Longus, Theocritus, and Time

Alain Billault

University of Paris, Sorbonne

The link between Longus' Daphnis and Chloe and Theocritus' Idylls has long been recognized. The novelist is considered heir to the poet whose world he is supposed to have transposed from verse to prose. But Longus did not just adapt the poetry of Theocritus. He created a metamorphosis of his universe by changing the relationship between narrative and time. In the Idylls, time is contemplated as a motionless reality. For a few moments, the characters behold it from outside. The action that is going on appears in speeches, in inserted tales, sometimes in myths which belong to a self-sufficient, eternal time. On the other hand, in Longus' novel time is passing by and plays a prominent rĂ´le in the story of the characters and in the metamorphosis of this story into a myth. Even when Longus provides moments of contemplation, for instance when he describes the effect of seasons on nature, he uses them to emphasize that time is passing by. As for the tales he inserts into his narrative, they disclose the mythological base which is also the future of the story. Therefore, Longus changed the motionless time of the Idylls into a passing time. In his novel, the movement of time enables the characters to fulfill their destiny. This is how they become in their turn the heroes of a myth.


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