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My paper intends to demonstrate that ancient novels, though often employing mythical patterns, sought to mark a progression away from the ambiguous ethics that informed issues of eroticism in most of the mythical tradition by moving toward a more egalitarian conception of the relationship between the sexes. This progression is particularly evident in Longus’ Poimenikà.
In the first three books of this novel we find three mythical excursus which describe virgins undergoing a process of metamorphosis in order to escape a god’s rape or other kinds of abuse. The god Pan is regarded as the emblem of eros, purely physical desire, which is something sterile and degrading. On the contrary, the last book offers a positive model of the relationship between men and women: Daphnis and Chloe’s love reaches marital union, the proper place to experience sex as a divertissement with the crucial goal being that of procreation.
The dichotomy between mythos and logos is implied earlier in the novel. If the excursus are classified as myths and they conclude with the virgins losing their human status, Longus underlines that his story is a truthful logos, and he gives it a happy ending: Chloe gains a role in society. Against the trend of looking at mythos as a container of ideal behavioural schemes and at a mythical Golden Age, Longus celebrates the development of erotic customs in his time through the means of a recent mimetic literary genre consisting of human characters. Although the Poimenikà take place in an idealised past, they give account of a contemporary social reality that is more respectful of female volition and they evoke a yearning to substitute the primeval mythical erotic code with the hope of becoming the new paradigm for erotic literature.