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.


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