Saturday, January 14, 2023

The Poetics of Plot in the Egyptian and Judean Novella

This dissertation contributes to the history of storytelling literature of the ancient Eastern Mediterranean and North African world and, more specifically, advances the comparative study of the literature of Ancient Egypt and the Hebrew Bible and Early Judaism, focusing on prose fiction, a promising yet neglected topic of the comparative literature of these two cultures. In the dissertation, I identify a contemporaneous genre of fiction written in both of these cultures during the Achaemenian and Hellenistic Periods which I call novellas, by analogy to the prominent genre of European literature. As a genre of fiction that is usually defined as being shorter than the novel but longer than the short story, novellas are easy to recognize among Egyptian and Judean literature of these periods, yet previous research has not given due consideration to its international basis, nor adequately differentiated the novellas in each culture from other similar genres of fiction. The corpus of works that I identify as novellas are, from Egypt, First Setna, Second Setna, The Armor of Inaros, and The Prebend of Amun, four works of Demotic narrative literature (out of dozens that have survived) that are preserved intact enough that they can be studied carefully, and from Judean literature, Jonah, Ruth, Esther, Tobit, and Judith, written in Hebrew (Jonah, Ruth, and Esther), Aramaic (Tobit), and Greek (Judith). The basic claim of the dissertation is that the Egyptian and Judean novellas are in fact a genre that would have been recognized as such in elite, literary circles. To substantiate this, I make two separate but related arguments. The first (Chapter 1) is a literary-historical argument about the distinctness of the novella as a form of literature, where I substantiate an initial, instinctual identification by considering the ways in which these works stand apart in their basic literary form, in their historical period of florescence, and in their footprint in book culture. The second argument (Chapters 2-4) is one from poetics, confirming the literary-historical definition by quantifying an ideal reader’s or hearer’s experience of the novellas. For this, I focus on plot, which, following the lead of Emma Kafalenos and other theorists of narrative, I present as a construct of a reader who constantly seeks to understand the advancing of the story from a holistic perspective, anchored on the motivation of protagonists. In constructing a poetics of the plot of the Egyptian and Judean novella, I elicit a significant number of shared features which, when put together, confirm the initial identification of the genre and specify that further. The Egyptian and Judean novellas are presented as complex and engaging stories conveyed in plots that are remarkably cohesive as well as economical in their complexity, relentlessly focused and not prone to digressions or multiple plot-lines and which, most characteristically, center on a single sequences of events which resolve the central, driving conflict of the story and bring it to its conclusion.


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