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Naïve Justice in the Ancient Greek Novel

Bruce D. MacQueen



This article discusses three trial scenes from three different ancient Greek novels (by Chariton, Achilles Tatius, and Longus), in which naïve justice seems to be deliberately subverted. The titular concept of “naïve justice” is defined here in terms borrowed from Aristotle’s Poetics, where the term “double resolution” is used, disparagingly, of plots in which the good characters are all rewarded and the bad characters all punished. The argument is made that the trial scenes under discussion should raise doubts in the reader’s mind as to which of the parties is truly guilty, and which is truly innocent. This can be seen as a reflection of unexpectedly mature ethical sensibilities on the part of these often-underestimated writers, who seem to have grasped that the “double resolution” may make the reader feel good, but has little to do with the real world.


justice; moral ambiguity; ancient Greek novel; fictional jurisprudence; popular fiction

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Primary Sources – Perseus Digital Library: (access: 1.03.2017)

Achilles Tatius, Leucippe and Clitophon.

Aristotle, Topics.

Aristotle, Poetics.

Chariton, Chaereas and Callirhoe.

Longus, Daphnis and Chloe.

Plato, Republic.

Secondary Sources:

Anderson, G. 1982. Eros Sophistes: Ancient Novelists At Play. American Classical Studies. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Howland, J. 1993. The Republic: The Odyssey of Philosophy. New York: Twayne Publishers.

MacQueen, B. D. 1991. Myth, Rhetoric, and Fiction: A Reading of Longus’s Daphnis and Chloe. Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press.

MacQueen, B. D. 2009. “Pleasure and instruction in the Prologue of Longus’ Daphnis and Chloe.” In: E. Wesołowska, K. Bartol, A. W. Mikołaczak & T. Wikarjak (eds.) Delectare et docere. Symbolae Philologorum Posnaniensium XIX. Poznań, Poland: Adam Mickiewicz University Press.

Morales, H. 2004. Vision and Narrative in Achilles Tatius’ Leucippe and Clitophon. Cambridge Classical Studies. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Perry, B. E. 1967. The Ancient Romances: A Literary-Historical Account of Their Origins. Sather Classical Lectures. Berkeley, California: University of California Press.

Rohde, E. 1976. Der griechische Roman und seine Vorläufer. Leipzig: Verlag von Breitkopf und Martel.

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