Chariton Criticism - Essay

B. E. Perry (essay date 1930)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Perry, B. E. “Chariton and His Romance from a Literary-Historical Point of View.” American Journal of Philology 51, no. 2 (April-June 1930): 93-134.

[In the following essay, Perry discusses the impact of ancient writers on the work of Chariton and praises his style, plotting, characterization, and use of irony.]

Owing partly to accident and partly to various misconceptions, Chariton's story of Chaereas and Kallirhoe has received less attention in the past than it deserves, both in respect to its comparative literary value and to its significance in the history of the genre. In the first place, the text was not published until 1750, at a time when Heliodorus, Achilles Tatius, and Longus had already become for moderns the standard and best known representatives of the Greek romance; and in the second place, previous to 1900, Chariton was erroneously assumed by most critics to be the latest of the extant ancient romancers instead of belonging, as we now know, among the earliest.1 The misconception about the date led to an undue disparagement of Chariton's literary merits;2 and the fact that Heliodorus and Achilles Tatius, who were supposed to have preceded Chariton, had long been regarded as standard3 was largely responsible for what has turned out to be a perverted orientation of the whole problem of the Greek romance. For Rohde, influenced by the prevailing conceptions of his day, placed Heliodorus and the other ‘sophistic’ romances in the center of his system, assuming that they were more or less typical of the romance in its pristine character and that consequently the peculiar features of Chariton's work were merely so many aberrations from the original sophistic norm. Thus, for example, the simplicity of Chariton's plot was a deficiency, due to lack of imagination, and the historical background was only a bit of arbitrary decoration added to an otherwise purely plasmatic story. In Rohde's theory of development the romance passes from Antonius Diogenes at one pole to Chariton at the opposite, from the complex, unreal and sophistic at the beginning of its career, to the simple, naïve, and quasi-historical at the end.4 And although this theory, in the exact form in which it was propounded, has now been entirely abandoned even by Rohde's most ardent followers, yet it will probably be a long time before the numerous misconceptions and errors of method to which it has given rise will have disappeared. It is one of the objects of this essay to disentangle Chariton from these obsolete conceptions and to present him in the light of our new knowledge about the Greek romance. If the present generation of critics is wiser than Rohde, it is largely owing to the discovery of new material among the papyri, material which has not only yielded new texts and dates but which has given a different meaning to much of the older data. From this source we have learned that the older a romance is the more likely it is to be historical or legendary in theory and setting, that the earlier romances were of a less sophistic character than the later ones, and that the environment in which the species flourished in its early stage was more popular and plebeian than had been supposed by Rohde and others who sought to interpret it entirely in terms of formal sophistic literature.5 Each of these points, especially the last, is of prime importance for the understanding of the origin, nature, and development of the ancient romance; and each of them, as I shall attempt to show, is significantly exemplified in Chariton.

The great importance of the cultural factor in the birth of romance is not yet realized. It has been the fashion in the past, and still is among perfunctory critics, to regard the precise outward form and content of a piece of writing as the all-important clues to its origin; after which, having compared all antecedent forms and having found them all disconcertingly different, though often close, they conclude that the problem is not to be solved, and that fools ought not to rush in where angels have trodden with such meticulous precision. One may object to this method as practiced on the ground that it is too external and too much concerned with details of subject matter or style, which are often either arbitrary or due to later conventions; but above all because it fails to recognize the generative and transforming power inherent in the spiritual impulses of large masses of society in a given period, a power which is bound to find expression in spite of formal traditions, and which is easily capable of molding history, let us say, or biography into romance by a shift of emphasis and by the wresting of the most convenient antecedent form into a shape which will serve its own purposes.6 Whatever may be its form-prototype, a literary species is normally created and thrives primarily by virtue of the spiritual impulse or the idea that lies back of it, not by the mere shell in which this spirit is encased, nor by any purely formal motive; and, conversely, the relative prominence given to purely technical and external matters, to form or embellishment rather than to spirit, increases more or less directly with the distance from the acme in the direction of decline. This will be apparent to anyone who considers for a moment the history of epic, drama, oratory, elegy, history, or the essay; and it must be kept in mind in studying the romance.

Here, however, it is necessary to take into account the important difference in cultural level between the romance on the one hand and the formal and higher literature on the other; to realize that the former cannot be explained solely in terms of the latter, as has been so often attempted, but that it is an expression of the ideals of the masses which, in the official and more intellectual literary circles most familiar to us, was completely ignored,7 just as Diamond Dick or the Alger books, in many essential respects the modern counterparts of the ancient romances, are usually ignored in the history of American literature. The gap between the popular and the intellectual writings of later antiquity is greater than it appears to be at first sight, because it is spiritual rather than stylistic; we are likely to be deceived by the external resemblances in phrase and rhetorical mannerism, due to the fact that familiarity with, and imitation of classical texts was more widespread and penetrated further into the common levels of society in antiquity than has been the case with such literature in modern times. But if the stylistic resemblances between the romancers and the intellectuals fail to teach us much, yet the cultural and psychological differences between them are both wide and significant; for it is precisely in the pious, sentimental, childishly naïve, optimistic, passive, and conventionally ideal Weltanschauung of such writers as Chariton that we discover in a relatively pure form the living force that must have created and fostered the Greek romance of love and adventure. In the romance, as in very few other ancient documents, we have the vox populi, amplified no doubt by some of the authors and reproduced in falsetto by others, but a valuable index nevertheless to the soul of the middle and lower class people of the Graeco-Roman world.8

Even the casual reader must see that Chariton is more genuinely endowed with this culture than his followers,9 and that is one good reason why he is historically more significant than they. He is a bona fide romancer at heart, whereas the others lay more stress upon external or irrelevant matters and seldom write from a truly sentimental inspiration. By the nature of his story, as well as by his date, Chariton belongs to a comparatively early and vigorous stage in the development of ancient romance; and this is further manifested in his comparative literary health, that is to say, his freedom from much that is artificial or conceited in the later romances, and his closer approach to classical methods and ideals.

Concerning the literary aspects of Chariton's work, little has been said in the past apart from incidental comments which are either misleading, for the reasons stated above, or else inadequate. A thoroughgoing study of the subject is impossible within the present limits, but there are certain features of Chaereas and Kallirhoe the value or the significance of which deserve special emphasis, while some of them are here heralded for the first time. The topics I have chosen for brief comment are: (1) the influence of the historical background, (2) the nature of Chariton's imitation of the ancients, (3) style in general, (4) simplicity and coherence of the plot, (5) character drawing, (6) irony. In sketching the essential points under these heads, any one of which would repay an exhaustive study in comparison with other romances, we shall have occasion to note here and there a certain dualism in Chariton's own practice brought about by the encroachment, in a mild form, of those rhetorical conventions which came to dominate and impair the later romances, and to which our author surrenders at times when his native inspiration or better precedents fail to guide him.10

(1) The significance of the historical setting in the development of romance has already been alluded to; it remains to consider the influence of this feature upon the art of composition in Chariton. There are many reasons which might lead one to believe that the plot of Chaereas and Kallirhoe was based in the main upon a genuine, popular saga; but, however this may be, it is certain that in Chariton legend and history have determined in a greater degree than in any of the other extant erotic romances, not only the choice of dramatis personae, but also the character of the episodes and of the style.11 This acts as a check upon that irresponsible plasmatic license which makes the fortune and behavior of the characters in the later romances so extravagantly and automatically ideal and so unreal. By being closer to legend Chariton is closer to nature and reality. If he had been making up his plot out of his own imagination and had felt disposed to cut loose from tradition entirely, it is unlikely that he would have represented Chaereas as kicking his bride in the brutal manner that he does, or that he would have allowed the heroine Kallirhoe to marry another man in the absence of her beloved husband. In order to keep the heroine from the arms of any but her original lover, there is almost no device or mechanical trick, however arbitrary or miraculous, to which Heliodorus, Xenophon, or Achilles Tatius will not readily resort. With them it is an unwritten law that the heroine must remain faithful to one man at all costs, and not merely faithful at heart but, above all, in person. Fortune must never be allowed to triumph even externally. To this end they arrange all outward circumstances accordingly and in a very arbitrary manner. But Chariton does not. Instead, he accepts in the main what he found either in a popular biography of Hermokrates' daughter, or in some other legend or legends which he chooses to take as his model; and, having formed his plot on this basis, which is bound to be more real and lifelike than the arbitrary fictions of conventional rhetoric, he turns his attention to the effect of the given circumstances upon his characters. That is one reason why there is more psychological interest in Chaereas and Kallirhoe than in any of the other romances except Daphnis and Chloe. The hard circumstances which induce, though they do not compel, Kallirhoe to marry Dionysius remain unalterable, and our heroine has to make the best of them and find her salvation in things as they are. Here no deus ex machina intervenes; but for twenty Teubner pages the interest of the story, which keeps steadily moving, is centered entirely in the inner resolves and emotions of the characters themselves. Kallirhoe's marriage to Dionysius is a real calamity from the sentimental point of view and, as such, the only thing of its kind in the Greek erotic romance. Again when Chaereas, near the end of the book, finds that King Artaxerxes has departed for the war and has taken Kallirhoe and Dionysius with him, he does not give up in the conventional manner. Instead, he crosses over to the enemy's camp, becomes one of their trusted generals, and, having defeated the king's forces and captured his women, thus wins possession of his wife by his own heroic efforts. How different this is from the behavior of Habrokomes or Klitophon! And how strangely different from the same Chaereas in the first part of Chariton's own narrative. Here in the portrayal of a single character we may see exemplified in a significant way the difference between the purely plasmatic convention which dominates the later romances and the historical style of narrative which is more characteristic of the earlier type. There are two very different Chaereases. One, like Habrokomes and the rest, is the stereotyped and unreal product of the plasmatic technique and has little or no positive character; he is before us most of the time in the first six books. The other, who steps in toward the end, is modelled after the figures of history, particularly Xenophon, and is thereby more vigorous and real, not only in the deeds he is made to perform, but in the spirit with which he carries them through. Thus in general we have, on the one hand, episodes which are influenced more or less directly by genuinely traditional or popular material or by broad imitation of the ancient historians, and, on the other hand, a great deal that has nothing back of it except the formal Chariton and the gradually stiffening conventions of his school. To the latter type of composition we owe, among other incidental matters, the Chaereas of the first six books and his colorless satellite Polycharmus;12 to the former the unideal assault on the bride,13 the second marriage of Kallirhoe and her real if not ardent affection for Dionysius, her stepmotherly conduct toward her child (supra, n. 11 ad fin.), the Xenophontean Chaereas, and various other features of character drawing and incident.14 This dualism shows the nature of the transition that was taking place in the romance in Chariton's day; his surrender to the more purely plasmatic and ideal conventions of the later romance is as yet only partial.

(2) If one examines the description of Chaereas' career as soldier (VII, 3 ff.; VIII, 2), he will find that the imitation of Xenophon, though somewhat naïve in its general conception, is nevertheless broad and not confined to mere words. Here Chaereas for the time being is a soldier first and a lover afterwards. Indeed, in this part of his narrative, Chariton has managed to transfer to his own pages something of both the style and the spirit of the author he imitates.15 The same is true also of the career and utterances of Theron, which reproduce a great deal of the spirit and manner of the New Comedy, especially in the soliloquies.16 The speeches of the two pirates in I, 10 (infra p. 120) are remarkable for their Thucydidean irony; they imitate successfully the critical realism of the great historian without any attempt to copy his sentence structure or, so far as I am aware, his words.17

In these passages and in several of the speeches and monologues, Chariton's imitation is at its best, but it is not always so broad. He is in the habit of employing the words of ancient writers freely and without acknowledgment in order to heighten or amplify the idea or emotion with which he is occupied. But these quotations and plagiarisms are regularly called forth by the subject matter at hand and are seldom due to the mere desire of the rhetorician to plume himself. There is nothing in Chaereas and Kallirhoe, for example, so labored and affected as the banter between Knemon and Nausikles in Heliodorus VI, 2, which is a tissue of unusual words and phrases transferred to a humorless narrative from the stylistic wardrobe of Lucian and the Cynic dialogues. Of this sort of thing Chariton, though often influenced momentarily by formal convention, is on the whole comparatively free. … Chariton's quotations are nearly always spontaneous and relevant, however exaggerated or incongruous the effect may be in the eyes of the sophisticated reader who cannot share the author's naïve sense of the sublime. One may feel little sympathy with the persons in his story who, when disappointed in love, faint regularly according to the Homeric formula, … but when Chaereas, in the extremity of his fortune, announces his genuine resolve to stake everything on the chances of war and exclaims whole-heartedly … the gesture is not an empty one and the situation is such that the reader can feel with Chariton the beauty and heroism of Homer's lines without being unduly reminded of the incongruity between Chaereas and Hector. And there are other passages where the adaptation is equally successful (cf. 69, 16; 92, 6; 104, 21; 112, 14; 139, 11). The mixture of prose and poetry in this fashion is a naïve informality of style which has its closest counterpart not in the Menippean satire, as Schmid explains, but in such folk books as the Arabian Nights, the medieval Aucassin and Nicolette, the Alexander romance and Apollonius of Tyre.18 Nor is it only in the Homeric quotations that Chariton employs poetry; his prose is full of reminiscences of the iambic lines of New Comedy and sometimes of Sophocles and Euripides; so that, as Cobet demonstrates, it is often very easy to turn Chariton's sentences into verse. Being a sentimentalist rather than a sophist at heart, and being innocently unconscious of the differences in spiritual level between his own narrative and the writings of the ancients, Chariton attempts many flights of a sort to which his fellow romancers never aspire. As a result he makes more errors than they by wavering between the sublime and the ridiculous; but he also reaches some high levels now and then of which they, for the most part, are quite incapable. We shall meet with examples of this later on. It is not my purpose, however, to discuss at length the degree of success with which Chariton imitates the ancients, though I think that in this respect he has been unduly disparaged. What is important to note here is that he sometimes makes a whole-hearted attempt to assimilate their spirit and ideas as well as their words, and that, unlike his followers, he is more concerned with the sentiment of his narrative than with rhetoric or verbal finery. The naïve extravagance which appears here and there in his imitation as elsewhere is an indication not of the senility of the genre, but of its earlier and healthier stage. The romance was a childish thing in the beginning.

(3) Chariton's narrative style is remarkably simple and straightforward. The sentences are uniformly shorter and less involved than those of Heliodorus and there is less affectation in the diction.19 The speeches, which are sometimes really eloquent and diversified, have all the directness and clarity of those in Xenophon and the Attic orators.20 They are not characterized by Phrasenfunkeln; they derive their force from the matter instead of from words or pretty conceits. Again, there is more lively dramatic dialogue in this romance than in any of the others except Apollonius of Tyre, where it is less artistic. By the use of stage terms Heliodorus is continually assuring us that his story is dramatic, but what he has in mind nearly always is the strange combination of outward circumstances, … not the style of presentation, which with him is far from ‘dramatic’; he and most of the others emulate only the externals of drama, the paradoxical events and complications of plot, whereas Chariton devotes his attention much more to the interplay of character upon character and to the psychological or picturesque interest involved in ordinary situations, wherein his portrayal is often realistic and effective.21 When Dionysius and Kallirhoe met for the first time, there was an awkward silence at first, but at length Dionysius spoke (34, 28 ff.): “‘My personal identity, lady, must be quite clear to you. I am Dionysius, the foremost citizen of Miletus and of practically all Ionia, well known for my piety and humanity. It is right that you too should tell me the truth about yourself; those who sold you to me said that you were a Sybarite and that, owing to jealousy, your mistress had offered you for sale.’ At this Kallirhoe blushed and, bowing her head, said quietly, ‘This is the first time that I have been sold; I have never seen Sybaris.’ ‘I told you,’ said Dionysius, looking over at Leonas, ‘that she is no slave; and I predict furthermore that she comes from a good family. Tell me everything, lady, and first of all your name.’ ‘Kallirhoe,’ said she. Dionysius was pleased with the name, but for the rest she was silent. When, however, he persisted with his inquiries, she said, ‘I beg of you, master, allow me to remain silent on the subject of my fortune. All that went before was a dream and a myth; I am now that which I have become, a slave and a foreigner.’ In saying this she tried not to attract any notice, but the tears ran down her cheeks.” etc. Besides its picturesque quality, we observe in this passage, as elsewhere,22 a sincerity of feeling and a dignified restraint which is quite unusual in the Greek romance, where [éthopoiia] regularly takes the form of sophistic display, either in rhetorically artificial monologues or in dry analytical observations on the part of the author.23 Chariton, however, is thoroughly interested in his subject most of the time, and writes with his mind on the matter rather than on his style. …

(4) Some critics have complained that Chariton's invention is slim, and that the baldness of his plot shows poverty of imagination.24 Whether we praise or condemn depends largely upon our sense of what constitutes literary value. Chariton is certainly no rival of Heliodorus in respect to intricacies of plot, the involution of stories within stories, abundance of paradox and surprises (especially for the reader), miraculous escapes via the deus ex machina, and the crafty deceits of such incorrigible tricksters as Kalasiris. … On the contrary, the plot of Chaereas and Kallirhoe is the most simple, straightforward and closely knit of all the romance plots with the partial exception of Daphnis and Chloe. The scene is changed less frequently than in most of the other romances; the episodes and the connection between them are more probable and natural; the characters are fewer in number and consequently stand out more distinctly; and the time of the action is comparatively short. In its nature, moreover, as well as in its simplicity, the plot is relatively close to the basic type of legends on which the first romances were in all probability founded.25 The following is its general scheme:

I, 1-11 Marriage of Chaereas and Kallirhoe at Syracuse, and the abduction of the latter by pirates.
I, 12 - III, 2 The courting of Kallirhoe by Dionysius in Miletus, and their marriage.
III, 3-4 The Syracusans pursue and capture the pirate Theron,26 who confesses that he sold Kallirhoe in Miletus. They vote to send an embassy to Miletus, in which Chaereas is included.
III, 5 - V, 2 Departure of Chaereas for Miletus. He falls into the hands of Mithridates, satrap of Caria. Complications arise between these two and Dionysius over their love of Kallirhoe. All are summoned to Babylon for trial.
V, 3 - VIII, 8 Arrival in Babylon. Pleading of the case of Dionysius vs. Mithridates, the result of which is to eliminate Mithridates and to introduce Chaereas as the real opponent of Dionysius. The trial of their case, being postponed, is forestalled by the outbreak of the war. Triumph of Chaereas over Artaxerxes' fleet, restoration of Kallirhoe, and triumphant return to Syracuse.

The close inner connection between the episodes in this romance, their natural character, and the gradual leading up through a series of plausible complications to the main climax toward the end, will be more or less apparent even from the brief sketch given above.27 In most other romances the effect of the main climax, when there is one, is greatly weakened by the large number of crises that have arisen and been disposed of in the preceding narrative; but in Chariton the trial of Dionysius vs. Mithridates overshadows in interest and importance everything that has preceded, and what follows consists in the unravelling of the situation thereby developed. When it comes to real dramatic climax, upon which Heliodorus lays so much stress, there is nothing either in his Aethiopica or in any of the other romances that can compare favorably with this trial scene in Chariton. It is the culminating point of a suspense which has been gathering momentum for the space of an entire book. From IV, 3 to V, 6 everything converges toward this climax; the fortunes of all the principal characters in the story are directly involved. There is no irrelevant matter and no purely fortuitous incident, but the interest is steadily intensified by the centering of attention upon the two principal actors, Dionysius and Mithridates, and by the lively description of the preparations for the approaching trial (V, 3-6).

For Chariton's dramatic method it is significant that, unlike Heliodorus and Achilles Tatius, he makes no attempt to surprise the reader, or to keep him in ignorance of the true state of affairs. The variety of incident in his story suffices to keep up a certain interest in the plot, but always, as in the trial scene, it is one or more of the characters who are ignorant of the real situation and not the reader. Chariton puts his readers in the same position as the spectators of an ancient tragedy; they see all the factors involved in the action and are thereby able to appreciate its ironies. While Heliodorus and Achilles Tatius seek to entertain us by sensational surprises, as in a mystery story, Chariton, in the manner of the Greek dramatists, appeals primarily to our contemplative sense.28

In Chariton many features common to the later romances are conspicuous by their absence; the subplot,29 the sophistic digressions on ethnological and pseudo-scientific subjects, numerous deceits and resulting complications, miraculous incidents, devices elaborately contrived to keep the reader in ignorance of the true state of affairs and to take him by surprise, great variety of scenery, and the multiplicity of paradoxical happenings and intrigue to which we have already referred. From the point of view of classical drama, the absence of these features in Chariton is decidedly a virtue; certainly no intelligent critic would complain of their absence in the Greek tragedians, and why should not Chariton emulate those classic principles? Why may not a prose narrative, like a drama, be built upon comparatively severe lines, with the interest on the inside instead of seeking its main appeal in its bizarre features and in a maximum of technical ingenuity, paradox, and surprise? If Chariton's romance leaves a “cold impression”, it is owing more to the theme than to the broad principles of its composition, and to the fact that a man of cultivated taste cannot share the author's plebeian sentimentality. Assume his naïve sense of human values, which are those of the Greek romance in its true character, and you will find that he has given expression to them in a manner that approaches the classical, even though the general effect of his story is often marred by childish exaggeration and by the encroachment of some of those rhetorical conventions which permeate the writings of his successors. Chaereas and Kallirhoe belongs to an early type of romance in which the mere accidents of fortune have not yet become the main thing, as they are in the plots of Xenophon, Jamblichus, Heliodorus, and Achilles Tatius.

(5) In his capacity for character drawing, for irony, and for subtle humor, Chariton has no peer among the Greek romancers; and yet these features of his work have been almost completely ignored by critics in the past.30 It is my aim in the following paragraphs to give the reader some idea of Chariton's virtuosity in these respects, not that its intrinsic value is considerable, but because it is so unusual in works of this type.

In most Greek romances it is only the lovers whose [éthos], or rather whose [páthos], the writer attempts to describe; and the value of such description is nullified both by the deliberate, sophistic nature of the would-be [ethopoiia] and by the stereotyped conception of the lovers themselves as the mere puppets of circumstance, mechanically endowed with the saccharine virtues of chastity and readiness to die whenever they get into trouble. Chariton's lovers are not far from being already molded to this conventional pattern, although, as we observed above, the nearness to legend has prevented the complete standardization of both Chaereas and Kallirhoe, and the style of presentation is mimetic on the whole rather than sophistic. But the difference between Chariton and his fellows is more marked in the treatment of the minor characters; for whereas in most romances a king, a pirate, a master, or a slave is of value only for his external acts and no interest attaches to his character for its own sake, in Chariton on the other hand these figures are given a picturesque, ethical value of their own. Theron, Dionysius, Leonas, Plango, Artaxates, Statira, and Artaxerxes—all have something definite and colorful about them which is due to the author's creative fancy and not merely to their function in the story. Chariton likes to dwell upon the psychology of these characters for the independent interest of the thing; he likes to contemplate it, especially in action; and while there is nothing unusual in the conception, yet he takes considerable pains to make the portrait clear and forceful by the addition of picturesque details which have no other purpose, and by the copious use of dramatic dialogue or spirited soliloquy. Dionysius has a long struggle with his conscience when he finds himself in love with Kallirhoe, although the latter is entirely within his power. He is an educated man endowed with much self-control and very humane and law-abiding instincts. In his heart prudence and self-respect, though unable to triumph over passion …, nevertheless exert a very strong influence upon the conduct of his love affair. His overtures to Kallirhoe are marked by scrupulous delicacy and regard for her feelings at every turn. He would like to convince Hermokrates that he is a gentleman at heart and worthy of his daughter's love (48, 32). He would not have ordered Phokas to slay Chaereas, but after this has been done for his own salvation he will not blame his servant's zeal (67, 7). His courtship of Kallirhoe is the central theme throughout book II, where the interest of the story is almost entirely ethical. Towards the end he shows himself a valiant soldier in the service of his king, and [eństathés] (for once) in the presence of tragedy (148, 30). Artaxerxes is far from being the mere Märchenkönig which one meets in Xenophon, Jamblichus, or Heliodorus; like Dionysius, he hearkens to the voice of prudence even when assailed by love, and he makes every effort to be just in his dealing with Dionysius and Chaereas, though he envies them both and they stand in the way of his passion for Kallirhoe. He respects the laws which he himself laid down and does not want to mistreat a foreign woman (110, 29 ff.). He will not speak of Kallirhoe in time of war lest he be thought [paidariódēs pantápasin] (121, 15). He shows princely generosity and gratitude towards Dionysius and, like a true oriental, is filled with ten thousand emotions on reading the letter from Chaereas (148, 9). Plango, the loyal servant woman of Dionysius, who be-friends Kallirhoe, is shrewd, practical, and shows such helpful sympathy and understanding towards her new acquaintance as only an experienced woman can show to one of her own sex (cf. II, 10). Dionysius' chief steward, Leonas, is all business. He is anxious to do things in a legally correct way; he has none of his master's fine feelings. With him a woman is a woman and a servant a servant regardless of any sentimental or polite considerations (cf. 33, 28 ff.). “You have the woman in your power,” he says to Dionysius in referring to Kallirhoe, “and she will do as you wish willingly or no. I paid a talent for her” (37, 3 ff.). Thus while Dionysius is literally worrying himself to death with the ethics of the situation, his steward is seeking to console him by talking entirely in terms of money and practical advantage. Here as elsewhere there is an irony in the situation which is not altogether unworthy of the Greek dramatists, at least of the New Comedy. The portrayal of Artaxates, the king's eunuch, is also lively and amusing. Like others in his position, he is very studious of doing and saying just what will please the king. Unfortunately, however, he is not always able to anticipate his master's moods, especially when they are moral, but on one occasion is compelled to back up in the midst of his flattering counsels, when he sees that he has made a false start, and to proceed immediately in the opposite direction. When summoned before the king, he pretends not to know with whom the latter is in love, and he says: “What beauty, O king, can prevail over thy soul?—thou to whom all fair things belong, gold, silver, raiment, horses, cities and nations, and thousands of beautiful women, yea, and Statira herself, the most beautiful of all beneath the sun, of whom thou alone art lord and master. Such felicity leaves no room for love, unless perhaps some immortal has come down from the heavens above, or another Thetis risen from the sea. For I am persuaded that the gods themselves do long for thy society.” Artaxerxes is not so sure about this, and he wonders how the eunuch could praise Statira so highly after beholding Kallirhoe. His purpose in summoning Artaxates was to find some cure for his passion. … This, however, is no problem at all for the eunuch, who promptly assures his master that there is no cure for this other than the possession of the beloved … in this case a very simple matter. But Artaxerxes, whose ethical motives are not suspected by the eunuch, is greatly shocked at these insinuations and remonstrates emphatically; whereupon Artaxates, seeing that he has made a faux pas, changes the tenor of his advice and exclaims, “How lofty, O king, is thy purpose! Do not thou yield to love in the manner of ordinary men, but take up arms against thine own soul in kingly fashion; since thou alone art able to prevail even over a god” etc. (VI, 3). And again when the eunuch makes overtures to Kallirhoe in behalf of the king and congratulates her enthusiastically upon having attracted his love, the dialogues between the two bring out in a truly dramatic fashion the contrast in the standards of value and ways of thinking between an oriental slave and a free Greek woman; see VI, 5 and 7.

I do not know that any critic has commented upon Theron, but in my opinion he comes close to being the most picturesque of all the characters in the Greek erotic romance, although the Melitta of Achilles Tatius is more real and more subtly drawn. Most pirates are bloodthirsty and impersonal, but Theron has a soul; it is a bad man's soul as conceived by a pious and middle class mind, and the author outdoes himself in describing it. By following up the career and utterances of Theron, we shall not only see Chariton's portrayal of character at its best, but we shall also note a rich vein of ironical humor; and the passages translated will furnish documentation for many of the statements made above.

Theron is introduced (I, 7) as a wicked and lawless fellow who, under the pretense of running a ferry business, heads a band of robbers who make their headquarters around the docks of Syracuse. When Kallirhoe is buried, along with a great deal of treasure, Theron takes note of it … and becomes very much interested. “That night, lying in bed, he was unable to sleep but said to himself, ‘Here I am risking my neck in fighting on the sea and killing live men for the sake of paltry gains, when I might just as well get rich quick from a single corpse. Let the die be cast! I'll not let go this chance of profit. Well then, what men shall I pick for the enterprise? Stop and think, Theron, who is the most suitable of those you know. Zenophanes the Thurian? He is a clever fellow but a coward. Menon the Messenian? A bold man but not to be trusted.’ And so he went on in his reckoning, considering and rejecting many possible candidates, like a money-changer eliminating the false coins.” At length, however, he chooses his companions and, after making them a short speech, completes his plans. He will break into the sepulchre on the following night and carry the booty away on the sea; which he eventually does. “Waiting until the very hour of midnight, Theron silently and with muffled oars drew near the tomb.” Then he disembarked and gave detailed orders to his sixteen companions. The first of them to put his head inside the sepulchre catches sight of the living Kallirhoe and, taking her to be a ghost, retreats in panic haste. Thereupon Theron laughs at him, but finding that his other men are equally afraid, he at length enters himself and discovers the true situation: Kallirhoe has been buried alive. So “he stood there and pondered, and at first he planned to kill the woman as being a hindrance to the whole project, but repentance came swiftly when he thought of the profit that was involved and he said to himself, ‘Let her be part of the treasure. There is much silver here and much gold, but more valuable than all is the beauty of this woman.’ Then he took her by the hand and led her out and, calling his fellow worker, said, ‘Behold the ghost of which you stood in fear. You are a fine robber indeed to be afraid of a mere woman. Now then, you keep watch over her carefully, for I intend to give her back to her parents, and meanwhile the rest of us will carry out the booty since it is no longer guarded, not even by a corpse.’” The last thing that Theron intended to do was to give Kallirhoe back to her parents. His remarks are sardonic, but in the debate that follows among his men concerning the disposition of Kallirhoe, one of them makes this very proposal in full earnest. His speech and the one that follows it are worth quoting in full for the sake of their quasi Thucydidean irony. The first man said: “We came here on a different errand, fellow soldiers, but fortune has given us something better than we expected. Let us make use of it. We can go about our work without any risk. It is my opinion that we ought to leave the treasure where it is and give back Kallirhoe to her husband and father, telling them that we happened to drop anchor opposite the tomb in the course of our daily fishing and that, hearing a voice, we opened the sepulchre from a philanthropic motive, in order to save her who had been shut inside. Let us bind the woman by an oath to testify to this story; she will be glad to do so, as being grateful to her benefactors through whom she has been saved. Just think with what joy we will fill the whole land of Sicily! What rewards will we not receive! And at the same time we shall be doing what is just and holy in the eyes of gods and men.” While this well-meaning pirate was still speaking another rose and said, “You untimely fool, in this crisis do you bid us philosophize? Has the business of grave-robbing made us respectable citizens? Shall we pity her whom not even her own husband pitied, but slew? He has never done us any injury, you may say,—no, but he will do us plenty hereafter. In the first place, if we give her back to her kinsmen, we do not know what they will think of this affair; they cannot help suspecting the real reason for our coming to the tomb; and even if they are so kind as not to prosecute us, yet the magistrates and the people will not let off grave-robbers who come laden with the evidence of their own guilt. Some one may say that it is more profitable to sell this woman, since she will bring a good price on account of her beauty. But this too is dangerous. The gold indeed has no voice, neither will the silver speak and say whence we got it. In such matters we can frame a story to suit our purpose. But a cargo that has eyes and ears and tongue, who can conceal it?” etc. The speaker then concludes by advising that Kallirhoe be put to death, but in the end Theron has his way and carries her off to Miletus with the intention of selling her. On arriving there, he surrounds Kallirhoe with all possible comforts and luxuries, “not from a philanthropic motive,” Chariton assures us, “but for the sake of profit, as a shrewd merchant rather than as a pirate.” Theron then leaves his ship and his companions in a harbor some distance outside the city, while he himself goes about town looking for a buyer for Kallirhoe. But he experiences some difficulty in finding one and the...

(The entire section is 17178 words.)

Warren E. Blake (essay date 1934)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Blake, Warren E. “Chariton's Romance—The First European Novel.” Classical Journal 29, no. 4 (January 1934): 284-88.

[In the following essay, Blake explains why Chariton can be considered the earliest known Greek novelist.]

In an age when, as the book-dealers tell us, over seventy-five per cent of the annual output of literature consists of novels, it must have occurred to many people to wonder who stands first in time at the head of this army of countless thousands of novelists. It is, of course, futile to speak of the “inventor” of the novel. Specialized mechanical inventions, such as the electric light, the steam engine, and even the printing press,...

(The entire section is 1728 words.)

Elizabeth Hazelton Haight (essay date 1943)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Haight, Elizabeth Hazelton. “Chariton's Chaereas and Callirhoe.” In Essays on the Greek Romances, pp. 14-37. New York: Longmans, Green and Co., 1943.

[In the following essay, Haight examines the plot, characters, and style of Chaereas and Callirhoe.]

There are two reasons for beginning a perusal of the Greek Romances with Chariton's Chaereas and Callirhoe. It is “the earliest Greek romance of which the text has been completely preserved.” It is “a lively tale of adventure in which a nobly born heroine is kidnapped across the sea from Syracuse to Asia Minor, where her beauty causes many complications and she is finally rescued by her...

(The entire section is 7241 words.)

Ben Edwin Perry (essay date 1967)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Perry, Ben Edward. “Chariton and the Nature of Greek Romance.” In The Ancient Romances: A Literary-Historical Account of Their Origins, pp. 96-148. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1967.

[In the following excerpt, Perry describes the development of the Greek novel and credits Chariton for his part in creating the new literary form of the romance.]


Thanks to the recovery of fragments written on papyrus in the second century after Christ, it is now generally believed that Chariton's story of Chaereas and Callirhoe is the earliest of all our extant Greek romances. The nature of the book itself, considered from a...

(The entire section is 25637 words.)

Gareth L. Schmeling (essay date 1974)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Schmeling, Gareth L. “Analysis of The Adventures of Chaereas and Callirhoe,” “A Happy Ending.” In Chariton, pp. 76-129. New York: Twayne Publishers, Inc., 1974.

[In the following excerpt, Schmeling examines Chariton's use of historical materials, his skill in creating plot and interesting characters, and his use of contrast and irony.]


Had Chariton been trying to write a kind of history or historical reflections of the fifth-fourth-century b.c. Greek world, we could fault him for tampering with facts, confusing rulers, and failure to understand the great movements of peoples and...

(The entire section is 21656 words.)

B. P. Reardon (essay date 1989)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Reardon, B. P. “Chariton: Chaereas and Callirhoe.” In Collected Ancient Greek Novels, edited by B. P. Reardon, pp. 17-124. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989.

[In the following excerpt, Reardon speculates about Chariton's choice of using an historical setting for Chaereas and Callirhoe and explains how the relatively late discovery and editing of the manuscript have damaged Chariton's literary reputation.]

Chaereas and Callirhoe is probably the earliest extant work of Greek prose fiction. It is thus the first European novel, and as such is interesting on literary-historical grounds as well as for itself. Its author,...

(The entire section is 2091 words.)

Douglas R. Edwards (essay date 1991)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Edwards, Douglas R. “Surviving the Web of Roman Power: Religion and Politics in the Acts of the Apostles, Josephus, and Chariton's Chaereas and Callirhoe.” In Images of Empire, edited by Loveday Alexander, pp. 179-201. Sheffield, England: Sheffield Academic Press, 1991.

[In the following essay, Edwards analyzes Chariton's use of Aphrodite in Chaereas and Callirhoe, focasing on what it reveals about the relationship between religious and political power in antiquity.]

By the second century ce, the Greek East had dealt with Roman power for at least three hundred years and with imperial power for over one hundred years. Response to Roman power...

(The entire section is 8966 words.)

Richard S. Ascough (essay date 1996)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Ascough, Richard S. “Narrative Technique and Generic Designation: Crowd Scenes in Luke-Acts and in Chariton.” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 58, no. 1 (January 1996): 69-81.

[In the following essay, Ascough argues that the crowd scenes in Chaereas and Callirhoe served as models for the author of the biblical books of Luke and Acts.]

The question of the genre of Luke-Acts has long intrigued biblical scholars, and the debate continues to rage with no sign of subsiding.1 The aim of this paper is not to referee this complex debate. Rather, it will use some of the suggestions this debate has generated to assist the investigation into Luke's...

(The entire section is 6211 words.)

B. P. Reardon (essay date 1996)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Reardon, B. P. “Chariton.” In The Novel in the Ancient World, edited by Gareth Schmeling, pp. 309-35. Leiden, The Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 1996.

[In the following essay, Reardon provides an overview of Chariton's novel, including discussions of its date, context, intended effect, structure, the significance of its historical setting, and its frequent use of recapitulation.]


The divinely beautiful Callirhoe is the daughter of Hermocrates, the leader of Syracuse who was victorious against the Athenian expedition of 415 b.c. Eros makes her fall in love at first sight with the handsome Chaereas after a festival Aphrodite; he returns...

(The entire section is 11192 words.)

Jean Alvares (essay date 1997)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Alvares, Jean. “Chariton's Erotic History.” American Journal of Philology 118, no. 4 (winter 1997): 613-29.

[In the following essay, Alvares interprets Chariton's novel as an alternative history which emphasizes romantic values.]

It is clear that numerous personages and events of Chaireas and Callirhoe are either taken directly from history or are in some way based on historiographical materials.1 The work has been considered a historical romance,2 yet its mixture of genuine historical fact, gross inaccuracies, anachronisms of Chariton's period,3 and reflections of drama, oratory, and epic4 suggests to some...

(The entire section is 6378 words.)