Daphnis and Chloë Essay - Critical Essays

Critical Evaluation

Daphnis and Chloë (the work has also been translated as The Pastoral Loves of Daphnis and Chloë, 1924, and as The Story of Daphnis and Chloë, 1908) first appeared in English in a version by Richard Waldegrave in 1587, but the translation made by George Thornley in 1657 is more familiar. More recent translations by George Moore and Jack Lindsay are considerably more readable but have not enjoyed wide circulation. Daphnis and Chloë was an influential work throughout Renaissance Europe, its subject matter and style being respectfully recapitulated in pastoral romances produced in the vernacular throughout Europe. Like many late classical works, however—the most notorious examples are credited to Petronius and Lucian—Daphnis and Chloë came to be considered an indecent work because of its relative frankness about sex. For this reason the English text retired for a while in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries into the shady realm of privately printed editions. Unlike the satires of Petronius and Lucian, however, Daphnis and Chloë contains nothing deliberately coarse or obscene; its allegory of the growth and maturation of sexual love is handled with scrupulous delicacy that seems intended to avoid giving offense.

Although the labored and archaic style of the Thornley translation obscures the fact, Daphnis and Chloë is in several ways a strikingly modern work. It has better claims to be considered the first protonovel than any other work of classical literature. Its plot—comprising an event-crowded obstacle course that continually parts the two lovers but finally delivers them to a marriage blessed with unexpected wealth and status—foreshadows the formula that has by far been the most successful in the popular fiction of more than a century. It is also one of the earliest works to take for granted that the life of rural folk needs to be tactfully explained and sentimentally glorified for the benefit of a thoroughly “civilized” (in its literal sense of city-bred) audience. The nostalgic reverence for the pastoral in Daphnis and Chloë is identical in spirit to that which infects a great deal of nineteenth, twentieth, and twenty-first century fiction; even its disapproval of...

(The entire section is 930 words.)