What is the world’s first novel? Early contenders included The Satyricon, probably the world’s first dirty book, and The Golden Ass, about a man who turns himself into a donkey and has various adventures. But only Daphnis and Chloe can claim to be the first romance novel!
In the late second century A.D., the ancient Greek writer Longus wrote the story of two children, a boy and a girl, who are found abandoned on a Greek island, two years apart. The boy, Daphnis, is taken in and raised by a goatherd, and Chloe is taken in by a shepherd. The two children become friends as they help their foster families tend the flocks. As teenagers, they fall in love, but of course, as in any good romance, there are obstacles that prevent them from being together. Chloe is courted by two other suitors, who try and fail to kidnap her. Some bad guys do kidnap her, and the god Pan saves her. Meanwhile, Daphnis falls in a pit and nearly dies. Later, he gets kidnapped too – by pirates!
After surviving all this, they still face the more ordinary problem that Daphnis’ foster father is a slave, and therefore Daphnis may not be good enough to marry Chloe. In a twist worthy of any modern romance novel, it turns out that Chloe and Daphnis were both born to wealthy (but unrelated!) families of high social status, so they are able to marry after all, and live happily ever after.
The painting above is by Louise Marie-Jeanne Hersent-Mauduit, a 19th-century French painter who was inspired by the story of Daphnis and Chloe. It would make a perfect cover for a romance novel!
On May 4 and 5, the voices of the Chatham Chorale will be heard with the Cape Symphony in Ravel’s "Daphnis and Chloe," written as the score to a ballet based on the ancient novel. Join us to hear the romantic music of Legendary Love Stories. Tickets are going fast, so get yours now at capesymphony.org, or call 508.362.1111.