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As is the case with another masterpiece of Greek literature, the Iliad (c. 800 b.c.e.), not even the name of the author of Daphnis and Chloë is certain. All that is actually known about the writer whose name has come down through the centuries as Longus (LAHN-guhs), is that he was a native of one of the islands in the eastern Aegean Sea, possibly the island of Lesbos. He probably wrote during the third century, although some experts place him as late as the fifth. No other works by the same author are known to exist.

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Daphnis and Chloë, the romantic tale of two children, reared by shepherds, who fall in love and after many trials discover their true identities and marry happily, is said to be among the first novels ever written. It shares with other early “novels” a romantic plot full of violent mishaps, supernatural occurrences, and a final happy reunion, a measured style of the type later termed euphuistic, and a reliance on such stock characters (taken from Menander) as the parasite and the nurse. Longus is unusual, however, in the grace of his prose style, his sense of humor, his use of a pastoral setting, and the fact that he puts psychological as well as physical barriers between his lovers. Longus’s fanciful tale, full of literary allusions to Homer and other Greek poets, is characterized above all by its magnificent descriptions of scenes of natural beauty. As the writer says in his prologue, his aim was to put into words a painting which told a love story.

The first translation of Daphnis and Chloë into English was by Angell Daye, in 1587, and the tale had a great influence on Elizabethan literature, as seen in the plots of Robert Greene’s Pandosto (1588) and William Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale (1611). It is highly probable that John Lyly, whose hero Euphues gave his name to a rhetorical style of writing, was himself greatly influenced by the style of Longus.

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