An Ethiopian Romance

An Ethiopian Romance

by Heliodorus of Emesa

The man was disfigured with wounds, but seemed to rouse himself a little as from a deep sleep, almost of death itself.

Pain had clenched his eyes, but the sight of the maiden drew them toward her.

By the time Heliodorus wrote his "Aethiopica"--or "Ethiopian Romance"--in the third century, the genre was already impressively developed.

Heliodorus launches his tale of love and the quirks of fate with a bizarre scene of blood, bodies, and booty on an Egyptian beach viewed through the eyes of a band of mystified pirates.

The central love-struck characters are Charicles, the beautiful daughter of the Ethiopian queen, and Theagenes, a Thessalian aristocrat.

  • Language: English
  • Category: Classics
  • Rating: 3.55
  • Pages: 277
  • Publish Date: 1999 by University of Pennsylvania Press
  • Isbn10: 0812216725
  • Isbn13: 9780812216721

What People Think about "An Ethiopian Romance"

The most commonly cited first novel is The Tale of Genji, dated to the late tenth, early eleventh century. If you google the words "oldest novel", Genji is the top result. Heliodorus's work, alternatively known as Aithiopika, An Ethiopian Story, etc. The truly oldest novel known to the modern world, Chariton's Callirhoe, was written in the first century of the common era, almost a thousand years before Genji. He references Aithiopika in Twelfth Night when he writes: Why should I not, had I the heart to do it, Like to the Egyptian thief at point of death, Kill what I love?

And the development of literature from ancient to post-modern has not been one of gradual linear progress from primitive to a sudden late discovery of advanced forms, but rather, everything inventive that goes into the creation of a great novel has been with us for a long long time, and there have been a great variety of interesting digressions and quirks along the way, all participating in a sort of dialog of innovation. The book is notable for it's elaborate narrative structure, and intertwining of lives and stories. As a minor addendum, regarding the version edited by J.R. Morgan, in the B.P. Reardon collection Collected Ancient Greek Novels (a very valuable collection that Moore pointed me to), I felt there were too many intrusive notes.

Along with a couple of Roman novels and some other Greek prose works that are novel-esque, these texts make up a fascinating and underappreciated (although happily this may be slowly changing) subset of ancient literature. Now, while the ancient Greek novels have their merits, I would definitely describe them as second-tier classics, in the sense that if I were to recommend 5-10 Greco-Roman books to someone, these would be unlikely to make the cut. I would put this up with Daphnis and Chloe as the best of the ancient Greek novels, and I would recommend either to readers interested in the development of the novel or just looking for an entertaining and exciting story.

For me it felt quite repetitive and the women were - as expected - not the kinds of feminine characters I like to spend my time with. I found the book a bit overly dramatic and far too repetitive.

It seemed like these two lovers were cursed by being so beautiful that they couldnt walk down the street without someone wanting to kidnap them and/or force them into marriage or relationships.

Socrates Scholasticus (5th century AD) identifies the author of Aethiopica with a certain Heliodorus, bishop of Trikka.