Tag Archives: Chariton

Book 3: Chaireas and Kallirhoe

Book 3, Chaireas and Kallirhoe, was new to me (as far as I can remember). I found it at Scribd at http://www.scribd.com/doc/16681975/Claritons-Chaireas-and-Kallirhoe. The inclusion of this earliest extant Greek novel in the 1001 Books is not defined except to say “Kallirhoe’s fate at the hands of her two lovers inspires readers to root for a woman to commit adultery, and find her own voice” (25). I’m not sure what to make of this comment. Is the writer of this entry is suggesting then that the text should be read as feminist or it inspires the reader to be a feminist? Both? Neither? Linking adultery to finding one’s voice is problematic, though. Committing adultery is not a feminist act in and of itself, though finding one’s voice might be celebrated by a feminist reader / critic. Hmmmm.

According to Wikipedia, which I too find amusing that I consulted, Edmond Cueva notes that “recent evidence of fragments of the text on papyri suggests that the novel may have been written in the mid 1st century AD, making it the oldest surviving complete ancient prose romance and the only one to make use of apparent historiographical features for background verisimilitude and structure, in conjunction with elements of Greek mythology, as Callirhoë is frequently compared to Aphrodite and Ariadne and Chaereas to numerous heroes, both implicitly and explicitly. As the fiction takes place in the past, and historical figures interact with the plot, Callirhoe may be understood as the first historical novel; it was later imitated by Xenophon of Ephesus and Heliodorus of Emesa, among others.” This would better explain its importance.

I located the Cueva article both in the Project Muse and Jstor electronic databases. This scholarly piece is actually part of a larger body of research arguing whether this text should be considered a historical novel (or not). Many scholars consider the genre of historical novel to have been invented by Sir Walter Scott with his novels of Scottish history, including Waverley (1814) and Rob Roy (1818). Such novels are credited for renewing interest in previous eras, such as Ivanhoe (1820) renewing interest in the Middle Ages. Other famous historical novels in this vein include Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1831) and even Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace.

In “Plutarch’s Ariadne in Chariton’s Chaereas and Callirhoe,” Cueva argues that Chaireas and Kallirhoe does the same for its readers as Scott’s did. He writes “is the earliest extant Greek novel, and the only one of its genre to make extensive use of historiographical features.” These features are described as “verifiable historical detail,” and “signed dates, accurately related events and realistically depicted places and figures of the novel” which are used to create “the effect of openly mixing fictitious characters and events with historical ones” (2). Certainly, critics have argued the difference between “historiographic” and “historical,” but for my purposed here, the difference is moot. What is remarkable about the text is that is demonstrates that historical fiction was not created in the nineteenth century.

In addition to that important function of the text, we should also consider it for its treatment of a female hero, her two lovers, and her loyalty to both. Though having read the text I would not consider it feminist in least, it does present Kallirhoe differently than I would expect to read of a Greek wife in that she is both prominent and problematic in her behavior. S. Wiersma, in “The Ancient Greek Novel and Its Heroines: A Female Paradox,” discusses this, what she calls “the dominant role,” and how despite our understanding of traditional roles for women in Greek society, these female heroes “from the viewpoint of the audience . . . probably acted within the bounds of familiar and socially acceptable female behaviour” (2). Wiersma argues that the paradoxical description of Kallirhoe with both “modesty and prominence” (2) was characteristic of her real counterparts in Greek society. That I cannot speak to, but certainly this paradox is present in Kallirhoe. The example Wiersma uses that speaks to me the most “her faithfulness did not make her insensitive to the feelings of other men, and Callirhoe touches us” when despite her compete happiness with returning to her husband, “she remembers her former patron, who so dearly wanted to be happy with her. She has a subtle understanding of his situation and feels all he did” (12). She writes to tell him that.

I didn’t like the romance. I didn’t like the two lovers. I’m not a prude; I know that a person can love more than one person at a time. Nonetheless, it just didn’t work for me. She loves him; she loves him not. She loves another. No, she doesn’t. Whatever. Honestly, it would not have been on my list if I were drafting the most important 1001 books of all time, unless I was including it simply for its age.

Until next time, happy reading!


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