Heliodorus fl. 3rd or 4th century-
Syrian-born Greek novelist.
Heliodorus is the author of the Aethiopica, considered one of the best Greek romances extant. Written in the third or fourth century, the work tells of the love of Theagenes, a Thessalian aristocrat, and Chariclea, a beautiful Ethiopian princess. Their perils and misfortunes in exotic lands are melodramatically delivered in a prose narrative of ten books comprising more than 9000 lines. Virtually nothing is known about Heliodorus's life except for his place of birth, Emesa, Syria. Critics praise Heliodorus for his advanced literary techniques, which include perhaps the first use of a compound plot, starting the story in the midst of its action, his ability to entertain, and his vivid imagery and characterization. He is the last known of the ancient romance novelists.
Little is known of Heliodorus beyond what he himself presents in the concluding line of the Aethiopica, which states that he is a Phoenician from Emesa, and the child of Theodosius. Scholars have long argued whether he lived in the second, third, or fourth centuries; the majority believe the third century is the likeliest, with the fourth century being a distinct possibility. According to some reports written several centuries later, Heliodorus served as bishop of Tricca, where he introduced the practice of clerical celibacy. However, he ultimately lost the position because he had written the erotic Aethiopica in his youth.
The Aethiopica is the only known work by Heliodorus. The story is not told chronologically but begins in medias res with a band of robbers discovering a deserted but unplundered ship on a beach littered with dead bodies. In the middle of the carnage are the sole survivors of the attack, the beautiful lovers Chariclea and Theagenes, who is wounded. Soon another group of bandits chases the first robbers away and capture the couple. Between this opening scene and the last page, in which the lovers are wed and made Priest of the Sun and Priestess of the Moon, Heliodorus describes a series of romantic adventures in foreign lands, numerous attacks, torture, escapes, interactions with mysterious priests, a witch, and a maddened bull. It is not until Book IV that Heliodorus writes of Chariclea's birth: although her father was the black King of Ethiopia, she was born white because her mother, Persinna, conceived her while gazing at a picture of Andromeda. The Queen, fearing that she would be accused of adultery, gave her baby away and pretended that it had died in childbirth. Chariclea was rescued by a priest, grew up, and fell in love with Theagenes at first sight. Together, they suffer many misfortunes until the end, when they are elevated to the status of priest and priestess.
With his pious tone, Heliodorus was a favorite among Byzantine critics. He was also well received by the Elizabethans, who considered the Aethiopica an example of aesthetic excellence. Modern critics continue to find the work of tremendous interest since it effectively closes the long tradition of the Greek romantic novel. Arthur Heiserman covers the high points of its intricate plot and notes its use of methods borrowed from stage plays. Gerald N. Sandy also notes Heliodorus's debt to drama. He praises Heliodorus for narrative economy, for “sheer intensity of interrelation of characters,” and for successfully orchestrating a “complex blend of divinely orchestrated and naturally motivated events presented from multiple points of view without linear chronological progression.” Thomas Hägg credits Heliodorus for mixing Euripidean drama, historiography, and philosophy in his narrative. J. R. Morgan posits that Heliodorus deliberately sought reader involvement by interesting them in puzzles and ambiguities in his story. Richard Hunter explores the use of different reading strategies for understanding the representations and misrepresentations Heliodorus places in his text. Daniel L. Selden examines the work for what it reveals about the history of racism and attitudes towards skin color. Heliodorus affected many writers over the centuries; Alban K. Forcione traces Heliodorus's impact on Cervantes; Eric Aversa examines the Aethiopica's use by Torquato Tasso; G. W. Bowersock discusses its use in the Historia Augusta; and Margaret Anne Doody analyzes its influence on Frances Burney's Wanderer.
SOURCE: “Early Greek Romances—The Ethiopics of Heliodorus.” Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine 54, no. 333 (July 1843): 109-20.
[In the following essay, an anonymous reviewer describes some defects of narrative and character in the Aethiopica.]
“It is not in Provence, (Provincia Romanorum,) as is commonly said from the derivation of the name—nor yet in Spain, as many suppose, that we are to look for the fatherland of those amusing compositions called Romances, which are so eminently useful in these days as affording a resource and occupation to ladies and gentlemen who have nothing to do. It is in distant and far different climes to our own, and in the remote antiquity of long vanished ages:—it is among the people of the East, the Arabs, the Egyptians, the Persians, and the Syrians, that the germ and origin is to be found of this species of fictitious narrative, for which the peculiar genius and poetical temperament of those nations particularly adapt them, and in which they delight to a degree scarcely to be credited. For even their ordinary discourse is interspersed with figurative expressions; and their maxims of theology and philosophy, and above all, of morals and political science, are invariably couched under the guise of allegory or parable. I need not stay to enlarge upon the universal veneration paid throughout the East to the fables of Bidpai or Pilpay, and to Lokman, who...
(The entire section is 8739 words.)
SOURCE: Forcione, Alban K. “Heliodorus and Literary Theory.” In Cervantes, Aristotle, and the Persiles, pp. 49-87. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1970.
[In the following essay, Forcione details the influence of the Aethiopica in sixteenth century literary circles.]
Not everyone can be a Theagenes or an Aristotle.
Cristóbal Suárez de Figueroa
I offer you the Trabajos de Persiles, a book which dares to compete with Heliodorus.
In 1526, one year before Alessandro de' Pazzi wrote the dedication to the translation of Aristotle's Poetics which would lead to the reorientation of Renaissance literary theory, an event occurred which was to have far-reaching consequences in the development of the European prose narrative. During the sack of Buda by the Turks, a soldier discovered the richly bound manuscript of Heliodorus' Aethiopica in the library of King Matthias Corvinus of Hungary. Shortly thereafter this postclassical Greek romance1 came into the possession of Vincentius Obsopoeus, who published it in Greek in Basel in 1534. In 1547 Amyot's French translation appeared, to be followed shortly by Warschewicski's Latin (1552) and Ghini's Italian (1556) versions. The Spanish humanists were quick to turn...
(The entire section is 16843 words.)
SOURCE: Heiserman, Arthur. “Divine Romance.” In The Novel before the Novel: Essays and Discussions about the Beginnings of Prose Fiction in the West, pp. 188-202. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1977.
[In the following excerpt, Heiserman analyzes Heliodorus's development of plot, focusing on the theme of destiny and its role in the lives of its main characters.]
… Like other romances, the Aethiopica is set in the misty period of Persian hegemony over the East, and it culminates in Ethiopia, the Land of the Sun outside the confines of the later empire, where naked black sages, the purest devotees of Helios, defy their priestly king.1 The specific cults described in the story—those practiced at Delphi, Memphis, and in Ethiopia itself—are judged to be inferior to a cultless life devoted to the acquisition of wisdom (sophia). On the other hand, allusions to Helios and to “the god” abound; and important episodes, especially the final ones, are contrived to direct our thoughts to the idea of destiny and to the pure religion that Helios seems to represent. Still, exactly what Heliodorus means by “Helios” remains vague, and he certainly does not celebrate any specific cult.2 He wholeheartedly adopts the conventions of romance, refines and disposes them as they had not been before, and artfully enriches the familiar serious emotions with genuine...
(The entire section is 6469 words.)
SOURCE: Sandy, Gerald N. “Manipulating the Story.” In Heliodorus, pp. 33-74. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1982.
[In the following essay, Sandy analyzes Heliodorus's literary techniques, particularly his skill in the presentation of characters, which includes advancements in integration, motivation, multi-dimensionality, and subtlety.]
Heliodorus's appropriation of the methods of the stage—the insistence that each character will tell and enact his own story in full view on the “stage”—necessitates the interlocking of the various strands of the web of intrigue: the paths of the principal characters must cross and recross in order to facilitate shared experiences and exchanges of information that touches on all.
The role of Thisbe in the complex plot will illustrate Heliodorus's masterly “stage” management. As noted previously (chapter 3), Cnemon and Theagenes during the attack on Thyamis's stronghold race off to the cave where Thyamis imprisoned Chariclea, there finding the corpse believed to be that of Chariclea but discovered finally to be Thisbe's. The reader has not—because the “actors” have not—had any reason at all to suppose that Thisbe might be in Egypt instead of where she was last seen, in Athens intriguing in turn against Cnemon and his stepmother. “‘How is it possible … for a Greek woman to be transported from the...
(The entire section is 18056 words.)
SOURCE: Hägg, Tomas. “Heliodorus: An Ethiopian Tale.” In The Novel in Antiquity, pp. 54-73. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983.
[In the following excerpt, Hägg presents an overview of the Aethiopica.]
Heliodorus of Emesa left behind the heaviest novel, in terms of both volume—some 300 standard printed pages—and style. The technique of composition of his Ethiopica is incomparably more complicated than that of any of the earlier novels. Heliodorus took Homer as his chief model, and this means, among other things, that following the pattern of the Odyssey he brings his reader directly in medias res:
The smile of daybreak was just spreading across the sky and the sunbeams picking out the hilltops when a group of men in brigand gear peered over the mountain which overlooks the place where the Nile flows into the sea at its mouth that men call the Heracleotic. They stood there for a moment scanning the expanse of sea beneath them: first they gazed out over the ocean but, as there was nothing sailing there that held out hope of spoil and plunder, their eyes were drawn to the beach nearby.
This is what they saw: a merchant ship was riding there, moored by her stern, empty of crew but laden with cargo. This could be surmised even from a distance, for the weight of her cargo...
(The entire section is 5735 words.)
SOURCE: Bowersock, G. W. “The Aethiopica of Heliodorus.” In Fiction as History: Nero to Julian, pp. 149-60. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994.
[In the following essay, Bowersock examines how the author of the Historia Augusta made use of the Aethiopica.]
The discovery of papyri has pushed back the chronology of the extant novels to dates far earlier than those contemplated by Erwin Rohde in his still valuable Der griechische Roman und seine Vorläufer (third edition, 1914). Most of the novelists known to us now appear to have written in either the first or the second century a.d.1 One, however, is evidently of a later date. The fifth-century ecclesiastical historian Socrates identifies him with none other than a bishop in Thessaly at the time of Theodosius I.2 His novel was alleged to represent a literary indiscretion from the author's benighted early years. Most scholars have refused, perhaps a little too hastily and indignantly, to countenance this identification; but, equally, most have admitted that the novel of Heliodorus, known as the Aethiopica, was composed in either the third or the fourth century. Curiously this was the date to which Rohde had also assigned it, although he believed that it was among the first of the ancient novels rather than, as it now appears to be, among the last.3
As long ago as...
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SOURCE: Morgan, J. R. “The Aithiopika of Heliodorus: Narrative as Riddle.” In Greek Fiction: The Greek Novel in Context, edited by J. R. Morgan and Richard Stoneman, pp. 97-113. London: Routledge, 1994.
[In the following essay, Morgan contends that Heliodorus sought the active participation of readers by engaging their imaginations in solving riddles presented in his narrative.]
In the last book of Heliodoros' Aithiopika (Ethiopian Story), Hydaspes, king of Ethiopia, returns in triumph, after a spectacular victory over the forces of Persia. During the celebrations he is presented with commemorative gifts by his subject nations, including:
a specimen of an unusual and bizarre kind of animal: in size it stood as tall as a camel, but its hide was marked with garish leopard spots. Its hindquarters and rear parts were squat and leonine, but its withers, forelegs, and chest were disproportionately taller than the rest of its anatomy. Notwithstanding the bulk of the rest of its body, its neck was as slender and elongated as the crop of a swan. In appearance its head was like a camel's, in size not quite twice that of a Libyan ostrich. Its eyes were rimmed with a black line like mascara and darted hither and thither with an expression of pompous disdain. Even its method of locomotion was unique, since it rolled from side to side like a ship at sea, in...
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SOURCE: Doody, Margaret Anne. “Heliodorus Rewritten: Samuel Richardson's Clarissa and Frances Burney's Wanderer.” In The Search for the Ancient Novel, edited by James Tatum, pp. 117-31. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994.
[In the following essay, Doody discusses aspects of The Wanderer and Clarissa which derive from the Aethiopica.]
In 1789 there appeared a new English edition of Heliodorus's Aethiopica, translated as The Adventures of Theagenes and Chariclea: A Romance. This two-volume novel contains a prefatory “Advertisement” by the translator, recommending the Greek novelist:
Heliodorus may be considered as the Homer of romance, and if it cannot be said of him, as it may of the great father of epic poetry, that he has never been excelled or equalled by any of his successors, it may with truth be affirmed that he has very seldom been so. In clear, spirited, elegant narration, Cervantes is not his superior—in the just, warm, and delicate delineations of the passions, particularly that of love, he equals Rousseau or Richardson. If his work abounds not with the striking and varied representations of character which we admire so much in the works of the latter, and in those of his great rival in this, as well as in many other of his excellencies, Miss Burney, several passages of his book lead one to...
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SOURCE: Selden, Daniel L. “Aithiopika and Ethiopianism.” In Studies in Heliodorus, edited by Richard Hunter, pp. 182-214. Cambridge, England: The Cambridge Philological Society, 1998.
[In the following essay, Selden examines the Aethiopica as one of the earliest narrative texts to tackle the origins and structure of racial conflict.]
You have been the veterans of creative suffering.
Martin Luther King, Jr.
Once again Heliodorus' Aithiopika has become an exemplary tale for our time.1 The most beautiful young woman in the Greek world, blond-haired and of gleaming white complexion, discovers fortuitously at age seventeen that her parents are actually black Ethiopians, who exposed her at birth on account of her anomalous skin colour.2 Apprised of her African origin, she resolves forthwith to reclaim her race3 and, abandoning her adoptive family in Greece, embarks upon the long and harrowing passage across the Mediterranean Sea, through Egypt, and up the Nile to rejoin her kin in Meroe. Proved by ordeal, she is ultimately acknowledged by her parents as their daughter and, through marriage, successfully reintegrated into Ethiopian society. The narration, in an epigram predicting the outset of this odyssey and reiterated at its conclusion, explicitly...
(The entire section is 14488 words.)
Aversa, Eric. “Clorinda's Black Armor: Sacrifice and Substitution in Gerusalemme Liberata and Heliodorus's Ethiopian Story.” Romance Languages Annual 6 (1994): 208-12.
Examines the influence of the Aethiopica on Torquato Tasso's Gerusalemme Liberata.
Bartsch, Shadi. Decoding the Ancient Novel: The Reader and the Role of Description in Heliodorus and Achilles Tatius. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1989, 201p.
Explains how descriptive passages in Aethiopica increase reader involvement in the narrative.
Dickie, Matthew W. “Heliodorus and Plutarch on the Evil Eye.” Classical Philology 86, no. 1 (January 1991): 17-29.
Argues that, while Heliodorus uses some material from Plutarch in describing the Evil Eye, Heliodorus's account is considerably different, internally inconsistent, and offered primarily for literary purposes.
Dowden, Ken. “Heliodorus: Serious Intentions.” The Classical Quarterly n.s. 46, no. 1 (1996): 267-85.
Analyzes how divine powers operate in Aethiopica and argues that the reader is expected to notice the workings of the gods even when the characters do not.
Garson, R. W. “Notes on Some Homeric Echoes in Heliodorus' Aethiopica.” Acta...
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