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Achilles Tatius


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Greek novelist from Alexandria, author of ‘The Story of Leucippe and Cleitophon’ (Ta kata Leukippēn kai Kleitophōnta) in eight books. Shown by papyri to be circulating by the late 2nd cent. ad, it can hardly antedate ad 150. Of three other works ascribed to Achilles by the Suda (a Byzantine lexicon), two are lost (an Etymology and a Miscellaneous History of Many Great and Illustrious Men), and the ascription of that partly preserved, On the Sphere, is debated. The Suda's story that later he became a Christian, and even a bishop, is probably false. Achilles varies patterns common to the genre: the enamoured couple elope and survive shipwreck, attacks by pirates and brigands, and complicated adventures in Egypt; they are eventually reunited in Ephesus after Leucippe has passed a chastity-test (cf. Heliodorus). The story is presented as Cleitophon's autobiographic narrative, told to the writer in a temple grove at Sidon (cf. Longus). Unusually (but again cf. Longus) he succumbs (once) to the advances of a suitor, the married Ephesian Melite. Melodramatic effects include false deaths (three times Leucippe ‘dies’ and comes to life) and Achilles shares Heliodorus' and Philostratus' fondness for learned digressions, some remote from his theme (e.g. on the phoenix, 3. 25, and the elephant, 4. 4), others making important if oblique contributions, like the description of the painting of Europa(1. 1) and the debate on the respective attractions of homosexual and heterosexual love (2. 35–8). His diction atticizes (i.e. was modelled on classical Athenian speech), though not consistently; his short, asyndetic sentences, sometimes of equal length and similar rhythm (isokola), class him with Gorgias, ‘Asianic’ orators, and contemporaries like Polemon, Longus, and Aelian while a sophistic background is reflected in his characters' readiness to declaim. Ancient and modern critics alike have found him hard to evaluate. Some see his strained effects as humorous parody, but his attention to emotions and character-development is commended as realistic, and he handles sex explicitly enough to attract charges of pornography. Photius (Bibl. cod. 87, cf. Anth. Pal. 9.203) praised Achilles' style but condemned his licentiousness; most moderns, uncertain how to evaluate him, prefer Longus and Heliodorus.

Ewen Lyall Bowie

Subjects: Classical Studies.


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