1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Heliodorus

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HELIODORUS, of Emesa in Syria, Greek writer of romance. According to his own statement his father’s name was Theodosius, and he belonged to a family of priests of the sun. He was the author of the Aethiopica, the oldest and best of the Greek romances that have come down to us. It was first brought to light in modern times in a MS. from the library of Matthias Corvinus, found at the sack of Buda (Ofen) in 1526, and printed at Basel in 1534. Other codices have since been discovered. The title is taken from the fact that the action of the beginning and end of the story takes place in Aethiopia. The daughter of Persine, wife of Hydaspes, king of Aethiopia, was born white through the effect of the sight of a marble statue upon the queen during pregnancy. Fearing an accusation of adultery, the mother gives the babe to the care of Sisimithras, a gymnosophist, who carries her to Egypt and places her in charge of Charicles, a Pythian priest. The child is taken to Delphi, and made a priestess of Apollo under the name of Chariclea. Theagenes, a noble Thessalian, comes to Delphi and the two fall in love with each other. He carries off the priestess with the help of Calasiris, an Egyptian, employed by Persine to seek for her daughter. Then follow many perils from sea-rovers and others, but the chief personages ultimately meet at Meroë at the very moment when Chariclea is about to be sacrificed to the gods by her own father. Her birth is made known, and the lovers are happily married. The rapid succession of events, the variety of the characters, the graphic descriptions of manners and of natural scenery, the simplicity and elegance of the style, give the Aethiopica great charm. As a whole it offends less against good taste and morality than others of the same class. Homer and Euripides were the favourite authors of Heliodorus, who in his turn was imitated by French, Italian and Spanish writers. The early life of Clorinda in Tasso’s Jerusalem Delivered (canto xii. 21 sqq.) is almost identical with that of Chariclea; Racine meditated a drama on the same subject; and it formed the model of the Persiles y Sigismunda of Cervantes. According to the ecclesiastical historian Socrates (Hist. eccles. v. 22), the author of the Aethiopica was a certain Heliodorus, bishop of Tricca in Thessaly. It is supposed that the work was written in his early years before he became a Christian, and that, when confronted with the alternative of disowning it or resigning his bishopric, he preferred resignation. But it is now generally agreed that the real author was a sophist of the 3rd century A.D.

The best editions are: A. Coraës (1804), G. A. Hirschig (1856); see also M. Oeftering, H. und seine Bedeutung für die Literatur, with full bibliographies (1901); J. C. Dunlop, History of Prose Fiction (1888); and especially E. Rohde, Der griechische Roman (1900). There are translations in almost all European languages: in English, in Bohn’s Classical Library and the “Tudor” series (v., 1895, containing the old translation by T. Underdowne, 1587, with introduction by C. Whibley); in French by Amyot and Zevort.