Daphnis and Chloe by Longus.

Daphnis and Chloe (Δάφνις καὶ Χλόη) is a short 3rd Century Greek novel written by Longus (Λόγγος), an author who lived in the island of Lesbos, where Daphnis and Chloe is set. Aside from that, virtually nothing else is known about Longus.

Fortunately, this little book survived! I found a copy by chance a year or so ago in Barter Books - a Penguin edition translated by Paul Turner - and bit on the back seduced me into buying it:
If this book were an oak-tree we could simply carve on it the words: 'Daphnis loves Chloe. What more can be said about a Greek novel which became the prototype of every pastoral romance? In his charming account of the adventures and perplexities of two young foundling shepherds, Longus gave the world a tale of rustic innocence which many writers have emulated but few have come near. Gracefully, mockingly, gently, Longus traces the onset of passion in his young lovers with an insight which looks modern to those who think the world began last year.
Map of Lesbos by Giacomo Franco (1597).
It's a very simple tale divided into four parts. In the beginning, both Daphnis and Chloe have been abandoned: Daphnis is looked after by goats, and has with him "a little cloak dyed with genuine purple, a golden brooch, and a dagger with an ivory hilt". Two years later, Chloe is found with sheep, "a girdle woven with gold thread, a pair of gilded sandals, and some anklets of solid gold". They are both taken in by separate families in Lesbos, Daphnis grows to be a goat herder, and Chloe a shepherd. They fall in love, and suffer various trials and tribulations, and enjoy the pleasures that love brings.

In the Prologue, Longus writes,
After gazing admiringly at the many scenes [a painting in Lesbos], all of a romantic nature, I was seized by a longing to write a verbal equivalent to the painting. So I found someone to explain the picture to me, and composed a work in four volumes as an offering to Love and the Nymphs and Pan, and as a source of pleasure for the human race - something to heal the sick and comfort the afflicted, to refresh the memory of those who have been in love and educate those who have not. For no one has ever escaped Love altogether, and no one ever will, so long as beauty exists and eyes can see. 
Titian's Three Ages of Man (1512),
perhaps depicting a scene from Daphnis and Chloe
Daphnis and Chloe is a mixture of comedy and pathos; it's gentle, sweet, and though short is beautifully slow-paced - it's a relaxing read that lulls rather than excites for the main part (though it has it's moments), and I enjoyed reading about these innocent young lovers (let it be said the reader, at times, is made to feel a great deal less innocent than Daphnis and Chloe).

What I really loved about this novel was the sense of yearning it provoked; it came close, in fact, to one of my favourite pieces of poetry 'The Golden Age' from Ovid's Metamorphoses. The landscape and lifestyle is so idyllic and beautiful with far less complications: back then, one could really deal with the matter in hand! This is not to say there aren't any complications in Daphnis and Chloe, there are - pirates, for one, but rather the complications are relevant. Love, happiness, and well-being are the focus in the way that today they are not. In fact I'd say one can learn a lot from this novel about our own times.

The seasons mark their development, both individually and as a pair, and the vivid descriptions of sceneries anchors this wonderful novel in nature. This is a new favourite: I do love pastoral tales. Gods and goddesses are still present, however they do not take as active a role as earlier Ancient Greek prose and poems.

On a final note: Daphnis and Chloe have inspired many artists - here are some of my favourites -

Paysage avec Daphnis et Chloé (detail) by François-Louis Français (1872)..
The Wooing of Daphnis by Arthur Lemon (1881).
Illustration for Daphnis and Chloe by Konstantin Somov (1930).
Further Reading


  1. This book sounds wonderful! I'll have to search it out. And yes, in both our posts the character was named Chloe, but you probably didn't realize my Chloe was from Lesbos as well. I'm sure Snedecker (the author of my book) was very familiar with this story.

    What lovely pastoral scenes. It really does take you back in time, doesn't it? I wish, and not for the last time, that I could time travel! :-)

    1. I wish I could time travel too!

      I love these pastoral scenes - as I said in the post, it does make me think a lot about the state of things now.


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