Homo ludens at play with the songs of Sappho: Experiments in comparative reception theory, Essay Two

2019.01.16 | By Gregory Nagy

This posting for 2019.01.16 is Essay Two of a long-term project that I started in the posting for 2019.01.08, which is Essay One of that project. In Essay One, I was analyzing various examples of ancient texts composed by male authors who playfully imitate Sappho by appropriating aspects of her songs in their own literary creations. Here in Essay Two, I analyze further examples, and the numbering of my paragraphs continues from where I left off at the concluding paragraph §33 of Essay One. As I already noted in that paragraph, Essay Two of my analysis here will center on the erotic novel Daphnis and Chloe, attributed to a man named Longus, who has conventionally been dated to the second century CE. His novel, as I will argue, is a playful exercise in showing how to soften the potential for hard-core pornographic appropriations of female sexuality by ancient male authors in their imitations of Sappho’s songs. In the course of my argumentation, I will at times view this ancient Greek novel through the metaphorical lens of a modern Italian film, Cinema Paradiso.

Poster for Cinema Paradiso (1988).
Poster for Cinema Paradiso (1988). Image via Wikimedia Commons.

A brief introduction to the novel Daphnis and Chloe

§34.0. We know practically nothing about the historical background of this ancient Greek erotic novel Daphnis and Chloe. Yes, the work is generally described as an erotic novel, but we cannot even be sure about the accuracy of using the term novel here—or the term erotic. On the other hand, there is no doubt that the whole work is erotic in the modern sense of the term, even if the eroticism we find in it seems at first merely childish—on the surface, at least.

§34.1. The two main characters of the novel are actually still children, even if they are already on the verge of becoming lovers in the narrative, which in some ways resembles what we might call a love story. The boy’s name is Daphnis, and the girl’s is Chloe. Both the boy and the girl are aristocrats, born in the city of Mytilene in Lesbos, but they are ignorant of their origins, since both had been exposed as foundlings in the countryside soon after they were born—only to be rescued by rustic surrogate parents through the divine intervention of local nymphs aided by the pastoral god Pan himself. The two rustic couples who claim the boy and the girl as their very own son and daughter respectively display a pastoral attitude about raising the children. They send them off to the fields, where the boy and the girl spend their youthful days tending herds of goats and sheep respectively. Thus Daphnis and Chloe grow up together in the natural setting of a pastoral landscape.

§34.2. How, then, does the story of these children resemble what I called, in the previous paragraph, a love story? For the moment, I would answer the question this way: the story is all about the discovery of sex as mutually experienced by the preadult boy and by the preadult girl. In what follows, I will explain what I mean when I use the word preadult here. As I continue with my analysis, I will from here on cite passages from Daphnis and Chloe by using the abbreviation D&C.

§34.3. At the point in time when the would-be love story begins, the boy Daphnis and the girl Chloe have reached the ages of 15 and 13 respectively (D&C 1.7). But it is not their ages that make them preadult. Rather, it is the fact that, in terms of the story, they have not yet been educated about sex. Or, instead of saying sex here, let me give it a Greek name, erōs, personified as the god Eros, who as I outlined in Essay One §§10–11 was viewed by the ancient Greeks as the originator of love as lovemaking. And the lovemaking could be childishly erotic, as we saw for example in the encomium of Eros as performed by the stage-Agathon in Plato’s Symposium, analyzed briefly in Essay One §11. Even more blatantly, as we will soon see, the discovery of lovemaking by Daphnis and Chloe is playfully viewed as childish in the novel named after them, as if love were child’s play. Linked to such child’s play, as we will also see, is the fact that the sexuality experienced by the boy and the girl in the story is for the most part foreplay—until things get less playful, as love turns into lovesickness. But the playful childishness persists, and it has the effect of softening the potential for hard-core sexuality.

§34.4. But where do I get the metaphor of softening? It comes from Essay One of my project, with reference to the songs of Sappho, which celebrate the preadult erotic world of girlhood in particular. I already showed at §1.1 of Essay One a most telling context for this metaphor: it was a poem by Paulus Silentiarius, preserved in Greek Anthology 5.246, where we read in the very first line about ‘the soft kisses of Sappho’.

§34.5. And here is a related question: how is the idea of softness in the reference of Paulus to ‘the kisses of Sappho’ relevant to my now using the same idea in referring to a playful kind of childishness in Daphnis and Chloe? My intended answer to this question has already been previewed in the full wording of my thesis in the opening paragraph of Essay Two here, and I now repeat that wording: this novel, I said, is a playful exercise in showing how to soften the potential for hard-core pornographic appropriations of female sexuality by ancient male authors in their imitations of Sappho’s songs.

§34.6. At this point I must pause, since I need to head off a possible misunderstanding. It has to do with a detail we have already seen in the poetry of Paulus. As I showed at §11 in Essay One, this poetry as quoted at §1.1 makes a paradoxical contrast between the softness of Sappho’s kisses and the hardness of her psūkhē or ‘soul’, which is supposedly hard as adamant. But I also showed there at §11 that this hardness is not the same kind of hardness that we find in hard-core pornography. That other kind of hardness is potentially ugly, whereas the hardness of Sappho’s psūkhē is admired for its beauty. Nevertheless, there is one thing that the two kinds of hardness do have in common, and that one thing is the pain caused by the cruelty of frustrated love. Of course there are more delicate ways to express the hardness of such frustration, and the songs of Sappho are a prime example of such expressions. But there exist also other ways—ways that can be crude, even pornographic. Even hard-core pornography, as we will see when get to later postings, can at times express the pain that is caused by the hardness of frustrated love.

§35. That said, I will soon be ready here in Essay Two to analyze what I will call the soft-core eroticism that we see in the novel Daphnis and Chloe. Such eroticism will be a point of comparison with what we have already seen in the songs of Sappho. But first I need to say more about my use of the terms soft-core and hard-core. Here in Essay Two, I will be using these terms in a special way, by viewing the poetics of Daphnis and Chloe through the lens of a metaphor that I will name after an Italian film, Cinema Paradiso.

A brief introduction to the film Cinema Paradiso

§36. This film Cinema Paradiso, which first appeared in 1988, was directed by Giuseppe Tornatore, who was not only the director but also the co-writer of both the original story and the screenplay. The story told by this filmmaker is about a man who is a filmmaker—and about how this man actually became a filmmaker. I start with what happens toward the end of the story told by the film, where we see the main persona of the story, who is the filmmaker, in the act of privately viewing a short film—a micro-film inside the macro-film that we are already viewing. What the man sees makes his eyes fill with tears. And, the next thing we know, we get to see what he sees through his tears. The camera of the macro-film, turning away from the man’s gaze, now starts viewing for us the micro-film that he is viewing. To our surprise, this micro-film that we are now viewing inside the macro-film Cinema Paradiso consists of nothing but kissing scenes—let me refer to them, at least for the moment, in this childishly playful way. These scenes had been systematically deleted—scissored out—from an ongoing series of old full-length films that were being shown in the 1950s on the tattered screen of a provincial movie house in a small town somewhere in Sicily. The name of that movie house was Cinema Paradiso.

§37. The filmmaker reminisces. As a young boy, he was a wide-eyed apprentice to an old projectionist who had been ordered by the local parish priest to cut, from each and every incoming film being projected, all footage showing couples engaged in amorous encounters, especially in kissing scenes. The boy projectionist, as his adult self fondly remembers in flashbacks from his childhood story, used to take the greatest delight in furtively peering at every strip of deleted footage that he managed to pick up from the cutting floor. Little did the boy know that he would grow up to become a celebrated maker of films in his own right. And now, after so many years, our filmmaker has discovered that the old projectionist had secretly preserved all those forbidden kissing scenes that had been cut out of the original films, splicing all the naughty bits together into a short film that he then bequeathed, just before he died, to his unsuspecting former apprentice. And now, to his great surprise, our filmmaker finally gets to see, on a private screen, as an adult, the primal scenes that he could never have the chance to see on the public screen as a child: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2AOWWTilu6Q.

Cinema Paradiso_2a_1280
From Cinema Paradiso, directed by Giuseppe Tornatore (1988).

A viewing of Daphnis and Chloe through the lens of Cinema Paradiso

§38. With this background in place, I will now attempt a brief overview of the erotic novel Daphnis and Chloe through the metaphorical lens of Cinema Paradiso. I start with a simplistic observation. From the viewpoint of the priest in the film, the one who had mandated the cutting out of kissing scenes, there would be not much if anything left of a hypothetical film that told the story of Daphnis and Chloe, since the number of times we will catch that couple in the act of furtively kissing and hugging is almost beyond counting. From the standpoint of the adult filmmaker in Cinema Paradiso, on the other hand, each and every one of those kissing scenes in a hypothetical film version of Daphnis and Chloe could be viewed as fragments left over from some lost paradise.

§39. But here is where things get more complicated, and I hope to address the complication by supplementing the metaphor of Cinema Paradiso with another metaphor, which I derive from the off-putting protocols of film ratings, current in my own time, as promulgated by an organization that calls itself The Motion Picture Association of America:

https://www.mpaa.org/film-ratings/. Here are those ratings:

G         = General Audiences: “all ages admitted”
PG       = Parental Guidance Suggested
PG-13  = Parents Strongly Cautioned: “some material may be inappropriate for children under 13”
R          = Restricted: “under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian”
NC-17  = Adults Only: “no one 17 and under admitted.”

Adopting these ratings too as metaphors, I would guess that the reception of the erotic novel Daphnis and Chloe by the ancient world could be rated PG or, at the very worst, PG-13. Such a rating would of course be a far cry from the stern disapproval that we should expect from the priest in the film Cinema Paradiso, for whom the kissing scenes in Daphnis and Chloe would surely have earned for this novel a rating below even NC-17.

§40. Adding to my first guess, I would now also guess that almost all the scenes in Daphnis and Chloe, if they were to be visualized in the medium of film as it exists today, could pass with a rating of PG-13 or maybe R—with two major exceptions. As we are about to see, there are at least two scenes in the novel that would now have to be cut in order to keep the rating at PG-13 or even at R. Alternatively, if these two scenes were not cut, then the whole film would earn the rating NC-17—depending on how, in both cases, the mise-en-scène were to be visualized by the maker of the hypothetical film. And here is where I have reached the point where I will start to apply metaphorically the terms “soft core” and “hard core” to the sexuality that we see being depicted in the novel. Also, my metaphorical use of these two terms “soft core” and “hard core” will match respectively my metaphorical use of the ratings PG or PG-13 or even R on the one hand and NC-17 on the other.

§41.0. In what follows, then, I will briefly analyze the potential for both soft- and hard-core aspects of eroticism in Daphnis and Chloe. As we will see, the soft-core aspects will be dominant, corresponding to what we have already seen in Essay One, where I highlighted the ‘soft kisses’ and the ‘luxuriant lips’ of Sappho, while the hard-core aspects will be recessive, corresponding to what we will see in a later set of postings where I will highlight the negative eroticism to be found in various imitations of Sappho by male authors. In presenting my brief analysis here, I will start by paraphrasing those aspects of the novel that aim at soft-core eroticism. Then I will continue with a second paraphrase of those few aspects that verge on hard-core eroticism.

First Paraphrase, the ABCs and the ABCDs of erōs in the novel Daphnis and Chloe, as lessons taught respectively by a fictional persona named Philetas and by another fictional persona named Lykainion

§41.1. Paraphrasing D&C 2.3–8… An old herdsman and pipe-player named Philetas is inspired by Eros, the personification of erōs in the sense of ‘lovemaking’, to become a teacher of lovemaking. He teaches Daphnis, a 15-year-old boy, and Chloe, a 13-year-old girl, but he goes only so far as to teach them the ABCs of lovemaking: (A) to kiss each other mouth-to-mouth, (B) to embrace each other with limbs entwined, and (C) to strip naked, lying down next to each other.

§41.2. Paraphrasing D&C 3.15–20… By contrast, a beautiful young ex-urban married woman named Lykainion becomes a teacher of lovemaking for the 15-year-old boy—and also, though only vicariously, for the 13-year-old girl. What the woman teaches the boy is how to follow up with an element D as a consequent of the sequence ABC, that is, of the ABCs of lovemaking as earlier taught by Philetas to the boy and the girl. This element D, which comes after the ABCs of kissing and hugging and lying down together naked, turns out to be primal: the D that now follows ABC is genital contact, leading to penetration. As for the experience of orgasm, there is no mention of that. In any case, the sexually experienced Lykainion teaches the boy by first doing with him what he already knew how to do with Chloe, which was the sequence ABC, but now the sequence of ABC climaxes in D, which is the act of penetration.

§41.3. Continuing my paraphrase of D&C 3.15–20… Up to now, the boy had thought he had already seen D simply by watching sheep and goats in the act of mating. But he had never yet made a mental connection between the D of human mating and the preceding sequence ABC of lovemaking. He had not yet understood that D is the consequent of the sequence ABC in lovemaking, which proves to be as easy as ABC. He had not yet understood because all he knew so far about genital contact leading to penetration was what he had seen when he watched sheep and goats doing it. Once they do it, the deed is done. But that is not lovemaking. For lovemaking, as Lykainion teaches the boy at D&C 3.17.2, erōs must be slow and prolonged. Thus erōs is a sequence of A followed by B followed by C followed by D. As Daphnis will learn later in the story, such lovemaking should ideally last all night long. That is the way adult lovers do it best.

§41.4. Continuing my paraphrase of D&C 3.15–20… But the preadult boy, Daphnis, has not yet learned about the erōs of adult lovers. The D of the ABCDs of lovemaking is for him defective. All he has learned to do so far is to make genital contact, which leads to penetration. And the boy has by now done it with an adult woman, someone whom he does not happen to love, while the someone he does love is a preadult girl.

§41.5. Concluding my paraphrase of D&C 3.15–20… What results is frustration, leading to lovesickness. The boy cannot do it with the girl—and now he does not want to do it—since he is still an immature preadult boy. He proves his immaturity by being afraid of making the preadult girl bleed if he does to her what he had done to the adult woman. That woman, Lykainion, had warned him that girls are supposed to bleed when they experience penetration for the first time. And the very thought of making his beloved girl bleed scares off the boy from even wanting to go beyond the ABCs of erōs. The desire in him makes him want to do it but the fear in him makes him not want to do it. So, the ABCDs of erōs are for him still incomplete: don’t do it with the girl you love—since she is still a girl and not yet a woman. Do it only when you are a man and then you can make her a woman. Correspondingly, the boy is supposed to be made a man by making the girl a woman.

Second Paraphrase, the ABCDs of erōs, as represented by a real poet named Philetas in his own poetry—and as made to happen by the fictional persona named Lykainion in the novel Daphnis and Chloe

§42.1. In the novel Daphnis and Chloe, as we saw at §41.1 above, the fictional persona of Philetas teaches the boy and the girl about the preadult ABCs of erōs. But this teaching is merely on the surface. Underneath the surface is the real poet Philetas, whose poetry teaches not only the ABCs but also the ABCDs of erōs. That is because Lykainion, who teaches the ABCDs of erōs to Daphnis in the narrative of the novel, is a fictional persona not only in that narrative but also already in the real poetry of a real poet named Philetas, who lived in the third century BCE, predating by about half a millennium the author of Daphnis and Chloe. In that poetry, as we see from the argumentation of Ewen Bowie (1985) and of other Classicists cited by Bowie, Lykainion is a fictional creation of the poet: in the poetry of Philetas, Lykainion is his love-object.

§42.2. So, there is an adult sequence of ABCD in the erotic poetry of Philetas. And this poetry can in some cases verge on negative sexuality, including connotations of pornography. The name of Lykainion/Lukainion, meaning ‘little she-wolf [lukaina]’, is a case in point, since such a name coveys the idea of a prostitute or, to say it in more urban and urbane terms, of a courtesan.

§42.3. In the narrative of the novel, however, as we see at D&C 3.15, the personification of Lykainion as a prostitute is mostly covered up: she is described as a beautiful young gunaion ‘little woman’, urban and urbane, who had been taken away from her city and married off to a rustic old man living in the countryside, not far from where Daphnis and Chloe used to herd their flocks.

§42.4. The avoidance of personifying Lykainion directly as a prostitute extends further. As we read on, at D&C 3.18–19, we find that Lykainion has sex with the boy freely, not for any fee. Her only reward for the sex she has with Daphnis is the pleasure that she takes from engaging in sex—even if the narrative does not say explicitly whether she experienced orgasm in the course of her sextual encounter with Daphnis.

The Sapphic personality of Lykainion in the novel Daphnis and Chloe

§43. At this point, I propose to take a closer look at Lykainion as portrayed in the novel, especially at D&C 3.15.1. This young gunaion ‘little woman’ is beautiful, and her beauty is described by way of the adjective hōraio– ‘ripe’ or ‘seasonal’ (ὡραῖον). She is both urban and urbane, hailing ‘from the city’ (ἐξ ἄστεος)—presumably, from Mytilene—but she has been married off to an old man living in the countryside. But she is too good for that. She is too luxuriant. She loves luxury too much to be able to adjust to a rustic way of life. The adjective that I translate here as ‘luxuriant’ is habro-. To translate the compressed Greek description here into English, ‘she was too luxuriant [habrotero-] for rusticity’ (ἀγροικίας ἁβρότερον). This last detail that I have just highlighted, where the beautiful young woman Lykainion is portrayed as the very essence of luxuriance, is I think a direct evocation of Sappho: I return here to Essay One §29.1:

Sappho Π2 25–26 = Fragment 58.25–26 ed. Voigt:

⸤ἔγω δὲ φίλημμ’ ἀβροϲύναν, …⸥ τοῦτο καί μοι | τὸ λά⸤μπρον ἔρωϲ ἀελίω καὶ τὸ κά⸥λον λέ⸤λ⸥ογχε.

But I love luxuriance [(h)abrosunē] […] this, | and passionate love [erōs] for the Sun has won for me its radiance and beauty.

The persona of Sappho ‘loves’, as expressed by the verb phileîn, the very essence of being habro– ‘luxuriant’, which is habrosunē ‘luxuriance’. And this essence is linked here, as we saw in Essay One §29.1, with erōs or passionate ‘love’ for the Sun personified. I find it most relevant that Eros as the god of passionate ‘love’ is invoked in Plato’s Symposium 197d as the ‘father’ of habrotēs, that is, of being habro- ‘luxuriant’.

§44. In the song of Sappho, as I have just quoted it, her luxuriance is a sublime visualization of the erotic desire that she experiences as a woman. As for the novel Daphnis and Chloe, we find here a comparable though (at first) seemingly less sublime visualization of luxuriance in the erotic desire experienced by Lykainion—again, as a woman.

§45. But the luxuriance of Sappho can also be the luxuriance of a girl who has not yet become a woman. As I argued in Essay One, the persona of Sappho can oscillate between girl and woman, woman and girl. I come back here to my argument at §31 of Essay One, with reference to the adjective habro– ‘luxuriant’ at line 4 of the erotic epigram 5.236 of Paulus Silentiarius, quoted and translated at §1.2.The adjective describes there the lips of a girl whom the male speaker desires to kiss. He says that the girl’s lips, all puckered up, are more habro– ‘luxuriant’ than rosebuds. The unnamed girl in this epigram 5.236 of Paulus at §29.2 is the same as the named girl in his paired epigram 5.246 at §29.1. She is Sappho—in her erotic role as a girl.

§46. Even in the case of Lykainion, we can see in the text of Daphnis and Chloe occasional signs of her former erotic role as a girl. For example, as we already saw at D&C 3.15.1, the beauty of this young gunaion ‘little woman’ is described by way of the adjective hōraio– ‘ripe’ (ὡραῖον). As we saw at §12.2 in Essay One, where we were reading an epigram of “Plato,” Greek Anthology 5.79, the erotic attractiveness of a Sapphic girl is a kind of beauty that comes to life in her hōrā or ‘ripeness’, which is compared in that epigram to the hōrā or ‘ripeness’ of an apple that is ready to be picked.

The Sapphic personality of Chloe in the novel Daphnis and Chloe

§47. Not only Lykainion but Chloe as well shows traces of a Sapphic role in the novel. We find a stunning example in a scene narrated at D&C 3.33.3–3.34.3, where Daphnis climbs up to the very top of an apple tree and picks the one apple that the apple pickers who were harvesting the apples failed to pick off the tree. Both the form and the content of this scene, as studied by Hannelore Segers (2017, following relevant comments by Ewen Bowie 2013:187–191), present a direct evocation of three verses from Sappho:

Sappho Song 105a:

οἶον τὸ γλυκύμαλον ἐρεύθεται ἄκρωι ἐπ’ ὔϲδωι, | ἄκρον ἐπ’ ἀκροτάτωι, λελάθοντο δὲ μαλοδρόπηεc, | οὐ μὰν ἐκλελάθοντ’, ἀλλ’ οὐκ ἐδύναντ’ ἐπίκεϲθαι.

Just like the sweet apple that blushes on top of a branch, | the topmost apple on the topmost branch. It has eluded the notice of the apple pickers. | Oh, but no. It’s not that they haven’t noticed it. They just couldn’t reach it.

The corresponding apple in the scene at D&C 3.33.4, which is ‘the topmost one [= apple] on the topmost ones [= branches]’ (ἐπ’ αὐτοῖς ἄκροις ἀκρότατον), turns out to be the perfect apple to match the perfect Sapphic girl—who is in this case Chloe herself.

§48. The apple in this scene is described as uniquely ripened to perfection by the goddesses who personify hōrā or ‘ripeness’: they are the Hōrai, named at D&C 3.34.1. The conventional translation for these Hōrai is ‘the Seasons’. Here I focus on a most suggestive detail in the story. Chloe gets angry at Daphnis for seemingly caring more about the perfect apple than about her. The girl storms off and leaves the boy, who is meanwhile making his dangerous climb up the tree, up to the very top, in hopes of reaching the apple. Why is the girl angry? It is because she is jealous of the apple. As in the epigram of “Plato,” Greek Anthology 5.79, where the erotic beauty of a Sapphic girl comes to life in her hōrā or ‘ripeness’, matching the hōrā or ‘ripeness’ of an apple that is ready to be picked, so also in this scene from the novel, the apple to be picked by Daphnis matches perfectly the girl to be picked by him. But this perfect match becomes, by implication, a rivalry between the perfect apple and the perfect girl. That is why the girl gets jealous and angry at the boy for picking the apple. But the boy now saves the day. After he succeeds in picking the apple, he runs after Chloe and gives it to her. Daphnis now gets rewarded with a philēma ‘kiss’ from Chloe, at D&C 3.34.3. The girl’s kiss, rewarding the boy’s gift of the apple, recalls the promise of a Sapphic kiss in the epigram of “Plato,” Greek Anthology 5.79, as I analyze it at §14 in Essay One.

§49. Till the end, Chloe remains the perfect Sapphic girl. What I mean is, she remains a girl till the end of the story being told in the novel about Daphnis and Chloe. Only at the end of the story, then and only then, does Chloe become a Sapphic woman, since the end coincides with her getting married to Daphnis. Her perfect Sapphic signature, as both girl and woman, is a detail we get to see not long before the marriage takes place. At D&C 3.20.2 Chloe is pictured in the act of plekein ‘plaiting’ a garland of ia ‘violets’. This picture evokes a poetic epithet designed for Sappho herself, who was called ioplokos ‘the one who plaits violets’, as we read at Fragment 384 (attributed to Alcaeus).

Implicit indications of amorous female-to-female interactions in the novel Daphnis and Chloe

§50. Something is off, however, about Sapphic imitations in the novel about Daphnis and Chloe. In the poetics of Sappho, as I argued in Essay One, girlhood is a phase of life when female sexuality is expressed primarily by way of amorous interactions between girls and girls or between girls and women. But the novel shows no such interactions involving Chloe, who is the idealized Sapphic girl in the story. Or, at least, such interactions are not made explicit in the novel. That is what I mean when I say that something is off here. Still, as we will see, there are implicit indications of amorous female-to-female interactions.

§51. Here I must address a significant problem we have in finding such indications. The problem is, the implicitness of female-to-female sexuality is masked by conventions of male appropriation. We have seen this kind of masking all along, as for example, in the very first two poems I analyzed in Essay One, at §1.1 and at §1.2. These poems, epigrams of Paulus Silentiarius in Greek Anthology 5.246 and 5.236, evoke the songs of Sappho by arousing erotic thoughts about the mouth-to-mouth kisses of rosy lips or about the body-to-body intertwinings of snow-white limbs, but these evocations mask the female-to-female sexuality by creating male-to-female substitutions, where a male author imagines himself as a replacement of Sappho-as-woman or even of Sappho-as-girl. As for the novel Daphnis and Chloe, what we see here is that the male author imagines his male character, Daphnis, as a replacement of Sappho-as-woman. A striking example is a scene in D&C 1.17.4, where the sexual frustration experienced by Daphnis in his love for Chloe makes his face turn ‘paler than grass at summertime’ (χλωρότερον τὸ πρόσωπον ἦν πόας θερινῆς): in this case, both the form and the content evoke directly lines 14–15 in Song 31 of Sappho, where the female speaker expresses her sexual frustration as she gazes at the beauty of a girl and says, ‘I am paler than grass’ (χλωροτέρα δὲ ποίαϲ | ἔμμι).

§52. In the novel Daphnis and Chloe, there are also situations where the persona of Daphnis seems to be replacing not Sappho-as-woman but Sappho-as-girl. A case in point, I think, is the seduction scene at the edge of the forest, where the luxuriant woman Lykainion had a sexual encounter with the boy Daphnis: this encounter between the woman and the boy could be seen as a replacement of a corresponding sexual encounter between a Sapphic woman and a Sapphic girl, where the woman performs an erotic initiation for the girl and thus prepares her for the ABCDs, as it were, of marriage, which will then transform the girl into a woman. Such a scenario would help explain a cryptic but playful remark at the very end of the novel, where the storyteller tells what happened after the wedding of the happy couple:

D&C 4.40.3

Δάφνις δὲ καὶ Χλόη γυμνοὶ συγκατακλιθέντες περιέβαλλον ἀλλήλους καὶ κατεφίλουν, ἀγρυπνήσαντες τῆς νυκτὸς ὅσον οὐδὲ γλαῦκες· καὶ ἔδρασέ τι Δάφνις ὧν αὐτὸν ἐπαίδευσε Λυκαίνιον, καὶ τότε Χλόη πρῶτον ἔμαθεν ὅτι τὰ ἐπὶ τῆς ὕλης γινόμενα ἦν ποιμένων παίγνια.

And then Daphnis and Chloe got naked and lay down together; they embraced each other and kissed, and they kept awake all night long, longer than even owls could stay awake. And Daphnis did one of those things that Lykainion had taught. Then it was that Chiloe, for the very first time, learned that the things that happened at the edge of the forest were shepherds’ play [paignia].


Bowie, E. L. 1985. “Theocritus’ Seventh Idyll, Philetas and Longus.” Classical Quarterly 35:67–91.

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