Achilles Tatius (in Greek Αχιλλεύς Τάτιος) was a Roman era Greek writer whose fame is attached to his only surviving work, the erotic romance The Adventures of Leucippe and Cleitophon.
Life and minor works
Very little is known of the author; and the little which is known from the sources, represented by Photius and the Suda, are often misleading. This is the case with Heliodorus' romance Aethiopica, which the Suda erroneously places in the 5th century ADand considers the source of Leucippe and Cleitophon; far from it, modern scholars believe, on the ground of papyrus finds connected to the latter romance, that the author must have lived between the second half of the 2nd century and the first half of the 3rd century. Instead, it is generally accepted that he was a rhetorician of Alexandria.
The Suda also ascribes to the author a work on the sphere (in Greek περι σφαιρας), a fragment of which professing to be an introduction to the Phaenomena of Aratus is still extant (in Greek Eισαγoγη εις τα Aρατoυ φαινoμενα). This work is referred to by Firmicus Maternus, who about 336 speaks of the prudentissimus Achilles in his Matheseos libri (Math. iv. 10). The work itself is considered of no particular value. The fragment was first published in 1567, then in the Uranologion of the Jesuit scholar Dionysius Petavius, with a Latin translation in 1630. The same source also mentions a work of Achilles Tatius on etymology, and another entitled Miscellaneous Histories; as both are lost, it is impossible to determine which Achilles was their author.
Leucippe and Cleitophon
Spoiler warning: Plot and/or ending details follow.
Achilles' romance, The Adventures of Leucippe and Cleitophon (in Greek τα κατα Λευκιππην και Kλειτoφων) has came down to us in its entirety, divided into eight books.
The plot is as follows:
At the book's start, the romancer is approached by a young man called Kleitophon who is induced by a picture to talk of his adventures. Kleitophon begins telling how he was born in Tyre and fell in love with Leucippe, his cousin (despite his being already promised in marriage to his own half-sister Kalligone). He sought the advice of another male cousin (Kleinias), who was experienced in love (he had a young male lover). After a number of tender scenes, Leucippe returned Kleitophon's love, but Kleitophon's father began preparing his son's marriage to his sister. This marriage was avoided however when a young man from Byzantium (Kallisthenes), hearing of Leucippe's beauty, came to Tyre to kidnap Leucippe, but by mistake kidnapped Kleitophon's sister.
Kleitophon attempted to visit Leucippe at night in her room, but her mother was awakened by an ominous dream. Fearing her reprisals, Leucippe decided to elope with Kleitophon, his servant and his cousin. The group boarded a ship and met another unhappy lover (Menelaos, responsible for his own boyfriend's murder). The ship encountered a storm and was broken apart. Leucippe and Kleitophon came to Egypt, but they were captured by Nile delta bandits. Kleitophon was rescued, but Leucippe was sentenced to be sacrificed. Kleitophon witnessed the sacrifice and went to commit suicide on her grave, but she was in fact still alive and the sacrifice had been staged by his captured friends using theatrical props.
Although the group seemed finally safe, an Egyptian general fell in love with Leucippe, and she then fell stricken in a state of madness. This madness was the effect of a strange love potion given her by another rival, but Leucippe was saved by an antidote given by a helpful stranger (Chaireas). At the destruction of the camp of the Nile bandits, the lovers and their friends made for Alexandria, but were again betrayed: Leucippe was kidnapped from a banquet by Chaireas and during the boat pursuit to rescue her, the kidnappers chopped her head off and threw her to the waves.
Kleitophon returned to Alexandria distraught, but a widowed lady from Ephesus (Melite) fell in love with him and convinced him to marry her. Kleitophon refused to consummate the marriage till they should be in Ephesus. Once there, while visiting the lady's lands, he discovered Leucippe, who was still alive... another woman had been decapitated in her stead and she had been sold into slavery. The widowed lady's husband (Thersandros) -- who was also still alive -- returned home, and this jealous husband attempted to both rape Leucippe and frame Kleitophon for murder, with the help of his servant (Sosthenes).
Eventually, Kleitophon's innocence is proven (he has also remained almost chaste: he slept with Melite only once); Leucippe proves her virginity by entering the magical temple of Artemis; Leucippe's father (Sostratos) comes to Ephesus and it is revealed that Kleitophon's father gives the lovers his blessing. The lovers can finally marry in Byzantium, Leucippe's town, and Kleitophon's sister's kidnapper is also shown to have become a true and honest husband.
The first appraisal of this work comes from Photius' Bibliotheca, where we find: "the diction and composition are excellent, the style distinct, and the figures of speech, whenever they are employed, are well adapted to the purpose. The periods as a rule are aphoristic, clear and agreeable, and soothing to the ear". To this Photius added a moralistic bias that would long persecute the author: "the obscenity and impurity of sentiment impair his judgment, are prejudicial to seriousness, and make the story disgusting to read or something to be avoided altogether." Past scholars have passed scathing comments on the work, as that present in the 11th edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica (1911), which brands the novel's style as artificial and labored, full of incidents "highly improbable", and whose characters "fail to enlist sympathy". Today's judgements tend to be more balanced, valuing the elements of originality that the author introduces in the genre of the romance.
The most striking of these elements may be considered the abandonement of the omniscient narrator, dominant in the ancient romance, for a first person narration. To this is added Achilles Tatius' use of ecphrasis: the novel opens with an admirable description of a painting of the rape of Europa, and also includes descriptions of other paintings such as Andromeda being saved by Perseus and Prometheus being liberated by Hercules.
Achilles Tatius takes pleasure in asides and digressions on mythology and the interpretation of omens, descriptions of exotic beasts (crocodiles, hippopotami) and sights (the Nile delta, Alexandria), and discussions of amorous matters (such as kisses, or whether women or boys make better lovers). His descriptions of confused and contradictory emotional states (fear, hope, shame, jealousy, and desire) are exemplary ("baroque" conceits such as these would be frequently imitated in the Renaissance). There are also several portrayals of almost sadistic cruelty (Leucippe's fake sacrifice and, later, decapitation; Kleitophon chained in prison or beaten by Melite's husband; Prometheus's torture) that share much with Hellenistic sculpture (such as the "Dying Gaul" or the "Laocoön and his Sons").
The romance's modern editions
The large number of existing manuscripts attests the novel's popularity. A part of it was first printed in a Latin translation by Annibal della Croce (Crucejus), in Lyon, 1544; his complete translation appeared in Basel in 1554. The first edition of the Greek original appeared in Heidelberg, 1601, printed together with similar works of Longus and Parthenius; another edition was that published by Salmasius in Leiden, 1640, with a voluminous commentary. The first important critical edition came out with Friedrich Jacobs in Leipzig, 1821.
There are translations in many languages. The first English translation was William Burton's The Most Delectable and Pleasaunt History of Clitiphon and Leucippe, first published in 1597 and reprinted in 1999; it was followed by those of Anthony Hodges (1638), R. Smith (1855), S. Gaselee (1917), J. Winkler (1989), and Tim Whitmarsh (2001).
A first partial French translation (most likely based on the Latin edition) appeared in 1545 by Philibert de Vienne. The first complete French translation was published in 1568 by François de Belleforest.
Leucippe and Clitophon is the key source for The Story of Hysmine and Hysminias, by the 12th century AD Greek author Eustathius Macrembolites (or Eumathius). This book was frequently translated in the Renaissance.
Leucippe and Clitophon is also imitated in Historia de los amores de Clareo y Florisea by the Spanish writer Alonso Nuñez de Reinoso (Venice, 1552). This novel was translated into French as Les Amours de Florisee et Clareo et de la peu fortunee Ysea by Jacques Vincent (Paris, 1554).
A French adaptation of Achilles Tatius' novel (with significant changes) was published as Les adventureuses et fortunees amours de Pandion et d’Yonice (1599) by Jean Herembert, sieur de la Rivière.
"Achilleus Statios" in the Suda
"Achilles Tatius" in the Encyclopædia Britannica (1911)
Del Corno, Dario; Letteratura greca (1988)
Photius, Bibliotheca, J.H. Freese (translator) (1920)
Smith, William; Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology, "Achilles Tatius", Boston, (1867)
Leukippe and Kleitophon synopsis
Other ancient Greek novelists:
Xenophon of Ephesus - The Ephesian Tale
Heliodorus of Emesa - The Aethiopica
Longus - Daphnis and Chloe
Chariton - The Loves of Chaereas and Callirhoe
Medieval Greece / Byzantine Empire
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