‘Without exaggeration and oversimplification little progress is made in most fields of humanistic investigation.’ With this disarming quotation from A. D. Nock, Albert Henrichs begins his book-length interpretation of P. Colon, inv. 3328. In the same spirit of humanistic progress, I would like to reconsider some aspects of the text and to offer a different assessment of its place in the history of religion and literature.
The fragments are from three pages of a hitherto unknown Greek novel, Lollianos' Phoinikika. Frags A and B luckily include book-ends, from whose subscriptions we know the author and title of the work. Frag. C is just scraps which yield no continuous sense. Frag. A brokenly and confusedly mentions youths, women dancing, (furniture?) being thrown off the roof, sobriety, kissing, and then, in a slightly more intelligible scene, the male narrator's loss of virginity with a woman named Persis, her gift to him of a gold necklace which he refuses, the assistance of one Glauketes in taking the necklace elsewhere, and finally what seems to be a confrontation between Persis' mother and the two lovers. This last is similar to Achilles Tatius ii 23–5. Achilles Tatius also offers the closest parallel to frag. B, a ghastly description of human sacrifice and cannibalism. This scene is the focus of most of Henrichs' interpretation and I will limit myself to it in the present article.
The central question raised by this new novel fragment is how to assess the relative importance of religious and literary parallels. Is the Phoinikika to be regarded as a document in religious or in literary history, or perhaps somewhere on the borderland of both? There has been a lively discussion in the last half century of the thesis that the ancient novels were written and read as religious documents, deriving their basic structure and many details from the myths and cults of particular religions. Henrichs devotes most of his book to arguing that the sacrifice scene in Lollianos is inspired by an actual rite, probably of a Dionysian character, and that the Phoinikika serves to illuminate a little-known corner of religious history. His views are based on an extensive collection of liturgical, mythical and ethnological parallels concerning oath rituals, the sacrifice of children, cannibalism, and face-painting. Of all the parallels cited, the two which are closest in every way to Lollianos are Achilles Tatius iii 15 and Cassius Dio lxxi 4. On the strength of these Henrichs asserts that Lollianos' description of a ritual murder represents, more or less directly, the cultic practice of the Egyptian Boukoloi. Without postulating a religious message for the Phoinikika as a whole, Henrichs does claim that this scene yields valuable information about the structure of ancient mystery rituals (78 n. 6) and that these new fragments support the methodological correctness of Kerenyi's and Merkelbach's approach to the ancient novels.