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Subject: The world's longest novel
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Date:Sun, 31 May 1998 07:35:36 -0400
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On Sun, 31 May 1998, NAKAMURA Akira wrote:

> What is this nonsense about "La Calestina" being the world's oldest novel?
> :-) :-) The world's oldest novel is of course "The Tale of Genji" written
> around 1001-15 by Murasaki Shikibu!  The great work has characteristics of
> novels as understood in European languages and can be legitimately called as
> such.  Unfortunately, to the best of my knowledge, the Japanese classic has
> not been made into an opera YET, but I think that it would make a perfect
> opera (in fact, operas, as it's very looooong.)
>
> Sorry, but I really get annoyed when "Westerners" talk as if only their part
> of the world counts.

Well, their part of the world ALSO counts and a millenium before THE TALE
OF GENJI (which, it goes without saying, is a masterpiece of world
literature), the Greeks and the Romans wrote works of literature that
literary critics have always described as novels and some of those have
inspired musical works.

Thus, Petronius' SATYRICON - the literary source of Bruno Maderna's 20th
century operatic classic

or Longus' DAPHNIS AND CHLOE, which inspired Ravel.

My favorite Roman novel is THE METAMORPHOSES OR THE GOLDEN ASS by Apuleius
of Madaura, which includes as one of is chapters the narrative of Eros and
Psyche, the original version of the *Beauty and the Beast* story. (I think
that the GOLDEN ASS story itself has been used as a basis for at least one
contemporary opera, but I am not sure. Perhaps someone can confirm.)

While the extant Greek and Roman novels seem to belong to the early
Christian era (from Neronian times to the 4th or 5th century CE), it is
generally assumed that they belong in a literary tradition that goes back
to Hellenistic times. This seems to be confirmed by the Biblical book of
Tobiah, which dates back from that period and already presents many of the
characteristics of the genre (that one inspired an oratorio to Haydn, if
my memory serves me well.)

Finally, earlier texts such as the story of Joseph in GENESIS or that the
Egyptian Sinouhe (copies of which have been found in tombs from the New
Kingdom period) clearly point out to much earlier Semitic or Near Eastern
models.

Pierre M. Bellemare
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