"Aethiopica" (the Ethiopian story) or "Theagenes and Chariclea" is an ancient Greek romance or
novel. It was written by Heliodorus of Emesaand is his only known work. Socrates Scholasticusmentions it as the work of a Heliodorus, bishop of Trikka. It has also been maintained that the work was written in the early years of this bishop before he became a Christianand that, when forced either to disown it or resign his bishopric, he preferred resignation. But it is now generally agreed that the real Heliodorus of Emesa was a sophistof the 3rd centuryof the Common Era.Fact|date=February 2008
The "Aethiopica" was first brought to light during
Renaissancetimes in a manuscript from the library of Matthias Corvinus, found at the sack of Buda(today the western part of Budapest) in 1526, and printed at Baselin 1534. Other codices have since been discovered. It was first translated into French by the celebrated Jacques Amyotin 1547. It was first translated into English in 1569by Thomas Underdowne, who used the 1551Latin translation of Stanislaus Warschewiczkito create his "Aethiopian Historie".
The "Aethiopica" is indebted to the works of
Homerand Euripides. The title is taken from the fact that the action of the beginning and end of the story takes place in Ethiopia.
The work is notable for its rapid succession of events, the variety of its characters, its vivid descriptions of manners and of scenery, and its simple, elegant writing style. But what has been regarded as most remarkable is that the novel opens in the middle of the story ("
in medias res"), and the plot is resolved by having various characters describe their prior adventures in retrospective narratives or dialogues, which eventually tie together. This feature makes the "Aethiopica" stand out from all the other ancient Greek romances.
Chariclea, the daughter of King Hydaspes and Queen Persinna of Ethiopia, was born white because her mother gazed upon a marble statue while pregnant. Fearing an accusation of adultery, Persinna gives her baby daughter to the care of Sisimithras, a
gymnosophist, who carries her to Egypt and places her in charge of Charicles, a Pythianpriest. She is then taken to Delphi, and made a priestess of Apollo. Theagenes, a noble Thessalian, comes to Delphi and the two fall in love with each other. He carries off Chariclea with the help of Calasiris, an Egyptian, employed by Persinna to seek for her daughter. Then follow many perils from pirates, bandits, and others, but the chief personages ultimately meet at Meroeat the very moment when Chariclea is about to be sacrificed to the gods by her own father. Her birth is made known, and the lovers are happily married.
Heliodorus' novel was immensely influential and was imitated by Byzantine Greeks and by French, Italian, and Spanish writers. The structure, events, and themes of the European adventure novel of the first half of the seventeenth century—Mlle de Scudéry,
Marin le Roy de Gomberville, Miguel de Cervantes's "Persiles y Sigismunda", and likely Aphra Behn's " Oroonoko"—were directly modeled on Heliodorus's work. His influence continued to be felt in the eighteenth century novel (especially in those having a "tale within a tale" structure).
The English dramatist
John Goughbased his tragicomedy "The Strange Discovery" (published 1640) on the "Aethiopica."
The 17th century French dramatist
Jean Racineclaimed that Heliodorus' novel was his favorite book and when, after he had joined the ascetic Jansenist retreat Port-Royaland the book had been repeatedly taken away from him, Racine is reported to have said that the loss of the book no longer mattered since he had already memorized it.
The early life of Clorinda in
Torquato Tasso's " Jerusalem Delivered" (canto xii. 21 sqq.) is almost identical with that of Chariclea.
Other ancient Greek novelists:
Chariton- The Loves of Chaereas and Callirhoe
Xenophon of Ephesus- The Ephesian Tale
Achilles Tatius- Leucippe and Clitophon
Longus- Daphnis and Chloe
* [http://www.chss.montclair.edu/classics/petron/heliodorus.html Æthiopica - story synopsis]
* [http://www.elfinspell.com/HeliodorusMyIntro.html Æthiopica - full text(English translation)]
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