The ‘average’ reading of Bakhtin most in circulation, as far as I can see, is that we can tale the novel as a literary form particularly devoted to plurality of voices, and inclusion of the colloquial, going back to the genre of Menippean Satire, particularly the Satyricon of Petronius written in Rome in the first century CE. That all fits in with a Roman oriented history of Rome, not excluding Greece, but leaving Homer as the representative of a Europe which is hierarchical in social structure and ornate-rhetorical in aesthetic style.
My recent reading in Bakhtin does not exactly contradict this, but has drawn my attention to what it seems to me is an under-represented aspect of at least the most familiar kinds of assumptions about Bakhtin. He gives considerable importance to an Ancient and Medieval Greek heritage for the development of the novel. The Greek novel, also referred to as a Sophist novel, is placed in Roman history from the second to the sixth centuries, so the time in which the Roman Empire passed from its peak, or what has traditionally been regarded as the golden age of the Five Good Emperors to the collapse of the Roman Empire in the west, though of course not in the east, where is carried on centred on the New Rome of Constantinople.
The collapse of the Empire in the west is conventionally linked with the deposition of the last Emperor in Italy, for which anyway there are two date, 476 (the most familiar) and 480, depending on who is accepted as the last reigning Emperor in Italy, though in terms of the reality of power the Rome-Italy centred western Empire disappeared in the 450s when the ‘Emperor’ became the puppet of the chief German ‘barbarian’ leader in Italy. Significantly for the purposes of this post, there is an argument for saying that the Empire in the west fell in 550, so the sixth century, when Justinian’s reconquest of the city was reversed so that the city was never under a ‘Roman Emperor’ again or not in the sense of the direct line of Roman Emperors, leaving aside titles given to German kings later in the Middle Ages.
So Bakthin’s choice of the sixth century as the end of the Greek Novel, signifies the end of western Rome and the emergence of a distinct empire, in which Greek language and culture were dominant, in the sixth century. Bakhtin thinks of the ‘Byzantine’ novel as the successor to the Greek novel. Byzantine was a name given to eastern Rome sometime after it was swallowed up the Ottomans, so its usage is rather questionable, but it has stuck. Anyway, the context here is that Bakhtin thinks of the novel as having a Greek version, which refers to places outside Italy and the western Empire, or indeed the whole Empire.
Bakhtin’s emphasis on Rabelais as well as Petronius, may give the impression of literary thinking that works within a western canon. However, despite what some people seem to assume it is no accident that Bakhtin focuses on Rabelais rather than another Great Work of Renaissance to Early Modern western Europe, like Don Quixote. Rabelais’ Gargantua and Pantagruel appeals to Bakhtin, because it is Greek and ‘Byzantine’, by his standards, because it is more open to the life oriented forces of the folk, the peasantry, in its craziness, structural strangeness, and obscenity. Bakhtin is Russian folk centred enough for him to take up a west European work he finds close to what he values without being chauvinistic enough to reject French literature.