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Chaereas and Callirhoe is the first European novel. Another accurate description would be to call it a melodrama with comical overtones that reads like the Ancient equivalent of a Soap Opera.
Their schemes convince him that she is unfaithful and in a fit of rage he kicks her in the stomach, which knocks the wind out of her. He believes he has killed his wife. She is so beautiful that the citizens mistake her for Aphrodite walking around in the flesh. She marries him and pretends the child was actually his own. Back at home, Chaereas and the citizens of Syracuse discover the empty tomb. They sail out in search of the missing Callirhoe.
He asks the King of Persia to judge the case. All the parties head to Babylon. Mithridates successfully defends himself from the spurious charges by producing Chaereas. The two lovers reunite, but now the King of Persia must stand in judgement of a new case: who is Callirhoe actually married to, Chaereas or Dionysius? The King of Persia delays sitting in judgement because it turns out he too has fallen in love with Callirhoe.
Chaereas becomes a prominent military commander for the rebellion, and eventually rescues Callirhoe. The two sail off home and they live happily ever after. I think one immediately understands what I mean when I say it reads like a Soap Opera: Jim loved Maria, but his jealous passion caused him to kill her her, but wait.
Melodrama is the order of the day. This a novel that I suspect would make many a modern feminist cringe. Callirhoe bemoans her fate because of her beauty. In the melodramatic fashion I described she curses her beauty and prostrates herself in tears before Aphrodite wishing she had never been born beautiful. Likewise, her beauty itself becomes a magnet for men throughout the text, each plotting and scheming against each other so they can be with Callirhoe.
If he had not been jealous in the first place none of this would have happened. Dionysius later curses himself for his jealousy, realizing if he had just kept quiet about the letters he could have prevented Callirhoe from ever discovering that Chaereas was alive and would still be with her.
The novel not only scrutinizes the lives of women, but also the conduct of men; jealousy unravels lives. Moral themes and historical curiosities aside, the true strength of the story is as a story.
It is not as complex or interesting as a modern novel. I thought your review here would be fun to include. You can also get back to me at ajpeters andrewjpeterswrites.
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Chaereas and Callirhoe is the first European novel. Another accurate description would be to call it a melodrama with comical overtones that reads like the Ancient equivalent of a Soap Opera. Their schemes convince him that she is unfaithful and in a fit of rage he kicks her in the stomach, which knocks the wind out of her. He believes he has killed his wife. She is so beautiful that the citizens mistake her for Aphrodite walking around in the flesh.
Chaereas and Callirhoë
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