Iamblichus of Syria

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(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)

The little known about Iamblichus (i-AM-blih-kuhs) of Syria comes from Saint Photius, a ninth century Byzantine scholar whose Bibliotheca (after 867 c.e.; only selections exist in English translation) includes a summary of his lost novel, the Babyloniaca (165-180 c.e., also known as A Babylonian Tale and The Story of Sinonis and Rhodanes). The evidence from Photius suggests that Iamblichus was most likely a Syrian who spoke the language of Babylon and was familiar with its culture. Photius records Iamblichus’s claim that he had a Greek education as well as references to Roman emperors and military operations that place the composition of the Babyloniaca between 165 and 180 c.e.

Like other early Greek novels, A Babylonian Tale is a romance featuring lovers who must face perils, hardships, and separation before being reunited in a happy ending. In this case, the beautiful Sinonis and her beloved Rhodanes must flee for their lives when Sinonis refuses to marry the king of Babylon. Pursued by his agents, they are in constant danger from sorcerers, robbers, and others until, in the end, Rhodanes becomes king and they are free to live and love without fear.


(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)

Although it survives only in the summary of Photius and fragments preserved in the Suda (twelfth century c.e.), a Byzantine encyclopedia, Iamblichus’s work is an important source for the early history of the novel.

Additional Resources

(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)

Hägg, T. The Novel in Antiquity. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983.

Reardon, B. P. Collected Ancient Greek Novels. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989.

Stephens, S. A., and J. J. Winkler. Ancient Greek Novels: The Fragments. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1995.