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Plutarch's Ariadne in Chariton's Chaereas and Callirhoe
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Plutarch's Ariadne in Chariton's Chaereas and Callirhoe

Chaereas and Callirhoe is the earliest extant Greek novel, and the only one of its genre to make extensive use of historiographical features.1 Later novelists include such features, but do not rely on them for background and structure as much as Chariton does. Accordingly, the reader of Chaereas and Callirhoe finds verifiable historical detail in the correctly assigned dates, accurately related events, and realistically depicted places and figures of the novel.2

The story, for example, takes place in the past, famous historical figures are included, and history has a tremendous effect on the behavior of the characters. In this way Chariton imitates the classical historians in technique, not for the purpose of masquerading as a professional historian, but rather, as Hägg suggests, to create the "effect of openly mixing fictitious characters and events with historical ones."3 This effect is partially created by the use of a historical source which deals with myth.4 [End Page 473]

The introduction of the two youths in the beginning of the novel exemplifies the primary function of myth in Chariton: throughout the text the novelist assigns his leading characters analogues in the form of mythical or legendary beings.5 For example, Chaereas at different times becomes Achilles, Nireus, Hippolytus, and Alcibiades. Chariton assimilates Callirhoe to Aphrodite and Ariadne, and to a much lesser extent to Artemis, Helen, Medea, and the nymphs. Most often Chariton compares Callirhoe's loveliness to that of Aphrodite, as at the beginning of the novel: inline graphic (1.1.2).

Most importantly, Chariton likens Callirhoe to a sleeping Ariadne: inline graphic (1.6.2). Homer (Od. 11.321–25) writes that Theseus took Ariadne from Crete to Athens but that he abandoned her on the Isle of Dia (Naxos), where she was killed by Artemis at the bidding of Dionysus. Hesiod (Theog. 947–49) relates that Dionysus took Ariadne as his wife and that Kronos made her immortal. Chariton's version in 1.6.2, therefore, loosely follows the narratives of Homer and Hesiod. The novelist introduces this myth after the heroine has been kicked into a coma by her husband, a fitting moment for the myth of Ariadne: she, like Callirhoe, suffered an injustice at the hands of someone she loved.6

In the third book of the novel Chaereas attributes the disappearance of his wife to some divinity, and likens this to Dionysus' theft of Ariadne from Theseus (3.3.5). Unlike the version of the Ariadne myth found in 1.6.2, this one is slightly different. It becomes obvious that there is a specific source Chariton is using to draw upon for these various versions.

I shall show that Chariton must have used Plutarch, or perhaps, though unlikely, Paeon, one of the imperial historian's sources. A narratological and verbal comparison of Plutarch's account of the adventures of Theseus and Ariadne, as found in his Theseus, and the Ariadne–like adventures of Callirhoe makes it clear that the novelist drew upon him. [End Page 474] This use of Plutarch, moreover, elucidates Chariton's attempt at historical veracity in dates, events, places, and figures.7

Plutarch in Theseus associates Aphrodite with Ariadne (just as Chariton does), and supplies various accounts of the adventures of Ariadne and Theseus. These accounts are found in the works of other authors whom Plutarch names,8 and it is mainly on these stories that Chariton models his version of the Ariadne myth, especially at 3.3.5.

The historian writes that Ariadne fell in love with Theseus when he arrived on the island of Crete. She gave him the clue which enabled Theseus, after killing the Minotaur, to exit the Labyrinth. The historian uses the accounts of Pherecydes ( fl. c. 550 B.C.), Demon (fl. c. 300 B.C.), Philochorus (b. 340 B.C.), and Cleidemus ( fl. c. 350 B.C.), all of whom give differing versions of the escape of Theseus, the death of the Minotaur, and of the love of Ariadne for Theseus. Cleidemus' account is of particular interest because he describes the escape of Daedalus from Crete and draws attention to the ship sent by Minos...