BMCR 2010.08.74

Two Novels from Ancient Greece: Chariton’s Callirhoe and Xenophon of Ephesos’ An Ephesian Story: Anthia and Habrocomes

, Two Novels from Ancient Greece: Chariton's Callirhoe and Xenophon of Ephesos' An Ephesian Story: Anthia and Habrocomes. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 2010. xxxvii, 195. ISBN 9781603841924. $13.95 (pb).


Stephen Trzaskoma has produced accurate and fresh translations of the two earliest Greek novels, Chariton’s Callirhoe and Xenophon’s An Ephesian Tale, in a single volume, based on two new editions of the novels in Greek by B. Reardon ( Bibliotheca Teubneriana, 2004) and J. O’Sullivan (Bibliotheca Teubneriana , 2005). A keen textual critic himself, Trzaskoma has published a number of contributions on the novels, offering improvements to the text and identifying additional allusions to classical authors.1 He includes endnotes to both translations detailing his own conjectures and differences with Reardon and Sullivan, all of which bespeaks a complete reexamination of the texts in preparation for his translations. Although no doubt designed for undergraduate courses where these novels will be read by Greekless students, every effort has been made to provide as much information about difficulties in the texts as possible, so these translations will be useful to those interested in the Greek text as well.

An unpretentious introduction that will be very appropriate and useful to students reading ancient novels for the first time covers judiciously the major issues relevant to getting started with these stories: genre, audience, context, date, along with some special problems (the epitome theory for Xenophon), historicity, and intertextuality. Differing views are presented fairly and in a manner that suggests the validity of numerous points of view rather than arguing for a correct one. Trzaskoma makes a case for a higher appreciation of these two “pre-sophistic” novels, based on the literary texture of Chariton and the action-packed simplicity of Xenophon. Brief footnotes with cultural information averaging two per page for Chariton, less for Xenophon, provide plenty of background information. These notes are much more numerous than those that accompany previous translations in the Collected Ancient Greek Novels. Of special interest to Trzaskoma are allusions to classical poetry and prose, and he identifies a number of new ones in Chariton, especially to Xenophon the Athenian. A good bibliography and two maps round out the supplementary material.

Trzaskoma’s translation takes its place among a number of recent new editions and translations, beginning with the publication of Reardon’s collection in 1987 ( Collected Ancient Greek Novels), in which Reardon himself translated Callirhoe and Graham Anderson An Ephesian Tale. For instructors who are teaching a survey of ancient fiction where several novels will be assigned, this remains the standard choice. Bilingual editions of Chariton (ed. and tr. G. P. Goold, 2005) and Xenophon (ed. and tr. J. Henderson, 2009) have also appeared in the Loeb series.2 Unlike Henderson’s Loeb, which combines Xenophon with Longus, the two most dissimilar of the five extant novels , Trzaskoma’s combination of Callirhoe and An Ephesian Tale presents the two novels most like each other, sufficiently similar in some details to indicate direct borrowing. This will make the stand-alone volume more valuable for courses where just a sample of the genre is to be assigned. Trzaskoma’s translation can be best compared to those of Reardon and Anderson, since they are meant for the same audience (as opposed to bilingual editions where English and Greek are meant to be used together).

Translator’s introductions are notorious for clichés, but I found Trzaskoma’s note on texts and translations to be refreshingly useful. He characterizes Chariton’s Greek as a version of koine that is highly literary, but not excessively fussy or above occasional everyday expressions or occasional esoteric words. This suggests an author who, in English, would “end sentences with a preposition,” “split infinitives when it sounded more natural”, and “not be overly concerned about every whom or who, but would never use whom incorrectly when he chose to use it.” I think that is a fair characterization of Chariton and is made in terms that really specify an English register. Using who for whom, splitting infinitives and ending sentences with a preposition are things that most of us do in speech, and even from time to time in formal writing; but we all know people who will jump all over such “errors.” On the other hand, using whom incorrectly for who is a different kind of affectation, and unnatural transformations of normal sentence structure to avoid a final preposition occur now mostly for humorous effect (I am sure you know about what I am talking). I found Trzaskoma’s explanation very much to the point and observed particular examples of just this kind of looseness in diction from time to time in his translation of Chariton. But it is not the details in this or that passage, but the overall effect that is important, and in general this translation reads better than Reardon’s. A rather simple formatting change that makes reading this translation easier is the way Trzaskoma has broken up the text into shorter paragraphs, perhaps a concession to the web-browsing generation. And speaking of small favors, thanks for indicating the book numbers at the top of each page. It is so annoying to search for a particular passage by book and chapter in Collected Ancient Greek Novels.

Graham Anderson recommends Xenophon’s novel as “a specimen of penny dreadful literature in antiquity.” Trzaskoma more kindly characterizes it as the ancient equivalent of a “rip-roaring action film.” He describes Xenophon’s style with the single word “blunt.” Despite occasional ornamentation in laments, according to Trzaskoma , Xenophon rarely strives for unusual effects in language, more like New Testament prose with its short sentences strung together with καὶ. Trzaskoma identifies the key pitfall in rendering both Chariton and Xenophon to be “creeping irony,” treating the originals “as if they were beneath the translations.” Anyone who has taught these novels knows what he is talking about. For example, students don’t know how they are supposed to take the multiple knee-jerk suicidal laments, finding them ridiculous and improbable, and immediately suspect some kind of authorial condescension. The trick, as Trzaskoma notes, is to produce something readable and yet give a sense of how these authors came across in antiquity, and in this I think he has succeeded admirably. Here is a short example.

In An Ephesian Tale 5.1 we are treated to the story of the poor Spartan Aigialeus and his common-law wife Thelxinoe. The latter has died and her body is kept by Aigialeus, embalmed Egyptian-style. “I speak to her as though she is alive,” he says, and συγκατάκειμαι καὶ συνευωχοῦμαι. Anderson translates “I lie down beside her and have my meals with her,” and suggests a reminiscence of Alcestis 348-53, where Admetus promises to keep a likeness of his dying wife in his bedroom. Trzaskoma translates “I get on the couch with her and we eat together,” citing the comment of Diodorus Siculus (1.92.6) that poorer Egyptians would keep mummies in their homes rather than placing them in tombs. Henderson translates “I can lay with her and dine with her,” by this non-standard use of the verb “lay” perhaps trying to insinuate an answer to the question most students have about this passage. The Egyptian connection is surely more to the point than Euripides’ Alcestis, but I think it is the Egyptian custom of celebrating and feasting at tombs that is the background for this, and the belief that the dead could enjoy physical pleasures such as food and drink, not the keeping of mummies at home, if that ever happened. The hint in this passage of necrophilia, a charge against Egyptians that had some currency perhaps because of their attention to dead bodies (cf. Herodotus 2.89), is minimized in Trzaskoma’s translation of this passage, correctly in my view. A few sentences earlier, Aigialeus says of Thelxinoe’s corpse, καὶ ἀεὶ φιλῶ καὶ σύνειμι. Trzaskoma translates “I’m always kissing her and spending time with her.” Anderson sanitizes slightly: “I always have her company and adore her.” Henderson is again just a tiny little bit more salacious: “I am always kissing her and being with her.” In both cases, I think Trzaskoma has hit the right note. It is supposed to be weird, but not too weird. The hero Habrocomes, after all, finds this story downright inspiring.

I stumbled on a couple of apparent oversights: in one ( Callirhoe 4.7.1) a short clause inexplicably drops out (“fearing the slanders and wrath of the king”); in another ( Callirhoe 6.8.6) the expression τὸ … ἐν Βαβυλῶνι κατειλῆφθαι is translated as “(that this) had happened in Babylon” when the sense requires something like “this had been reported to the king while in Babylon,” or “that the king had been found = happened to be in Babylon.”

It is interesting to me that my students who read these two novels back to back (first Xenophon, then Chariton) almost always prefer Xenophon in informal polls that I take each term. They are perhaps conditioned to be more interested in the ancient equivalent of a rip-roaring action film than they are by a text with learned allusions. In any case, it is valuable to read them together, and this new text will make that easy and inexpensive to do.


1. “Chariton and Tragedy: Reconsiderations and New Evidence,” American Journal of Philology 131.2 (2010) 219–231; “Aristophanes in Chariton (Plu. 744, Eq. 1244, Eq. 670),” Philologus 153.2 (2009) 351–353; “Echoes of Thucydides’ Sicilian Expedition in Three Greek Novels,” Classical Philology (forthcoming). “Callirhoe, Concubinage, and a Corruption in Chariton 2.11.5,” Exemplaria Classica (forthcoming); “Why Miletus? Chariton’s Choice of Setting and Xenophon’s Anabasis,” Mnemosyne (forthcoming). “Citations of Xenophon in Chariton,” in K. Chew and J. R. Morgan, eds., The Greek Novel and the Second Sophistic, Ancient Narrative Supplementum (forthcoming).

2. There are also stand-alone translations of Achilles Tatius (tr. Tim Whitmarsh, 2001) and Longus (tr. R. McCail, 2002) in the Oxford World Classics Series. A new Loeb of Achilles Tatius is forthcoming, edited and translated by S. Trzaskoma as well. There is also a school text of Chariton, Book 1, by C. K. Prince (2009), with an incredibly ugly Greek font in the Bryn Mawr series; there is an excellent school text for Longus, edited by E. Cueva and S. Byrne (Bolchazy-Carducci, 2005); and there is another bilingual edition of Longus with literary commentary by J. Morgan (Aris and Phillips, 2004).