University of Tasmania
Pickstone_whole_thesis.pdf (2.02 MB)

Proteus and poikilia : the influence of Philostratus the elder on the Dionysiaca of Nonnus of Panopolis, with particular emphasis on ekphrastic and metamorphic elements

Download (2.02 MB)
posted on 2023-05-28, 00:25 authored by Pickstone, JC
Nonnus of Panopolis' works show in striking fashion the interplay between the worlds of Greek paganism and traditional Greek paideia and that of rising Christianity: his Dionysiaca continues and indeed may be said to sum up the tradition of the Greek epic poem; his Paraphrase of the Gospel of John applies a traditional Greek literary form to one of the founding texts of Christianity. Recent scholarly work shows the fluidity and complexity of the Christian and pagan influence in Late Antiquity. Scholars have demonstrated the influence of Greek epic and other verse works on the Dionysiaca, influences reaching from Homer's Iliad and Odyssey to Apollonius Rhodius' Argonautica, Callimachus' Hymns and Quintus Smyrnaeus' Fall of Troy, as well as the Greek Anthology. Scholars have also explored the relationship of the Dionysiaca to prose works of the second and third centuries of the Common Era. Frangoulis has convincingly demonstrated the influence of the ancient Greek novel, specifically of the Sophistic Novel, on certain episodes of Nonnus' fifth-century epic (Hel‚àö¬Æne Frangoulis: Du roman ‚àö‚Ć l'epopee, Besan‚àövüon, 2014). One of the most interesting Greek prose writers under the Roman Empire is Philostratus the Elder, the writer who coined the term Second Sophistic‚ÄövÑvp. This term is used to describe a flowering of Greek literary culture in the second and third centuries and in turn has led to the description sophistic novel‚ÄövÑvp given in our time to the works of Longus, Achilles Tatius and Heliodorus. Philostratus' own work is no longer usually numbered among the novels, yet it shares many of their characteristics. This in itself justifies a close examination of the work in the light of the Dionysiaca. Furthermore, there are elements in Philostratus which immediately suggest a possible connection between the two works. In Philostratus, there is an overarching concern with Greek paideia which is also evident throughout the Dionysiaca. More specifically, in both the Vita Apollonii (VA) and the Imagines considerable space is given to Dionysus, his cult and his following. In the VA, as in Nonnus' epic, we have Indian wars, gods interfering in the life of humans, a great interest in omens and divination and a particular fascination with the figure of Proteus. Ekphrasis is prominent in both the Dionysiaca and the VA, while the Imagines is a collection of ekphrases of pictures in a gallery. Scholars have long noted specific instances of similarity between the Dionysiaca and Philostratus' works, but there has not hitherto been a systematic investigation into the extent and nature of the relationship between them. In this project, we have compared the VA and Imagines with the Dionysiaca, particularly concentrating on those areas that are common in prominence in the works of both writers: Proteus as emblematic of the literary agenda in the VA and the Dionysiaca; poikilia as a key technique and unifying aesthetic in all three works. The conclusion of the research is that, although Philostratus is only occasionally a dominant and recognisable source in Nonnus' epic, there are intriguing synergies between the works in many matters of detail as well as in a broader aesthetic. Philostratus in the Imagines and the VA and Nonnus in the Dionysiaca also demonstrate a common adherence to poikilia, not only as a feature of their respective works, but indeed as a hallmark of them. The importance of this to both is evidenced by their use of the figure of Proteus in the Dionysiaca and the VA. There are clear overlaps of taste and sensibility, particularly in the use of colour and particularly, but not exclusively in ekphrastic passages. The numerous examples of coincidences of detail between the works that are consistent with Nonnus being familiar with Philostratus' works and with his taking such details for use in his own poem, just as he seems to do with many other writers and are suggestive of a closer connection than merely shared heritage and aesthetics.


Publication status

  • Unpublished

Rights statement

Copyright 2021 the author

Repository Status

  • Open

Usage metrics

    Thesis collection


    No categories selected


    Ref. manager