There seems to it is in a the majority of confusion around when the novel as a literary kind developed. Many human being think that the novel occurred at some suggest during the Early modern-day Period (lasted c. 1450 – c. 1750). Countless works date to this period, such as Robinson Crusoe, Don Quixote, and also Le Morte d’Arthur are frequently cited together “the first novel.” The well-known perception, however, is incorrect.

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The novel together a literary form definitely days at least as far back as the second century BC and probably dates to long prior to that. Not a single one of the works commonly cited together “the an initial novel” is even close to being old enough to actually be “the an initial novel.”

The fact is, us don’t know specifically what the very first novel was, but, since we have record of functions that deserve to only be defined as novels dating as far back as at least the second century BC, anything composed within the previous 2,200 years can’t maybe be “the an initial novel.”

The ofradiation of the novel as a recent invention

It is widely yet most decidedly erroneously believed among literary scholars and the basic public alike that the novel is a relatively recent invention. Works typically cited together “the very first novel” include:

The history of Tom Jones, a Foundling through Henry Fielding (originally published in 1749)Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe (originally released in 1719)Don Quixote by Miquel de Cervantes (originally released in two parts in 1605 and 1616)Le Morte d’Arthur by cutting board Mallory (originally published 1485)The tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu (written in the early eleventh century)

All of these works can absolutely be thought about novels, but none of these works can truly be considered the “first novel,” because none of lock are also close to gift old enough. As I shall show, there are well-known old novels that conveniently predate all of these works.


ABOVE: Seventeenth-century fictional illustration by Tosa Mitsuoki that Murasaki Shikibu, the writer of The tale of Genji, which was created in Japanese the beforehand eleventh century. The story of Genji is a novel, yet not “the an initial novel” by any means.

What is a novel?

First, prior to we talk around ancient novels, let’s specify exactly what a “novel” is. Because that the objectives of this article, I will be specifying a novel as “a lengthy work of prose stare fiction composed by a single author or a team of authors functioning in teamwork with the will of publishing in some form.”

I am acquisition a reasonably strict an interpretation here, due to the fact that I desire to show that, even if we specify the ax “novel” an extremely strictly, the ancient novels that us are about to discuss still easily meet that definition. In order come qualify as a “novel” under mine definition, a work need to meet every one of the adhering to criteria:

It have to be fiction.It have to be prose.It must be a narrative.It need to be long.It need to have been composed by a single author or through a team of authors functioning in collaboration—though the names of any type of such authors carry out not necessarily need to be known to us.It should have been written through the intent of publication in some form.

Some literary movie critics hold that a work need to be strictly realistic in order to qualify together a novel, however I have not contained realism as a necessity for my meaning here since the hatchet “novel” is nearly universally provided to describe works that space not strictly realistic.

For instance, us routinely describe works prefer J. R. R. Tolkien’s The lord of the Rings, George R. R. Martin’s A Clash of Kings, Umberto Eco’s Baudolino, Yann Martel’s Life of Pi, and also Madeline Miller’s Circe together “novels”; just the many utterly stuck-up literary doubter would shot to urge that these functions aren’t truly novels just because they aren’t strictly realistic.

The Milesian Tale through Aristeides of Miletos (written 2nd century BC)

The oldest job-related I am conscious of that deserve to definitively be referred to as a “novel” is The Milesian Tale, a shed work recognized to have been composed in approximately the second century BC by the old Greek writer Aristeides of Miletos. Although the work-related itself has not endured to the current day, we know around it because it is generally referenced in surviving classic Greek and also Roman sources.

It to be evidently a long prose account the a traveler coming right into the city that Miletos, i m sorry is situated on the west shore of what is currently Turkey. Miletos was well known in classical times for the allegedly debauched and also luxurious way of living of its inhabitants. Aristeides apparently exploited this reputation by having his protagonist encounter miscellaneous people, who would call him every sorts that stories, normally involving terrific and erotic elements.

Thus, the publication was essentially a arsenal of various stories installed within a framing narrative of a guy visiting the city of Miletos. Story of the sort told in The Milesian Tale came to be known as “Milesian tales” themselves.


ABOVE: photo from Wikimedia Commons of the ruins of the Ionic Stoa in the old city that Miletos

The Ninos Romance (written very first century BC)

The Ninos Romance is an ancient Greek historical novel around Ninos, the legendary king the Assyria and also founder the the city of Nineveh. That was more than likely written in approximately the very first century BC, but it is has actually only endured in fragments.

Judging indigenous the pieces we have of it, the story seems to have actually centered around the young Assyrian king Ninos, that is desperately in love v his cousin Semiramis. He and also Semiramis desire to marry, however they are stated to be as well young. In ~ some point in the novel, lock are likewise apparently shipwrecked.

The elements of the Ninos Romance clearly prefigure what would certainly later become recurring motifs and also elements throughout the later Greek romance novels: the young lovers, societal the contrary to your union, and also a shipwreck.


ABOVE: depiction of the legend Assyrian king Ninos, the main character in the Ninos Romance, from Guillaume Rouille’s Promptuarii Iconum Insigniorum

Kallirhoë by Chariton (written mid very first century AD)

The novel Kallirhoë by the Greek writer Chariton probably dates to around the center of the first century AD, because it is not written in the Atticizing layout that became prominent in the late first century and also a work by the location Kallirhoë is referenced in the Satires the the roman poet Aulus Persius Flaccus (lived 34 – 62 AD).

Kallirhoë has endured to the existing day complete, definition it is the more quickly novel in the European tradition that has actually survived come the existing day in its complete form. It bear noticeable impacts from earlier Greek historical writings, which may be proof that the Greek novel as a literary form developed indigenous the historic genre.

The Satyrica by Gaius Petronius Arbiter (written 3rd quarter of the an initial century AD)

The Satyrica, created by the roman courtier Gaius Petronius Arbiter (lived c. 27 – 66 AD) during the reign of the emperor Nero (ruled 54 – 68 AD), is the oldest novel written in the Latin language that is well-known to have survived come the present day in any comprehensive form. The novel has actually not been passed under to united state complete, because most the the novel has actually actually been lost. Nonetheless, us do have actually some pretty big chunks that the initial novel.

The main character the the novel is a fellow named Encolpius, who battles with sex-related impotence. Encolpius also owns a beautiful sixteen-year-old slave boy named Giton, who he desires to have sex with. Encolpius’s girlfriend Ascyltos additionally wants to have sex with Giton. The novel mixes erotic and satirical elements. Much of the work involves various kinds of sexual situations, consisting of orgies.

The most well known episode from The Satyrica is the “Dinner the Trimalchio,” which spans chapters twenty-six with seventy-eight that the preserved text. In this episode, Encolpius, Giton, and Ascyltos to visit a banquet organized by one ostentatious freedman called Trimalchio, whose name is tho synonymous also today through the nouveau riche. At the dinner, Trimalchios renders a grotesque display of his wealth and also false erudition. The dinner ends with a mock funeral that Trimalchio.

The Satyrica is regularly incorrectly referred to today as “The Satyricon,” but the original title is in reality plural. Petronius’s novel was adjusted into a controversial fantasy film in 1966 by the Italian movie housing Federico Fellini (lived 1920 – 1993) recognized as The Fellini Satyricon. As I talk about in this article from February 2019, it is most likely that Petronius’s novel and Fellini’s film based upon it are partially responsible for inspiring the prevalent misconception that sexual orgies were common in old Rome.


ABOVE: Frontisipiece illustration by the French artist Georges-Antoine Rochegrosse come a contemporary edition the The Satyrica, an old Roman novel by Gaius Petronius Arbiter

The Wonders beyond the Thoule by Antonios Diogenes (written mid 2nd century AD)

The Wonders past the Thoule, created in the Greek language through the Greek writer Antonios Diogenes, most most likely sometime in the center of the second century AD, is a historical novel around the adventures that the Arkadian Greek explorer Deinias, the Phoinikian noblewoman Derkyllis, and also their companions.

In the novel, the heroes encounter miscellaneous misadventures, hear and also tell a selection of installed stories, and fend off the evil schemes of the Egyptian sorcerer Paapis. In ~ one point in the novel, a story is told as one of the inset tales around a pilgrimage to the Moon.

The initial novel through Antonios Diogenes has actually not survived to the current day, however a detailed an overview of it composed by the byzantine patriarch Photios i of Constantinople (lived c. 810 – 893 AD) has and it is indigenous Photios’s an introduction that we know most of our information about the work.

The Ephesian Tale by Xenophon that Ephesos (written mid 2nd century AD)

The Ephesian Tale was written by a male named Xenophon of Ephesos, more than likely sometime in approximately the middle of the second century AD. It has survived to the present day complete, although it is possible that version we have actually now may be a summary of an originally much longer work. The style of the enduring version is rough and also unpolished, uneven the very polished styles of later Greek romance novels such as Leukippe and Kleitophon or Daphnis and Chloë.

Like most other ancient Greek romantic novels, The Ephesian Tale centers approximately two teenaged lovers. The people in this particular novel occur to be named Anthia and also Habrokomes. ~ above account of this fact, the alternative title that the work is Anthia and also Habrokomes.

In the novel, the heroes are captured by pirates and sold right into slavery. Lock endure various trials until, in the end, lock are lastly reunited. They marry and also live happily ever after. The Ephesian Tale often tends to be less extremely esteemed by modern-day critics than several of the later ancient Greek romantic novels.


ABOVE: photograph from Wikimedia Commons the the ruins of the temple of Artemis in ~ Ephesos

A True Story by Loukianos the Samosata (written third quarter of the 2nd century AD)

The novel A True Story, composed in the Greek language by the Syrian satirist and rhetorician Loukianos that Samosata (lived c. 125 – ~ c. 180 AD), that is recognized for his tongue-in-cheek style, is a satire directed versus people that tell remarkable tales and shot to pass them off together true. It satirizes facets of assorted works of previous Greek literature, including the Odyssey and also Antonios Diogenes’s Wonders past the Thoule. Unlike The Wonders past the Thoule, however, Loukianos’s original Greek message of A True Story has survived to the existing day complete.

In A True Story, Loukianos fuses elements of satire, scientific research fiction, and also fantasy in a manner reminiscent the Douglas Adams’s The Hitchhiker’s overview to the Galaxy. He begins the novel through an introduction in which he defines that the title is a lie and that there is actually absolutely nothing true around anything the is around to say. He climate tells a wild and also fantastical tale around how he uncovered a new continent in the much west full of strange and also exotic sights.

Then he cases his ship was swept up by a tornado and taken to the Moon, where he participated in a war between Endymion, the king the the Moon, and also Phaethon, the king that the Sun, which that claims affiliated all species of bizarre extraterrestrial creatures. He defines life ~ above the Moon. Then, after returning to Earth, Loukianos and also his companions room swallowed by a whale the is numerous miles long. Inside the whale, they struggle a war versus various fish people before they escape.

Next, Loukianos and his companions visit the Underworld, whereby they conference poets such as Homer, heroes native Greek mythology, and also philosophers such as Plato and see renowned storytellers like the historian Herodotos that Halikarnassos (lived c. 484 – c. 425 BC) being tortured for your “lies.” they find more strange lands, including an island do of cheese. Then the novel ends through a promise through Loukianos that his adventures will be continued in an upcoming sequel—except no sequel was ever before written, proving this come be, together one scholiast placed it, “the best lie the all.”

Of all the surviving ancient Greek novels, A True Story has actually consistently been among the most beloved and also influential. It served as component of the incentive for both Sir cutting board Moore’s thoughtful novel Utopia (originally published in 1516) and also Johnathan Swift’s satirical novel Gulliver’s Travels (originally published in 1726). Personally, A True Story is just one of my favorite functions of classic literature.

ABOVE: contemporary illustration by Ruth Cobb that a step from Loukianos the Samosata’s novel A True Story in i m sorry Loukianos’s ship is swept up by a tornado and carried come the moon

The golden Ass by Lucius Apuleius Madaurensis (written 3rd quarter the the 2nd century AD)

The gold Ass, created in Latin through the Lucius Apuleius Madaurensis (lived c. 124 – c. 170 AD), who, together I disputed in this vault article, came from the city of Madauros in what is now northern Algeria and also is believed to have been the Berber ancestry. It is the only old novel in the Latin language that has actually survived come the existing day complete, since the Satyrica has only survived in comprehensive portions.

The gold Ass is based in component on an earlier work in Greek attributed to a Greek author named Loukios of Patrai, who apparently came indigenous the region of Achaia in the north Peloponnesos. The very first part of the novel is essentially a picaresque with impacts from Aristeides’s Milesian Tale around a guy named Lucius who is by chance transformed right into a cheat by a sorceress. She puts that in the stables for the night and promises to revolve him back into a guy in the morning, yet he is stolen by bandits in the night.

Most that the novel concentrates on Lucius’s misadventures in the kind of a donkey. Along the way, that encounters various people and hears assorted inset tales. The most renowned of every these stories is the story that “Cupid and Psyche,” which develops a type of mini-novel top top its own, taking up many of publication Four, every one of Book Five, and also most of publication Six. The ending of the novel is quite peculiar. It ends v Lucius being restored to his original human type by the Egyptian goddess Isis. After being restored to human being form, Lucius join Isis’s cult.

The golden Ass was apparently quite renowned in antiquity and, alongside Petronius’s Satyrica and Loukianos’s A True Story, that remains one of the most famed of all old novels. The embedded story that “Cupid and Psyche” has been adjusted countless times by various authors, including by C. S. Lewis in his novel it spins We have Faces (originally released in 1956).

ABOVE: Fifth-century advertisement Byzantine mosaic portraying a step from The golden Ass by Lucius Apuleius Madaurensis, the only complete surviving old novel in the Latin language

The Babylonian tale by Iamblichos that Emesa (written between c. 165 and also c. 180 AD)

The Babylonian Tale, written by in the Greek language by the Syrian writer Iamblichos the Emesa in ~ some suggest roughly in between c. 165 and also c. 180 AD, has not made it through to the present day in its initial form, but a detailed summary of it written by the byzantine patriarch Photios ns of Constantinople (lived c. 810 – 893 AD) has survived.

According to Photios’s summary, The Babylonian Tale was around a girl named Sinonis and her lover Rhodanes, who room on the operation from the fictional Babylonian king Garmos, who wants to force Sinonis come marry him. Follow me the way, they suffer all sorts of misadventures. In enhancement to Photios’s summary, a couple of fragments from the original job-related have additionally survived.

ABOVE: photo from Wikimedia Commons the a kudurru that Nabonidus, the last king that Babylon. In Iamblichos’s Babylonian Tale, Sinonis and Rhodanes are on the run from the fictional Babylonian king Garmos.

Leukippe and Kleitophon by Achilleus Tatios (written late second century AD)

Leukippe and Kleitophon, written in the Greek language by the Alexandrian author Achilleus Tatios in the late 2nd century AD, is taken into consideration one of the far better written surviving ancient Greek romantic novels. It has survived come the current day in that entirety. That is really ornate—almost baroque in ~ times—in its literary style and full of literature allusions.

It tells the story that the young lover Leukippe and Kleitophon. Lock experience various misadventures entailing abductions, failure identities, false accusations the crimes, and also near death experiences. Eventually, castle marry each other in Byzantion and they live happily ever after.

Leukippe and also Kleitophon shows up to have one of the most well-known novels of its time, because numerous papyri containing portions of it have been discovered in Egypt. It has not been virtually as well-known in contemporary times, however, as another surviving ancient Greek romance novel: Daphnis and also Chloë.

ABOVE: photograph of Papyrus Oxyrhynchus X 1250, bearing a part of the text of Leukippe and Kleitophon

Daphnis and Chloë by Longos the Lesbos (written late second century AD)

Daphnis and also Chloë, created sometime approximately the late 2nd century advertisement in the Greek language by the Greek writer Longos that Lesbos, is the a somewhat an ext ambiguous genre 보다 the other surviving ancient Greek novels, since it combines elements of classic romance novels with aspects of pastoral literature.

It tells the story the the young lover Daphnis, a goatherd, and Chloë, a shepherd, who flourish up with each other on the Greek island the Lesbos. Although created in the late 2nd century AD, the story is collection in a much previously time. The novel charts Daphnis and Chloë’s growth and also development, their sex-related awakening, and also their misadventures follow me the way. The ends with the exploration that both Daphnis and Chloë are actually of noble birth. They room happily married to each other and also consummate their union.

Daphnis and Chloë is by much the many famous and influential of every the surviving old Greek romantic novels. It to be translated very first into Italian and later right into English an extremely early on. It was definitely part of the incentive for Edmund Spenser’s poem The Faerie Queene (originally published in 1590 and also 1596) and also possibly also William Shakespeare’s comedy The Tempest (first carry out in about 1611).

The esteemed German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (lived 1749 – 1832) to be a great admirer that it. It was even adjusted into a quiet film in 1931 by the Greek filmmaker Orestis Laskos, i m sorry is periodically said to have been the an initial European movie to include nude scenes. The 1973 fantasy novel The Princess Bride by william Goldman is additionally suspected to have actually been partially influenced by Daphnis and Chloë.

ABOVE: Daphnis and Chloë, painted c. 1850 by the Swiss-French artist Marc Gabriel Charles Gleyre, depicting how he imagined the central characters in the ancient Greek romantic novel Daphnis and also Chloë, composed in approximately the late 2nd century ad by Longos the Lesbos


I think i will stop here. There room other old works from later on periods, consisting of The Aithiopian Tale through Heliodoros that Emesa (written c. Third century AD), The Alexander Romance (written c. 3rd century AD), and also The Story the Apollonios, King that Tyre (written c. Third century AD, translated into Latin c. Fifth or sixth century AD) the I might list here, yet that would certainly be next to the point, since I think I have actually already plainly established the the novel as a literary type is certainly ancient.

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The functions I have noted here are only the major works the I at this time know about! In addition to all the works I have noted here, there are practically certainly even older works from the old Near east that ns am not right now aware that that could qualify together “novels” under my an interpretation outlined above.

If any kind of of the works I have mentioned above sound interesting, a book that I highly recommend is Collected ancient Greek Novels, edited through B. P. Reardon and also published through the college of California Press. This publication contains English translations of every little thing that survives of every the functions I have actually mentioned above written in Greek, other than The Milesian Tale. (It does no contain any type of of the functions written in Latin the I have mentioned, though.)

ABOVE: front cover of the book Collected ancient Greek Novels, edited by B. P. Reardon, which consists of translations the what survives of every the Greek functions mentioned above except Aristeides’s Milesian Tale