1001 Reads

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

Friday, June 02, 2006

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

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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!


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