Plot: Callirhoe is blessed/cursed with such exceptional beauty that all men fall desperately in love with her. Although she marries Chaereas, the Gods ensure that their life together is filled with turmoil. Jealousy, entombment, abduction by pirates, attacks by brigands, slavery, adultery, crucifixion, courtroom drama and war test their love.
My copy is the Loeb Classical Library volume, edited and translated by G. P. Goold. (ISBN 0674995309). The painting included above is Callirhoe, painted by Raymond Auguste Quinsac Monvoisin (1794-1870)
My thoughts: Who doesn’t love a good melodrama? Possibly the first (earliest surviving) novel, this was a very short and easy read. It could have easily been turned to comedy or tragedy.
Callirhoe frequently curses her own beauty which makes her a target, but also keeps her safe from most harm. Other women are so overwhelmed that they cannot begin to feel jealous, while the powerful men who lust after her are rendered faint from just seeing her, and loathe to do anything which will upset her. The rich Ionian who buys her from the pirates, the local governor and even the King of Persia are all smitten.
The author makes it clear that the Gods are to blame (Love and Fortune mostly) but not from spite or envy.
“Was it not enough for you, Fortune, to have unjustly accused me to Chaereas? … your slanders led me to the grave; now it is to the lawcourt of the King. I have become the gossip of both Asia and Europe. … O treacherous beauty, given me by nature only that earth might be filled with slanders about me! When others enter the courtroom they beg for kindness and sympathy, but my fear is that I may please the eye of the judge” Book 5, page 253
Also interesting that the author Chariton seems to have deliberately interwoven well-known lines from other Greek works (mainly The Iliad and The Odyssey, but also Herodotus and Thucydides) to draw parallels with the emotions and actions of his characters with heroes and heroines from these other works.
The King of Persia rides into battle against the Egyptian forces boasting a bow and quiver of the finest Chinese craftmanship. Trade with China had reached the Greco-Roman world.
Personal rating: Not a famous or grand work, but I was well ready for a simple, relaxing read. 6/10.
Next : The poetry of Propertius.