Heliodorus of Emesa Analysis


(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)

At the end of the novel Aethiopica (c. 320 c.e.; Heliodorus His Æthiopian History, 1622), the author is identified as Heliodorus (hee-lee-oh-DOHR-uhs of i-MAY-suh), from the Phoenician city of Emesa, Theodosius’s son, whose family was linked with the Sun. The question of the dating of the novel is still open. The novel, in ten books, traces how Charicleia, born a white baby to the black king and queen of Ethiopia, exposed at birth by her mother, and raised by Apollo’s priest at Delphi, returns home to her birth parents. Notable characteristics include the start midstory, the lengthy retrospective first-person narratives, and the movement away from the Greek world to end in Ethiopia. The novel focuses on themes of piety and chastity and differences of ethnicity, race, and language. The fifth century Byzantine church historian Socrates Scholasticus claims that Helidorus eventually became a bishop.


(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)

Heliodorus’s novel was influential in the twelfth century Byzantine Greek revival of the novel. In the sixteenth century, translations of this novel began to appear in Latin and in modern languages, beginning with French. The novel had influence on such varied works as Sir Philip Sidney’s Arcadia (1590, 1593, 1598, originally entitled The Countess of Pembroke’s Arcadia), Miguel de Cervantes’ Los trabajos de Persiles y Sigismunda (1617; The Travels of Persiles and Sigismunda: A Northern History, 1619), and French dramatist Jean Racine’s tragedies.

Additional Resources

(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)

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.

Hunter, Richard, ed. Studies in Heliodorus. Cambridge, England: The Cambridge Philological Society, 1998.