Biography of Heliodoro de Emesa (s. IV)

Bishop and natural, Greek writer of Emesa in Syria, lived at the end of the fourth century of the Christian era, in the reign of Theodosius and his sons. He/She was Bishop of metric, in Thessaly, and was made famous by a novel that he/she wrote entitled the Ethiopian or loves of Theagenes and Cariclea, chronologically the last of the Greek novels which are preserved and which more succeeded in Renaissance and Baroque Europe both Byzantium and whose manuscript was found by chance in Buda in the library of the King of Hungary; many translations and editions have been made of it, and it gives curious details about Egypt.

At the end of the novel the author claims to be a native of Phoenician Emesa, where starting from the time of Elagabalus charged major solar monotheism suggesting its name (Heliodoro = "gift of the Sun"). A former source speaks of his subsequent conversion to Christianity, becoming Bishop, but it is not certain that we should give credence to such news, which also circulated about Aquiles Tacio. The date of the novel itself is discussed, and scholars have proposed dates ranging between the second quarter of the third century and the second half of the 4th ad, perhaps the most plausible is the latter.

The plot

Book I

Egypt, the Nile delta. A girl complains with a young injured, in the midst of corpses and remains of a banquet. Bandits are approaching them but are put in escape by another larger band, which takes youngsters to their refuge at an island; There are left in the care of the Greek Cnemon, which tells them his story: how his stepmother, in love with him, accused him before his father, how with the help of the slave Thisbe was discovered the truth and stepmother committed suicide. The Chief of the bandits, Tiamis - involved offender after having been robbed by his brother's priestly dignity - falls for Cariclea, and is scheduled the wedding, to be held in Memphis. He/She and Theagenes pretend to be brothers but in reality are promised. Enemy attack occurs and Tiamis stabs in the dark at Cariclea, after which it is taken prisoner. Theagenes flees with Cnemon.

Book II

Both return to the cave where it was locked to Cariclea, who is still alive (the dead by mistake was Thisbe). Theagenes part with his beloved; Cnemon out in another direction and meets Calasiris, which tells a long story. In his youth, he/she visited Delphi and there he/she met the priest Charicles, who in turn, on a journey through Egypt, he/she had adopted a beautiful girl of seven years at the hands of an Ethiopian (it had received some precious stones and a cloth with mysterious letters). Already converted in a girl, Charicles wants to marry her with a relative, but the young woman wants to preserve Virgin Artemis service. They come to Delphi for the games Piticos a few young Thessalian, whose Chief receives an enigmatic Oracle.

Book III

This young man is Theagenes, known to Cariclea in a religious ceremony; both fall in love head over heels. Calasiris has a dream in which Apollo and Artemis entrusted the care of the two young men. Theagenes declares his love to Cariclea in the Temple of Apollo.

Book IV

Theagenes is competing in the games and Cariclea falls sick with love. It resorts to the help of Calasiris, making to bring fabric received at times by hands of the Ethiopian Charicles. The inscription that reads there declares that Cariclea is the daughter of Persina, Queen of Ethiopia, which had miraculously a white girl, and for fear of the suspicions of her husband made it to deliver a foreigner; It also mentions a stone called Pentarbe, able to work miracles. As Charicles wants to marry his nephew to Cariclea, Theagenes kidnaps the girl by Council of Calasiris and depart towards Phoenicia; Charicles and yours come out in their persecution.

Book V

Then the narration of Calasiris someone interrupted to say that he/she has found to Thisbe, previously kidnapped by pirates; It is actually Cariclea. Then again the Narrator to the point that Theagenes and his beloved departed from the island of Tiamis: falling into the hands of the Egyptian troops, Theagenes remains at the disposal of the satrap of Egypt, Oroondates, while Cariclea is released and is reunited with Calasiris. Continuous then the narration of this one, which features how it fell into the hands of some Egyptian pirates, who already at the beach competed for the possession of the beautiful young woman, dying all. At this point I had started the book I.

Book VI

Theagenes is no longer in the hands of the army, but it has been again captured by Tiamis and yours, to the consternation of Cariclea. Cnemon returns to Greece, already married. Calasiris and Cariclea, disguised as beggars, go out in search of Theagenes; Meanwhile Tiamis and his own head to Memphis to replace him in the priestly office that was taken from him. Calasiris and Cariclea staying at the House of a woman; the ghost of her dead son predicts a regio destination to Cariclea.

Book VII

Tiamis comes to Memphis, where, in the absence of Oroondates, rules his wife, Arsace, in love with old Tiamis and now also of Theagenes to know him. Arsace decides that the lawsuit between Tiamis and his brother Petosiris by the priesthood settled in duel, and when the first will give the second death appears Calasiris, who is the father of the two, stops the fight and soon dies. Happy reunion of Theagenes and Cariclea. But Arsace, love of the young man, trying to get his favors by the celestina Cibele, whose son one must marry Cariclea; but Theagenes reveals that Cariclea is not his sister but his fiancée. One goes to Thebes, where the satrap Oroondates prepares an army against the Ethiopians.


Oroondates sends to bring to her two lovers, but meanwhile Arsace has imprisoned to Theagenes as revenge for his disdain and send poison Cariclea. By a mistake is Cibele which dies poisoned, is accused of his death at Cariclea, and is sentenced to die at the stake, but the God Helios intercedes for her and work the miracle that the fire will not damage it. It will give to the Dungeon along with her lover, but at once appears Oroondates Envoy and takes prisoners; Arsace commits suicide. By the way the two youths and who leads them are taken prisoner and brought to the Ethiopian King.

Book IX

It is besieging the city of Siena, in which Oroondates has taken refuge. Decides to sacrifice the prisoners. Ethiopians take the city but Theagenes and Cariclea manage to escape. Following a spectacular battle between the Ethiopians and the satrap Persian troops, leaving the first winners takes place. The Ethiopian King, Hydaspes, has a dream in which is announced the discovery of his daughter. Theagenes and Cariclea are again caught and driven before Hydaspes, who is willing to sacrifice them (the Persina Queen is absent). Peace between Ethiopian and persas-egipcios is fiema.

Book X

Hydaspes returns with yours to Meroe, capital of the Ethiopian Kingdom, and makes call Persina. The victims for slaughter must undergo a test to check her virginity (otherwise no can be sacrificed to the Moon and the Sun): it is passing over a burning Grill, and Theagenes and Cariclea come out undamaged test. But Sisimitres, the wise gymnosophists - sort of priestly Brahman type College Dean - pronounce against human sacrifices. Cariclea shows then fabric and Pentarbe stone, as well as a brand of birth in his arm, causing the Persina recognition and also, with reluctance, Hidaspes.Pero the King still decided to sacrifice to Theagenes and intended to marry a nephew to Cariclea. Theagenes has a courageous intervention with a bull that had escaped and sowed panic among the attendees, and then you are invited to fight with a huge Ethiopian soldier, he/she manages to defeat with his ability. Then comes Charicles, who goes in search of Cariclea, kidnapped by Theagenes in book IV; Finally everything is clarified, human sacrifices are abolished and announced the wedding of the two lovers. The dark prophecy of the Oracle at Delphi (in II, 35) is fulfilled.

About the work

The Ethiopian of Heliodorus is the latest Greek novel of few we maintain, as well as the most extensive and the most elaborate in every way. Still staying true to the novelistic genre conventions, are several and important developments presenting his work. Firstly in regards to the narrative structure: the play begins in medias res, with a scene that we could qualify as film (bandits looming by the crest of a hill at dawn), and only gradually will the reader by learning the identity of the characters and the adventures that have led them to where they are. As already in the Odyssey (whose influence on the novel has been highlighted repeatedly), the story of a character serves to let reader know part of what has happened previously, and starting from there (Book VI) action takes place in a linear way. Also should be noted the extreme temporary concentration of action: If in other novels this was measured in months or years in the Ethiopic only runs a month from the opening scene until the end - the parallel with the Iliad is evident here. This should add the ability to Heliodorus to anticipate or retard episodes, creating suspense, as well as greater imbrication of the secondary stories (Calasiris and their children, etc.) on the main plot.

The historical context of the novel is the Egypt dominated by the Persians (around the fifth century B.c.), although with numerous anachronisms and errors, and both this itching of likelihood historical as in the presence of Kings and satraps in the plot is revealed Heliodorus as an author archaic, close to Chariton, in contrast to the gentrification of other later novels. His literary influences include Homer, Euripides, Plato, several historians, the life of Apollonius of Tiana and the own Aquiles Tacio, among others. His style is rhetorical, elaborate and solemn, although aims that each character has his own.

Religion plays a very important role in the work of Heliodorus. In line with the syncretism of its era the author Apollo identified with Helios and Artemis with Isis and the Moon, and has wanted is to see in the course of the action a gradual discovery of a divine reality more and more pure; It should also be noted the recalcitrant chastity of the protagonists, that goes beyond any other novel. Therefore it is not strange that work has been frequently interpreted as allegorical, by neoplatonic and Christian alike.

The novel by Heliodorus was very admired and imitated in Byzantium, even above the Aquiles Tacio, considered more immoral. In the Europe of the 16th and 17TH centuries (to a lesser extent the 18th) his fame was gigantic. The first edition of the Greek text was published in Basel in 1534, and was soon translated into nearly all European languages; It especially highlights the French version of J. Amyot, translator also of Longo. The influence of Heliodorus in the literature of the time was profound, and Shakespeare, Tasso, etc. There are testimonies of his popularity in Rabelais, Montaigne, Racine (saying that you knew the novel from memory),

In Spain, there were, among others a limited version in 1554, but the classic version would be Fernando Mena (Alcalá, 1587), which has reissued. The roster of novelists or playwrights who imitated to Heliodorus is very extensive - including Lope de Vega, Gracián and Calderón-, but the most conspicuous case is undoubtedly the works of Persiles and Sigismunda of Cervantes, López Estrada defined as "the Spanish version of the European literary ideology which represents Ethiopian history".


Translation: E. Crespo, in the "library classic Gredos", nº 25, Madrid, 1979, with introduction and bibliography. Reissue of the version of Fernando Mena by F. López Estrada, Madrid, 1954.