1001 Reads

Regularly updated blog charting the most important novels of the last 2000 and something years

Sunday, June 11, 2006

4. Heliodorus - An Ethiopian Romance (Aithiopika) c.250

Buy it at Amazon UK or US.


Francisco: This novel is actually quite similar to the previous one, Callirhoe but while Callirhoe is a very linear novel this one is much more innovative in terms of storytelling. Firstly it starts after a disaster has happened, and you only understand why it has happened in a flashback quite into the book. The use of flashbacks is quite overwhelming here, in fact about two thirds of the book is done in meta-narrative where some guy is telling what happened in the past to another guy. This novel also relies a lot more on description that Carllihoe and that is interesting, while sometimes a bit of overindulgence is present in the descriptions, making them frankly boring.

Plotwise, it is indeed very similar to Callirhoe. Two star-crossed lovers keep being sold as slaves, so on and so forth the girl Charicleia is again very beautiful and that again causes her an innumerable number of problems. The twist in this one is that she is actually a princess of Ethiopia trying to go back home to parents she has never seen, with her husband to be. Another interesting fact is the suppostion the Heliodorus the writer might have actually have been black, as the portrayal of the Ethiopians is in fact a very positive one, and although the heroine is not actually black, because her mother stared at an image of white Andromeda while conceiving (an ancient myth), she is still an Ethiopian and questing to go back to her rightful place in the Ethiopian royal family.

The typical Greek despise of barbarians is quite absent from this story, and although we don't know much of Heliodorus the idea that he might be the first black novelist is quite an attractive theory. But no more than that.

Vanda: Well, that's slightly better! I won't lie to you - it's basically the same story from Callirhoe, but more complexly written, more plot developments, and more tragedy. A lot more tragedy.

The mains characters are still annoying, but thankfully secondary characters play larger roles in this book, which adds interest. Arsace, for example, is a fascinating character (but maybe it's just like me to root for the baddie), and Callarisis vocalizes so much of the narrative that you also sort of miss him when he's gone.

It also offers a view of hellenistic scientific theories which are fascinating, to say the least. There are narratives and meta-narratives, and meta-meta narratives which might make you stop and think for a couple of seconds (in the line of "What? Who? Who's telling this again?") but nothing too confusing, and it definetly adds something to the book.

Heliodorus also seems to try and pack as much tragedy, or possibility for tragedy for the heroes as much as he can in this work, except when he gets distracted relating some battles and a siege towards the end. I was desperatly trying to finish the book quickly (because I knew, just knew, that you were all trembling with antecipation for a new review...), and everytime I started to relax a bit in the last couple of pages, Heliodorus would throw ome more tragic possibilities my way. The good news is, although the heroes still whine along the lines of "oh-poor-us-we're-so-beautiful!", and are always, annoyingly, very True Love Waits, they don't whine half as much as that Callirhoe freak. Which is a good thing, obviously.

Satire, here I come! (Finally!)

Final Grade

Francisco: 6/10
Vanda: 6/10 (damn, originality foiled again!)


from Wiki

The rapid succession of events, the variety of the characters, the graphic descriptions of manners and of natural scenery, and the simplicity and elegance of the style give the Aethiopica great charm. But what has been regarded as most remarkable is that the novel opens in the middle of the story ("in medias res") with a mystery that is solved for the reader only through a complex thread of retrospective narratives or dialogues in which various characters describe their adventures. This feature makes the Aethiopica stand out from all the other ancient Greek romances.

The Aethiopica was first brought to light during Renaissance times in a manuscript from the library of Matthias Corvinus, found at the sack of Buda (today the western part of Budapest) in 1526, and printed at Basel in 1534. Other codices have since been discovered. It was first translated into French by the celebrated translator Jacques Amyot in 1547. It was first translated into English in 1569 by Thomas Underdowne, who used the 1551 Latin translation of Stanislaus Warschewiczki to create his Aethiopian Historie.

Friday, June 02, 2006

3. Chariton - Callirhoe (1st century BCE to 1st century CE)

Buy it

At Amazon UK or US.


Francisco: Firstly as a disclaimer, I am calling it Callirhoe and not Chaireas and Kallirhoe because the introduction to my version makes quite a convinving case for why that should be its title... read it if you want to know more.

Well, this was an interesting read, mostly because of how modern it reads and how easy a read it is when compared to Ovid for example. In fact this was a very popular light read of the ancient world. The kind of stuff they'd sell at the Triremeport bookstores. "I'll have a tzatziki sandwich and a Callirhoe to spend some time between Ithaca and Corfu", I hear echoing down the ages. Actually It is a quite short novel as well as a light one.

Callirhoe is a very funny book, but in a very unintentional way. It is basically a melodrama, but one which takes things to such a level of pathos that you can't help but snigger all the way through the book. The suicide attempts and near death experiences of Chaireas are particularly funny, as he is always very disappointed wit the fact that he survives. Also extremely funny is the notion that Callirhoe is a woman who has a very sad life by the fact that every one who looks at her falls in love with her, making for some overly dramatic moments where she bemoans her good looks.

The pacing of the novel itself is very fast, and this is helped by the great amounts of direct dialogue in the novel, making the plot flow along nicely. It was an easy read then and so it is now, and I think the merit of this goes to the translation which managed to put a 2000 year old book in a register somewhat similar to the one that the literate greek would get from it. Definitely worth a read.

Well, that was interesting! It's not everyday that I'm rooting for the hero of a book to die, already!, you and your revoltingly annoying little oh-poor-me-I'm-so-beautiful twit of a wife.

I'm sure the Other Half has already given you some plot details (remember, we're not discussing the books until after the reviews are written), so I'll save you having to read them twice.

Let me put it this way - if you enjoy pulpy, overly dramatic stories, you'll love this one. If you have no patience for teeth-gnashingly absurdly over the top chest beating, hair tearing, and suicide attempting then steer well clear of this book. Yes, I'm aware I can't be post-modern and judge this work by contemporary standards, but I'm also aware that I genuinely didn't like it. What made Cisco laugh (probably) made me roll my eyes in annoyance.

There wasn't one character that I liked, or even warmed to throughout the book. The plot isn't really that interesting although it advances quickly when Callirhoe isn't screaming the shopping list of abuse that befell her (really, she keeps doing this), and since the book is mostly dialog, and is also mercifully quite short, so you can easily read through it in a couple of days.

This could probably be turned into a successful shoujo manga.

Final Grade

Francisco 7/10
Vanda 3/10


The fun bit! :

The novel exists in only one (unreliable) manuscript from the 13th century, and was not published until the 18th century. Editions by J. P. D'Orville (1783), G. A. Hirschig (1856) and R. Hercher (1859); there is an (anonymous) English translation (1764); see also E. Rohde, Der griechische Roman (1900). There is now a recent (1995) translation in the Loeb series, and a translation by B. P. Reardon in his anthology Collected Ancient Greek Novels (1989) ISBN 0-520-04306-5.

The main characters are soooooooooooooooooo annoying!