A Husband is More Important Than a Child

The Ending of Chariton’s Callirhoe Revisited

in Mnemosyne
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This article makes a fresh contribution to the interpretation of the ending of Chariton’s novel—an ending that has troubled many scholars, mainly due to the eventual separation of the loving couple from their biological child. It is argued that the outcome of Chariton’s plot is artistically prepared and is convincing to his readers; the argument relies on the realistic character of Chariton’s plot, and more importantly, on the elevation of the concept of sophrosyne to the status of a basic feature of both plot and characterisation.

A Husband is More Important Than a Child

The Ending of Chariton’s Callirhoe Revisited

in Mnemosyne



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See now Paschalis (2013) who argues that the novel’s ‘basic plot’ is constructed on features derived from Syracusan history.


See e.g. Hunter 19941055; Reardon 2003 327. In an effort to explain the vagueness and confusion of the novel’s historical content as well as the child’s abandonment in Miletos which he thought too strange to have been invented by Chariton Perry (1930 100-102; cf. 1967 138) postulated a popular tale about Hermokrates and his daughter as the basis of the author’s inspiration (a view that goes back to W. Schmid; Naber assumed that the myth was invented by Chariton)—but this is purely speculative and unnecessary: Callirhoe has the basic features of a ‘historical novel’ which uses historical elements as a loose setting and not as a main theme and is expected to mix truth and fiction (see Hägg 1987 194-197; Chariton’s novel meets most but not all the criteria that define historical novels cf. Reardon 2003 327).


Schwartz 199928.


Cf. Reardon 198214; 2003 327-328. But echoes of the society and law of the classical polis are not absent (see Karabélias 1988 371-372).


Corbier 200158; unlike in modern western societies a child’s right to life in Greco-Roman antiquity depended entirely on its father (ibid. 60). For references to abandoned or exposed children in Greek and Roman literature see Schwartz 1999 27 n. 8. It should be remembered that exposure gave the child (particularly a boy) some chance of a future whereas simple neglect at birth would often be enough to put an end to its life.


Thus Morgan 1993224. Perry (1930 103) saw it as “a real calamity from the sentimental point of view.”


Tilg 2010167 (“Only [Chariton] has risen to the paradoxical blend of chastity and motherhood embodied in Kallirhoe”).


Thus Kapparis 2002125-126.


The quotations are from Perry 1930103-104. He explained in the same manner the comparatively weak character of Chaireas. Cf. Müller (1976 133) on the realism of Kallirhoe’s tactful letter to Dionysios at the end of the novel. It has even been suggested that Chariton far from working within an established tradition was the man who invented the love novel (see Reardon 2004 184; Bowie 2008 21)—a thesis elaborated by Tilg (2010). A realistic attitude to the theme of the child is also found in later novels e.g. in Longus regarding Daphnis’ exposure as a means of regulating the number of children his family could rear (cf. Corbier 2001 72) where it is also implied that the father has the final say about a newborn’s fate (4.24.1) and in Heliodorus where the infant Charikleia is abandoned by her mother for social reasons (2.31.1 4.8). A closer look at the mentioned passages notably suggests that these later novelists feel the need to provide more explicit emotional reasoning for decisions surrounding the children’s fate than Chariton does; cf. the speech of Daphnis’ father (Daphnis’ exposure was a ‘most reluctant decision’) and the emotional tone of the letter of Charikleia’s mother to her daughter.


See the strong case made by Reardon (1982); cf. Egger 1994a; Hunter 1994 1065-1066.


Perry 1930125. On Chariton’s irony see recently Brethes 2007; cf. Lentakis (2009) who reads some of Chariton’s Homeric allusions as parody.


1 1988370-371. See also above n. 13. This point can be compared to the Menandrian technique of leaving certain details of the plot—including the legal implications of some of the characters’ actions— vague; see Brown 1983.


Kasprzyk 2009111; his article amply demonstrates the semantic richness of the term in Achilles Tatius which he variously interprets as: ‘contrôle des passions’ ‘raison’ ‘sagesse’ and ‘décence’ (ibid. 113-114). Cf. Hld. 2.17.4 (τò σωφρονέστερον ‘greater prudence’); 5.29.6 (τεθνάναι σωφρόνως ‘die virtuously’); 8.9.18 (σωφρονήσαντες ‘be wise’). Note in particular a passage from Ach.Tat. (1.8.6) where Penelope is ironically called sophron as she was responsible for the death of many men (the suitors). Kasprzyk (ibid. 103 and n. 18) rightly notes that Penelope’s proverbial chastity here becomes an object of rhetorical manipulation; but the ironic value of the adjective sophron must imply that chaste behaviour does not exhaust the moral requirements of sophrosyne.


Heiserman 1975291; Johne 2003 180-181. Reardon (2003 330; cf. 1982 22-23) saw the child as a ‘consolation prize’ for Dionysios (cf. Tilg 2010 167).


E.g. Heiserman 1975295-296; cf. Goldhill 1995 128-132.


Cf. Reardon 198211. See also below ‘The character of Kallirhoe’.


Cf. Heiserman 1977who described the novel as “a fantasy of erotic power. . . in conflict with and therefore sanctioned by a fantasy of moral power”—but limited ‘moral power’ to chastity.


Johne 20031980.


Konstan (1994) has argued for ‘sexual symmetry’ in the Greek novels (the hero and heroine share a mutual reciprocal form of affection).


See Egger 1994a36-42.


Cf. Goldhill 1995132-133.


Cf. Hunter 19941062-1063; Kallirhoe’s pregnancy may be presented as the work of Tyche (2.8.3-4) but the heroine’s reaction to it is eventually guided by sophrosyne.


Tilg 2010166-167 (“Only he has risen to the paradoxical blend of chastity and motherhood embodied in Kallirhoe”).


Whitmarsh 2011167.


See e.g. Reardon 198221. Projection of modern values and modern tastes onto the ancient plot would threaten our understanding. On the old question of just who exactly these ancient readers where (the pepaideumenoi? an uneducated lower class? women?) see West (2003) and Egger (1994a 34-36) with bibliography. The view that Chariton mainly targeted a female readership (who would particularly appreciate the prominence of the novel’s female leading character) is hard to resist; West further suggests that Chariton’s novel was meant to be read aloud in instalments to a female audience as an accompaniment to textile production a standard occupation of ancient women; this perhaps explains the frequent recapitulations (West ibid. 68; see also Hägg 1994 on the view that early novels were read aloud by the ‘professionally literate’ to an audience). It is tempting to think that this has implications for the novel’s composition—the novel contains indications of both orality and textuality (cf. Bowie 2009 116 and Hunter 1994 1066).

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