Friday, 9 February 2018

Leucippe and Clitophon by Achilles Tatius.

The Rape of Europa by Peter Paul Rubens (1628-29).

There are, it is said, five surviving Greek novels: The Loves of Chaereas and Callirhoe by Chariton, (mid-1st century) Daphnis and Chloe by Longus, Ephesian Tale by Xenophon of Ephesus', Heliodorus of Emesa's Aethiopica, and Leucippe and Clitophon by Achilles Tatius, which I read this week. 

Leucippe and Clitophon (τὰ κατὰ Λευκίππην καὶ Kλειτoφῶντα) was written around the 2nd Century A.D. I can't say I had the most fun reading it, but it's short and it's important so it wasn't all that hard. It begins with a description of a painting of the rape of Europa: Ovid describes it in the third book of Metamorphoses: Jupiter, disguised as a bull, carries Europa off into the ocean: her brother attempts to find her but cannot, but ultimately he and some others found Thebes. The narrator describes the painting and then meets Clitophon, who regales the narrator with tales of his adventures. He tells us he fell in love with his cousin Leucippe despite the fact he was to marry Calligone, his half-sister. He is saved, however, when Kallisthenes falls in love with Leucippe and attempts to kidnap her, taking Calligone by mistake. Eventually they elope and leave their home in Tyre but on the way are kidnapped by pirates and taken to Egypt. They are separated and Clitophon believes she is to be sacrificed; happily she is not and they are all rescued by the Egyptians. However another man falls in love with Leucippe: she is rescued by Chaireas, who also falls in love with her and kidnaps her and it appears he beheads her and throws her into the ocean. Time passes and Clitophon returns home where he marries a widow, Melite. Their marriage is unconsummated as he is still in love with Leucippe. He then learns that she is in fact alive, and so too is Thersandros, the husband of Melite believed to be dead. Here follows a rather contrived plot in which Thersandros attempts to frame Clitophon for adultery and murder, however he is unsuccessful and eventually we have our happy ending.

It sounds like a fun read, and for some it may well be. I didn't think it was a bad novel, entertaining in its way, and interesting for the several descriptions of Ancient Greek paintings. In a way it reminds me of Candide: improbable, bawdy, and energetic, with much travelling, and for that we also get a glimpse into the geography of the ancient world. It is very valuable for these reasons, and I'm being a little hard on it: I'd be more interested to see what other people made of it. As for me, it is basically entertaining and I'm happy to have read it at long last!

2 comments:

  1. a reminder, perhaps, that love quadrangles weren't invented by the Elizabethans... haven't read this, but i will if i ever find it...

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    Replies
    1. Indeed! Do let me know what you think, you may well really love it :)

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