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Chariton, of Aphrodisias in Caria, the author of a Greek romance entitled The Loves of Chaereas and Callirhoe. Recent evidence suggests that the novel was written in the mid 1st century AD, making it the oldest surviving complete ancient prose romance, later imitated by Xenophon of Ephesus and Heliodorus of Emesa, among others.

The Loves of Chaereas and Callirhoe

Spoiler warning: Plot and/or ending details follow.

Plot

The action of the story, which is to a certain extent historical, takes place during the time of the Peloponnesian War. In Syracuse, Chaereas falls madly in love with the beautiful Callirhoe and they are married, but when he suspects her faithlessness, he kicks her so hard that she falls over dead. There is a funeral, and she is shut up in a tomb, but then it turns out she was only in a coma, and wakes up in time to scare the pirates who've opened the tomb to rob it, but they recover quickly, and take her to sell as a slave in Miletus, where the new owner Dionysius falls in love with her and marries her, she being afraid to mention that she is already married (and pregnant). Meanwhile Chaereas has heard she is alive, and has gone looking for her, but is himself captured and enslaved, and yet they both come to the attention of the Great King (of Persia), who must decide on who is her rightful husband, but is thinking about acquiring her for himself. When a war errupts, Chaereas wins a naval victory on behalf of the Egyptians and the lovers are eventually reunited and return in triumph to Syracuse.

Analysis

Undiscovered until the 18th century, and much maligned until the 20th, Chariton's novel nevertheless gives insight into the development of ancient prose fiction. There are echos of Herodotus and Thucydides and other historical and biographical writers from the ancient world. The novel is told in a linear manner; after a brief first person introduction by Chariton, the narrator uses the third person. Much of the novel is told in direct speech, revealing the importance of oratory and rhetorical display (as in the presentation before the King of Persia) and perhaps as well the influence of New Comedy. Dramatic monologues are also used to reveal the conflicted states of the characters' emotions and fears (what should Callirhoe do, given that she is pregnant and alone?). The novel also has some amusing insights into ancient culture (for instance, the pirates decide to sell Callirhoe in Miletus rather than in the equally wealthy Athens, because they considered Athenians to be litigious busybodies who would ask too many questions).

Editions and translations

The novel exists in only one (unreliable) manuscript from the 13th century, and was not published until the 18th century. Editions by J. P. D'Orville (1783), G. A. Hirschig (1856) and R. Hercher (1859); there is an (anonymous) English translation (1764); see also E. Rohde, Der griechische Roman (1900). There is now a recent (1995) translation in the Loeb series, and a translation by B. P. Reardon in his anthology Collected Ancient Greek Novels (1989) ISBN 0-520-04306-5.

Chariton of Aphrodisias and the invention of the Greek love novel, Stefan Tilg

Other ancient Greek novelists:

See also

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