Department of Classics and Archaeology

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Laura Mercer

PhD Student in Classics,


Research Summary

Thesis: Female Friendships in the Ancient Greek Novel

My project examines the female friendships within the Ancient Greek Novels, focusing on four of the five surviving "idealistic" novels (Aethiopica (Heliodorus), Callirhoe (Chariton), Ephesian Tale (Xenophon of Athens) and Leucippe and Clitophon (Achilles Tatius)) as well as Iamblichus' fragmentary Babylonian Story.

In recent years, the Greek Novel genre has gained much scholarly attention for its attitudes towards sexuality and gender. However, the majority of studies on women in this genre have focused predominantly on the heroine or the antagonists at the expense of other female characters. This has resulted in a lack of emphasis on female friendships within this genre, with many scholars overlooking this type of relationship. Even when scholars attempt to address this issue, either it is solely in regards to how the heroine is characterised, certain friendships are deemed not important enough to be included (such as Nausicleia's relationship with Charicleia in the Aethiopica) or they are unfairly critical of any amiable relationships between women in this genre. However, these relationships are important to our understanding of the Greek Novel genre (particularly regarding portrayals of women) and this project aims to demonstrate that these friendships should be studied further and not overlooked.

Examining the portrayal of each individual friendship, a key aim of this project is to categorize the different types of female friendships found within this genre and determine whether any similarities can be found between these relationships. This project will also look at how each individual novelist approaches these relationships and why the authors have such contrasting attitudes towards female friendships (for instance, the large amount of positive friendships in Chariton's Callirhoe contrasts the near absence of female relationships in the novels of Achilles Tatius and Longus). It examines how these friendships fit into the wider ancient literary portrayal of female relationships and how this genre both adopts and differs from it's literary predecessors.

Three types of female friendships are examined: Unequal (between a mistress and slave), Equal (between two women of a similar social status) and Missed Opportunities. The latter category focuses on instances where two female characters are in the same place, on the same side and share many similar traits, yet are not friends. Examples of this type of relationship include Calligone and Leucippe (Leucippe and Clitophon), Melite and Leucippe (Leucippe and Clitophon) and Sinonis and the Farmer's Daughter (Babylonian Story).

Supervisors: Dr. Carl Buckland and Dr. Emily Kneebone.

Department of Classics and Archaeology

University of Nottingham
University Park
Nottingham, NG7 2RD

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