209. Aethiopika (An Ethiopian Romance) by Heliodorus (c. 250 AD)

Plot:  Like Daphnis and Chloe (#203), and Chaereas and Callirhoe (#168), this is another tale of young lovers teased and tortured by Destiny due to their extreme beauty. My version was included in the anthology Collected Ancient Greek Novels, edited by B. P. Reardon, published by University of California Press, ISBN 0520043065.

My thoughts:   This was one of the titles dropped from the1001 Books to Read before You Die list between the earlier and later editions.  And I must say it is not an essential read, more a curiosity due to being an early and substantially sized novel. Unlike its predecessors mentioned above, the author has cleverly started the tale in the middle, keeping the young hero and heroine nameless and a mystery to the reader, and blends their past and present woes into a pattern told by various characters. Pirates, brigands, battles, cruel queens, witches and lusty suitors all threaten the lives and chastity of both the young Charikleia and her one true love Theagenes.

But they are not your ordinary beautiful young Greek couple, for Charikleia is actually the long lost daughter of the Ethiopian King and Queen, born with white skin (as Queen Persina is mesmerised by a painting of Andromeda at the time of Charikleia’s conception) and therefore left exposed in the wilderness with tokens of her identity should she survive to adulthood. But on her eventual return to Ethiopia, she and Theagenes are the first prisoners taken in a war between the Persians and the Ethiopians and must be sacrificed by the King, her true father, who is ignorant of her origins and identity. Will they live happily ever after?

Favourite lines/passages:

“So it is that sometimes even death may  be sweet, if one can see one’s foes die first”  p. 533.

Personal rating:  Pleasant. 5/10

Also in these years: In the hundred years 175-275 AD,

  • Romans are pushed back from the Antonine Wall to Hadrian’s Wall (180 AD), which in turn is breached (196 AD)
  • Carthage has been revived and is flourishing again as a Roman city
  • The leadership of the Christian Church is established in Rome, with the bishop recognised as Pope Victor I (189-199)
  • The assassination of Roman Emperor Severus Alexander in 225 AD ushers in a period of political anarchy in Rome with a string of 26 Emperors in fifty years, and the split of the Empire into three parts

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