Greek novelist, author of the eight-book Chaereas and Callirhoë (Ta peri Chairean kai Kallirhoēn). He opens by naming himself and his city, Aphrodisias in Caria, claiming to be secretary to an orator Athenagoras. All three names have been suspected as appropriate fictions, but both personal names appear on inscriptions of Aphrodisias, Athenagoras recurring in two prominent families. Papyri date Chariton not later than the mid-2nd cent. ad, but although scholars agree in making his, or Xenophon Ephesius', the earliest of the novels surviving complete, dates are canvassed between the 1st cent. bc and Hadrian's reign. His use of a historical character (Callirhoë's father is the Syracusan Hermocrates, victor over the Athenians in 413 bc) suggests an early stage in the genre's development. The historical miseen-scène, much quotation of Homer, and allusion to many other classical authors (notably Thucydides and the more famous Xenophon) show some literary ambition, confirmed by careful avoidance of hiatus; yet Chariton's diction does not Atticize (imitate classical Athenian Greek); hence Papanikolaou dated him in the 1st cent. bc.
Chariton begins at Syracuse: Chaereas and Callirhoë, both outstandingly beautiful, fall in love and marry. Soon after marriage Chaereas, driven to jealousy by disappointed rivals, kicks his pregnant wife. Taken for dead she is buried, but tomb-robbers find her alive, and in Miletus sell her to the rich and educated Dionysius. Chaereas learns of Callirhoë's abduction, and, searching for her, is himself enslaved. Callirhoë marries Dionysius to protect the child she expects by Chaereas, but her beauty overwhelms the satrap Mithradates, then Artaxerxes, the Persian king, at whose court Mithradates and Dionysius dispute their claims to her, and she and Chaereas again meet. Eventually the couple, reunited, return to Syracuse, to live happily ever after.
Chariton deploys traditional elements of the genre (travel, false deaths, pirates, enslavements, shipwrecks, happy ending) in a clear, linear narrative whose components are adroitly joined; key twists he ascribes to Fortune (Tychē), occasionally directing readers' responses by authorial comment (e.g. 8. 1. 4).
Ewen Lyall Bowie
Subjects: Classical Studies.