I, Chariton of Aphrodisias, secretary of the rhetor Athenagorus, shall relate a love story that took place in Syracuse. Thus begins the earliest of the canonical Greek romances, the 1st century CE historical novel known as Callirhoe. Chariton's erotic tale is about the constancy of love in a world where virtue is always in danger of being corrupted. Chaereas and Callirhoe fall in love, but then are tragically separated after the heroine, believed dead, is buried alive. Each is eventually sold into slavery in the East, and Callirhoe herself contemplates the abortion of her unborn child when she is forced to marry a man she does not love. Hero and heroine are finally reunited in the foreign city of Babylon, only to be plunged into a war between Persia and Egypt.Classical Athenian historiography, philosophy, oratory, myth and drama were all integral in shaping this timely work of fiction set in the years following Athens' doomed Sicilian Expedition (415-413 BC). Chariton's novel is more, though, than just a romanticized representation of a famous episode from Greek history. The novel is clearly meant to be read for pleasure, but it also has a political edge. By imaginatively redeploying Athenian literature and political discourse in the construction of his fictional world, Chariton gives voice to contemporary concerns about freedom, tyranny, the ever-expanding meaning of Greek identity, and the role of Greek culture in a world dominated by Rome. This is a book that will be of value to anyone interested in Greek literature, the classical tradition, and the complex relationship between art and empire.
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