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"Upon a rock sat a maiden of such inexpressible beauty as to be supposed divine. . . . Her head inclined forward without moving, for she was looking fixedly at a young man who lay at her feet. The man was disfigured with wounds, but seemed to rouse himself a little as from a deep sleep, almost of death itself. Pain had clenched his eyes, but the sight of the maiden drew them toward her. He collected his breath, heaved a deep sigh, and murmured faintly. "My sweet," said he, "are you truly safe, or are you too a casualty of the war?"
The Romance novel didn't begin with Kathleen Woodiwiss or even with the Bronte sisters. By the time Heliodorus wrote his Aethiopica—or Ethiopian Romance—in the third century, the genre was already impressively developed. Heliodorus launches his tale of love and the quirks of fate with a bizarre scene of blood, bodies, and booty on an Egyptian beach viewed through the eyes of a band of mystified pirates. The central love-struck characters are Charicles, the beautiful daughter of the Ethiopian queen, and Theagenes, a Thessalian aristocrat. The story unfolds with all the twists and devices any writer would employ today, with the added attractions of dreams, oracles, and exotic locales in the ancient Mediterranean and Africa.
Hadas's was the first modern English-language translation of this story, which was first translated into English in 1587 and was a favorite among the Elizabethans. His version of this earliest extant Greek novel remains accessible and appealing.
Posted July 15, 2011
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