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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Heliodorus of Emesa (Third Century)
Critical and Biographical Introduction
 
OUR English—or more generally, our modern—novel is the progeny of the Greek romance of Heliodorus. If the self-respecting, simple-minded old bishop could have foreseen the vast concourse of the children of his mind, as numerous as the sands of his native Syria, would he have suppressed it? A legend still preserved leads one to think he would not; for Heliodorus, according to the account, had the courage of his romance-writing. The story says that after some Thessalian young persons, in the fourth century, had been misled to love by this Æthiopica of Heliodorus, the synod of the Church decreed that such amorous and inflaming literature should be committed to the flames, or the author deprived of his bishopric of Tricca. To the glory of Heliodorus, it should be added that he preferred resigning his prelacy to suppressing his genius.  1
  Heliodorus was not the first romance writer. Other Greeks had humanized Oriental allegory, parable, and fictitious narrative,—the Greek race was wont to humanize whatever of outlandish art or religion came to it; and the Greek story-tellers, even before the Bishop of Tricca, made their heroes men and their heroines women, living natural lives without the intervention of genii or magic. But the tales of these forerunners have not been saved except in summaries. It was Heliodorus whose art so charmed that it preserved his little tales, and became a model for Longus, Achilles Tatius, and others who came after him. There is no better example in all literature of the quiet, silent working through centuries of a book of genuine human value. To his contemporaries Heliodorus was of so small value that the closing sentence of his romance—“Thus endeth the Æthiopian historie of Theagenes and Cariclia, the author wereof is Heliodorus of Emesos, a citie in Phœnicia, sonne of Theodosius, which fetched his petigree from the Sunne”—is about all the record we have of him.  2
  His romance was brought to modern light by a German soldier, who in the plunder of a library at Buda in 1526, attracted by the rich binding of a manuscript, stole it. He brought his treasure westward and sold it to Vincent Obsopæus, who published it in Basle in 1534. “Until this period,” says Huet in his treatise on the origin of romances (Huet was a courtier of Louis XIV.), “nothing had been seen better conceived or better executed than those adventures of Theagenes and Chariclea. Nothing can be more chaste than their loves, in which the author’s own virtuous mind assists the religion of Christianity, which he professed, in diffusing over the whole work that air of honnêteté in which almost all the earlier romances are deficient. The incidents are numerous, novel, probable, and skillfully unfolded. The dénouement is admirable: it is natural; it grows out of the subject; and it is in the highest degree touching and pathetic.” Quickly told, the story is this. The lovers—Chariclea, a priestess of Delphi, and Theagenes, a descendant of Achilles—fly to Egypt. After many adventures and misfortunes, they come to Æthiopia and are about to suffer immolation to the sun and moon, when it is revealed that Chariclea is the daughter of the king reigning in that country. By a miracle she had been born white. The marriage of the lovers follows.  3
  In 1547 Jacques Amyot translated the story into French. It also found a translation into several other languages, and has exerted a wide influence upon fictitious narrative. It was universally read. “Heliodorus, that good Bishop of Tricca,” says Montaigne in one of his essays, “rather chose to lose the dignity, profit, and devotion of so venerable a prelacy than to lose his daughter: a daughter that continues to this day very graceful and comely; but notwithstanding, peradventure a little too curiously and wantonly trickt, and too amorous, for an ecclesiastical and sacerdotal daughter.” In this century of the reappearance also,—the century in which Montaigne wrote,—Tasso, promising the courtiers of the French King that such favorite reading of theirs should be preserved in the glories of Italian verse, transferred to the heroine Clorinda the incidents of the birth and early life of Chariclea; Tasso’s friend Guarini imitated the proposed sacrifice and the discovery of the birth of Chariclea in his pastoral drama ‘Pastor Fido.’ The boyhood of Racine, it is also said, was lighted by Heliodorus’s story; for when at Port Royal, his imagination well-nigh smothered by the mass of dry erudition the monks had heaped upon him, he came by chance upon this romance. The fathers burnt the first copy, and the second, and a third, but the mischief had been done; Racine’s imagination had been saved, and throughout his life the story was beloved of him. Both French and English writers of tragedy have used the plot for plays; and Raphael, aided by Giulio Romano, took two of the most striking incidents of the story for his canvases. In one he has painted the moment when Theagenes and Chariclea meet in the temple of Delphi; in the other, Chariclea on board the Tyrian ship is imploring the captain of the pirates that she may not be separated from her lover and the Egyptian priest. Says Charles Whibley in his Introduction to the romance:
          “The invention of Heliodorus carries the reader far away from life and observation. Bloodthirsty pirates and armed men, caves and ambushes, dreams and visions, burnings, poisonings, and sudden deaths, battle and rapine,—these are the material of his ancient story…. It is in his opening scene that Heliodorus best approves his skill. He plunges at once into a very tangle of events, and captures the attention by a fearless contempt of prologue and explanation…. Throughout, the author shows himself a master of construction. Though his plot be involved, though his story begin anywhere else than at the beginning, it is the surest of hands which holds the thread…. The purpose of the narrative is never confused, and you reach the appointed end with a complete consciousness of the story’s shape and construction…. For him the adventure was the beginning and the end of art…. There was never a writer who closed his senses more resolutely to the sights and sounds of actuality. In him the faculty of observation was replaced by the self-consciousness of the littérateur. Not even his vocabulary was fresh or original. Coray, the wisest of his editors, has proved that he borrowed his words as ingeniously as he concocted his episodes. His prose, in fact, is elaborately composed of tags from Homer and the Tragedians.”
  4
  The Greek text has been many times edited,—most successfully by Coray, whose edition appeared in Paris in 1804. The following are two episodes taken from the English version of Underdowne—“An Æthiopian Historie written in Greeke by Heliodorus no lesse wittie then pleasaunt Englished by Thomas Underdowne and newly corrected and augmented with divers and sundry new additions by the said authour whereunto is also annexed the argument of every booke in the beginning of the same for the better understanding of the storie. 1587.” The relation to the Greek original is often remote or casual; the version is of great independent value, however, as a monument of English prose.  5
 
 
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