Classic of the Month: Daphnis and Chloe by Longus

205577Daphnis and Chloe by Longus, Illustrations by Marc Chagall

Published by Prestel Publishing on January 1, 2005

Genres: Classics, Romance, Mythology, Fiction

Pages: 150 Format: Paperback Source: Library

4/5 Stars

Longus’s romance tells the story of two teenagers, Daphnis and Chloe, who love each other but do not know how to make love. Around their predicament Longus weaves a fantasy which entertains and instructs, but never errs in taste. The hard toil and precariousness of peasant life are here, but so are its compensations–revelry, music, dance, and storytelling. Above the action brood divinities–Eros, Dionysus, Pan, the Nymphs–who collaborate to guide the adolescents into the mystery of Love, at once a sensual and a religious initiation. Daphnis and Chloe is the best known, and the best, of the early Greek romances, precursors to the modern novel. Admired by Goethe, it has been reinterpreted in music and art by Ravel and Chagall. This new translation is immensely readable, and does full justice to the humor and humanity of the story.

For this month’s classic read, I chose a tale from actual ancient history. Daphnis and Chloe is attributed to the poet Longus who dates to around the second or third century A.D. The first complete manuscript of this tale was discovered in Florence in 1810 and it has gone on to influence cultural works and even The Princess Bride. This illustrated edition contains forty-two lithographs produced by Marc Chagall that bring to life Longus’s story.

The story of Daphnis and Chloe in its simplest form is a love story. A tale of learning what love is, how to express those feelings, and how to fight for it. Daphnis and Chloe come from similar homes, grow up together, and form an unbreakable bond. They come up against threats from pirates, the uncertainty of family, and even fate itself. For as much as this story is about love it is also about fate and the gods’ will.

I have no idea why it took me so long to read a story from classical literature for my classic of the month. Having a degree in history with the majority of my courses focused on ancient Greece and Rome, it comes as a bit of a shock. I guess there are just so many classics that exist now. I have read ancient texts in the past for courses but this is the first for pleasure and I was not disappointed.

I really enjoyed Longus’s Daphnis and Chloe. With the structure of four books it reads almost as a play unfolding before my eyes. It is a short story but flows well and every scene serves a greater purpose. Each character plays a part in the narrative and both Daphnis and Chloe are compelling. I was definitely rooting for them throughout the book. The setting is lush with detail and the sheep and goats feel as if they are surrounding you at every turn.

Marc Chagall’s illustrations are interspersed throughout the story highlighting pivotal moments. The bright colors blend together and seem to seep through the page. The smaller details bring life to the overall picture which is especially apparent with flora and fauna. The fluid forms in the lithographs meld together, but define the story being told. I have never been the most artistic person, far from that, but the beauty of Chagall’s illustrations makes me want to create.

Overall I definitely liked Daphnis and Chloe by Longus. It was quick and fun and everything I love about classical literature and history. The art added leaps and bounds to the whole experience, and the story seemed to jump off the page at every turn. I would definitely recommend this to my fellow history lovers and to anyone wishing to take a leap into antiquity. It is a great place to start!

Favorite Quotes

  1. ‘Love, my children, is a god, young and beautiful and winged. That’s why he delights in youth and pursues beauty and gives wings to the soul. And he can do greater things than Zeus himself.’
  2. ‘For there’s no medicine for Love, nothing you can drink and nothing you can eat and no magic spell that you can say. The only remedies are kissing and embracing and lying down together with naked bodies.’
  3. For since they had the choice between war and peace, they decided that peace would pay better.
  4. There are, dear girl, several kinds of Nymph. There are the Nymphs of the Ash, the Nymphs of the Oak, and the Nymphs of the Meadow. All of them are beautiful and all are musical.
  5. ‘This was the prize that Aphrodite accepted for her beauty, and this is the prize of victory that I give you. And she had the same sort of judge as you have, for he was a shepherd and I’m a goatherd.’

Have you read Daphnis and Chloe? Are you a lover of history? Let me know in the comments!


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