hebrews (Hermeneia), Essays on John and Hebrews, and The Acts of Thomas, as well as numerous book chapters and articles in scholarly journals. He has been an editorial board member of Catholic Biblical Quarterly, Harvard Theological Review, Journal of Biblical Literature, Testamentum, and the Hermeneia commentary series.

Syllabus & Required Reading

Required Reading(s) (Sold separately):
Collected Ancient Greek Novels – Amazon - $25.77
The Golden Ass (Penguin Classics) – Amazon - $14.00
The Acts of Thomas (Early Christian Apocrypha) – Amazon - $20.00


Week 1:
The Alexander Romance

Assigned reading:
Ken Dowden, "Pseudo-Callisthenes, Alexander Romance," in B. P Reardon, Collected Ancient Greek Novels (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989) 650-735.

Comparative text:
Gerald N. Sandy, "Anonymous, The Story of Apollonius King of Tyre," in Reardon, Greek Novels, 736-72.

Optional reading:
Tomas Hägg, The Novel in Antiquity (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983) 125-40.


Week 2:
Greek Romances

Assigned reading:
B. P. Reardon, "Chariton, Chaereas and Callirhoe," in Reardon, Greek Novels, 17-124

Comparative texts:
Christopher Gill, "Longus, Daphnis and Chloe," in Reardon, Greek Novels, 285-349, and J. R. Morgan, "Heliodorus, An Ethiopian Story," in Reardon, Greek Novels, 349-588.

Optional reading:
Hägg, The Novel in Antiquity, 5-17, and B. P. Reardon, "Theme, Structure and Narrative in Chariton," Yale Classical Studies 287 (1982) 1-27.


Week 3:
A Latin Tale of Transformation

Assigned reading:
Apuleius, Metamorphoses (The Golden Ass) (Penguin Classics)

Comparative text:
J. P. Sullivan, "Pseudo-Lucian, The Ass," in Reardon, Novels, 589-618.

Optional reading:
Hägg, The Novel in Antiquity, 176–191, and R. Beck, “Mystery Religions, Aretalogy and the Ancient Novel.” In The Novel in the Ancient World, edited by Gareth L. Schmeling (2nd ed. Leiden: Brill, 2003) 131-150.


Week 4:
Jewish Novels

Assigned reading:
Marc Goodacre translation or C. Burchard, "Joseph and Aseneth," in James H. Charlesworth, Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (New York: Doubleday, 1985) 2.177-247.

Comparative texts:
Tobit, Esther

Optional reading:
Lawrence M. Wills, Ancient Jewish Novels: an Anthology (Oxford New York: OUP, 2002); George J. Brooke, “Joseph, Aseneth, and Lévi Strauss," in idem, J.D. Kaestli, eds., Narrativity in Biblical and Related Texts: La Narrativité dans la Bible et les Textes Apparentés (EthL 149; Leuven: Peeters, 2000) 185-200.


Week 5:
Christian Fiction

Assigned reading:
Harold W. Attridge, The Acts of Thomas (Early Christian Apocrypha); Salem, OR: Polebridge, 2010).

Comparative texts:
Acts of Paul and Thecla

Optional reading:
Hans-Josef Klauck, The apocryphal acts of the apostles: An introduction. (Waco, Tex.: Baylor University Press, 2008); J. K. Elliott, “Christian Apocrypha in Art and Texts,” in David H. Warren, Ann Graham Brock, David W. Pao, Early Christian Voices: In Texts, Traditions, and Symbols (Boston, Leiden: Brill, 2003) 283-92.

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Info Accordions

Yale Alumni Academy’s Virtual Seminars meet weekly on Zoom for five, 90-minute sessions. Enrollment is limited to 25 participants. This small group format thrives on a sense of intellectual collegiality, including sharing our backgrounds and the curiosities that we bring to this course. Online courses are primarily synchronous, with live sessions focused on discussion and interactive exchange amongst faculty and fellow participants. 

Outside readings and other multi-media course materials enhance the learning experience and can be accessed via the private course website hosted on Yale’s Coursera learning platform. Participants will receive a training on the online tools, and technical support will be available throughout the program. To join the course, you will need a computer or tablet with a video camera and a high-speed internet connection. 

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