In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Roman Novel

  • Introduction
  • Introductory Works
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Resources
  • Bibliographies

Classics Roman Novel
Edmund Cueva
  • LAST REVIEWED: 23 May 2012
  • LAST MODIFIED: 23 May 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0008


“Roman novel?” “Did the Romans have novels?” The Romans did not have a term for what we now consider the “novel” as a literary genre. Schmeling 2003 (cited in Introductory Works) identifies the “novel” (both Greek and Roman) as pertaining to a “group of works of extended prose narrative fiction which bears many similarities to our modern novel” (p. 1). In Stephen Harrison’s introduction to his collection of essays Oxford Readings in the Roman Novel, he notes that this is a complicated and controversial issue in regard to Petronius and Apuleius: “The label ‘Roman novel’, it is again a convenience: these are the only two extant texts of prose fiction in pre-Christian Latin which are in some sense Roman originals rather than direct translations of Greek texts, though some might wish to include with them the Historia Apollonii regis Tyri” (Harrison 1999, cited under Introductory Works). It is basically agreed that Petronius’s Satyrica (the most famous section of which is the Cena Trimalchionis), Apuleius’s Metamorphosis (also known as The Golden Ass), The History of Apollonius King of Tyre, the Trojan tales of Darius Phrygius and Dictys Cretensis, the Latin narratives on Alexander the Great, and hagiographic tales compose what may be considered to comprise the genre called the “Roman novel.” This bibliographical entry focuses only on Petronius, Apuleius, and The History of Apollonius King of Tyre, which form the canon of narratives most commonly thought to represent the “Roman novel.”

Introductory Works

The works listed immediately below should be consulted for general yet authoritative introductions and surveys on the Roman novel. Harrison 1999 has probably collected the best essays written on the Roman novel. Kuch 1989 (cited under General Overviews) is fascinating, and Merkelbach 1962 (cited under Apuleius: Folklore and the Supernatural) is often referred to (but likely seldom read). Perry 1967 can be considered one of the foundational books for the reawakened or, perhaps, discovery of the study of the ancient novel in modern times. Much is owed to Ben E. Perry and this wonderful book. Schmeling 2003, a reprint of the 1996 text and its bibliography, is one of the most complete and extensive collections on the ancient novel currently available. The index is quite superb. Whitmarsh 2008 (cited under General Overviews) gives a view of the current and future state of research on the novel. Scobie 1969 and Tatum 1994 are essential reading. There are very many introductory works on the ancient novel. It is true that the bibliography in Perry 1967 is somewhat dated, but it is still useful.

  • Albrecht, Michael von. 1989. Masters of Roman prose from Cato to Apuleius: Interpretative studies. Leeds, UK: Francis Cairns.

    Chapter 7 is on Petronius and chapter 10 on Apuleius. These are brief but good introductions.

  • Baldwin, Barry. 1985. Studies on Greek and Roman history and literature. Amsterdam: J. C. Gieben.

    The Petronius section contains essays that are both informative and entertaining; they should not be missed. One should also consult his “Apuleius, Tacitus and Christians” (Emerita 52 [1984]: 1–3).

  • Harrison, Stephen J., ed. 1999. Oxford readings in the Roman novel. Oxford and New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

    This book contains some of the best research written on the Roman novel. All the essays in this collection had been published elsewhere.

  • Hofmann, Heinz. 1999. Latin fiction: The Latin novel in context. London and New York: Routledge.

    The first nine chapters of this most excellent book, along with its thorough introduction, deal with the parameters commonly used to define the ancient Roman novel.

  • Perry, Ben E. 1967. The ancient romances: A literary-historical account of their origins. Berkeley and Los Angeles: Univ. of California Press.

    Professor Perry’s book can be considered one of the foundational books for the reawakened or, perhaps, discovery of the study of the ancient novel in modern times. Much is owed to this great man and this wonderful book. “Part Two: Comic or Burlesque Romances” includes the chapters “Petronius and his Satyricon,” “Lucian’s Metamorphoses,” “Apuleius and his Metamorphoses,” and “The Latin Romance Apollonius of Tyre.”

  • Schmeling, Gareth. 2003. The novel in the ancient world. 2d ed. Boston: Brill Academic.

    The relevant chapters are “The Satyrica of Petronius,” “Apuleius’ Metamorphoses,” and “Historia Apollonii Regis Tyri.”

  • Scobie, Alexander. 1969. Aspects of the ancient romance and its heritage: Essays on Apuleius, Petronius, and the Greek romances. Beiträgen zur klassischen Philologie 30. Meisenheim-am-Glan, West Germany: Hain.

    The book supplies a good introduction to Apuleius and Petronius. Scobie’s bibliography on the ancient romance and novella, aretalogy, folklore, style, and narrative technique is very useful.

  • Tatum, James, ed. 1994. The search for the ancient novel. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press.

    The relevant chapters are “The Invention of Romance,” “Genre of Genre,” “Homage to Apuleius: Cervantes’ Avenging Psyche,” “Apollonius, King of Tyre and the Greek Novel,” “Trimalchio’s Underworld,” “Novel and Aretalogy,” “From Apuleius’ Psyche to Chrétien’s Erec and Enide,” “Who Read Ancient Novels?,” and “The Roman Audience of The Golden Ass.” This book is well worth consulting for any research on this topic.

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