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Greek Identity and the Athenian Past in Chariton

Greek Identity and the Athenian Past in Chariton: The Romance of Empire

Steven D. Smith
Volume: 9
Copyright Date: 2007
Published by: Barkhuis
Pages: 282
  • Book Info
    Greek Identity and the Athenian Past in Chariton
    Book Description:

    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.

    eISBN: 978-94-91431-45-6
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-VI)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. VII-VIII)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. IX-X)
  4. 1 Introduction: Questions and Context
    (pp. 1-22)

    In the prologue of his novel, Chariton announces to his readers that he will narrate a love story that took place in Syracuse. The narrative begins, however, not with the lovers themselves, but with a figure from Greek historiography: “Hermocrates, the general of the Syracusans, the one who defeated the Athenians, had a daughter named Callirhoe” (Ἑρμοκράτης ὁ Συρακοσίων στρατηγός, οὗτος ὁ νικήσας Ἀθηναίους, εἶχε θυγατέρα Καλλιρόην τοὔνομα, 1.1.1).¹ What is a military general from Greek history doing in a supposedly fictitious love story? One answer is that, despite Chariton’s description of his story as a πάθος ἐρωτικόν, the novel...

  5. 2 Culture and Empire in Representations of Athens
    (pp. 23-49)

    In order to provide a discursive background for the images of Athens in Chariton’s text, the following chapter describes the various ways in which classical Athens is represented by authors roughtly contemporary with Chariton. I have restricted the literary comparanda to thematically relevant works of Greek and Roman prose from the 1st century BC and the 1st century CE, namely Diodorus’Bibliothēkē, Cicero’sPro Flacco, Nepos’Life of Alcibiades, Velleius Paterculus’Historia Romana, Seneca’sDe Tranquilitate Animi, and Plutarch’s orationDe Gloria Atheniensium. This is not to suggest, of course, that poetry of the period did not participate in the...

  6. 3 Chariton’s Athens: Making Men, Women, and States
    (pp. 50-98)

    An overview of Chariton’s text reveals roughly 22 explicit or implied references to Athens or Attica,¹ the significance of which depends on the reader’s point of view. That number may seem small considering that the narrative depicts a vast international landscape and that one of the points of Chariton’s romance is to represent an historically believable world. In such a scheme, it seems only natural that Athens should be a part of the novel’s composition. But of course everything in Chariton’s novel reflects a literary choice – nothing in the novel is “natural.” Furthermore, the Athenian presence in the novel...

  7. 4 Athenian Myth and Drama
    (pp. 99-119)

    The influence of myth and drama on Chariton’s novel have long been noted, but the interest of this chapter will be the specific influence of myth and drama insofar as they convey trans-historical Athenian ideologies. Of particular concern for Chariton’s novel is the way in which Athenian myth shapes the paradoxical concept of the democratic hero. A positivist reading of the novel might focus on the teleological return of the romantic couple to their home in Syracuse and on their reincorporation within the benevolent guided democracy – Callirhoe and Chaereas have come out of the proverbial woods of barbarian tyranny...

  8. 5 Athenian Law, Rhetoric, and Identity
    (pp. 120-152)

    As the secretary of a lawyer from Aphrodisias, Chariton would have had experience in the rhetoric and legal practices of the first century CE in Roman Asia Minor. Whatever familiarity Chariton might have had with Hellenistic treatises on law and rhetorical style¹ would undoubtedly have been grounded in an appreciation of the speeches of Lysias, the great model of the pure, simplified Attic style. The Lysian influence may be most strongly felt in the scene of Chaereas’ assault on his wife following the various intrigues of Callirhoe’s Italian suitors, who have contrived to make it seem that Callirhoe has been...

  9. 6 Historiography and Empire
    (pp. 153-198)

    The intertextual relationship between Chariton’s novel and Greek historiography is immediately discernable from the novel’s brief prologue: “I, Chariton of Aphrodisias, secretary of the rhetor Athenagorus, shall relate a love story¹ which took place in Syracuse” (Χαρíτων Ἀφροδισιεύς, Ἀθηναγόρου τοῦ ῥήτορος ὑπογραφεύς, πάθος ἐρωτικὸν ἐν Συρακούσαις γενόμενον διηγήσομαι, 1.1.1). There are of course two important echoes of Greek literature here: the introductions to the histories of both Herodotus and Thucydides. But Chariton does not blindly imitate his models. Herodotus’ introduction is demonstrative of the work as a whole (Ἡροδότου Ἁλικαρνησσέος ἱστορίης ἀπόδεξις ἥδε), while Thucydides presents himself in the third-person...

  10. 7 Chaereas and Alcibiades
    (pp. 199-248)

    Richard Hunter has provocatively written that Chaereas, “has received even worse treatment at the hands of modern critics than has Callirhoe, despite his intriguing introduction.”¹ The name Chaereas has a long tradition in Greek comedy,² and it is partially within this tradition that Chariton envisioned the hero of his romantic narrative. It is by now clear, however, that Chariton was not influenced solely by dramatic literature. Inquiries into the influence of Middle and New Comedy will continue to shed light on Chariton’s appropriation of the literary tradition, but important work has been done recently to explain Chaereas’ character in not...

  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 249-264)
  12. Indices
    (pp. 265-282)