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Nova tellus

versión impresa ISSN 0185-3058

Nova tellus vol.39 no.1 Ciudad de México ene./jun. 2021  Epub 05-Mayo-2021 


Ἀµήχανόν τι κάλλος. Re-evaluating the Concept of Beauty in Heliodorus’ Aithiopika

Ἀµήχανόν τι κάλλος. Una revaluación del concepto de belleza en las Etiópicas de Heliodoro

aUniversity of Graz, Austria,


Of the extant ancient Greek novels, Heliodorus’ Aithiopika is by far the most ‘sophisticated’. One of its topics is the virtually irresistible, and almost ‘divine’, beauty of both protagonists, Theagenes and Charicleia. Whereas earlier scholarship brought Heliodorean beauty into line with Platonic concepts and highlighted its ethical value or even metaphysical character, this article tries to throw into relief another aspect of Heliodorean κάλλος, emphasising a link between the Aithiopika and rhetorical exercises based on beauty. Thus, κάλλος makes explicit the persuasive effect of the text itself. By means of Heliodorus’ art of description, the quality of beauty also bears meta-literary implications. The Aithiopika, consequently, advertise in a self-referential way their own rhetorical attraction and persuasiveness.

Keywords: Heliodorus; Novel; Protagonists; Beauty Concept; Persuasiveness


De las novelas griegas antiguas que se conservan, las Etiópicas de Heliodoro son por mucho las más ‘sofisticadas’. Uno de sus temas es la belleza virtualmente irresistible y casi divina de ambos protagonistas, Teágenes y Cariclea. Mientras que anteriormente se asociaba la belleza en Heliodoro con conceptos platónicos y se subrayaba su valor ético o incluso su carácter metafísico, este artículo intenta resaltar otro aspecto del κάλλος heliodoreano, poniendo énfasis en el nexo entre las Etiópicas y algunos ejercicios retóricos basados en la belleza. Así, κάλλος vuelve explícito el efecto persuasivo del texto mismo. Mediante el arte heliodoreano de la descripción, la cualidad de la belleza revela implicaciones metaliterarias. Por consiguiente, las Etiópicas dejan ver de manera autoreferencial su propio atractivo retórico y fuerza persuasiva.

Palabras clave: Heliodoro; novela; protagonistas; concepto de belleza; fuerza persuasiva

No doubt he was conscious himself of the improbability of the story and strove painfully to make it sound more likely, to weave it into a romance that would sound plausible.1[The Brothers Karamazov, part IV, book XII, ch. 6.]

Regarding its style and creative approach to its earlier literary tradition, Heliodorus’ Aithiopika -usually dated to the third or fourth century CE2- is, apart from being the lengthiest and latest of the extant ancient Greek love novels, undoubtedly also the most ‘sophisticated’.3 For in the Aithiopika, Heliodorus of Emesa reworked the popular novel genre, generating a complex narrative architecture in ten books, which consist of a multi-layered plot that unfolds in an anachronic form:4 the homecoming of the princess Charicleia to Aithiopia. One of the central topics of the text is the virtually irresistible, and almost ‘divine’, beauty of both protagonists, Theagenes and Charicleia.5 From the beginning to the end of the novel, beauty has a strongly aesthetic, and thus a self-referential, value in Heliodorus, as the effect of κάλλος is related to the one which emanates from the shining sunlight.6 Compare, for example, the first words of the novel (1.1.1: Ἡµέρας ἄρτι διαγελώσης καὶ ἡλίου τὰς ἀκρωρείας καταυγάζοντος) with a later passage, where Charicleia’s garment radiates the brilliant sun: (1.2.5) πρὸς τὸν ἥλιον ἀνταυγαζούσης.7 Moreover, ‘beaming’ beauty is not only correlated with sun, but also with lightning.8 And eventually, as emerges from the final paratext of the novel (10.41.4),9 the author’s name, Heliodorus, may be appropriate for someone who calls himself a Descendant of the Sun and whose work praises the god Helios.

Earlier scholarship has essentially brought beauty in Heliodorus into line with Platonic concepts of the term and highlighted both its ethical value and even its metaphysical character.10 This view takes its starting point from the novelistic topos of focusing on the divine beauty of the protagonists, which indeed deserves discussion: according to Meike Keul-Deutscher, the concept of beauty in Heliodorus is, first, beyond all criticism, as its elements are associated with virtues such as εὐγένεια, αἰδώς, and σωφροσύνη. Secondly, beauty as an ideal concept in Heliodorus is according to her not only based on an ethical foundation, it is in addition even related to divine favour.11 Thus, she places Heliodorus’ treatment of human beauty within the Platonic tradition, that is, as mainly oriented towards a philosophical ideal, as is maintained especially by Plato in his Theory of Forms and somewhat later Plotinus.12 Thirdly, Keul-Deutscher distinguishes κάλλος as an ethical, quasi-religious phenomenon in Heliodorus’ novel from those written by the generic predecessors.13

In my view, however, beauty in the Aithiopika is not beyond all criticism in a way that Keul-Deutscher wants us to believe. Although the different psychological reactions of Heliodorus’ internal audiences to beauty (some react with awe and timidity, others with impertinence and without any inhibitions),14 could be harmonized by pointing to Plato’s Phaedrus as a model, where two types of souls are described in their different reactions to κάλλος (250e-251a),15 my article reveals that beauty in Heliodorus appears rather as a multidimensional aesthetic concept. This in turn leads me to a second critical thought: without completely excluding its ethical, especially Platonic, and religious dimensions, the concept of beauty is in addition and in particular related to aesthetic and rhetorical values and sensorial aspects, which earlier scholarship seems mostly to have underrated. Instead of simply elucidating ethical or metaphysical positions, Heliodorus rather plays knowingly with its own aesthetic effects, inviting its readership to reflect upon the multilayered mediations applied.

With this in mind, this article tries to throw into relief another, principally aesthetic, aspect of Heliodorean κάλλος.16 Beauty, as I argue, serves as a central hermeneutical keyword within Heliodorus’ novel: in a ­self-referential way, the text makes explicit the persuasive effect of its own descriptive passages, which becomes especially visible on the basis of the internal beholders’ perception of the main characters’ beauty. These internally conveyed reader responses offer to the external reader a corresponding type of reaction to the descriptive art of the author, by which the protagonists are in turn created.17 I will demonstrate the self-reflexive and sophisticated quality that is inherent in Heliodorean κάλλος by connecting the beauty of Theagenes and Charicleia and the use of κάλλος in rhetorical texts.

Let us start by looking more closely at Heliodorus’ text: wherever both young people show up, they arouse the emotions of their fellows and onlookers. This we can observe right from the opening scene of the novel, where the reader is presented with a visual introductory tableau.18 This tableau displays the scenery of a carnage which has taken place only a short time ago, and is internally focalized through the eyes of a band of Egyptian brigands,19 who do not understand at all what has happened or what is happening:

1.2.1. Ἤδη δὲ αὐτοῖς κεκινηκόσιν ἄποθεν µικρὸν τῆς τε νεὼς καὶ τῶν κειµένων θέαµα προσπίπτει τῶν προτέρων ἀπορώτερον· κόρη καθῆστο ἐπὶ πέτρας, ἀµήχανόν τι κάλλος καὶ θεὸς εἶναι ἀναπείθουσα, τοῖς µὲν παροῦσι περιαλγοῦσα φρονήµατος δὲ εὐγενοῦς ἔτι πνέουσα.20

They had reached a point of short distance from the ship and the bodies when they found themselves confronted by a sight even more inexplicable than what they had seen before. On a rock sat a girl, a creature of such indescribable beauty that one might have taken her for a goddess.21

In the following description, the pirates predominantly focus on the corporeal aspect of Charicleia:22 they successively observe the young maiden’s head, her shoulders, arms, hands, fingers, and again her head, thereby apply­ing to their gazes a downward direction over her body, which in the end is lifted again.23 Eventually, they follow Charicleia’s own gaze to the “manly beauty” (1.2.3: ἀνδρείῳ τῷ κάλλει) of the young man lying at her feet, who, despite his obvious pain, manages to direct his eyes towards the girl. When Charicleia stands up, the armed pirates are terrified and cover themselves, under the impression that they are witnessing the epiphany of a goddess, supposedly Artemis or Isis (cf. also 10.9.3).24 Here the term ἀναπείθειν is remarkable, which, appearing as a participle ἀναπείθουσα in 1.2.1, refers to Charicleia and is syntactically juxtaposed to ἀµήχανόν τι κάλλος, i.e. her indescribable -or rather irresistible or inimitable25- beauty. It is mainly beauty’s persuasive effect which makes the brigands believe that they are witnessing the epiphany of a goddess and which makes them associate beauty with divinity.26 Here, for the first time in the novel, we grasp the persuasive power of κάλλος, which prompts the viewers to make certain assumptions (e.g. in identifying the protagonist with a peculiar divine power). Many other examples can be listed, where the protagonists’ κάλλος in Heliodorus affects other figures’ actions or intentions and where this beauty may even perform a key narrative function: whereas Charicleia captivates the Nile pirates by her ἀµήχανόν τι καὶ δαιµόνιον κάλλος (2.30.6; cf. 1.2.1; 3.3.4; 5.9.2), which emanates mainly from the brilliance of her flashing eyes (2.4.3), the sight of Theagenes’ persuades the people staring at him to think him an embodiment of masculine beauty (1.2.3: ἤνθει δὲ καὶ ἐν τούτοις ἀνδρείῳ τῷ κάλλει) and a true descendant of the great hero Achilles (4.5.5).27 The human environment of both protagonists is, so to speak, thunderstruck by their excelling beauty and nobility (8.17.2: κάλλει δὲ καὶ εὐγενείᾳ διαπρέποντας): there seems to be nothing that anyone can do about it. The common people especially are overwhelmed by the protagonists’ κάλλος: the crowd which is allured by their beauty is unable (ἀµήχανοι, ἀδύνατοι) to control their inner emotions by any form of self-restraint (3.3.8: τὸ τῆς ψυχῆς πάθος ἐγκρατείᾳ κρύπτειν ἀδύνατοι; cf. 4.3.2-4). Both male and female sexes, Greeks and barbarians (e.g. 2.33.3),28 are affected (3.3.8).29 Only the two protagonists, through their outstanding κάλλος, experience πάθος and Eros’ tortures (4.10.5) equally, suffering τὸ ἴσον πάθος by the other one’s sight.30

Regarding Heliodorus’ narration, the δύναµις of beauty to civilize ‘even’ barbarians’ hearts31 may advance the story or provoke an unexpected turn of events, more often to the better.32 And throughout the novel, beauty makes the readers speculate on the couple’s high birth. Admittedly, this may favour an interpretation that focuses on beauty’s participation in divine and numinous power,33 since wonder (θαῦµα) is also a kind of reaction related to epiphanies from the gods. Nevertheless, I would like to concentrate rather on the persuasive effect of godlike κάλλος: obviously, it changes and affects the emotions of the beholders of καλά. These are filled with admiration, astonishment, and amazement, and some hearts are utterly enraptured with the beautiful protagonists.34 Thus, the protagonists’ particular attractiveness radiates a highly gripping effect, which elicits in the beholders -as also in the internal recipients of κάλλος- strong psychological reactions. Among these are repeatedly θαῦµα (“wonder”),35 ἔκπληξις (“confusion”),36 and, more generally, πάθος (“affect”, “emotional suffering”).37 Notably, all these terms point towards concepts which denote successful rhetorical illumination (ἐνάργεια) by means of a speech (λόγος), which appeals to all senses of its recipients.38 Already the rhetorician Gorgias of Leontinoi (ca. 485-380 BCE), a leading representative of the first sophistic movement, writes about the πάθηµα διὰ τῶν λόγων (Hel., 58-59), the inner suffering provoked by words: in a similar fashion, through her extreme physical and godlike beauty, Helen had the power to arouse the desire of unnumerable men (Hel., 19-25, especially §19 on her ἰσόθεον κάλλος). Analogously again, Gorgias enables λόγος (speech, but also poetry) to create in the listeners particular forms of inner passion, such as anxious shiver, tearful compassion, and painful desire. Later in the fourth century BCE, Aristotle in his Rhetoric attributed to πάθος a central function in inducing persuasion (Rh., 1356a; 1377b-1378a), by which the audience of a speech is usually carried away with enthusiasm (Rh., 1408a-b);39 for Aristotle, πάθος obtains a pivotal function as technical proof (ἔντεχνος πίστις), in line with argumentation (λόγος) and the speaker’s character (ἦθος). It affects the judgment of the addressees and prompts them to be filled with enthusiasm. And later still for Ps.-Longinus, excessive and enthusiastic πάθος (as a source of ὕψος, lit. “height”; but here “grandeur”)40 is produced by solemn motives, amplification, the successful imitation of literary models, and the use of imagery (φαντασία).41

If we take a close look at the word κάλλος itself, we discover that in rhetorical theory it was also coined to denote a technical term and even a stylistic category. In the Imperial Age, when the Greek novels were composed, its use was described by model exercises in Greek prose composition and rhetoric, which were taught as a standard curriculum to anyone who was educated independent of their literary ambitions, and was thus ­available to any student of style. Hermogenes of Tarsus (ca. 160-230 CE) in his rhetorical textbook Περὶ ἰδεῶν, which as a standard work had a far-reaching effect from late antiquity onwards, regarded κάλλος as a keyword. In this sophisticated treatise on the systematic recording and evaluation of stylistic criteria, Hermogenes categorized certain stylistic forms (ἰδέαι). Each one is described and documented with literary material. Stylistic mastery, he says, arises through the perfect mixture of such ἰδέαι. The twelfth chapter (id. 1.12: Περὶ ἐπιµελείας καὶ κάλλους) deals widely with elegance (or care in composition) and beauty. Hermogenes considers beauty above all as a matter of harmony and apt proportion:

1.12.20-30. ἐπειδὴ γὰρ καθόλου τὸ κάλλος ἐστὶ συµµετρία µελῶν καὶ µερῶν µετ’ εὐχροίας, δι’ ὧν δὴ λόγος τις γίνεται, εἴτε ἰδεῶν ὅλων µιγνυµένων εἰς ταὐτὸν εἴτε καὶ τῶν συµπληρούντων ἑκάστην ἰδέαν - ταῦτα γὰρ οἷον µέλη καὶ µέρη ἐστὶν αὐτοῦ -, δεῖ δήπουθεν, εἰ µέλλοι καλὸς ἔσεσθαι, ἄν τε ποικίλος ἄν τε µονοειδὴς ᾖ, συµµετρίαν ἔχειν τούτων, ὅ ἐστιν εὐαρµοστίαν, καί τινα ἐπανθεῖν αὐτῷ οἷον εὔχροιαν, τὴν ἐµφαινοµένην διόλου µίαν τοῦ ἤθους ποιότητα, ἣν δὴ καὶ φύσει τινὲς χρῶµα λόγου ὀνοµάζουσι.42

In general, beauty is a symmetry of limbs and parts, along with a good complexion, and it is through these that a speech [lógos] becomes [beautiful], whether entire types [of style] are combined into the same [speech] or they [sc. the elements] make up each type individually, for these are, as it were, their limbs and parts. It is necessary, then, if a speech is to be beautiful [kalós], whether it is variegated or uniform, that it have symmetry among these, that is, harmony, and that a kind of good complexion bloom upon it, which takes the form of a single quality of character throughout, and which some indeed naturally call the color of a speech.43

Hermogenes thus follows Plato (Phaedrus, 264c) in constructing an ana­logy between a beautiful body and a discourse (λόγος), making a ­comparison between a well-organized, that is well-proportioned, speech and the human form. By attributing κάλλος to discourse or speech, Hermogenes underlines the power of λόγος on an audience, which is overwhelmed not by logical arguments but rather by stylistic, that is aesthetic, effects. At the same time, the term κάλλος (as a category of style) “does not entirely lose its connection with the visible and continues to bear, however lightly, overtones of attractiveness and perhaps a quasi-erotic, or at least sensual, appeal”.44 Thus, Hermogenes’ stylistic criteria for κάλλος in a verbal text seem not only to suit ekphraseis representing beauty in the Aithiopika, but also the effective and vivid descriptions of the beauty of the characters. In Heliodorus, one can detect connections between ἐνάργεια (inlustratio, evidentia) and the kind of stylistic symmetry that Hermogenes sees as the basis of κάλλος in a text. Following the first vivid description of the protagonists’ beauty at the beginning of the novel, e.g., the narrator comments on the effect that such κάλλος excercises on its spectators, the Egyptian brigands: Hld., 1.4.3 Οὕτως εὐγενείας ἔµφασις καὶ κάλλους ὄψις καὶ λῃστρικὸν ἦθος οἶδεν ὑποτάττειν καὶ κρατεῖν καὶ τῶν αὐχµηροτέρων δύναται. Here, syntactic parallelism and chiasmus create a symmetry of style, rendering the beauty of the characters a figure for the novelist’s descriptional technique.

Secondly, in a rhetorical textbook composed in late antiquity, belonging most probably to a later date than the Aithiopika (whatever the precise chronological relationship between the two), we encounter a remarkable set description concerning the creation of κάλλος, which resembles its use in Heliodorus’ novel in many ways. This exciting text is transmitted among exercises in rhetorical and literary description (ἔκφρασις) within the work of the Greek sophist Libanius of Antioch (fourth c. CE).45 Although Richard Foerster declared the Descr. 30 to be spurious and attributed it to an anonymous rhetorician (Ps.-Libanius),46 this exercise on ἔκφρασις κάλλους is a valuable document, signifying the huge range of its author’s literary expertise. It can be read as an instruction on how to depict ‘beauty’ in a literary text.47 At the centre of this ἔκφρασις κάλλους, Ps.-Libanius places a description of a beautiful girl leaning out of a window. His unnamed speaker elevates the ekphrasis to a form of true rhetorical art, which gives the impression of a model description to be embedded by writers such as Heliodorus in their novels. Compared to the theoretical treatise of Hermogenes, Ps.-Libanius’ graphic description is more suitable to practical use and much easier to be adopted in a concrete literary text:

Descr. 30.1-6: (1) Τήµερον εἶδον κόρην ἐκ θυρίδος προκύπτουσαν καὶ ἰδὼν ἑαλώκειν εὐθύς. ἔµπνουν γὰρ ἐδόκουν τὴν Σελήνην ὁρᾶν ἐπὶ γῆς ἢ µεταπεπλάσθαι τὴν Ἀφροδίτην εἰς ἄνθρωπον καὶ πείθειν εἶχον ἐµαυτὸν ὡς ἀΰλῳ κάλλει τὸ πρόσωπον ἰνδαλµάτισται. (2) Ἔρως γὰρ ἐκ τῶν ἐκείνης ὀµµάτων ἐτόξευε. καὶ προκατελάµβανε τὴν θέαν ἡ τόξευσις. καί πως ὀφθαλµοὶ µὲν τὸ κάλλος ἐθαύµαζον, ψυχὴ δὲ τῆς ὀδύνης ᾐσθάνετο καὶ βλέπειν ἐθέλων ἀπέθανον. καὶ τὸ µὲν κάλλος γλυκύ, ἡ δὲ τρῶσις πικρά. (3) καί πως γλυκύτερον ἦν τὸ λυπεῖν. τῶν γὰρ ὀφθαλµῶν λιχνευοµένων εἰς ὅρασιν τὸ κάλλος εἰς τὴν ψυχὴν διωλίσθαινε καὶ πῦρ ἐρωτικὸν τὸ πᾶν ἐλυµαίνετο. τίς γὰρ ἂν ἐκείνης τὸ κάλλος ὑπογράψαιτο; τίς παραδοίη γραφῇ; τίς διαµορφώσειε τοῖς χρώµασι; (4) καλὸς Ἀπελλῆς καὶ λόγος τούτου πολύς, ἀλλὰ µέχρι ταύτης καλός. καί πως ἐπιγραφέτω τῇ Τύχῃ καὶ χάριτας, ὅτι πρὸ ταύτης ἠρίστευσε καὶ τῆς ζωγραφικῆς ἐδείκνυ τὸ ἔντεχνον καὶ κάλλος οὐκ εἶχεν ὁρᾶν ὑπερνικῶν χειρὸς ἔντεχνον µίµηµα. ἀλλ’ ἔσχεν ἂν κἀκεῖνος τῆς συµφορᾶς παρηγόρηµα τὸ κάλλος ὁρᾶν ἐπὶ γῆς εὐτονοῦν καὶ τῶν ὀµµάτων τὴν δύναµιν καὶ ταὐτὸν ὑποµένειν τοῖς πειρωµένοις κάλλος ἡλίου παραδοῦναι τοῖς χρώµασι. (5) κάλλιστος οὖν ζωγράφος καλλίστης κόρης ἡ ἐµὴ ψυχή. ἀχρωµατίστως γὰρ τὸ κάλλος ὁρᾷ παρ’ ἑαυτῇ <καὶ> συµµεµόρφωται. καὶ νῦν ὁρᾶν τὴν εἰκόνα πεφάντασται. καὶ πολέµιον ὁ τεχνίτης ἔχει τὸ τέχνασµα. µεµψαίµην <ἂν> τοῖς ἐµοῖς ὀφθαλµοῖς, ἀλλ’ οὐκ ἀµόρφου κόρης ἠράσθησαν, ἀλλὰ τῇ ψυχῇ, ὅτι πέπονθεν, ἀλλ’ ἡδὺ τὸ πάθος καὶ τοῦ πάθους µᾶλλον ὁ θάνατος, ἵν’ ἔχῃ στεφανηφορεῖσθαι τῷ Ἔρωτι τοιούτου γενόµενος κάλλους ἀγώνισµα. (6) ἔγωγε οὖν ἐξ εὐπορίας ἠπόρηµαι καὶ λέγειν ἔχων πολλὰ ταῖς τῶν πολλῶν ὑπερβολαῖς ἀνακρούοµαι καὶ τὴν εὐπορίαν τοῦ λόγου ἀπορία σιγῆς διαδέχεται. οἶδε τὸ πάθος ψυχὴ κἀκείνη σοφιστεύει τὸν ἔρωτα καὶ δι’ ὧν ἐπεπόνθει δείξει τοῦ κάλλους τὴν δύναµιν.48

(1) Today I saw a girl peeping out of a window, and upon seeing her I was immediately captivated; for I seemed to be seeing the Moon alive and breathing on earth, or Aphrodite changed into human form, and I was able to convince myself that her face appeared like immaterial beauty. (2) For Love shot his arrows at me from her eyes. And his shooting preoccupied my sight. And somehow my eyes marveled at her beauty, but my soul felt grief, and I died, wishing to look at it. And her beauty was sweet, but the wounding bitter. (3) And the pain was somehow sweeter; for as my eyes greedily desired to see, her beauty slipped into my soul, and the fire of love began to cause my complete ruin. For who could sketch out her beauty? Who could commit her to painting? Who could give her form with paint? (4) Apelles was a fine painter, and there is much discussion of him, but he was fine only up until her. And let him somehow also inscribe his thanks to Fortune, that he had his heyday before her and revealed the artistry of painting before her, and that he did not have to see beauty triumphing over an artistic imitation made by his hand. But even that man, as a consolation for his misfortune, would have had to see beauty being vigorous on earth and the power of her eyes, and to endure the same thing as those who try to commit the beauty of the sun to paint. (5) So, my soul is a most beautiful painter of a most beautiful girl; for it sees beauty by itself without color <and> has conformed to it. And now it has imagined that it sees an image. And the artist has his artwork as an enemy. I <would> blame my eyes, but they fell in love with a not unlovely girl; rather, I would blame my soul, because it suffered, but the suffering was sweet, and death more so than the suffering, so that it might be able to be worn as a victory wreath by Love, having become the feat of such beauty. (6) So, from my former abundance, I have been left lacking, and though I can say many things, I stop short of the exaggerations of the masses, and a silence brought on by lack takes over from my former abundance of speech. My soul knows suffering, and it gives expert performances on love, and it will reveal the power of beauty through what it has suffered.49

In the first three subsections of Ps.-Libanius’ text (which altogether comprises 19 paragraphs), the male narrator describes how he once marveled at the outstanding natural beauty of an unknown girl. The reader familiar with the Aithiopika is immediately struck by several common elements between Ps.-Libanius’ set description of the κόρη and those elaborated by Heliodorus, particularly regarding the internal beholder’s perception of beauty in both texts. Like Heliodorus’ internal spectators, Ps.-Libanius’ narrator compares the girl to a divine and immaterial, even ideal, appearance (§1 to the goddess Aphrodite); he too describes how his eyes admire the κάλλος (§2 ἐθαύµαζον) and how he becomes entangled and even suffers a strong bodily reaction: an inner wounding by the sight (cf. §5 ἡδὺ τὸ πάθος), which has slipped into his, i.e. the beholder’s, soul. Even the god Love himself, who in comparison to Ps.-Libanius’ text plays only a minor role in Heliodorus, “was somehow astounded (ἐκπληττόµενον) by the sparklings of her beauty” (§10). The power of her eyes is also compared to shining sunbeams (§4). Although the girl’s sight left a strong impression on the speaker, “[his soul] knows suffering, and it gives expert performances on love, and it will reveal the power of beauty through what it has suffered.” (§6 οἶδε τὸ πάθος ψυχὴ κἀκείνη σοφιστεύει τὸν ἔρωτα καὶ δι’ ὧν ἐπεπόνθει δείξει τοῦ κάλλους τὴν δύναµιν). The somewhat obscure phrase50 σοφιστεύειν τὸν ἔρωτα in Ps.-Libanius points to the fact that the narrator manages to hide his inner emotions: his soul will in turn give an artful description of its sufferings, thereby revealing τοῦ κάλλους τὴν δύναµιν, which undoubtedly refers to an elaborate rhetorical description, a sophisticated response to inner feelings of the sort Ps.-Libanius has composed. Nevertheless, the mention of the divine powers, Aphrodite and Love, metonymically denotes the erotic effect which the attractive sight has exercised on the speaker’s sensual perception. At the same time, the rhetorical questions at the end of the quoted passage (§3 “who could sketch out her beauty? […] Who could give her form with paint?”) reveal artistic imitation as the central task of the rhetorical ἔκφρασις κάλλους. Interestingly, this is in accordance with a practice observable in the novels, where the artistic or rhetorical imitation of κάλλος in words is problematized and similar topical (under)statements about the indescribability, inexpressibility, and inimitability of the protagonists’ outstanding beauty are used, which is -after all- described, expressed, and imitated in the same texts.51

The main concern of Ps.-Libanius’ text is, I would suggest, how κάλλος is to be mediated through a text which ‘transports’ the particular beauty of an internal figure. From here we can draw, in my view, a parallel to the novelist’s task to imitate perfectly and reproduce beauty through the representational medium itself, the description in the text.

Compare with Ps.-Libanius a passage from the beginning of Achilles Tatius’ novel Leucippe and Clitophon (1.4), where the internal narrator and protagonist of the story, Clitophon, describes how he once saw a beautiful young maiden (whose name is Leucippe, as we will later learn). First, he compares her delightful beauty to a painting of the goddess Selene sitting on a bull which he had seen before. After the description, he makes known his inner feelings:

1.4.4. Ὡς δὲ εἶδον, εὐθὺς ἀπωλώλειν· κάλλος γὰρ ὀξύτερον τιτρώσκει βέλους καὶ διὰ τῶν ὀφθαλµῶν εἰς τὴν ψυχὴν καταρρεῖ· ὀφθαλµὸς γὰρ ὁδὸς ἐρωτικῷ τραύµατι. (5) Πάντα δέ µε εἶχεν ὁµοῦ, ἔπαινος, ἔκπληξις, τρόµος, αἰδώς, ἀναίδεια. Ἐπῄνουν τὸ µέγεθος, ἐκπεπλήγµην τὸ κάλλος, ἔτρεµον τὴν καρδίαν, ἔβλεπον ἀναιδῶς, ᾐδούµην ἁλῶναι. Tοὺς δὲ ὀφθαλµοὺς ἀφέλκειν µὲν ἀπὸ τῆς κόρης ἐβιαζόµην· οἱ δὲ οὐκ ἤθελον, ἀλλ’ ἀνθεῖλκον ἑαυτοὺς ἐκεῖ τῷ τοῦ κάλλους ἑλκόµενοι πείσµατι, καὶ τέλος ἐνίκησαν.52

As soon as I saw, I was done for: beauty pricks sharper than darts, and floods down through the eyes to the soul (for the eye is the channel of the wounds of desire).53 All kinds of reactions possessed me at once: admiration, awe, terror, shame, shamelessness. I admired her stature, I was awestruck by her beauty, I was terrified in my heart, I gazed without shame, I felt ashamed at having been captivated so. I tried to force myself to tug my eyes away from the girl, but they resisted, tugging themselves back there again, as if towed by the lure of beauty. In the end, the eyes won.54

As in Ps.-Libanius, the Achillean narrator suffers inner wounding from κάλλος (cf. e.g. ἔκπληξις), admitting at the same time that against such beauty he will not be able to keep his countenance perfectly; this is indicated by the use of ἀναίδεια, which anticipates a reaction to a beautiful sight which comprises immoral acts. In this, Achilles’ text evidently differs from the other descriptions of beauty mentioned above. Nevertheless, as the initial comparison with the painting of the goddess Selene suggests, we are also in this case dealing with a highly sophisticated elaboration of an ἔκφρασις κάλλους as it is modelled in an exemplary fashion in Ps.-Libanius’ description. In my view, the rhetorical description of outstanding beauty shows the novelists’ attempt to imitate or reproduce the effect of beauty within the representational medium of the text. This seems to be confirmed by the last sentence in the Achillean passage: the narrator tries to force his eyes away from the sight, “but they resisted, tugging themselves back there again, as if towed by the lure of beauty” (ἀλλ’ ἀνθεῖλκον ἑαυτοὺς ἐκεῖ τῷ τοῦ κάλλους ἑλκόµενοι πείσµατι). Here we deal with a remarkable polysemy, or better, bisemy (as the simplest type of ambiguity), of the word πεῖσµα, which denotes figuratively a “rope/ship’s cable” (LSJ s. v. 1), but, in an extended metaphorical sense, “persuasion” (LSJ s. v. 2, cf. πείθειν, πειθώ). Accordingly, the beholder’s eyes are both concretely and metaphorically pulled towards the beautiful sight.55 To put this point in other words, beauty exerts a gripping power of persuasion which oscillates between an almost physical coercive force and a rhetorically effective authority (πεῖσµα in both senses respectively).56 In the novel, πάθος is provoked by the sight of the protagonists’ ἀµήχανον κάλλος.

We may, in any case, assume from what has been said that by the time Achilles Tatius and Heliodorus produced their novels, which are firmly rooted in Greek literary culture, the term κάλλος, as shaped through rhetorical theory, would be well known to educated contemporaries, just as these novelists were. Although Ps.-Libanius’ model description of the creation of κάλλος is most probably to be dated later than Heliodorus’ novel, the similar conceptual devices of the ἔκφρασις κάλλους mirror the same cultural ‘sediment’ of rhetorical and literary training from the Imperial Age down to late antiquity. All these authors have to be looked at against a common cultural and educational background, which imbued them with various aspects of cultural knowledge, constituting altogether the concept of Greek παιδεία. From this perspective, the particular ‘rhetoricity’ which permeates these texts becomes more understandable.

These observations reveal a new aspect of the concept of beauty in the Aithiopika. On the one hand, we grasp κάλλος as a rhetoric device worked out in textbooks dealing with the art of rhetorical description (cf. Hermogenes, Ps.-Libanius), whilst on the other hand κάλλος is elaborated in descriptional passages within the novels themselves, marking out and narrativising the consequences of the protagonists’ overwhelming57 and irresistible beauty (ἀµήχανον κάλλος).58 There are many passages in which the description of beauty elicits strong admiration in its beholders, which in my view can be read as an implicit reflection on the whole novel’s aesthetic. At the beginning of Book 3 we read the general enthusiastic response of the internal recipient Cnemon to Calasiris’ account of the Delphic procession, in the course of which the two protagonists meet (3.1.1). This description by the internal narrator Calasiris fosters not only the internal recipients’, i.e. Cnemon’s, imagination, but also the imagination of the external recipients, who are invited to reproduce the scene as it really took place. There are, however, further descriptive passages, in which an internal audience serves as a model for the readers wondering at Heliodorus’ art of description. This is the case in 3.4.8, where the crowd gathered at Delphi admires the two young people’s beauty and loses their hearts to them, in the case of the men to Charicleia, and in the case of the women to Theagenes. Similarly, in 4.3.2-4 Theagenes’ beauty wins the sympathy of its beholders during the description of the foot-race at Delphi. Although one could enumerate more passages, in which the description of beauty in Heliodorus functions as a metaliterary pointer to the aesthetic and rhetorical power of the novel,59 these few examples must suffice here.

David Konstan, in his monograph on the ancient Greek idea of beauty and its fortunes, comments that the term κάλλος could often be applied to things other than the human form. Its sense extended “from sexual attractiveness or desirability to the attractiveness of such things as art, poetry, certain physical features […] and abstract entitites such as the soul and its virtues”.60 As a quality it could even be attributed to works of art described in literature (through ekphrasis).61 This wider application of the word κάλλος to various objects, which transcends the original signification of erotic attractiveness of a human form eliciting a strong desire in its beholders, is useful for its examination in, among others, the Heliodorean novel. Heliodorus’ terminology, which denotes not only the protagonists’ beauty but also the quality of rhetorical persuasion, offers to the hermeneutically active reader the opportunity to establish a general relation between the effect of the protagonists’ sight on the internal public and the aesthetic appeal of Heliodorus’ text itself.62 Emerging from his art of description, by which the novelist stages the protagonists and other figures in the text, the quality of beauty may therefore also be claimed for the textual medium, through which this effect is in turn displayed. The novel consequently advertises its own artful rhetoric in a self-referential way to the readers. The metadiegetic narrative of the Aithiopika conveys internal ‘reader reactions’, which correspond to the narrative polyphony found elsewhere in the text.63 The internal recipients’ responses towards the beautiful sight of both protagonists, which I have listed above, can be interpreted as a kind of mise en abyme: in each case, the reactions of the viewers or recipients in the text illustrate the rhetorical power of the text.64 Thus, the internal audiences in the novel receive the beauty of the protagonists (as e.g. it is described by Heliodorus) in a similar fashion to the readers who may wonder at the beautiful art of (e.g. stylistic) representation which is conveyed through the text itself, and who are thus invited to participate into the internal figures’ experience.65 When we read the descriptive scenes Hld., 3.1.1, 3.4.8 and 4.3.2-4 in this way, the external readers are invited to an analogous response to the representation, i.e. the artful description of both protagonists, as the internal audience within the representation, be it the internal narratee Cnemon listening to Calasiris’ account, or the internal viewers of Charicleia’s and Theagenes’ beauty at the procession for Neoptolemus or at the Pythian Games. κάλλος thus bears a strongly self-referential significance,66 which works as a central hermeneutical tool throughout the text. The internal viewers’ reactions, which are embedded in the text, in a meta-literary way mirror the encouraged reaction of readers to the novel itself. A close parallel is the eighth book of the Odyssey, where the Homeric audience is invited to compare their responses to the reactions elicited by Demodocus’ song (as recounted in the poem). Comparably, the reactions to κάλλος treated in this article prompt the Heliodorean readers to relate their impressions of the description to the impressions of the internal figures responding to the protagonists’ beauty.

This beauty appears to be not only an almost pictorial quality of objects mediated through ekphraseis,67 but, more generally, through its sensual and bodily appeal, a means of presenting the whole story in a lifely and persuasive way. As readers we can perceive the spell of Charicleia’s and Theagenes’ beautiful appearances (the ἐκφράσεις κάλλους) in a manner comparable to the way we perceive other objects represented through a vivid style. This appeals to a wider fascination with self-reflexive descriptions, in which the external readers are invited to participate in the internal viewers’ experience of κάλλος. Τhese external recipients’ reactions may, again, resemble the reactions of the internal beholders of visual68 beauty.69 Heliodorus of Emesa applied the rhetorical concept of κάλλος as a poetical device to the Aithiopika. In it, beauty serves as an implicit stand-in keyword for the aesthetically attractive effect of the text on its reading audience.70 Beauty in Heliodorus is therefore first and foremost, a textual quality pointing in a self-referential way to the rhetorical and literary attractiveness of the representational medium itself, the Aithiopika.


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1 Dostoyevsky 1912, p. 815. From the speech of the prosecutor Ippolit Kirillovitch. A little later in the novel, the defendant Fetyukovitch ironically responds to Kirillovitch’s above quoted words in his own speech, saying: “It is worse if we are carried away by the artistic instinct, by the desire to create, so to speak, a romance, especially if God has endowed us with psychological insight” (Ibid., p. 823, ch. 10). I am grateful to Aldo Tagliabue for commenting on a draft version of this article, and to the anonymous reviewers of Nova Tellus.

2 Morgan 1996, pp. 417-421 and Tagliabue 2016, p. 398 n. 3 offer useful discussions about the date of the Aithiopika with further references.

3On general overviews on the Aithiopika, cf. Morgan 1982, 1992, 1993, 1996 and Hunter 1998. The first English monograph dedicated to Heliodorus is Sandy 1982, in German Paulsen 1992. Elmer 2008 tracks down Heliodorus’ intertexts. Bühler 1976 is a classic on the initial scene of the novel, which he compares to a film setting. On the same scene, cf. (amongst others) Bartsch 1989, pp. 47-50, Liviabella Furiani 2003, pp. 417-419, Grethlein 2017, pp. 77-80, Lefteratou 2018, pp. 95-97.

4On the innovative narrative technique of the Aithiopika, cf. e.g. Winkler 1999, Hunter 2014, Grethlein 2016.

5On beauty in Greek antiquity see Most 1992 and, as a more extensive approach to the subject, Konstan 2014. On classical Greek sculpture, see Clark 1985, pp. 9-22.

6 Cf. already Rohde 1876/51974, pp. 436-438 on the programmatic role of the sun for Heliodorus’ novel. At the end of book 10 the protagonist Theagenes is dedicated to Helios as a priest.

7 Cf. Hld., 3.3.4 (Theagenes’ appearance compared to a lightning); 3.4.5 (Charicleia’s hair gleams like the sun); 7.7.7 (Charicleia’s shining eyes as sunbeams). See also Chariton, 4.1.9. Cf. Keul-Deutscher 1996, pp. 324-325.

9Τοιόνδε πέρας ἔσχε τὸ σύνταγµα τῶν περὶ Θεαγένην καὶ Χαρίκλειαν Αἰθιοπικῶν· ὃ συνέταξεν ἀνὴρ Φοῖνιξ Ἐµισηνός, τῶν ἀφ̓ Ἡλίου γένος, Θεοδοσίου παῖς Ἡλιόδωρος (“So concludes the Aithiopika, the story of Theagenes and Charicleia, the work of a Phoenician from the city of Emesa, one of the clan of Descendants of the Sun, Theodosios’ son, Heliodoros”). See Núñez 2009 on the narrator-author relationship in the novel. On text and translation of Heliodorus see below, nn. 20-21.

10This view is represented by Keul-Deutscher 1996, cf. esp. pp. 331-332 the comparison with Platonic and Neoplatonist concepts of beauty. From a different perspective, Hani 1978, p. 271 compared the Aithiopika to Plato’s Phaedrus.Dowden 1996, p. 280, on the other hand, associated the novel with Plotinus’ Ennead on Beauty (1.6), thereby highlighting the mystic overtones in Heliodorus, which according to him are seriously employed —contrary to the perspective of, inter alia,Winkler 1999. Cf. Whitmarsh 2002, p. 117: “Beauty, which is here not just a physical attribute, but also (in Heliodorus) an index of ethical virtue and metaphysical favour”. On the convention observed in the Greek love novels, taking as its beginning Chariton, to compare the beauty of its heroines with the statues of goddesses, see Bierl 2002, pp. 10-14. In my view, we encounter in Heliodorus a refined philosophical tone, but there is no recognizable uniform philosophical or theological system. This is complemented by the general impression that aesthetic aspects still remain understudied in this novel.

11 Keul-Deutscher 1996, pp. 322-325. Cf. de Temmerman 2014, pp. 246-277. For Montiglio 2013, pp. 65-105, beauty in the novels serves as a generic signal of the protagonists’ origins that becomes pivotal as the recognition approaches (although we observe e.g. Achilles Tatius playfully challenging these novelistic stereotypes).

12 Keul-Deutscher 1996, pp. 330-333, esp. p. 331 (“[...] legt den Schluß nahe, daß sich Heliodor an einer philosophischen Grundlage orientiert”). According to Liviabella Furiani 2003, pp. 420-428 the Aithiopika mirror a philosophical debate concerning the primacy of optic vs. acoustic senses in the perception of beauty.

13It would require more space to analyze the similarities and differences between the Greek novels concerning the concept of κάλλος. However, I shall mention one common aspect in all the novels, which Keul-Deutscher clearly underestimates, i.e. that beauty is above all considered a sensual and erotic phenomenon (cf. Liviabella Furiani 2003, pp. 432-434). Thus, in Hld., 7.9-10 Theagenes’ beauty arouses the sexual desire of Cybele and Arsace. The mutual love of the two protagonists is contrasted with the erotic promiscuity of Thisbe and Arsace. Therefore, I consider that the philosophical model of ideal love which Keul-Deutscher 1997 attributes to Heliodorus’ novel, even though she acknowledges the existence of various counter-figures (Gegenfiguren, cf. pp. 353-358), relies on a rather simplistic view and does not take into account the different perspectives of the narrative polyphony within the novel figures’ world(s). Similarly, the heroes in Xenophon and Chariton become victims of their own beauty (κάλλος), which for them becomes a moment of threat and ruin. Cf. X. Eph., 2.1.3; 5.5.3; 5.5.5; 5.7.2 and Chariton, 1.14.8; 5.5.3; 6.6.4; 7.5.3. But see Apu., Met., 4.29.5, where Venus gets envious of Psyche’s beauty (4.28.2-3: pulchritudo, formonsitas). In Achilles Tatius (e.g. Ach. Tat., 1.4.2-5), and in Longus (Long., 1.13.1-4; 1.32.4), descriptions of beauty are characterized by its inherent sensuality. However, Montiglio 2013, pp. 95-101 assigns to beauty the function —especially in Longus— to distinguish the protagonists from poor country folks and indicate their noble descent. On beauty as status symbol in the novels, cf. Dubel 2001 (κάλλος rather concerns the impression, which the heroines and heroes produce in their social environment). On beauty in Achilles Tatius, cf. Kauffman 2015. On the beauty of Chariton’s Callirhoe, which aims at appealing to a wide (internal and external) audience, cf. Schmeling 2005.

14E.g. in the ‘Persian’ episode, set in Memphis, where Theagenes becomes the object of the desire of Arsace, the sister of the Great King.

15This view is held, e.g., by Keul-Deutscher 1996, p. 331.

16Recent approaches to the Aithiopika either focus on the religious or metaphysical aspects negotiated in and by the text —cf. esp. Papadimitropoulos 2013, e.g. p. 111 (“a kind of spiritual journey, which is not so dissimilar to the journey of the soul on earth as described in Plato’s Phaedrus”)— or otherwise envisage Heliodorus’ sophisticated narrative technique, on which see Núñez 2009, Hunter 2014, Grethlein 2016. On the fertile employment of narratology and cognitive studies on Heliodorus, cf. Grethlein 2015, 2015a. Regarding earlier narratological aspects of the novel, John R. Morgan’s analyses offer a good starting point: cf. Morgan 1989a, 1994, 1998, 2007. The exploration of the novel’s self-referentiality in Winkler 1999 has been influential.

17Some scholars have highlighted the text’s multileveled concern with the aesthetic immersions of internal viewers and external readers. Cf. Whitmarsh 2011, pp. 172-175, Grethlein 2017, pp. 107, 123-125 (the Aithiopika as a ‘meta-narrative’), Wolf 2020, pp. 355, 359.

19 Cf. Hld., 1.1.1 (ἐπὶ τὸν πλησίον αἰγιαλὸν τῇ θέᾳ κατήγοντο); 1.2.7 (Ταῦτα ὁρῶντες οἱ Αἰγύπτιοι πρὸς ἑτέρας ἐννοίας τὴν γνώµην µετέβαλλον).

20Heliodorus’ Greek is quoted from the Budé series edition of Rattenbury/Lumb/Maillon 19603.

21The translation of the Aithiopika is Morgan’s: cf. Morgan 1989, in Reardon’s collection of English translations of the Greek love novels, from which —unless otherwise indicated— I have taken all translations of passages from novels in this article.

22Though even the pirates attribute to her aspect a corresponding inner virtue, e.g. when they describe in her an “air of courage and nobility”.

23On the construction of gender roles through the representations of vision (man sees, woman is seen and controlled) in Achilles Tatius, see Morales 2004. Leucippe, from Morales’ perspective, is subjected to the gaze of other characters, but her beauty conversely has a kind of power over these viewers, though it does not overturn the gendered divisions of the gaze. On beauty as an artful narratorial construction in Achilles Tatius, cf. Kauffman 2015, who sees a self-reflexive quality in Achilles’ depictions of ‘unreal’ and ‘incredible’ beauty.

24 Cf. Hld., 1.2.6 (οἱ µὲν γὰρ θεόν τινα ἔλεγον, καὶ θεὸν Ἄρτεµιν ἢ τὴν ἐγχώριον Ἶσιν); see also X. Eph., 1.2.7, Chariton, 1.1.2 (ἦν γὰρ τὸ κάλλος οὐκ ἀνθρώπινον ἀλλὰ θεῖον, οὐδὲ Νηρηΐδος ἢ Νύµφης τῶν ὀρειῶν ἀλλ’ αὐτῆς Ἀφροδίτης); 5.2.6; 6.3.5. Similarly, in Apuleius’ Cupid and Psyche, Psyche prompts her many admirors to guess she herself is the goddess of love (Apu., 4.28.3: inaccessae formonsitatis admiratione stupidi et […] ut ipsam prorsus deam Venerem religiosis <venerabantur> adorationibus; 4.31.1 spectatur ab omnibus, laudatur ab omnibus; 4.31.2: mirantur quidem divinam speciem, sed ut simulacrum fabre politum mirantur omnes).

25 Cf. LSJ s. v. ἀµήχανος on the semantic sphere of this almost untranslatable word.

26On Charicleia’s epiphany, see Whitmarsh 1998. Cf. Chariton 3.2.15 beauty’s similar persuasive effects on its beholders: τὸ δὲ δηµωδέστερον πλῆθος ἀνεπείθετο διὰ τὸ κάλλος καὶ τὸ ἄγνωστον τῆς γυναικὸς ὅτι Νηρηῒς ἐκ θαλάσσης ἀναβέβηκεν ἢ ὅτι θεὰ πάρεστιν ἐκ τῶν Διονυσίου κτηµάτων· τοῦτο γὰρ οἱ ναῦται διελάλουν.

27Especially striking in this passage is the juridical vocabulary, which takes κάλλος as a sign or proof of Theagenes’ aristocratic pedigree and of his noble descent from Achilles (ἀναφέρει δὲ ἑαυτὸν εἰς Ἀχιλλέα πρόγονον καί µοι καὶ ἐπαληθεύειν ἔοικεν, εἰ δεῖ τῷ µεγέθει καὶ τῷ κάλλει τοῦ νεανίου τεκµαίρεσθαι, πιστουµένων τὴν Ἀχίλλειον εὐγένειαν). On the pivotal role of the young Achilles in elite education during the (Late) Roman Imperial Period, see Cameron 2009.

28Thus, Liviabella Furiani 2013, pp. 428-434, differentiates three aspects of visual experience of beauty in the Aithiopika. According to her, it is universal and equal among all persons and peoples (1). Beauty follows an aesthetic canon of proportion and symmetry (2). This experience implies a strong erotic connotation (3).

29One famous exception proves this rule concerning the power of beauty: the only one to resist successfully to Charicleia is the old and wise Calasiris, who at an earlier occasion in Delphi has experienced Charicleia’s beauty, as a result of which he is not, one may conclude, ἀπειρόκαλος. Compared with the other figures in the novel, he does not succumb to her beauty, and what is more, he is even able to respond to this impression through a well-versed description of her (Hld., 3.6.2), thereby corresponding to the Imperial ideal of a πεπαιδευµένος, as e.g. constructed in Lucian’s De Domo.

30Comparably, in Apuleius the pulcherrima Psyche is attracted by the palace of Cupid, which is just as beautiful as she is herself (4.28.2: prolectante studio pulcherrimae visionis rimatur singula).

32 Cf. 2.30-31: Sisimithres and Charicles adopt the foundling, 8.9.9: the Persian judges refrain from an execution by stoning; 10.9.5: the Aithiopians wish Charicleia to be spared from sacrifice; 10.39: the Aithiopian gymnosophists resolve to abolish human sacrifice in the future. Cf. Keul-Deutscher 1996, p. 326, who certainly overstresses the ethical implications of the function of κάλλος.

33 Cf. Keul-Deutscher 1996, pp. 325-327. Ironically, however, in Apuleius, the association of human beauty with divinity —Met., 4.29.5 characterised as inmodica translatio— causes the indignatio of the gods.

34Cf. inter alios Thyamis 1.19.7-1.20.2, the Tyrian merchant 5.19; 5.21.1, or the pirate Trachinos 5.20.6, all of whom chase the beautiful Charicleia.

35Cf. e.g. Hld., 1.2.5; 1.3.6 (θαυµάζειν); 3.4.8. But see also X. Eph., 1.2.5; 2.2.4; 3.2.6; 5.7.3, Chariton e.g. 1.1.16; 2.2.8. Θαῦµα is not only a reaction to beautiful things, but also a reaction to rhetorical enchantment, cf. Pi., P., 1.26 (θαῦµα ἀκοῦσαι) and Pl., Sph., 233a8-9 (τὸ τῆς σοφιστικῆς δυνάµεως θαῦµα).

36Cf. Hld., 1.2.5; 1.3.5; 3.3.8 (ἐκπλήττειν); 3.4.8. On the description of similar effects in the other Greek novels, cf. X. Eph., 1.2.7 (1.12.1: καταπεπληγότες), Chariton, 5.3.9, Ach. Tat., 1.4.5. Notably, Aeschin., Or. 1.134 makes ἔκπληξις as a reaction to κάλλος explicit (κάλλει […] διενεγκόντες ἐκπλήξωσί τινας).

37Cf. esp. Hld., 3.3.8; Αch. Tat., 1.9.1. On the πάθος caused by love cf. 8.5.1. Goldhill 2007, pp. 3-8 and Zeitlin 2013 highlight the strong emotional impacts of ekphraseis onto their audiences.

38Such vividness is central to effective oratory: cf. Quint., 6.2.32 (ἐνάργεια, quae a Cicerone inlustratio et evidentia nominatur).

39In Rhetoric III, Aristotle’s advice concerns the use of style which enhances the effect of πάθος. Overlong monstrosities of words or an old-fashioned style may carry away an audience, provided that the orator exhibits a credible degree of enthusiasm, which in turn may emphasize rational dimensions. But for Aristotle, the influencing of the audience by the orator also appeals to reason and is carried out by the means of argumentation.

40On τὸ σφοδρὸν καὶ ἐνθουσιαστικὸν πάθος, cf. Ps.-Longinus, Sublim., 8.1.6 and generally Sublim., 9-15.

41We might add that πάθος is generally a keyword for the ancient Greek love novel: most prominently and programmatically, the word πάθος (ἐρωτικὸν) opens Chariton’s text, probably the earliest extant work of Greek prose fiction, following the paratextual (resp. peritextual) naming of the author (“My name is Chariton, of Aphrodisias”). The translation of the first sentence reads: “I am going to tell you the story of a love affair that took place in Syracuse”, cf. Chariton 3.2.6.

42On the text cf. Patillon 2012.

43Transl. by Konstan 2014, p. 101. Harmony and proportion form the basics of the famous sculptor Polyclitus’ (second half of fifth c. BCE) aesthetic theory, which he expounded in his treatise called Canon, and whose theoretical principles he is said to have illustrated in his statue called the Spearbearer (Doryphoros), cf. ibid. 2014, pp. 106-108.

44Ibid. 2014, p. 102.

45On the text see Foerster 1915, pp. 541-546. Stenger 2009 contains a great deal of valuable information on this pagan teacher of rhetoric (cf. p. 419 s. v. Libanius).

46According to Foerster 1915, pp. 438-439, the ekphraseis 8-30 are to be considered as pseudepigrapha and only 1-7 as genuine (Descriptiones sub Libanii nomine traditae sunt 30. Sed cum elocutionis, imprimis verborum delectus, tum compositionis ratione habita non plures quam septem […] pro genuinis habere possum). Description 30 was identified as belonging to the rhetorical school of Gaza, which was prominent in the late fifth and early sixth centuries CE, on which see Gibson 2008, pp. 427-429.

47On the connection of the standard rhetorical exercises, progymnasmata, with Heliodorus’ novel, cf. the studies by Fernández-Garrido 2011 (on the use of ἠθοποιΐα), Malosse 2012 (on the forms of διήγηµα, ἔκφρασις, and ἠθοποιΐα), Zeitlin 2013, pp. 27-29 (on ἔκφρασις). On ἔκφρασις in Heliodorus, cf. the approaches by Bartsch 1989, pp. 109-143 (and passim; on the progymnasmata and the novels cf. pp. 7-12) and Whitmarsh 2002, who considers Charicleia herself as an embodiment of ekphrastic illusion, insofar as her complexion is the result of her mother’s watching an art-work at the very moment of her daughter’s conception. On the novels’ rhetoricity, cf. Hock 1997, and on the novelists’ use of character types as an aspect of their engagement with the literary toolkit provided by rhetorical education, cf. de Temmerman 2007.

48The Greek text is taken from Foerster 1915, pp. 541-546.

49The translation of Ps.-Libanius’ ἔκφρασις follows Gibson 2008, pp. 502-507, here esp. pp. 503 and 505.

50Surprisingly, the sentence forms an intertext with Hld., 1.10.2, where the narrator of the subplot, the Athenian Cnemo, informs the protagonists how once he was desired eagerly by his Phaedra-like stepmother Demaenete, who —in sharp contrast to Ps.-Libanius’ narrator— succumbed to her passion completely: Ἡ δὲ ἐπειδὴ τὸ πρῶτον εἶδεν ἐκτὸς ἑαυτῆς γίνεται καὶ οὐδὲ ἐσοφίστευεν ἔτι τὸν ἔρωτα, ἀλλ’ ἀπὸ γυµνῆς τῆς ἐπιθυµίας προσέτρεχε καὶ περιβαλοῦσα «ὁ νέος Ἱππόλυτος, […] ὁ ἐµός» ἔλεγε (“The moment she saw me, she was beside herself. She no longer made any attempt to disguise her passion; her desire was quite blatant. She ran to me, threw her arms around me, and cried, ‘My young Hippolytos!’ ”). This similarity of expression of Ps.-Libanius and Heliodorus is already pointed out by Foerster 1915, p. 542 in app. crit. On p. 445-446 n. 1 he acknowledges that Ps.-Libanius widely imitates Achilles Tatius and Heliodorus: the latter (3rd or 4th c. CE: on the date of the Aithiopica cf. n. 2) seems to provide a terminus post quem for Ps.-Libanius’ text.

51 Cf. Hld., 1.2.1 (ἀµήχανόν τι κάλλος); Apu., Met., 4.28.2 (at vero puellae iunioris tam praecipua tam praeclara pulchritudo nec exprimi ac ne sufficienter quidem laudari sermonis humani penuria poterat).

52The text follows Garnaud 1991.

53In the extant Greek love novels, πάθος is usually directed via the eye or its ‘tool’, the gaze: whenever beautiful things are watched, they enter the souls of the viewers and stir up a range of emotions. Cf. on this implicit gaze theory concerning the origins of emotions (most prominently: love) several passages in the novelists, e.g. Chariton, 5.3.8-9, X. Eph., 1.3.2, and also Apu., Met., 5.22.4 (Psyche watches sleeping Cupid and is, to follow the wordplay, affected psychically: dum saepius divini vultus intuetur pulchritudinem, recreatur animi). Cf. also Keul-Deutscher 1997, pp. 342-343. On the importance of vision, visuality, and gaze in the novels, see Morales 2004, pp. 8-35. On visuality in Heliodorus, cf. Menze 2017.

54Transl. by Whitmarsh 2001/2006.

55Cf. the connection of persuasive speech and strong chains fastened by the ears of the listeners in Lucian’s προλαλιά Heracles, which is embedded into a description of a grotesque statue of the Gallic god Heracles Ogmius, which by the Gauls is esteemed the god of eloquence. On the ekphrasis in the Heraclescf. Bartsch 1989, pp. 26-27, 29, 42.

56See on this the note in Whitmarsh 2001/2006, p. 147 ad loc. (“towed by the lure”): “this translates ‘dragged by the peisma’ (both ‘cable’ and ‘persuasion’)”. Cf. Whitmarsh 2020, p. 140 ad Ach. Tat., 1.4.5 (“a play on words”).

57It is remarkable that this powerful beauty of the novel’s protagonists is matched by the protagonists’ rhetorical skill and charisma, which they use in order to surmount difficulties and obstacles. In Heliodorus, although the equal ranking of the couple is emphasized, the heroine of the novel leaves undoubtedly the stronger impression, not only due to her beauty, but also because of her pragmatic capabilities, whose Odyssean nature is unmistakable. Cf. Charicleia’s use of deceptive speech in Hld., 1.22.2; cf. also Theagenes’ Trugrede in Hld., 7.13.

58When the protagonists are described by a talented speaker, as by Calasiris in Hld., 3.4.7 —on the scene, cf. Grethlein 2017, p. 110—, he is able to make the listeners observers of the heroes so well illustrated that he may even provoke an “affective transmission” from speaker to audience, and then again to himself, the speaker, as he is aroused by his addressees’ enthusiasm. Calasiris falls victim to his own art of description, when he believes that the protagonists, who he had described to Cnemo, have actually arrived («θεωρεῖν αὐτοὺς καὶ ἀπόντας ᾠήθην, οὕτως ἐναργῶς τε καὶ οὓς οἶδα ἰδὼν ἡ παρὰ σοῦ διήγησις ὑπέδειξεν»). On the phenomenon, as described in Cic., De Or., 2.191, cf. Stroh 1979, pp. 124-125, who aptly termed it Affektübertragung.

59Cf., e.g., 1.2.1-3; 1.4.3; 2.4.3; 2.30.6; 2.33.3; 3.3.4; 3.3.8; 4.5.5; 5.9.2; 8.17.2.

60 Konstan 2014, p. 96. Cf. esp. ch. 4 (“Beauty Transfigured” on pp. 96-134).

61On beauty mediated through ekphraseis or “Pictures into Words” in the Imperial Age, cf. ibid. pp. 108-116.

62Such an analogy between the internal audience in, and the external audience of, the novel corresponds to the statement in Schmeling 2005, p. 37 concerning Callirhoe’s beauty, according to whom “by logical extension Chariton exposes an unstated hope that similarly large crowds of readers (secondary/external audience) might be enticed to read his novel. Because Chariton hopes to win a large external audience for his novel and also needs to explain plausibly how Callirhoe attracts such large internal crowds, he must make Callirhoe an exceedingly beautiful, appealing, and magnetic character. She is his vehicle for the road to popularity and must be surrounded by masses of people come to glimpse the beauty of a reportedly (and thus exaggerated) transcendental goddess”.

63The most prominent exponent of a reader responding in and (similarly) to the text is undoubtedly Cnemon, who particularly likes digressions and spectacular descriptions. Cf. e.g. 3.1.1, where he criticizes Calasiris’ narration, or 3.4.7, where he enthusiastically interrupts and comments on Calasiris’ narration.

64 Cf. Morales 2004, who also tracks back parallelisms of the hermeneutic activities (both viewing and reading) of the characters in the text and the effects they may have on readers of the text, including the instability of ekphrasis and interpretation.

65On reading as the “re-experience of the experience of the characters in the mitigating frame of ‘as-if’ ”, cf. Grethlein 2017, p. 119. On ‘aesthetic illusion’ in Heliodorus, cf. Wolf 2020, pp. 355, 359.

66 Whitmarsh 2011, pp. 172-175 offers a sophisticated assessment of Calasiris’ description of the Delphic procession to the enraptured Cnemon. After discussing whether Cnemon represents a positive or negative model for the reader, he argues that, because of its focus on the beauty of Theagenes and Charicleia and its impact on the spectators, “this ecphrastic passage serves as a complex, multilayered mise-en-scène of readerly desire” and “showcases Heliodorus’ astonishingly self-reflexive, theoretical approach to narrative description” (p. 175).

67On ekphraseis in Heliodorus, cf. Menze 2017. On the novels in general, cf. Bartsch 1989. Lefteratou 2019 analyzes the materiality of the described objects and the miniature artistry of the narration, which Heliodorus’ readers were supposed to appreciate.

68On the auditory experience of beauty in Heliodorus, in contrast, cf. Liviabella Furiani 2003, pp. 434-439.

69 Grethlein 2017, pp. 107-125 (“The Reconfiguration of Time in Heliodorus’ Ethiopica”) offers a thorough analysis of readerly involvement and the limits of readerly absorption in the Aithiopika, highlighting Heliodorus’ awareness of the simultaneity of immersion and distance in response to narrative.

70Similarly, Morgan 2013 underlines that Heliodorus equates “the text of his novel with the person and body of his heroine [Charicleia]” and thus establishes “a paradigm of reading as a chastely erotic action” (p. 236).

Received: June 17, 2020; Revised: June 24, 2020; Accepted: July 03, 2020


Markus Hafner: is Assistant Professor in Classics at the University of Graz (Styria/Austria). Having received his PhD in Classics at LMU Munich, he held interim professorships at the University of Heidelberg (Greek) and the Humboldt University of Berlin (Latin), as well as a Humboldt Fellowship at the University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill). His research centres, amongst others, on Greco-Roman culture of the Second Sophistic (he is author of two commentaries on Lucian of Samosata), on conceptions of cooperative authorship in Early and Classical Greek literature, and on the history of Classics in Germany.

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