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Spartans in the ancient Greek novels

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  04 September 2023

Daniel Jolowicz*
Downing College, Cambridge
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Characters in the Greek novels comprise a dizzying array of identities, but one group of people who have received barely any attention are Spartans. They appear only in Chariton of Aphrodisias and Xenophon of Ephesus, where analysis of their presence sheds crucial light on the novels’ literary and sociocultural agendas. After an introduction (section I), section II discusses Chaereas’ self-characterization as the Spartan Leonidas in book 7 of Chariton’s Chaereas and Callirhoe in the context of Imperial-period Sparta: its institutions (the Leonideia festival), prosopography (the Euryclid dynasty) and reputation for military greatness. I link these elements to the ‘kinsman of Brasidas’ in book 8, who can be directly connected to an Imperial-period descendant of Brasidas in Plutarch’s Sayings of Kings and Commanders, as well as to Thucydides’ Brasidas. Section III explores the Spartan identity of Aegialeus and Thelxinoe, the protagonists of an inset story told to Habrocomes in book 5 of Xenophon’s Ephesiaca. Details of their lives correspond closely to Spartan cultural phenomena familiar from Plutarch’s Life of Lycurgus, especially in connection with marriage customs. This has consequences for the evaluation of Xenophon as a witty and sophisticated novelist, and for his compositional date. Section IV draws out the significant parallels between the depiction of Spartans in Chariton and Xenophon, which form the basis of proposals regarding their literary and chronological relationships.

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I. Introduction

One of the distinctive features of the ancient Greek novel is its dizzying geographical expansiveness. Over the course of a narrative characters traverse vast swathes of the oikoumenē, be they on missions of love, banditry or war: as far west as Sicily, as far east as Babylon, as far south as Egypt and Ethiopia, as far north as Thule, and a multitude of destinations in between.Footnote 1 Composed as they are during the Roman period (I return to the question of dating below), the novels reflect the fact that the world is a large place, populated by a range of ethnicities and identities.

Two such novels, whose protagonists wheel vertiginously in and around the Mediterranean basin, are Chariton of Aphrodisias’ Chaereas and Callirhoe and Xenophon of Ephesus’ Ephesiaca. Both have attracted a great deal of scholarly emphasis on the role played by geography and (national) identity, and there are abiding questions over the extent to which peoples and places are invested with specific interpretative potential. Sometimes this is ideological or political, and contemporary resonance is claimed: Chariton’s Persians can be read as a refracted version of the Romans, and his rebellious Egyptians as a reflection of Egypt’s perennially troublesome posture towards Rome;Footnote 2 and it has likewise been proposed that Chariton’s Sicily offers a venue for thinking about Roman imperialism.Footnote 3 Geography may also contribute to the articulation of a Greek civic identity: ‘In the early romances of Xenophon and Chariton, “abroad” functions as an absence or negation of “home”; and, qualitatively speaking, it represents an inversion (geographic, cultural and ethical) of the patris’.Footnote 4 Of course, it is not always necessary to read geographical elements ideologically. For example, Anton Bierl psychoanalyses the rapid geographical movement in Xenophon as reflecting a dreamlike (or, rather, nightmarish) condition of erotic separation, and David Konstan suggests that Xenophon’s Rhodes functions as an ‘erotic’ space of reunion prior to the return to the ‘civic’ space of the protagonists’ homeland, Ephesus.Footnote 5 For John Morgan, travel in Chariton and Xenophon is less a function of any sociopolitical self-positioning on the part of the authors than it is a principle of narrative organization;Footnote 6 and Andrea Capra recognizes that Xenophon’s geographical comprehensiveness may speak to popular aesthetic principles.Footnote 7

Given that Chariton announces himself as a citizen of Aphrodisias at the beginning of his novel (Xαρίτων Ἀφροδισιϵύς, 1.1.1) and that the Suda (ξ 50) determines Xenophon to be from Ephesus, there is a large question mark over the extent to which the putative identities of the novelists should be brought to bear on any interpretation;Footnote 8 and indeed whether these putative identities can be called upon to make claims about the novels’ relationship with the contemporary, extratextual world.Footnote 9 This issue is further complicated by the lack of consensus regarding the dates at which these novels were composed, as well as their relative chronology: possibilities range from the Neronian to Hadrianic periods for Chariton, and some point in the first to third centuries for Xenophon; and the general (although certainly not universal) consensus is that Xenophon postdates Chariton.Footnote 10 I shall return to the important (but eternally slippery) problems of absolute dating and relative chronology at the end of section III and in section IV.

It should be clear from the above survey that there are no simple answers to questions raised by geography and cultural identity in these texts, which excite a range of responses and approaches. One group of people in the novels who have received less attention than they deserve are the Spartans. They appear only in Chariton and Xenophon.Footnote 11 Even here, they are not as prominent as representatives of other cultures, but an analysis of their presence and function sheds crucial new light on various aspects of these texts, with serious ramifications for their literary and sociocultural agendas. Section II discusses Chaereas’ self-characterization as the Spartan Leonidas (of Thermopylae fame) in book 7 of Chariton’s Chaereas and Callirhoe in the context of Imperial-period Sparta: its institutions (the Leonideia festival), prosopography and famous personalities (the Euryclid dynasty), and reputation for military greatness. I then link these elements to the ‘kinsman of Brasidas’ who appears in book 8, and who I likewise suggest is directly connected to the descendant of Brasidas who features in Plutarch’s Sayings of Kings and Commanders, as well as to Thucydides’ Brasidas. Section III explores the Spartan identity of Aegialeus and Thelxinoe, the protagonists of an inset story told to Habrocomes in book 5 of Xenophon’s Ephesiaca. Details of their lives correspond closely to Spartan cultural phenomena familiar from Plutarch’s Life of Lycurgus, especially in connection with marriage customs. This has consequences for the evaluation of Xenophon as a witty and sophisticated novelist, and for his compositional date. Section IV draws out the significant parallels between the depiction of Spartans in Chariton and Xenophon, which form the basis of proposals regarding their literary and chronological relationships.

II. Leonidas and Brasidas in Chariton: the Leonideia, the Euryclids and Spartan military strength

i. Introduction

In Chariton, Sparta rears its head in three specific instances. The first is Dionysius’ comparison of Callirhoe with Helen, whose husband Menelaus could not keep her safe even ‘in respectable Sparta’ (ἐν τῇ σώφρονι Σπάρτῃ, 5.2.8);Footnote 12 the spectre of Helen, that cynosure of Spartan mythology, looms large as an ethical paradigm over the Greek novels, as has been comprehensively established by Anna Lefteratou.Footnote 13 My focus, however, is on two moments in books 7 and 8, both of which occur in the context of Chaereas’ military operations at the head of a band of mercenaries employed by the Egyptian pharaoh, who has revolted from the Persian king, Artaxerxes. In what follows, my aim is to excavate the multiple elements of Spartan history, spanning the Classical Greek and Roman Imperial periods, that impinge on the interpretation of these passages and, thereby, on the wider currents of Chariton’s novel. Although the novel is set roughly 500 years before the time of its composition, my argument proceeds from the basis that it is not hermetically sealed from the contemporary world (and the Spartan phenomena within it). This necessarily involves a degree of speculation and cumulative argumentation whose rewards, I hope, outweigh the risks.

I shall set out the two episodes here, so that the range of themes is visible from the outset. In the first, the Egyptians, having revolted from Persia, succeed in detaching every city in Syria and Phoenicia from Persia except for Tyre. In the meantime, Chaereas and his companion Polycharmus, having absconded from Artaxerxes’ war train, turn up at the Egyptian camp, and Chaereas is appointed as the pharaoh’s advisor (7.2.5), after which he and a hand-picked squadron capture Tyre by guile. The reader learns that he is scrupulous in the recruitment process:

πρῶτον ἀνηρϵύνα ϵἴ τινϵς ϵἶϵν Ἕλληνϵς ἐν τῷ στρατοπέδῳ. πλϵίονϵς μὲν οὖν ϵὑρέθησαν οἱ μισθοφοροῦντϵς, ἐξϵλέξατο δὲ Λακϵδαιμονίους καὶ Κορινθίους καὶ τοὺς ἄλλους Πϵλοποννησίους· ϵὗρϵ δὲ καὶ ὡς ϵἴκοσι Σικϵλιώτας.

He first tried to find out whether there were any Greeks in the camp. Sure enough, a great many were found serving as mercenaries, and from these he selected Spartans and Corinthians and others who were Peloponnesians. He also discovered about twenty Sicilians. (7.3.7)Footnote 14

To this band, numbered at 300, he makes a speech of encouragement, in which he emphasizes their shared Dorian extraction, likens himself to historical Spartan commanders who have led contingents of 300 and offers himself as their leader against the Tyrians:

ποιήσας οὖν τριακοσίους τὸν ἀριθμὸν ἔλϵξϵν ὧδϵ· “Ἄνδρϵς Ἕλληνϵς, ἐμοὶ τοῦ βασιλέως ἐξουσίαν παρασχόντος ἐπιλέξασθαι τῆς στρατιᾶς τοὺς ἀρίστους, ϵἱλόμην ὑμᾶς· καὶ γὰρ αὐτὸς Ἕλλην ϵἰμί, Συρακόσιος, γένος Δωριϵύς. δϵῖ δὲ ἡμᾶς μὴ μόνον ϵὐγϵνϵίᾳ τῶν ἄλλων ἀλλὰ καὶ ἀρϵτῇ διαφέρϵιν. μηδϵὶς οὖν καταπλαγῇ τὴν πρᾶξιν ἐφ’ ἣν ὑμᾶς παρακαλῶ, καὶ γὰρ δυνατὴν ϵὑρήσομϵν καὶ ῥᾳδίαν, δόξῃ μᾶλλον ἢ πϵίρᾳ δύσκολον. Ἕλληνϵς ἐν Θϵρμοπύλαις τοσοῦτοι Ξέρξην ὑπέστησαν. Τύριοι δὲ οὐκ ϵἰσὶ πϵντακόσιαι μυριάδϵς, ἀλλὰ ὀλίγοι καὶ καταφρονήσϵι μϵτ’ ἀλαζονϵίας, οὐ φρονήματι μϵτ’ ϵὐβουλίας χρώμϵνοι. γνώτωσαν οὖν πόσον Ἕλληνϵς Φοινίκων διαφέρουσιν. … ἀλλ’ ἔν τϵ τῷ παρόντι σὺν θϵοῖς ἔνδοξοι καὶ πϵρίβλϵπτοι γϵνήσϵσθϵ καὶ πλουσιώτατοι τῶν συμμάχων, ϵἴς τϵ τὸ μέλλον ὄνομα καταλϵίψϵτϵ τῆς ἀρϵτῆς ἀθάνατον καὶ ὡς πάντϵς ὑμνοῦσι τοὺς μϵτὰ ὈθρυάδουFootnote 15 ἢ τοὺς μϵτὰ Λϵωνίδου, οὕτω καὶ τοὺς μϵτὰ Xαιρέου τριακοσίους ἀνϵυφημήσουσιν.” ἔτι λέγοντος πάντϵς ἀνέκραγον “ἡγοῦ,” καὶ πάντϵς ὥρμησαν ἐπὶ τὰ ὅπλα.

Having thus made up a band of 300 men he addressed them as follows: ‘Fellow Greeks, when his Majesty gave me authority to select the best soldiers in the army, I chose you. I am Greek myself, from Syracuse, of Dorian stock. We must show that we surpass the others not only in noble origin but also in courage. No one should be alarmed at the venture which I am asking you to undertake; in fact we shall find it both possible and easy, seeming more difficult than it really is. This same number of Greeks once stood up against Xerxes at Thermopylae. The Tyrians, however, are not 5,000,000 in number, but only a few, and they rely upon impudence and bragging, not upon resolution and prudence. Let them realize the difference between Greeks and Phoenicians … Indeed with the gods’ help you shall gain present glory and fame as well as the greatest wealth among the allies, and, for the future, you shall leave behind an undying memory of heroism, and just as all men commemorate the 300 of Othryadas or Leonidas, so they will the 300 of Chaereas’. Before he had finished, all shouted, ‘Lead on’, and they all rushed for their arms. (7.3.8–11)

The second episode under consideration occurs in book 8. Following the success of Chaereas and his 300 Dorians against Tyre, the Egyptian land forces are defeated by the Persians, and the pharaoh is killed. Chaereas, now admiral of the Egyptian fleet stationed temporarily on Cyprus, gives a despondent speech in which he suggests capitulation to, or flight from, the Persian king (8.2.10–11). A character identified as a kinsman of Brasidas then makes a proposal:

σιωπῆς ἐπὶ τούτοις γϵνομένης Λακϵδαιμόνιος ἀνήρ, βρασίδου συγγϵνής, κατὰ μϵγάλην ἀνάγκην τῆς Σπάρτης ἐκπϵσών, πρῶτος ἐτόλμησϵν ϵἰπϵῖν “τί δὲ ζητοῦμϵν ποῦ φύγωμϵν βασιλέα; ἔχομϵν γὰρ θάλασσαν καὶ τριήρϵις· ἀμφότϵρα δὲ ἡμᾶς ϵἰς Σικϵλίαν ἄγϵι καὶ Συρακούσας, ὅπου οὐ μόνον Πέρσας οὐκ ἂν δϵίσαμϵν, ἀλλ’ οὐδὲ Ἀθηναίους”.

That was met with silence until a Spartan, a kinsman of Brasidas who had been exiled from Sparta under severe pressure, was the first to get up the courage to speak. ‘Why are we looking for a place where we can escape from the king? We’ve got sea and ships. Both can take us to Sicily and Syracuse, where we wouldn’t have to fear the Persians, or the Athenians for that matter’. (8.2.12)

Chaereas, testing the strength of opinion, momentarily pretends not to agree, before offering his full support to the plan (8.2.13–14). These two episodes should, I suggest, be considered in counterpoint with one another, given their explicit citation of individuals and events related to moments of Spartan history.

As scholars have demonstrated, Chaereas and his squadron of Dorian mercenaries represent a polysemous prospect. In this part of the novel, behind Chaereas himself is said to lie an impressively glittering cast of characters from the annals of Greek literature and history: his speeches and actions recall a variety of Homeric heroes (Achilles, Diomedes, Odysseus and Agamemnon);Footnote 16 the dramatic metamorphosis in his character (from suicidal and lovelorn in books 1–6 to accomplished military leader and rhetorical maestro in books 7–8) resembles the Athenian Themistocles;Footnote 17 the description of his entry into the harbour at Syracuse seems modelled in part on that of the Athenian Alcibiades from Samos into the Piraeus in 407 BC;Footnote 18 Chaereas’ military action on behalf of the Egyptians against Persia parallels the activities of the Athenian general Chabrias, who commanded the Egyptian fleet against the Persian territory of Syria in King Tachos’ revolt from Artaxerxes II in 360 BC, and whose force also contained Spartan mercenaries;Footnote 19 Chaereas likewise plays the role of the Spartan king Agesilaus II, who in 361 BC headed a Spartan mercenary outfit for the Egyptian king, Nectanebo I, against Persia; and Alexander’s siege of Tyre in 333/2 BC provides a model for Chaereas’ capture of the same city.Footnote 20 Finally, his conveyance of Persian spoils back to Syracuse may represent a reversal of the Roman general Marcellus’ spoliation of that city in 211 BC.Footnote 21

Analogies pertaining specifically to Sparta have also been canvassed. A group of Greek mercenaries serving in an army in revolt from Persia bears an obvious and significant resemblance to the events of 401–399 BC, as famously narrated in Xenophon of Athens’ Anabasis and Hellenica, when Cyrus the Younger hired 10,000 Greek mercenaries, under the command of a series of Spartan generals and harmosts (Clearchus, Cheirisophus and, later, Thibron),Footnote 22 as well as Xenophon himself, with the aim of seizing the Persian throne from his brother, Artaxerxes II.Footnote 23 Particular elements of these events have clearly influenced Chariton’s novel: both Chaereas and Cyrus are explicit in their choice of Peloponnesian mercenaries (An. 1.1.6);Footnote 24 speeches made by Clearchus and Xenophon to their men regarding the choice of leader, or by Xenophon to his men before engaging the Persians, are mirrored by that of Chaereas to his Dorians (7.3.10).Footnote 25 Or, when Chaereas deceptively identifies himself and his men to the Tyrians as Greek mercenaries who have not been paid by the Egyptians (whom, he claims, are plotting to kill the Greeks), they are, according to Stephen Trzaskoma, lodging a ‘complaint always on the lips of the Cyreans’ and reflecting ‘the most famous plot by a monarch of Persia to kill Greek mercenaries’, namely that from the Anabasis.Footnote 26 Finally, it is also tempting to detect in Chaereas’ negotiation of peace between the Persian king Artaxerxes and the Egyptians in book 8 a hint of the Spartan Antalcidas, who, on behalf of the Athenians, famously engineered the so-called ‘King’s Peace’ (or ‘Peace of Antalcidas’) with Artaxerxes II in 387/6 BC.Footnote 27

Such is the medley of historical analogies (predominantly Spartan, but also Athenian, Persian, Macedonian and Roman) that has been proposed for Chaereas and his mercenary band. Chariton is clearly well read in classical historiography, expecting a comparable level of paideia from his readers, and his reputation as author of a ‘historical novel’ is hard earned.Footnote 28 Yet all the analogies outlined above operate more generally at the structural and thematic levels, and those relating to Sparta in particular, whilst exhibiting certain lexical parallels with Xenophon of Athens, trade chiefly on Sparta’s reputation for fielding mercenary forces in the destabilized Greek world of the fourth century BC.Footnote 29 They do not, however, account for those Spartan personalities who are explicitly cited, in particular Leonidas and Brasidas.

ii. The Leonideia festival

In his pre-battle speech prior to their capture of Tyre, the Syracusan Chaereas explicitly compares himself and his 300 men (comprising Peloponnesians and also 20 Sicilians) to Leonidas and his 300 Spartans, who held the pass at Thermopylae in the face of the Persian advance in 480 BC.Footnote 30 The parallel is unhappy insofar as Leonidas and all but two of his men die and the Persians take the pass, but Chaereas’ point is not necessarily that he and his men will perish,Footnote 31 but to show what a small group of Greeks can do against a large number of non-Greeks,Footnote 32 and to assure his men of future prestige. Chariton’s elaborate and explicit comparison of Chaereas with Leonidas at Thermopylae can, I suggest, be keyed into a number of Imperial-period phenomena: the Leonideia festival, the Spartan Euryclid dynasty and Sparta’s role as a paragon of military strength. All of these reflect the symbolic significance and contemporary role (cultural, political, military) of Sparta in the Roman Empire, especially against the backdrop of the commemoration of the Persian Wars.

Commemoration of the Persian Wars became an important component of Rome’s ideological arsenal from the Augustan period onwards. Seneca’s Suasoriae attest to the fact that, at least in the Augustan and Tiberian periods, commemoration of the Spartan hero Leonidas and his actions at Thermopylae was a popular topic for declaimers: Suasoria 2.2, entitled ‘The 300 Spartans sent against Xerxes deliberate whether they too should retreat following the flight of the contingents of 300 sent from all over Greece’, records no fewer than 12 declaimers who spoke on this theme.Footnote 33 With encouragement from the imperial centre, such commemoration, usually articulated within an agonistic and festival structure, was central to the creation and maintenance of Greek identity; Athens and Sparta were the principal importers of, and participants in, this ideology.Footnote 34

Whilst Athens focused its commemorative efforts on Marathon, Salamis, Plataea and Eurymedon,Footnote 35 Sparta could stake a more obvious claim to pre-eminence at Thermopylae. The annual Spartan festival of the Leonideia is a prime example. The periegete Pausanias, writing in the third quarter of the second century, is informative:

Opposite the theatre are two tombs; the first is that of Pausanias, the general at Plataea, the second is that of Leonidas. Every year they deliver speeches over them, and hold a contest in which none may compete except Spartans. The bones of Leonidas were taken by Pausanias from Thermopylae forty years after the battle. There is set up a slab with the names, and their fathers’ names, of those who endured the struggle at Thermopylae against the Persians. (Paus. 3.14.1, tr. Jones and Ormerod (Reference Jones and Ormerod1926))

This is certainly a reference to the Leonideia, a festival honouring the actions of Leonidas and his 300 at Thermopylae. An epigraphic dossier indicates that the festival was reorganized in the Trajanic period by a certain C. Julius Agesilaus, whose endowment allowed for prizes to be doubled in value (IG V 1.18–20). His reorganization was no doubt spurred by Trajan’s campaigns against the Dacians and Parthians and the resultant revival of commemoration of the Persian Wars in imperial Rome.Footnote 36 The festival included athletic contests (at which victors are attested from as far afield as Sardis and Alexandria, as well as perhaps Thyateira, Sidon and Tarsus)Footnote 37 and speeches, which probably involved a ‘commemoration of the dead by ceremonial oratory’.Footnote 38 Indeed, that the name Leonidas lived on in Spartan cultural memory of the Roman period is shown by its appearance in a list of gerontes of AD 136/7.Footnote 39

This commemorative impulse can, I suggest, help explain Chaereas’ focus on future remembrance: ‘in the future (ϵἴς τϵ τὸ μέλλον) you shall leave behind an undying memory of heroism (ὄνομα καταλϵίψϵτϵ τῆς ἀρϵτῆς ἀθάνατον), and just as all men commemorate (ὑμνοῦσι) the 300 of Othryadas or Leonidas, so they will honour (ἀνϵυφημήσουσιν) the 300 of Chaereas’. Chaereas’ analogy and the language in which it is couched constitute a possible awareness, on Chariton’s part, of Leonidas as a recipient of cultic honours, a phenomenon institutionalized at Sparta by the establishment of the Leonideia festival. To be sure, it would go beyond the evidence to insist that Chariton’s ὑμνοῦσι necessarily implies a specific reference to the Leonideia (as opposed to the more general phenomenon of remembrance of the 300), but it is a reasonable likelihood given the traditional and widespread use of the verb ὑμνέω (and cognates) in connection with athletic winners on the festival circuit and, more specifically, the verb’s sense of regularized and repetitive praise (such as that at an annual festival) in Plato and subsequent authors.Footnote 40 Of course, whilst the extended analogy in Chaereas’ speech is that between himself and Leonidas at Thermopylae, the addition of Othryadas also points to the Imperial-period tendency to conflate the two heroes (Leonidas and Othryadas) in declamatory, rhetorical and philosophical contexts.Footnote 41 But Othryadas is a less relevant paradigm here than Leonidas: textual corruption makes it uncertain that Othryadas is in fact named and, even if he is, he was the sole survivor in a combat (the ‘Battle of Champions’) between two Greek armies (Spartans and Argives) of equal number (300; Hdt. 1.82); this is in contrast to Leonidas and Chaereas, who fight against non-Greeks of vastly superior number.Footnote 42 Leonidas and his feat at Thermopylae are therefore the more resonant and obvious point of focus.

But why might Chariton, who claims to be from Carian Aphrodisias in Asia Minor, be interested in contemporary Spartan phenomena such as the Leonideia? A general answer relates to the fact that Athens and Sparta were symbolic centrepieces of the Greek world, paradigmatically so, in terms of their opposition during the Peloponnesian War, a major result of which was the Athenian defeat at the hands of the Syracusan Hermocrates (the protagonist Callirhoe’s father) in 413 BC. Hence Chariton, or at least his characters, exhibit a sustained aversion to anything Athenian: the pirate Theron avoids Athens and criticizes Athenian society (1.11.6) and the Athenian defeat off Sicily is a repeated frame of reference (1.1.13, 1.11.2, 7.5.8).Footnote 43 This results in an unsurprising gravitational pull towards Sparta at the level of the dramatic fiction, which is evident from Chariton’s manifest interest in personae and events connected with Spartan history. Sparta was not, however, a mere name from the pages of history: it was at the ideological heart of contemporary Greece and of Rome’s construction of Greekness (as I shall discuss more fully below).Footnote 44 Chariton’s novel cannot be divorced from the context of its production: Aphrodisias’ pro-Roman loyalty in the Mithridatic and civil wars ensured its continued close ties with, and privileges from, Rome throughout the Imperial period, and indeed scholarship has demonstrated how various strands of Chariton’s novel attest to his engagement with Roman power and its implications from an Aphrodisian perspective.Footnote 45 Hence, Chariton’s Spartans invite interpretation on the basis of the political and cultural valence of Sparta in the contemporary world.

iii. The Euryclids and the Spartan reputation for military strength

Chariton’s Leonidas analogy, and the allusion to the Leonideia that I suggest it constitutes, can be triangulated with two interlinked elements, both central to the Spartan focus in the episode under discussion: the sensationally powerful Spartan Euryclid dynasty and the stereotype, ventilated and encouraged by Rome, of Sparta as a paragon of martial valour. A connection with the Leonideia need not necessitate a terminus post quem of the Trajanic period for Chariton’s novel:Footnote 46 the original establishment of the Leonideia long predates Agesilaus’ endowment and can in fact be linked with a relative degree of certainty to the Spartan dynast C. Julius Eurycles, whose descendants (with Roman support) dominated Peloponnesian affairs until at least the Hadrianic period; indeed, and crucially for my argument, the Euryclids were ‘one of the most important families of the Peloponnese and of imperial Greece at large’.Footnote 47 A brief résumé of this family’s achievements confirms their importance in the politics and culture of the Imperial Greek world; and, more specifically, it elucidates their role in the Leonideia festival and their contribution to the stereotype of Sparta as a militarily oriented society. Given their position as the most powerful Spartans from the Augustan to Hadrianic periods, the Euryclids are a potentially significant frame of reference for Chariton and his Spartan interests.

In Rome’s eyes, Sparta was the darling of the Greek world, a status in large part due to the Euryclids. Warm relations between Sparta and Rome’s imperial family can be traced to 42 BC, when 2,000 Spartan auxiliaries died fighting for the triumvirs at Philippi (Plut. Brut. 41.4). This was quickly bolstered by Spartan support for Octavian: besides Mantinea, Sparta was the only city in Greece to declare for Octavian in 33 BC (Paus. 8.8.12).Footnote 48 At Actium, Sparta acquitted itself well through the heroic actions of C. Julius Eurycles, who led the Spartan force against Antony; in return, Augustus awarded the city the presidency of the newly refounded Actian Games (Plut. Ant. 67.1–4; Strabo 7.7.6).Footnote 49 Strabo comments on the ‘special honour’ in which Rome held Sparta and on Eurycles’ philia with Augustus (8.5.5), designating him as hēgemōn of the Spartans (8.5.1). He was closely associated with the city’s building programme: archaeological work on the Augustan theatre and on the Persian stoa in the agora has shown that both elements played a vital role in Sparta’s (revived) commemoration of the Persian Wars.Footnote 50 Antony Spawforth is confident that ‘Eurycles, at a minimum, refounded this festival and updated its character, if he did not in fact create it from scratch, as part of a larger plan to breathe new life into the Spartan celebration of the Persian Wars’; in doing so, he was ‘playing the role of local interpreter of Augustan ideology’.Footnote 51 Eurycles is also linked epigraphically to a certain Nicocrates (SEG 11.679), probably to be identified with the Nicocrates Lacedaemonius who is found in Suasoria 2.2.21 as both ‘auditor and discussant of declamations on the theme of Leonidas and Thermopylae’.Footnote 52

The previous two paragraphs evidence the claim that Leonidas, in both his agonistic and declamatory instantiations, emerges as central to Romano-Spartan relations precisely because of Eurycles, who solidified Sparta’s position as one of Rome’s favourite cities in the Greek world. He was almost certainly responsible for founding the Caesarea (Sparta’s principal festival, associated with the imperial cult), and was unique in being ‘the only Greek honoured as πάτρων of a Greek city’, in this case Epidaurus.Footnote 53 He also, however, had a reputation for being a troublemaker in the Peloponnese and further east. Josephus offers an uncomplimentary account of his manipulative and destructive involvement in the dynastic squabbles of Herod of Judea and Archelaus of Cappadocia for the purposes of self-aggrandizement (BJ 1.513–31; AJ 16.300–10). And, at some point between 7 and 2 BC, he ran afoul of Augustus and faced trial: Augustus had freed the Laconian League from Spartan control in 21 BC and renamed it the Eleutherolacones (‘Free Laconians’), only for Eurycles to stir up strife in Achaea, perhaps in a bid to retake control of it (Strabo 8.5.5; Paus. 3.21.6–7).Footnote 54 Despite this, Eurycles’ descendants went from strength to strength. Under Claudius and Nero, his son and grandson, C. Julius Laco and C. Julius Spartiaticus, pursued illustrious procuratorial careers in Corinth, a Roman colonia and the capital of the province of Achaea, holding the duovirate and presidency of the Isthmian ‘crown’ games; Laco was flamen Augusti and Spartiaticus was flamen diui Iulii and the first high priest of the imperial cult in the Achaean koinon.Footnote 55 More significantly, Spartiaticus held the equestrian post of tribunus militum in the Roman army,Footnote 56 and another grandson, C. Julius Argolicus, extended the Euryclid sphere of influence eastwards by marrying into a powerful Mytilenean family of the senator Pompeius Macer.

Tacitus sums up Laco and Spartiaticus as primores Achaeorum (Ann. 6.18), but the dazzling culmination of the Euryclid dynasty came in the form of C. Julius Eurycles Herculanus L. Vibullius Pius (either grandson or nephew of Spartiaticus). Herculanus was a Roman senator (probably the first person from ‘old Greece’ to achieve this distinction), quaestor of Achaea and served in a military capacity as legatus of legio III (probably III Gallica) under Hadrian.Footnote 57 At Sparta, he was eponymous patronomos and responsible for the foundation of the Euryclea, named in his (or perhaps his ancestor’s) honour, in AD 136/7; this festival produced winners from Sardis and Alexandria, as well as other cities in the Peloponnese and Asia Minor, and came to be celebrated alongside the Caesarea, as well as being elevated (perhaps by Caracalla) to sacred and thus Panhellenic status (FD 3.1.89).Footnote 58 He moved in the highest echelons of imperial politics and society: he was related to Claudius Atticus (the famous Herodes’ father) via the aristocratic Vibullii of Corinth, and was a cousin of Julia Balbilla, the sister of the Commagenian king Philopappus, and a good friend of Hadrian’s wife, Sabina. Finally, he is to be identified with the dedicatee of Plutarch’s On the Art of Self-Praise without Incurring Disapproval.Footnote 59

The Euryclids were therefore an exceptionally powerful and influential Spartan dynasty who could boast military and political distinctions of the highest order both at Sparta and within the mechanisms of provincial and imperial administration of the Peloponnese and beyond. Their fame (or notoriety) earned them a place in the pages of Strabo, Josephus, Plutarch and Pausanias, and even the Roman Tacitus. That Chariton, from the heavily Romanizing city of Aphrodisias (like Sparta, one of Rome’s favourites), could be included in this catalogue is possible by analogy, but made all the more so by the author’s emphasis on commemoration of Leonidas and his men, a commemoration fulfilled precisely by the Spartan festival of the Leonideia: the event was internationally renowned and the Euryclid dynasty had a special claim on the memory of Leonidas in the Imperial period. What is more, there is clear textual evidence that the Euryclids were on Chariton’s radar: as I shall elaborate more fully below (section II.iv) in connection with the ‘kinsman of Brasidas’, Chariton alludes to an incident (transmitted in Plutarch’s Sayings of Kings and Commanders) in which a descendant of Brasidas locks horns with C. Julius Eurycles in front of Augustus.

Furthermore, Chariton’s Leonidas-exemplum clearly reflects the Spartan reputation, cultivated by Rome, for being the most militarily-minded of the Greeks.Footnote 60 In Seneca’s Suasoria 2.5, the orator L. Cestius Pius contrasts Spartan reputation for high military capacity (arma) with those of Thebes for religion (sacra) and of Athens for eloquence (eloquentia); and, in the second and third centuries at least, Spartans are recorded as having aided the emperors Marcus and Caracalla in their campaigns against the Parthians.Footnote 61 The Euryclids Spartiaticus and Herculanus were rare examples of Greeks with equestrian and senatorial careers in the Roman military,Footnote 62 and thus prominent contemporary representatives of the stereotype of Spartan military achievement. A stake in the Euryclids can in this connection also be explained by Chariton’s remarkable preference for Dorian Greeks at the expense of Ionians (especially Athenians): at one level, Chariton’s de-centring of Athens in favour of the Dorians is a necessity of the novel’s chronotope, being set in the Dorian city of Syracuse following the Syracusan victory over the Athenians in 413 BC; but it also parallels past and present constructions of Greek military prowess, according to which the Dorians were militarily superior to the Ionians, and Sparta itself was the crucible of Dorianism.Footnote 63 The Euryclids were the most conspicuous Dorian example of contemporary Greek power.

Chariton is interested in mechanisms of power and their various instantiations. This much is clear from the range of gubernatorial infrastructure on show in the novel: Hermocrates’ Syracuse; Dionysius’ Miletus; the relationships between the Greek Dionysius, the Persian satraps Mithridates and Pharnaces, and King Artaxerxes.Footnote 64 This helps us to answer why Chariton may have been attracted to the Euryclids as an influence on his own Spartan discourse. Not only were their members centrally involved in a festival commemorating Leonidas and in perpetuating the image of Sparta as an epicentre of Greek military prowess, but, crucially, they also represented the very pinnacle of power possible for members of the Greek elite in the Roman period.Footnote 65 It is therefore tempting to link the Leonidean Chaereas’ control of ‘Spartans, Corinthians and other Peloponnesians’ (Λακϵδαιμονίους καὶ Κορινθίους καὶ τοὺς ἄλλους Πϵλοποννησίους, 7.3.7, quoted above) with various forms of Euryclid influence (political, religious, patronal) over the Peloponnese and the Achaean League in particular (of which the Roman colonia of Corinth was the capital).Footnote 66

It has been suggested that the spectre of a Greek military force exerting itself against an imperial power (Persia) in this novel ‘raises the possibility that Chariton is articulating a response to Roman power on the part of the Greek elite’.Footnote 67 Whilst the precise nature of Chariton’s acquaintance with (the reputation of) the Euryclids must remain within the realm of speculation, the notion of Chaereas qua Euryclid, facing off against an imperial power, perhaps hints at a gently subversive thrust within Chariton’s novel against the contemporary imperial power, Rome. Such a claim must, however, be accompanied by a disclaimer: the Euryclids, in the main, enjoyed friendly support from the imperial capital; and the stereotype of Sparta as militarily pre-eminent was one that Romans were responsible for perpetuating.Footnote 68 Given these accommodationist elements, as well as the fact that the difficulty in dating Chariton’s novel means that he cannot be pinned with any certainty to a particular historical moment, any claims of anti-imperial subversive properties within the text must be carefully qualified as operating on a more general level, perhaps as offering an elite Greek readership with a pleasing analogy between their own situation and that of a Greek army scoring points against a non-Greek imperial force.Footnote 69 This ambivalent mixture of simultaneously accommodationist and subversive interpretative avenues no doubt reflects the possibility of diverse audiences: Greek elites, but also Romans.Footnote 70

iv. The kinsman of Brasidas

The episode in Chariton involving the ‘kinsman of Brasidas’ (βρασίδου συγγϵνής) provides strong textual evidence for the Euryclid connection I have proposed. We are told that he has been ‘exiled from Sparta under extreme pressure’ (κατὰ μϵγάλην ἀνάγκην τῆς Σπάρτης ἐκπϵσών) and that he is the ‘first to dare to speak’ (πρῶτος ἐτόλμησϵν ϵἰπϵῖν), successfully suggesting that Chaereas’ army sails to Sicily. The historical Brasidas perished at Amphipolis at the hands of an Athenian army under Cleon in 422 BC, and the presence of his kinsman therefore reminds the reader of the military-historical background of the novel’s chronotope.Footnote 71 But the descendants of Brasidas were also an important and powerful presence in Imperial-period Sparta: of Sparta’s two known Roman senators, one was the Euryclid Herculanus (discussed above), and the other was a certain Ti. Claudius Brasidas (probably under Hadrian or Antoninus), whose sons, Ti. Claudius Brasidas and Ti. Claudius Spartiaticus, also became imperial archiereis.Footnote 72

Significantly, an anecdote preserved in Plutarch’s Sayings of Kings and Commanders attests to animosity between Eurycles and the descendants of Brasidas during the Augustan period:

τῶν δ’ Eὐρυκλέους κατηγόρων ἑνὸς ἀφϵιδῶς καὶ κατακόρως παρρησιαζομένου καὶ προαχθέντος ϵἰπϵῖν τι τοιοῦτον “ϵἰ ταῦτά σοι, Καῖσαρ, οὐ φαίνϵται μϵγάλα, κέλϵυσον αὐτὸν ἀποδοῦναί μοι Θουκυδίδου τὴν ἑβδόμην”, ὀργισθϵὶς ἀπάγϵιν ἐκέλϵυσϵ· πυθόϵνος δὲ ὅτι τῶν ἀπὸ βρασίδου γϵγονότων ὑπόλοιπος οὗτός ἐστι μϵτϵπέμψατο καὶ μέτρια νουθϵτήσας ἀπέλυσϵ.

One of the accusers of Eurycles spoke out immoderately and unreasonably, going so far as to say, ‘If these crimes, Caesar, do not seem great to you, command him to recite to me the seventh book of Thucydides’.Footnote 73 Caesar, being enraged, ordered him hauled to prison. But afterwards, learning that he was descended from Brasidas, he sent for him again, and dismissed him with a moderate rebuke. (Mor. 207F, tr. Babbitt (Reference Babbitt1931), adapted)

The exact source of the animosity is not explicitly stated, but it is almost certain that it derived from envy felt by the ‘old and distinguished’ descendants of Brasidas (who still, in the Augustan period, lacked Roman citizenship) towards the ‘upstart’ Euryclids for their rise to prominence and their acquisition of the franchise.Footnote 74 Their competing claims were on visual show in Sparta, as attested by Pausanias, who observes that the cenotaph of Brasidas was located very close to the tomb of Leonidas (3.14.1).

There is a clear connection between Chariton and Plutarch insofar as both feature relatives of Brasidas (βρασίδου συγγϵνής ∼ ἀπὸ βρασίδου γϵγονότων) who are characterized as equally outspoken, in Chariton’s case daringly so (ἐτόλμησϵν ϵἰπϵῖν), in Plutarch’s case unreasonably so (ἀφϵιδῶς καὶ κατακόρως παρρησιαζομένου). In Plutarch, the relative of Brasidas directs animosity towards Eurycles; in Chariton, the relative of Brasidas makes a proposal that is approved by a Chaereas explicitly likened to Leonidas and who is thus, as I have suggested, indissociable from the Euryclids. It is difficult to know what to make of this.Footnote 75 One possibility is that Chariton has reversed the historical animosity between the Euryclids and the descendants of Brasidas, in order to hint at a harmonized realignment of the competing claims of Spartan aristocracy (the Euryclids on the one hand, and the descendants of Brasidas on the other). Within the context of my broader argument, this signals a politically resonant message, namely that elite Greeks are stronger united than they are divided. As above, this could speak to a gently subversive, anti-imperial thrust within Chariton’s novel.

Moving from sociopolitical to literary matters, Chariton’s ‘kinsman of Brasidas’ meticulously annotates the first appearance of Brasidas in Thucydides. The historian famously records the successes of Brasidas’ Thracian campaign in the 420s BC and his eventual death at Amphipolis in 422.Footnote 76 Posterity has been kind: he is ‘the most magnetic character in Thucydides’ and indeed one of the Peloponnesian War’s ‘few outstanding military heroes’, a ‘man apart, a romantic loner’ bearing many hallmarks of Homer’s Achilles.Footnote 77 The deeds of Brasidas were so renowned as to be referenced at a trial in front of Augustus (as attested by Plutarch’s anecdote, quoted above). As a colourful and militarily successful Spartan, Brasidas makes for a memorable historical persona. This is not lost on Chariton, whom, I suggest, annotates the entrance of the ‘kinsman of Brasidas’ (βρασίδου συγγϵνής) with a specific allusion to Thucydides’ introduction of Brasidas. Chariton’s kinsman of Brasidas is the ‘first’ who ‘dared’ (πρῶτος ἐτόλμησϵν) to speak in response to Chaereas’ suggestion that they capitulate to the Persian king; he proposes that they sail to Sicily, for which he is ‘praised’ (ἐπῄνϵσαν) by everyone. Brasidas’ first appearance in Thucydides occurs when he secures Methone against the Athenians in 431 BC, thanks to which ‘act of daring’ he was the ‘first’ in Sparta of those to be ‘praised’ for their war efforts (ἀπὸ τούτου τοῦ τολμήματος πρῶτος τῶν κατὰ τὸν πόλϵμον ἐπῃνέθη ἐν Σπάρτῃ, 2.25.2). Thus genealogical affiliation (a ‘kinsman of Brasidas’) neatly serves to indicate literary-historical affiliation (Thucydides’ Brasidas) by means of a close lexical parallel.

Finally, there is also humour in the fact that Chariton’s ‘kinsman of Brasidas’, described as a ‘Spartan man’ (Λακϵδαιμόνιος ἀνήρ), breaks the ‘silence’ (σιωπῆς) and ‘dared to speak’ (ἐτόλμησϵν ϵἰπϵῖν). The joke trades on the stereotype of Spartans as a silent or otherwise laconic bunch, a cultural characteristic institutionalized in the agōgē from a young age.Footnote 78 This has specific relevance to the historical Brasidas given that Thucydides famously describes him as ‘not a bad speaker for a Spartan’ (ἦν δὲ οὐδὲ ἀδύνατος, ὡς Λακϵδαιμόνιος, ϵἰπϵῖν, 4.84.2; litotes for ‘an excellent speaker’); for Simon Hornblower, this borders on ‘that rare thing, a Thucydidean joke’.Footnote 79 In so doing, Chariton homes in on a moment of Thucydidean humour regarding Brasidas and Spartan brachulogia in order to generate a comparable joke about Brasidas’ descendant. Chariton thereby bequeaths to his own ‘kinsman of Brasidas’ elements of the historical Brasidas as depicted by Thucydides.

v. Conclusion

As I hope to have shown in this section, Chariton’s Spartans, who appear only twice, are more significant than has been acknowledged. The explicit citation of Leonidas and Brasidas can be fruitfully situated within the context of historical phenomena related to Roman-period Sparta, that is, the period in which Chariton composed his novel. This has serious implications for the political ideology of the novel, for a nuanced appreciation of which Chariton’s Spartans and contemporary Sparta are necessary ingredients. I have also suggested that Brasidas has a relevance to the novel beyond its ideological apparatus, insofar as Chariton advertises his literary filiation with the historian Thucydides by closely modelling his ‘kinsman of Brasidas’ on Thucydides’ Brasidas.

III. Aegialeus and Thelxinoe in Xenophon of Ephesus

i. Introduction

This section argues that a particular episode of Xenophon’s narrative, involving Habrocomes’ stay with the old fisherman Aegialeus and his mummified wife Thelxinoe, draws its colour from phenomena specific to Sparta, especially from elements institutionalized in Spartan culture by the legendary lawgiver Lycurgus and known principally from Plutarch’s Life of Lycurgus. This has considerable implications for Xenophon’s reputation as a novelist: at least as it relates to Sparta, Xenophon’s treatment of space and (cultural) identity, far from being stochastic or scattergun,Footnote 80 or indeed a mere function of the contrast between ‘home’ and ‘abroad’, renders a sophisticated, witty and targeted engagement with antiquarian material.Footnote 81 This also has a potential bearing on the date of Xenophon’s novel.

The episode under discussion constitutes the sole appearance of Sparta in Xenophon’s novel. Having left Egypt, Habrocomes sails to Italy and thence to Sicily in search of Anthia. Putting in at Syracuse, he is given a kindly reception at the house of a poor, elderly fisherman named Aegialeus, with whom he lodges (5.1.1–3). After learning of Habrocomes’ travails, Aegialeus explains how he himself came to be in Syracuse:

“ἐγὼ” ἔφη, “τέκνον Ἁβροκόμη, οὔτϵ Σικϵλιώτης οὐδὲ ἐπιχώριος, ἀλλὰ Σπαρτιάτης Λακϵδαιμόνιος τῶν τὰ πρῶτα ἐκϵῖ δυναμένων, καὶ πϵριουσίαν ἔχων πολλήν. νέος δὲ ὢν ἠράσθην ἐν τοῖς ἐφήβοις καταλϵλϵγμένος κόρης πολίτιδος Θϵλξινόης τοὔνομα, ἀντϵρᾷ δέ μου καὶ ἡ Θϵλξινόη. καὶ τῇ πόλϵι παννυχίδος ἀγομένης συνήλθομϵν ἀλλήλοις, ἀμφοτέρους ὁδηγοῦντος θϵοῦ, καὶ ἀπηλαύσαμϵν ὧν ἕνϵκα συνήλθομϵν. καὶ χρόνῳ τινὶ ἀλλήλοις συνῆμϵν λανθάνοντϵς καὶ ὠμόσαμϵν ἀλλήλοις πολλάκις ἕξϵιν καὶ μέχρι θανάτου· ἐνϵμέσησϵ δέ τις ἄρα θϵῶν. κἀγὼ μὲν ἔτι ἐν τοῖς ἐφήβοις ἤμην, τὴν δὲ Θϵλξινόην ἐδίδοσαν πρὸς γάμον οἱ πατέρϵς ἐπιχωρίῳ τινὶ νϵανίσκῳ Ἀνδροκλϵῖ τοὔνομα· ἤδη δὲ αὐτῆς καὶ ἤρα ὁ Ἀνδροκλῆς. τὰ μὲν οὖν πρῶτα ἡ κόρη πολλὰς προφάσϵις ἐποιϵῖτο ἀναβαλλομένη τὸν γάμον· τϵλϵυταῖον δὲ δυνηθϵῖσα ἐν ταὐτῷ μοι γϵνέσθαι συντίθϵται νύκτωρ ἐξϵλθϵῖν Λακϵδαίμονος μϵτ’ἐμοῦ. καὶ δὴ ἐστϵίλαμϵν ἑαυτοὺς νϵανικῶς ἀπέκϵιρα δὲ καὶ τὴν κόμην τῆς Θϵλξινόης. ἐν αὐτῇ οὖν τῇ τῶν γάμων νυκτὶ ἐξϵλθόντϵς τῆς πόλϵως ᾔϵιμϵν ἐπ’ Ἄργος καὶ Κόρινθον, κἀκϵῖθϵν ἀναγόμϵνοι ἐπλϵύσαμϵν ϵἰς Σικϵλίαν. Λακϵδαιμόνιοι δὲ πυθόμϵνοι τὴν φυγὴν ἡμῶν θάνατον κατϵψηφίσαντο. ἡμϵῖς δὲ ἐνταῦθα διήγομϵν ἀπορίᾳ μὲν τῶν ἐπιτηδϵίων, ἡδόμϵνοι δὲ καὶ πάντων ἀπολαύϵιν δοκοῦντϵς, ὅτι ἦμϵν μϵτ’ ἀλλήλων”.

He said: ‘Habrocomes my boy, I am not a Sicilian Greek and not even a native, but a Spartiate of Laconia, from one of the most powerful families there and very well-to-do. When I was a young man just enrolled in the ephebes, I fell in love with a Spartan girl by the name of Thelxinoe, and Thelxinoe fell in love with me. We met each other during a nightlong festival sponsored by the city, a god was guiding both of us, and we consummated what we desired when we met. For a while we were together secretly, and again and again we pledged to remain together even unto death. But apparently some god was envious. I was still in the ephebes, and her parents betrothed Thelxinoe to a young Spartan named Androcles, who was also now in love with her. At first the girl made many excuses to postpone the wedding, until finally she managed to meet me and leave with me at night from Laconia. So we both dressed up as young men, and I also cut Thelxinoe’s hair, on the very night of the wedding. And so we left town for Argos and Corinth, and from there took a ship to Sicily. When the Spartans discovered our flight they condemned us to death. We had to struggle to make a living here, but we were happy and thought we enjoyed every advantage, since we had each other’. (5.1.4–8)Footnote 82

This heartwarming story then takes a bizarre turn. Aegialeus continues:

“καὶ τέθνηκϵν ἐνταῦθα οὐ πρὸ πολλοῦ Θϵλξινόη καὶ τὸ σῶμα οὐ τέθαπται, ἀλλὰ ἔχω γὰρ μϵτ’ ἐμαυτοῦ καὶ ἀϵὶ φιλῶ καὶ σύνϵιμι”. καὶ ἅμα λέγων ϵἰσάγϵι τὸν Ἁβροκόμην ϵἰς τὸ ἐνδότϵρον δωμάτιον καὶ δϵικνύϵι τὴν Θϵλξινόην, γυναῖκα πρϵσβῦτιν μὲν ἤδη, καλὴν δὲ φαινομένην ἔτι Aἰγιαλϵῖ κόρην· τὸ δὲ σῶμα αὐτῆς ἐτέθαπτο ταφῇ Aἰγυπτίᾳ· ἦν γὰρ καὶ τούτων ἔμπϵιρος ὁ γέρων. “ταύτῃ οὖν” ἔφη, “ὦ τέκνον Ἁβροκόμη, ἀϵί τϵ ὡς ζώσῃ λαλῶ καὶ συγκατάκϵιμαι καὶ συνϵυωχοῦμαι· κἂν ἔλθω ποτὲ ἐκ τῆς ἁλιϵίας κϵκμηκώς, αὕτη μϵ παραμυθϵῖται βλϵπομένη· οὐ γὰρ οἵα νῦν ὁρᾶται σοὶ τοιαύτη φαίνϵται ἐμοί· ἀλλὰ ἐννοῶ, τέκνον, οἵα μὲν ἦν ἐν Λακϵδαίμονι, οἵα δὲ ἐν τῇ φυγῇ· τὰς παννυχίδας ἐννοῶ, τὰς συνθήκας ἐννοῶ”. ἔτι λέγοντος τοῦ Aἰγιαλέως ἀνωδύρϵτο ὁ Ἁβροκόμης “σὲ δὲ” λέγων, “ὦ πασῶν δυστυχϵστάτη κόρη, πότϵ ἀνϵυρήσω κἂν νϵκράν; Aἰγιαλϵῖ μὲν γὰρ τοῦ βίου μϵγάλη παραμυθία τὸ σῶμα τὸ Θϵλξινόης, καὶ νῦν ἀληθῶς μϵμάθηκα ὅτι ἔρως ἀληθινὸς ὅρον ἡλικίας οὐκ ἔχϵι”.

‘Thelxinoe died here not long ago and her body is not buried: I keep her with me and am always kissing her and being with her’. As he was speaking he took Habrocomes into the innermost bedroom and showed him Thelxinoe, now an old woman but in Aegialeus’ eyes still a young girl. Her body was embalmed by the Egyptian method, for the old man was also experienced in this. ‘And so, Habrocomes my boy’, he said, ‘this way I can always talk to her as if she were alive, and lie with her and dine with her, and whenever I come home tired from fishing, the sight of her comforts me, for the way you see her now is not the way I see her. My boy, I think of her as she was in Laconia, as she was when we eloped; I think of our festival, I think of our covenant’. While Aegialeus was still speaking Habrocomes broke down. ‘And what about you’, he cried, ‘most unfortunate girl of all? When will I find you again, even as a corpse? Thelxinoe’s body is a great solace in the life of Aegialeus, and now I have truly learnt that true love has no age limit’. (5.1.9–12)

A melancholy note is struck, finally, when Habrocomes later returns to Sicily only to discover that Aegialeus has since died (5.10.3).

The inset story of Aegialeus and Thelxinoe has attracted scholarly commentary from a number of perspectives. It is a paradigm of an enduring and ‘true love’ (ἔρως ἀληθινός) that is indifferent to societal pressures, applicable to the narrative of the protagonists and a proleptic indication of their own erotic progression; as such, it serves as educational material from which Habrocomes can ‘truly learn’ (ἀληθῶς μϵμάθηκα), and has been described as ‘one of the most explicit fictional moments of learning’ in the novel.Footnote 83 From a characterological standpoint, Aegialeus fairly earns the epithet of ‘senile lunatic’, the product of ‘delusions wrought by love’ who is ‘neurotically obsessed with replaying his own teen romance’.Footnote 84 But he is also a metafictional principle insofar as he lives in a blissful state of suspended disbelief as a protagonist of his own ‘mini-novella’.Footnote 85 Egyptian lore is prominent: Aegialeus’ mummification of Thelxinoe and the storage of her corpse in the house, as well as his explicitly attested knowledge of Egyptian customs, can be seen as a Graeca interpretatio of Egyptian practice;Footnote 86 and the phenomenon of necrophilia heavily implied in this episode, whilst no doubt ‘somewhat grotesque’,Footnote 87 not only serves to reify the possibility of a love that endures beyond death, but also constitutes a ‘macabre variation on the story of Admetus’, who imagines post-mortem relations with a simulacrum of his wife Alcestis in Euripides’ eponymous play.Footnote 88 The episode has, finally, generated observations from those interested in the theory of ‘horror’.Footnote 89

Virtually nothing, however, has been made of the fact that Aegialeus and Thelxinoe are Spartan, an identity that Aegialeus emphatically highlights in his opening words (οὔτϵ Σικϵλιώτης οὐδὲ ἐπιχώριος, ἀλλὰ Σπαρτιάτης Λακϵδαιμόνιος).Footnote 90 Crucially, a number of elements from the story of Aegialeus and Thelxinoe have a direct relationship with certain Spartan cultural narratives. Most conspicuous of these are the parallel details between the lovers’ meeting in, and elopement from, Sparta, and Lycurgan marriage regulations as reported in Plutarch’s Life of Lycurgus. Several auxiliary features of Aegialeus’ narrative corroborate the Spartan connection: the lovers’ sexual activity at a religious festival recalls the Spartan reputation for sexualized religious festivals, in particular for Artemis Orthia; their nocturnal movements and activities speak to the Spartan reputation for conducting themselves nocturnally; the severe judicial measures administered to the lovers correspond with the Spartan reputation for strict discipline; and Aegialeus’ Egyptian treatment of corpses reflects Lycurgan policy and biography. Additionally, their names are suggestive of Peloponnesian (and specifically Spartan) credentials, not least in the post-Classical period.Footnote 91

ii. Spartan marriage customs

The initial relationship between Aegialeus and Thelxinoe, and their subsequent escape from Sparta, can be mapped securely onto Plutarch’s account of Spartan marriage customs. Aegialeus relates how he and Thelxinoe, having met at an all-night festival, fall in love and continue to come together for secret sex (ἀλλήλοις συνῆμϵν λανθάνοντϵς), but disaster strikes when Thelxinoe’s parents engage her to be married to a man called Androcles. In order to escape Thelxinoe’s arranged marriage, they decide to leave Sparta by night (νύκτωρ), and escape by dressing up in men’s clothes and by cutting Thelxinoe’s hair (ἐστϵίλαμϵν ἑαυτοὺς νϵανικῶς ἀπέκϵιρα δὲ καὶ τὴν κόμην τῆς Θϵλξινόης). Notoriously, Spartan marriages were conducted by ‘capture’, in which a bridegroom carried off his bride by force (Plut. Lyc. 15.3–9).Footnote 92 In a famous passage of Life of Lycurgus describing Spartan nuptial procedures, Plutarch reports how, after the bride has been ‘married by force’ (ἐγάμουν δὲ δι’ ἁρπαγῆς), the bridesmaid ‘cut [the bride’s] hair close to the head and dressed her in a man’s cloak and sandals’ (τὴν μὲν κϵφαλὴν ἐν χρῷ πϵριέκϵιρϵν, ἱματίῳ δὲ ἀνδρϵίῳ καὶ ὑποδήμασιν ἐνσκϵυάσασα); then the bridesmaid lay the bride down in the dark (ἄνϵυ φωτός), and the groom, having ‘snuck into’ (παρϵισϵλθών) her room, deflowered her (15.3). Henceforth, the bridegroom is allowed to visit his bride only discreetly (κρύφα) and they must come together for sex secretly (λανθάνοντϵς ἀλλήλοις συμπορϵύοιντο); such surreptitiousness ensured that the couple never saw each other in the daylight, thus preserving the sparks of desire (15.4–5; also at Xen. Lac. 1.5).

From this it is clear that Xenophon of Ephesus is engaging with details of Lycurgan marriage customs at the thematic and verbal levels. This much is apparent from three overlapping features in particular (I underline the verbal congruencies): first, both Thelxinoe and the Spartan bride, in an act of transvestism, wear men’s clothes (ἐστϵίλαμϵν ἑαυτοὺς νϵανικῶς ∼ ἱματίῳ δὲ ἀνδρϵίῳ … ἐνσκϵυάσασα); secondly, both receive haircuts (ἀπέκϵιρα δὲ καὶ τὴν κόμην ∼ τὴν μὲν κϵφαλὴν ἐν χρῷ πϵριέκϵιρϵν); and thirdly, secrecy and discretion are paramount in the unions of both couples (ἀλλήλοις συνῆμϵν λανθάνοντϵςλανθάνοντϵς ἀλλήλοις συμπορϵύοιντο). Whilst the motifs of transvestism and hair-cutting do occur elsewhere in novelistic plots of escape,Footnote 93 nowhere else do they ever appear in the strikingly bizarre combination that they do in Xenophon of Ephesus and Plutarch. Ritual explanations have been advanced for the transvestism and hair-cutting of Spartan brides, as Sarah Pomeroy explains: ‘The shaving of the head and dressing of the bride as a man … may have been part of a rite of passage that signalled her entrance into a new life’.Footnote 94

However, no such explanation can be put forward for Aegialeus and Thelxinoe, because the Lycurgan elements of their narrative service a union that is explicitly not marital, but rather an escape from Thelxinoe’s legitimate betrothal to Androcles. Herein lies the sophisticated and ironic wit of Xenophon’s allusion to Spartan marriage custom, namely that it functions to prevent a Spartan marriage. Aegialeus’ unauthorized removal of Thelxinoe from her legitimate bridegroom also constitutes a romanticized version of Lycurgus’ nuptial procedures that emphasizes reciprocity rather than force.Footnote 95 Xenophon thereby recalibrates the tone of his antiquarian source material better to suit the dynamic of ‘sexual symmetry’ that tends to characterize relations between novelistic protagonists.Footnote 96

iii. Further connections

A cluster of additional elements supports the claims made above. The ‘all-night festival’ (παννυχίδος) at which Aegialeus and Thelxinoe meet and have sex (ἀπηλαύσαμϵν ὧν ἕνϵκα συνήλθομϵν) can be linked to Spartan festival culture, which was known for its highly sexualized environment. Plutarch’s Life of Lycurgus discusses Spartan festivals as opportunities for women to dance and sing in front of the men, and indeed for female nudity to incentivize marriage (14.2, 15.1).Footnote 97 More specifically, in connection with the festival in honour of Spartan Artemis Orthia, a sixth-century BC vase painting from the Orthia sanctuary at Sparta depicts ‘men and women dancing and having intercourse’ during a kōmos.Footnote 98 Indeed, a festival for Artemis Orthia would provide a further symmetry with the narrative of the protagonists, Anthia and Habrocomes, who likewise first meet (but do not have sex) at a festival of Artemis (in this case Ephesian Artemis, 1.2.2–9).Footnote 99

The nocturnal elements of Aegialeus’ narrative (the all-night festival; the decision to leave Sparta at night (νύκτωρ)) can be correlated with the Spartan penchant for secrecy and stealth: as already mentioned, the bride is to await her potential husband in the dark (ἄνϵυ φωτός, Plut. Lyc. 15.3); babies are taught not to be scared of the dark (Plut. Lyc. 16.3); the sussitia meet at night, from which the participants must walk home without the aid of torchlight in order to accustom themselves to travelling at night confidently and fearlessly (Xen. Lac. 5.7; Plut. Instituta Laconica 3, Lyc. 12.7); and admission to the Spartan krupteia involves nighttime (νύκτωρ) slaughter of helots (Plut. Lyc. 28.2).Footnote 100 Aegialeus is thus a true Spartan in his capacity for nocturnal movement.

Similarly germane to Spartan culture is the reaction of the authorities upon learning of the departure of Aegialeus and Thelxinoe from Sparta, insofar as they sentence them to death (Λακϵδαιμόνιοι δὲ πυθόμϵνοι τὴν φυγὴν ἡμῶν θάνατον κατϵψηφίσαντο). Discipline and regulation of private life in Lycurgan Sparta, especially in the arena of marriage, were notoriously strict,Footnote 101 and it was a punishable offence for a citizen to depart from Sparta and live abroad (in order to avoid falling into un-Spartan habits, Plut. Lyc. 27.3, Instituta Laconica 19). Finally, the embalming of Thelxinoe in Egyptian fashion (ἐτέθαπτο ταφῇ Aἰγυπτίᾳ) within the house perhaps reflects an extreme extension of the Lycurgan law allowing burial within the city walls (thus removing the superstitions associated with burials and corpses: Plut. Lyc. 27.1, Instituta Laconica 18);Footnote 102 after all, Lycurgus had himself (allegedly) visited Egypt and admired its customs (Plut. Lyc. 4.5).

iv. Xenophon’s date

Aegialeus’ inclusion of the details of transvestism, hair-cutting and secrecy may also bear on the dating of Xenophon’s novel. This is because, of the authors who discuss Spartan marriage customs, Plutarch is the only one to include these particular elements in his account. This could be because, as Pomeroy explains, these fixtures of Lycurgan Sparta were attributed to Lycurgus later, after Xenophon of Athens had composed his Constitution of the Spartans, for example.Footnote 103 As Felix Meister has persuasively argued, however, a stronger conclusion is possible, namely that Plutarch’s account has no basis in actual Spartan practice (either past or present) and is in fact a pure confection on his part.Footnote 104 If this is the case, and given the lexical similarities between Plutarch and Xenophon of Ephesus, we can identify as a terminus post quem for Xenophon’s novel the publication of Plutarch’s Life of Lycurgus, which can be dated with a reasonable degree of precision to a point between AD 96 and 117.Footnote 105

IV. Conclusion: Sparta in Chariton and Xenophon of Ephesus compared

Section II suggested that Spartan elements in two specific episodes of Chariton’s Chaereas and Callirhoe can be interpreted within the context of the role of Sparta in the Peloponnesian and wider Mediterranean world during the Imperial period. In particular, I proposed that a network of allusions to Imperial-period Sparta combine to reveal Chariton’s engagement with the contemporary world in which he wrote, and which can, with due care to the complexities of this engagement, be read as part of a political commentary on the status of (elite) Greeks under the Roman Empire. I also made the (briefer) case for Chariton’s pointed annotation of Thucydides’ Brasidas. Section III argued for Xenophon’s deployment of Spartan cultural regimens implemented by the lawgiver Lycurgus, most prominently in the case of nuptial procedures as reported by Plutarch. This enables a positive adjudication of Xenophon to the effect that, especially in connection with his use of space and identity, he is sophisticated and witty in a way seldom stated within scholarship.

In comparing the two authors, it is possible to conclude that both are sensitive to the fact that certain spaces and identities (in this instance Sparta and Spartans) are, within the literary tradition, endowed with stereotypical characteristics and traditions (brachulogia and peculiar marital customs, for example), and are readily associable with certain personalities (Leonidas, Brasidas, the Euryclids and Lycurgus, for example). There is a crucial difference between Chariton and Xenophon, however. Chariton is interested in military-political aspects of the Spartan past and present, mainly because of their ideological and symbolic value in contemporary discourses connected with Sparta. Spartan elements in Xenophon, on the other hand, are more literary and antiquarian, and inhabit an inset narrative whose protagonists, Aegialeus and Thelxinoe, reflect a romanticized and novelized product of Lycurgan Sparta as imagined by Plutarch. Both authors’ engagement with Sparta can also be filed more generally under the heading of ‘imperial Graeco-Roman fascination with Sparta and Dorian history’: Plutarch, for instance, composed a number of biographies and treatises on these subjects and Roman-period Sparta was a popular tourist destination.Footnote 106

The role of Sparta in Chariton and Xenophon enables further connections to be established between these two novels. In both, Sparta is an agent of exile: directly, in Chariton (the kinsman of Brasidas has been forced into exile: κατὰ μϵγάλην ἀνάγκην τῆς Σπάρτης ἐκπϵσών); indirectly, in Xenophon (Aegialeus and Thelxinoe voluntarily choose flight, φυγήν, which can also be translated as self-imposed ‘exile’).Footnote 107 Likewise in both authors, the Spartans leave their native land and settle in Syracuse;Footnote 108 in Chariton, these Spartans are accompanied by other nationalities including Egyptians (8.2.14, 8.3.11–2, 8.8.14), whereas in Xenophon an Egyptian element is present in the form of Aegialeus’ experience (ἔμπϵιρος) in the practice of mummification.

These parallels (flight from Sparta; resettlement in Syracuse; an Egyptian component), which have Spartans at their centre, are clear enough, and I shall conclude with some tentative and potentially surprising suggestions regarding how they illuminate the literary relationship and relative chronology of the two authors in question.Footnote 109 As has been well documented, Aegialeus and Thelxinoe are prominently located in Xenophon’s novel and constitute metafictional and proleptic elements that can be mapped onto the narrative of the protagonists, Habrocomes and Anthia.Footnote 110 Whilst Aegialeus’ narrative has important functions within the semiotic economy of Xenophon’s novel, it also reaches beyond these particular confines and encompasses comparable elements in Chariton’s novel, as the parallels in the previous paragraph attest. Frames and inset stories are moments of magnified self-reflexivity and generic self-awareness,Footnote 111 points at which an author might meditate on their relationship with the literary tradition.Footnote 112 Hence, I suggest that Xenophon uses this opportunity to establish connections not only between the inset narrative and the rest of novel, but also between his novel and other novels, in this instance Chariton.

As such, and to conclude, Xenophon uses the story of Aegialeus and Thelxinoe to reflect on his own status as Chariton’s successor. Chariton’s novel, especially if his is the first Greek novel,Footnote 113 or at least the composition of someone who graduated valedictorian from an early class of novelists, is a paradigmatic love story set in Syracuse, of which Xenophon’s inset story of Aegialeus and Thelxinoe represents a miniaturized version. It is of course conceivable that the opposite is the case: namely that, instead of Xenophon having miniaturized Chariton’s novel to the size of an inset story, Chariton has expanded Xenophon’s inset story to the size of an entire novel, but I find this less likely because, as suggested, ‘framed’ and ‘inset’ text is often loaded with a self-reflexive and metaliterary charge. On my reading, however, it is as if Habrocomes, on journeying to Syracuse in search of Anthia, momentarily passes through a variant of Chariton’s Syracuse, where Aegialeus’ Spartan identity and knowledge of Egyptian matters constitute a sublimated version of the military personnel (comprising Spartans and Egyptians) settled by Chaereas at the end of Chariton’s novel.

Xenophon’s metaliterary commentary, however, has a dark and witty sting in its tail. In the eyes of Aegialeus, his beloved Thelxinoe, though now dead and mummified, is still the young girl he once knew (γυναῖκα πρϵσβῦτιν μὲν ἤδη, καλὴν δὲ φαινομένην ἔτι Aἰγιαλϵῖ κόρην, 5.1.10): in Xenophon’s miniaturized version of Chariton’s novel, Aegialeus has not moved with the times, but is stuck nostalgically in the past, content to have sex with the corpse of an old woman. This constitutes an amusing competitive gesture on Xenophon’s part: he wants his readers to know that he, his protagonists and the genre of the Greek novel have all moved on, leaving Chariton in a distant past now populated by mummies and ageing necrophiles.


I owe a debt of gratitude to Ewen Bowie, Paul Cartledge and John Morgan, who read and commented on previous drafts of this article. I would also like to thank Aldo Tagliabue and participants at the virtual workshop ‘Ancient Novel and Reader Response’ for fruitful discussion about this piece. The journal’s editors (both previous and current: Douglas Cairns and Lin Foxhall, respectively) and anonymous readers provided me with many useful suggestions, for which I am very grateful. I would like to dedicate this article to my daughter, Callirhoë, born in the month it was originally accepted.


1 I am thinking here chiefly of Chariton’s Chaereas and Callirhoe, Xenophon of Ephesus’ Ephesiaca, Achilles Tatius’ Leucippe and Clitophon, Heliodorus’ Aethiopica and the fragmentary Ninus and Sesonchosis novels, Iamblichus’ Babyloniaca and Antonius Diogenes’ Wonders beyond Thule. Spatial aspects of the extant novels are well covered by De Temmerman (Reference De Temmerman and De Jong2012a), (Reference De Temmerman and De Jong2012b), (Reference De Temmerman and De Jong2012c) and Morgan (Reference Morgan and De Jong2012a), (Reference Morgan and De Jong2012b), and by the contributions in Paschalis and Frangoulidis (Reference Paschalis and Frangoulidis2002); on travel in the novel, see also Morgan (Reference Morgan, Adams and Roy2007); Romm (Reference Romm and Whitmarsh2008), noting, at 109, that ‘this genre relies on a sense of place for its aesthetic effects’. For Rohde (Reference Rohde1914), the novels are generically linked to travellers’ tales.

2 Persians: Schwartz (Reference Schwartz2003). Egypt: Alvares (Reference Alvares2001); see generally Nimis (Reference Nimis2004) on Egyptians in the novels.

4 Whitmarsh (Reference Whitmarsh2011) 45. For Morgan (Reference Morgan, Richter and Johnson2017) 389, Chariton and Xenophon ‘are engaged with central concerns of the Second Sophistic, in particular that of elite Greek identity’.

8 On Chariton and Aphrodisias, see Tilg (Reference Tilg2010) 24–82 and Jolowicz (Reference Jolowicz, Jolowicz and Elsner2023); Rohde (Reference Rohde1914) 520 n.2 suggests that Chariton’s name and city are pseudonymous. On the prominence of Aphrodite as it relates to the connection between Aphrodisias and Rome, see Edwards (Reference Edwards and Loveday1991), (Reference Edwards1994), (Reference Edwards1996) 54–61, (Reference Edwards, Hock, Chance and Perkins1998). On Chariton’s Miletus as a displaced version of contemporary Aphrodisias, see Ruiz-Montero (Reference Ruiz-Montero, Liviabella Furiani and Scarcella1989) 126, (Reference Ruiz-Montero1994a) 1032–33; Jones (Reference Jones, Baslez, Hoffmann and Trédé1992) 162–63; Alvares (Reference Alvares2001–2002) 126–27; Whitmarsh (Reference Whitmarsh2011) 53. Trzaskoma (Reference Trzaskoma2012) connects Chariton’s Miletus to the Anabasis theme. On Xenophon and Ephesian particularities: Ruiz-Montero (Reference Ruiz-Montero1994b) 1088–91; Kytzler (Reference Kytzler and Schmeling1996) 345–46; Whitmarsh (Reference Whitmarsh2011) 28–29; Tagliabue (Reference Tagliabue, Whitmarsh and Thomson2013a), (Reference Tagliabue2013b); O’Sullivan (Reference O’Sullivan, Cueva and Byrne2014) 47–48.

9 Because of his Aphrodisian claim, Chariton is particularly susceptible to readings that harness extratextual realities. In addition to the items listed in the previous note, see also Schwartz (Reference Schwartz2003), on Persia as Rome, and Jolowicz (Reference Jolowicz2018c), on Roman military apparatus.

10 A terminus ante quem of the mid-second century for Chariton’s novel is provided by P.Mich. 1. Chariton’s date: Ruiz-Montero (Reference Ruiz-Montero1994a) 1008–12; O’Sullivan (Reference O’Sullivan1995); Bowie (Reference Bowie2002) 54–58; Tilg (Reference Tilg2010) 36–78. Xenophon’s date: O’Sullivan (Reference O’Sullivan1995) 145–70 and (Reference O’Sullivan, Cueva and Byrne2014) 48, 51–53, famously arguing for Xenophon’s priority; Kytzler (Reference Kytzler and Schmeling1996) 346–48; Rife (Reference Rife2002); Bowie (Reference Bowie2002) 56–57; Henderson (Reference Henderson2009) 207–10; Tilg (Reference Tilg2010) 85–92; Coleman (Reference Coleman2011); Lefteratou (Reference Lefteratou2018b); Morgan (Reference Morgan, Richter and Johnson2017) 398–99; Tagliabue (Reference Tagliabue2017) 213–15. Whitmarsh (Reference Whitmarsh2013) 41–48 addresses the methodological difficulties attending discussions of relative chronology. See also n.46 below.

11 Two exceptions: Leucippe’s pseudonym ‘Lacaena’ (‘the Spartan woman’) in Achilles Tatius (first at 5.17.5); and the mention of the Spartan lawgiver Lycurgus in Heliodorus (Aeth. 2.27.1), on whose relevance to Xenophon see section III below.

12 The adjective ‘respectable’ alludes to the fact that, as Powell (Reference Powell2001) 232 states, ‘the standards of public morality at Sparta were strenuous’; I discuss such matters in connection with Xenophon in section III.

13 Lefteratou (Reference Lefteratou2018a) 176–309, with 204–29 on Chariton.

14 The text is that of Reardon (Reference Reardon2004); the translation follows Goold (Reference Goold1995), with adaptations.

15 Here I depart from the text of Reardon (Reference Reardon2004), who, following Blake (Reference Blake1938), prints Μιλτιάδου where the MS (F) incorrectly has Μιθριδάτου. In printing Ὀθρυάδου, I follow the editio princeps of D’Orville (Reference D’Orville1750), as well as Molinié (Reference Molinié2002) and Goold (Reference Goold1995): both Othryadas (at Thyreai against Argives) and Leonidas (at Thermopylae against Persians) led contingents of 300 Spartans (Hdt. 1.82, 7.204–33). Discussions of this emendation include: Smith (Reference Smith2007) 175 n.45 and Trzaskoma (Reference Trzaskoma2011) 27, both of whom prefer Othryadas to Miltiades on the basis that the latter wins an Athenian victory (Marathon), therefore making him less appropriate as an exemplum for an audience of Dorians; and Franchi (Reference Franchi, Franchi and Proietti2012) and (Reference Franchi2013), who argues in favour of Othryadas on the basis that the word τριακοσίους (‘three hundred’) has been transposed from its original position (where it would have clarified as 300 the number of men accompanying both the textually corrupt individual and Leonidas, thus identifying the former as Othryadas beyond doubt), and that the narratives of Othryadas and Leonidas are often conflated, especially in the Imperial period (see n.41 below).

16 De Temmerman (Reference De Temmerman2014) 90–99 offers details.

17 De Temmerman (Reference De Temmerman2014) 82–114 is a thorough account of Chaereas’ character change, with 108–09 on Themistocles.

18 Hunter (Reference Hunter1994) 1058; Smith (Reference Smith2007) 221–25; De Temmerman (Reference De Temmerman2014) 101–02.

19 Rohde (Reference Rohde1914) 523 n.2; Perry (Reference Perry1930) 100 n.11; Bartsch (Reference Bartsch1934) 5; Salmon (Reference Salmon1961); Goold (Reference Goold1995) 12; Smith (Reference Smith2007) 20; Tilg (Reference Tilg2010) 48; De Temmerman (Reference De Temmerman2014) 110.

20 Zimmermann (Reference Zimmermann, Diesner, Günther and Schrot1961) 343; Plepelits (Reference Plepelits1976) 17; Hunter (Reference Hunter1994) 1057; Trzaskoma (Reference Trzaskoma2011) 30 n.73. In the fighting that ensues, the phrase ‘in this indescribable confusion’ (ἐν δὲ τῷ ἀδιηγήτῳ τούτῳ ταράχῳ, 7.4.9) is lifted verbatim from Xen. Cyr. 7.1.32.

21 Jolowicz (Reference Jolowicz2018b) 140–42. More contemporary Romans have been adduced as influential on Chaereas’ character in other parts of the novel: Bowie (Reference Bowie2002) 55 on Cassius Chaerea; Perry (Reference Perry1967) 138, Hunter (Reference Hunter1994) 1079–82 and Jolowicz (Reference Jolowicz2018a) on Nero (and his false avatars).

22 See Millender (Reference Millender, Powell and Richer2019) on Spartan commanders in Xenophon’s Anabasis.

23 Trzaskoma (Reference Trzaskoma2011) is a detailed account of how Chariton’s novel tracks the structure and plotline of the account in Xenophon’s Anabasis. See Trzaskoma (Reference Trzaskoma, Chew, Trzaskoma and Morgan2018) on citations of Xenophon in Chariton.

24 See Trzaskoma (Reference Trzaskoma2011) 26.

25 Choice of leader: An. 1.3.15 (Clearchus); An. 3.1.25, 6.1.29 (Xenophon). Before engaging the Persians: An. 3.2.7–32. See Laplace (Reference Laplace1997) 51 with n.35; Smith (Reference Smith2007) 173; De Temmerman (Reference De Temmerman2009) 254; Trzaskoma (Reference Trzaskoma2011) 26–29.

26 Trzaskoma (Reference Trzaskoma2011) 27, citing An. 1.4.3.

27 Alvares (Reference Alvares2001–2002) 139–40; cf. Plut. Artax. 21.5.

28 On this designation, see Hägg (Reference Hägg1987); cf. Hunter (Reference Hunter1994) 1068 on Chariton’s historiographical style.

29 See Millender (Reference Millender, Hodkinson and Powell2006) on Spartan mercenaries.

30 Along with 700 Thespians and a number of others; see Hdt. 7.204–33.

31 See De Temmerman (Reference De Temmerman2014) 91 on Chaereas’ characterization as suicidal in this connection. Cf. Trzaskoma (Reference Trzaskoma2011) 27: ‘it is a bit surprising … that none of Chaereas’ chosen mercenaries seems to have any hesitation about following a leader who is bent on dying a glorious death’.

32 Chariton rounds down the figure given at Hdt. 7.186 for the number of Persians at Thermopylae (5,283,220). On numbers in this episode, see Cartledge (Reference Cartledge2002) 175–76.

33 This is in contrast to the three who, in Suas. 2.5, speak on an Athenian topic; see Spawforth (Reference Spawforth2012) 127.

34 Jung (Reference Jung2006) and Spawforth (Reference Spawforth2012) 103–41 are comprehensive accounts, the latter observing, at 128, that ‘Athens and Sparta were exposed to the full glare of Augustan ideology in a way which was not true of other provincial cities in either the east or, indeed, the west’. See Lafond (Reference Lafond2006) on cities in the Peloponnese.

35 See Oudot (Reference Oudot2010) on the declamatory topic of Athenian victories amongst second-century sophists. Cic. Off. 1.18.61 attests to their earlier prominence in rhetorical schools.

36 Further discussion: Cartledge and Spawforth (Reference Cartledge and Spawforth2002) 192–93; Spawforth (Reference Spawforth2012) 124–29. Birley (Reference Birley1997) 239 suggests AD 121, the 600th anniversary of Thermopylae, as a plausible date for Agesilaus’ endowment and re-establishment of the festival.

37 See Cartledge and Spawforth (Reference Cartledge and Spawforth2002), appendix 4.

38 Spawforth (Reference Spawforth2012) 124.

39 At line 12, Steinhauer (Reference Steinhauer1998).

40 On ὕμνος and ὑμνέω, see Brumbaugh (Reference Brumbaugh2017), especially 173 on the verb’s sense of repetitive praise in Plato and later authors. Cf. the appearance of the verb ὑμνέω in SEG 50.1152, a fragment concerning a festival at Ephesus in the first half of the second century AD.

41 For example, Sen. Suas. 2.2; Luc. Rhetorum praeceptor 18; Men. Rhet. 3.365.5–9 Spengel; Maximus Tyrius, Dissertationes 23.2.55–57, 32.10.182–92 Trapp. See Franchi (Reference Franchi, Franchi and Proietti2012), (Reference Franchi2013) and n.15 above.

42 See n.15 above.

43 See Smith (Reference Smith2007), with n.63 below, on the role of Athens in Chariton’s novel.

44 See especially Rawson (Reference Rawson1969) 326–50; Spawforth (Reference Spawforth2012) 86–100, 117–30.

45 See especially the items listed in nn.8–9 above. On Aphrodisias’ role in the Mithridatic and civil wars, see Reynolds (Reference Reynolds1982), documents 1–13.

46 Although it would satisfy the contentions of a number of scholars with regard to Chariton’s date: Hernández-Lara (Reference Hernández Lara1994) and Ruiz-Montero (Reference Ruiz-Montero1991) 489, on linguistic grounds; Laplace (Reference Laplace2011), on connections between Chariton’s Demetrius and Demetrius the Cynic; Jones (Reference Jones, Baslez, Hoffmann and Trédé1992) and Morgan (Reference Morgan, Richter and Johnson2017) 390, on connections between Chariton’s Dionysius and the Hadrianic sophist Dionysius of Miletus. See. n.10 above.

47 Camia and Kantiréa (Reference Camia and Kantiréa2010) 382 (emphasis mine). Useful discussions of, and sources for, the Euryclids include: Bowersock (Reference Bowersock1961); Bradford (Reference Bradford1977) 178–79; Cartledge and Spawforth (Reference Cartledge and Spawforth2002) 185–95; Balzat (Reference Balzat2005); (Reference Balzat and Grandjean2008); Kantiréa (Reference Kantiréa2007) 159–66; Steinhauer (Reference Steinhauer2010); Spawforth (Reference Spawforth2012) 124–29.

48 Sparta had also earned Octavian’s gratitude by taking Livia (and Tiberius) into safekeeping after the Perusine War, for which kind offices it was awarded the strategically crucial offshore island of Cythera: Suet. Tib. 6.2; Cass. Dio 54.7.1–4.

49 A marble ship-base from the Augustan theatre at Sparta potentially commemorates Eurycles’ role, on which see Spawforth (Reference Spawforth2012) 122–23.

50 See Spawforth (Reference Spawforth2012) 117–30 with further bibliography.

51 Spawforth (Reference Spawforth2012) 126–27, also noting, at 94, that ‘Sparta under Eurycles unsurprisingly displayed a marked alignment with themes in Augustan ideology’; in arguing thus, he overhauls the earlier view of Bulle (Reference Bulle1937) that the festival dates back to Classical times and that, after falling into disuse in the Hellenistic period, it was refounded by Eurycles.

52 See Spawforth (Reference Spawforth2012) 129, whence the quotation, further noting that ‘[i]n Nicocrates we can recognize the type of the first performers of Persian Wars material in the annual logoi at the Leonideia: an event which Nicocrates himself perhaps helped to establish’.

53 Eilers (Reference Eilers2002) 195, C7.

54 On this complex episode, see Bowersock (Reference Bowersock1961) 113; (Reference Bowersock1965) 59–60; Lindsay (Reference Lindsay1992); Kennell (Reference Kennell, Hodkinson and Powell1999) 201–04; Balzat (Reference Balzat and Grandjean2008) n.4, with further bibliography.

55 On sources for Laco and Spartiaticus, see Rizakis et al. (Reference Rizakis, Zoumbaki and Lepenioti2004), LACONIA 468 and 509, respectively. Further discussions include: Spawforth (Reference Spawforth1994) 218–24; Cartledge and Spawforth (Reference Cartledge and Spawforth2002) 102–03; Balzat (Reference Balzat and Grandjean2008) 336; Camia and Kantiréa (Reference Camia and Kantiréa2010).

56 Cartledge and Spawforth (Reference Cartledge and Spawforth2002) 94; Bowie (Reference Bowie, Madsen and Rees2014) 51–52.

57 Full discussions of Herculanus’ career include: Birley (Reference Birley1997) 210–12, 237–45; Bowie (Reference Bowie, Madsen and Rees2014) 61–2.

58 See Cartledge and Spawforth (Reference Cartledge and Spawforth2002) 110–11, 184–85; Camia and Kantiréa (Reference Camia and Kantiréa2010) 383–84.

59 Plut. Mor. 539–47; see Birley (Reference Birley1997) 216.

60 On the Roman role in propagating this reputation, see Spawforth (Reference Spawforth2012) 59–102. As regards their military capacities, Spartans were the Greeks most akin to the Romans: see Spawforth (Reference Spawforth2012) 12–14; cf. Hutton (Reference Hutton2010) 436–42 on Spartans and Romans as mirroring one another in Pausanias’ Periegesis.

61 Bowie (Reference Bowie, Madsen and Rees2014) 42–44, with further references. Curious in this connection is the fact that, as the epigraphic evidence shows, Sparta refers to Parthians as ‘Persians’ (IG V.1 816, 818; SEG 11.486). This is a type of discourse of which Chariton, whose Spartans are involved in a war against Persians, may be cognizant: Chariton’s Persia resembles contemporary Parthia in a number of aspects (Baslez (Reference Baslez, Baslez, Hoffmann and Trédé1992) 203–04; Whitmarsh (Reference Whitmarsh2011) 56), and the city of Aphrodisias had itself resisted the Parthian-backed Labienus in 40 BC.

62 Bowie (Reference Bowie, Madsen and Rees2014) is a key discussion of this phenomenon.

63 See Alty (Reference Alty1982) on the Classical-period rhetoric of Dorian and Ionian ethnic bias. Chariton’s ‘pro-Doric bias’ is noted by Alvares (Reference Alvares2001–2002) 119–20, suggesting regional jealousies against Athens. Sparta as an archetypally Dorian city: Hall (Reference Hall1997) 9. The eclipse of Athens from the narrative has been exhaustively analysed by Smith (Reference Smith2007); cf. Edwards (Reference Edwards1996) 165 n.54, who points to the dwindling prestige of Athens under the Flavians.

64 See especially Alvares (Reference Alvares2001–2002).

65 Plutarch’s Precepts of Statecraft (Mor. 798–825) sets out the generally toothless limits of this power, advising the aspirant Greek statesman, at 814C, against mentioning Greek military victories of the past lest it upset the Romans. See Swain (Reference Swain1996) 135–87; Alcock (Reference Alcock2002) 74–86.

66 On Roman Corinth, see Engels (Reference Engels1990), especially 8–21, with 196 n.15 for bibliography on the Achaean League; see further Camia and Kantiréa (Reference Camia and Kantiréa2010) 389–90.

67 Jolowicz (Reference Jolowicz2018c) 132, with 131–33 generally, referring to the argument of Alvares (Reference Alvares2001–2002) 140 and (Reference Alvares2007) 15–16 that Chaereas’ force represents a ‘concrete political dream’ of Greek freedom, and a subtle indication to the Romans of ‘how valuable Greeks could be as friends or dangerous as enemies’.

68 See n.60 above.

69 I have discussed the mixture of ‘subversive’ and ‘accommodationist’ positions within Chariton’s text elsewhere: Jolowicz (Reference Jolowicz2018c) 114–18, (Reference Jolowicz, Jolowicz and Elsner2023) 127–29. Fundamental on the complex rhetoric of self-positioning of Imperial Greek texts vis-à-vis Rome are Swain (Reference Swain1996); Whitmarsh (Reference Whitmarsh2001).

70 Greek elite readership: Bowie (Reference Bowie and Tatum1994); Stephens (Reference Stephens1994); Morgan (Reference Morgan and Powell1995). Romans: by analogy with texts of, for example, Plutarch and Lucian that have Roman addressees; see Stadter (Reference Stadter2014) 21–44 on these issues as they relate to Plutarch.

71 Smith (Reference Smith2007) 96–97. Trzaskoma (Reference Trzaskoma2011) 32 n.81 sees him as ‘stand[ing] in for all the Ten Thousand in the novel, but especially for Clearchus, himself an exiled Spartan who dies in a foreign land because of a love of war and his inability to reintegrate into peacetime Sparta’; Laplace (Reference Laplace1997) 52 detects elements of Cheirisophus at Xen. An. 3.2.1–3.

72 Bradford (Reference Bradford1977) 91–92 itemizes recorded descendants of Brasidas. On the senator, see Rizakis and Lepenioti (Reference Rizakis and Lepenioti2010), LACONIA 274; Birley (Reference Birley1997) 239 n.212; Camia and Kantiréa (Reference Camia and Kantiréa2010) 393.

73 The scholia to Thucydides show that, in the original 13-book edition, book 7 included 4.78–135, that is, Brasidas’ Thracian campaign; see Bowersock (Reference Bowersock1965) 105 n.4.

74 Bowersock (Reference Bowersock1961) 116. On this episode, see further Bowersock (Reference Bowersock1965) 105; Kennell (Reference Kennell, Hodkinson and Powell1999) 203–04; Spawforth (Reference Spawforth2012) 111.

75 Depending on Chariton’s date, it is possible that he knew of Plutarch’s anecdote from the Greek elite rumour mill, or indeed from (the text of) Plutarch, who knew the Euryclid senator Herculanus personally.

76 Hornblower (Reference Hornblower1996) 38–61 is a comprehensive analysis of Thucydides’ presentation of Brasidas.

77 Quotations: Lattimore (Reference Lattimore1998) 257; Hornblower (Reference Hornblower1996) 39, 53–54, with 38–61 more generally on Brasidas’ campaign as an Achillean aristeia.

78 On the stereotype, see, for example, Hdt. 3.46; Eur. Or. 638–39; Thuc. 4.17.2; Xen. Lac. 3.4–7; Pl. Prt. 342d–343a; Strabo 1.2.30; Plut. Mor. 511A, Lyc. 19–20; Paus. 4.5.7. Further discussion: Francis (Reference Francis1991–1993); David (Reference David, Hodkinson and Powell1999); Montiglio (Reference Montiglio2000) 282–83; Powell (Reference Powell2001) 238–34; Zali (Reference Zali2014) 64–77.

79 Hornblower (Reference Hornblower1996) ad loc.

80 See n.108 below and section IV more generally on Xenophon’s reasoning for transporting Aegialeus and Thelxinoe to Sicily.

81 For a recent attempt to rehabilitate Xenophon from his ‘primitive’ reputation, see Tagliabue (Reference Tagliabue2017), with 1–20 for an overview of the debate.

82 The text is that of O’Sullivan (Reference O’Sullivan2005); the translation follows Henderson (Reference Henderson2009), with adaptations.

83 Paradigm: Tagliabue (Reference Tagliabue2012) 37–40; (Reference Tagliabue2017) 49–52. Erotic durability: Konstan (Reference Konstan1994) 48. Learning: Jones (Reference Jones2012) 189–90; Tagliabue (Reference Tagliabue2017) 24, quoting Morgan (Reference Morgan, Sommerstein and Atherton1996) 174.

84 Schmeling (Reference Schmeling1980) 67; Whitmarsh (Reference Whitmarsh2011) 2.

85 Whitmarsh (Reference Whitmarsh2011) 1–3.

86 Tagliabue (Reference Tagliabue2017) 133–38; cf. Nimis (Reference Nimis2004) 47–48, describing Aegialeus as an ‘Egyptianized Spartan’. On Xenophon and Egypt more generally, see Griffiths (Reference Griffiths1978); Whitmarsh (Reference Whitmarsh2011) 45–50.

87 Borg (Reference Borg and Bierbrier1997) 27, also citing Lucian, De luctu 21 on the connection between Aegialeus’ vocation as a fisherman and the use of salt by fisherman and Egyptian embalmers as a means of preserving the bodies of dead fish and humans, respectively.

88 Necrophilia: Nimis (Reference Nimis2004) 47–48; Tagliabue (Reference Tagliabue2017) 133–38, especially on the verbs σύνϵιμι and συγκατάκϵιμαι; Egyptian embalmers had a reputation for having sex with freshly dead bodies (Hdt. 2.89). Euripides’ Alcestis (especially 348–54): Bettini (Reference Bettini1999) 45, whence the quotation; Borg (Reference Borg and Bierbrier1997) 31 n.15; Alvares (Reference Alvares2002) 112–14; Castrucci (Reference Castrucci2017) 14–18.

90 The reduplication Σπαρτιάτης Λακϵδαιμόνιος is non-Classical. On the terminological difference between the two, see, for example, Powell (Reference Powell2001) 251; Cartledge (Reference Cartledge2002) 128, 217.

91 At Sparta, ‘Thelxinoos’ is epigraphically attested once and ‘Thelgon’ twice in the first centuries BC and AD, whilst ‘Thelxagoras’ is attested once at Classical Sicyon (LGPN s.vv.); ‘Aegialeus’ is the name of a Sicyonian tribe (Hdt. 5.68, 7.94). Cf. Ruiz-Montero (Reference Ruiz-Montero1994b) 1107 n.98; Kanavou (Reference Kanavou, Catling, Marchand and Sasanow2010) 612; Genter (Reference Genter2020) 20.

92 Discussions include: Mitchell (Reference Mitchell1964) 53–55; MacDowell (Reference MacDowell1986) 77–82; Ball (Reference Ball1989); Cartledge (Reference Cartledge2001) 121–23; Pomeroy (Reference Pomeroy2002) 33–49, explaining, at 42, that ‘[t]he “capture” of the bride was a ritual enactment of a prearranged betrothal’; Link (Reference Link, Figueira and Brulé2004). On abduction marriage in antiquity more generally, see Evans-Grubbs (Reference Evans-Grubbs1989).

93 Transvestism: Clitophon (Ach. Tat. 6.1–2). Hair-cutting: Leucippe (Ach. Tat. 5.17.3–5). The unpublished thesis of Oikonomou (Reference Oikonomou2010) 58 (for which reference I thank Aldo Tagliabue) notes the recurrence of this combination in the Xenophon episode and Plutarch, as well as the proleptic force of Thelxinoe’s haircut with regard to Anthia at Xen. Eph. 5.5.4. Genter (Reference Genter2020) 15 links Thelxinoe’s haircut to the strands of capillary discourse running through Xenophon’s novel (for example, Habrocomes, ‘Mr Nice Hair’).

94 Pomeroy (Reference Pomeroy2002) 42, continuing, at 43, that ‘[t]he bride’s costume may have also helped to ease the husband’s transition to procreative sex from the homosexual intercourse to which he was accustomed’, with further references at nn.27–28; see also, in a similar vein, Cartledge (Reference Cartledge2001) 122, who cites as comparanda, at 218 n.102, Xenophon’s Thelxinoe, and, at 218 n.104, Plut. Mor. 245F (the donning of false beards by brides at Argos).

95 Aegialeus here takes on the role of Damaratus, the Spartan made famous by Herodotus: Damaratus snatches Perkalos, who has been legitimately betrothed to Leotychidas, and makes her his wife (Hdt. 6.65.2, adduced by Rohde (Reference Rohde1914) 413 n.3); cf. Link (Reference Link, Figueira and Brulé2004) 8.

96 See Konstan (Reference Konstan1994) on ‘sexual symmetry’ as a marker of the genre.

97 This is not to say that erotic narratives beginning with the couple’s meeting at a festival are uncommon, for example Acontius and Cydippe (Callim. Aet. fr. 67.5–6 Pf.) or Chaereas and Callirhoe (Chariton 1.1.5–6). The nocturnal element may also serve to romanticize Menandrian and New Comic rapes that take place at nighttime festivals; see, for example, Bathrellou (Reference Bathrellou2012).

98 Pomeroy (Reference Pomeroy2002) 108–09, citing Stibbe (Reference Stibbe1972) no. 64. On Spartan Artemis Orthia and her fame, see Pomeroy (Reference Pomeroy2002) s.v. There is much debate as to whether the festival envisioned in Alcman’s first Partheneion (which evokes cult titles of Artemis: PMG 1.61 (ὀρθρίαι) and 1.87 (Ἀώτι)) is nocturnal: see Pomeroy (Reference Pomeroy2002) 106; Bowie (Reference Bowie, Athanassaki and Bowie2011).

99 See n.83 above on symmetries between the story of Habrocomes and Anthia and that of Aegialeus and Thelxinoe.

100 On these and other elements of the education of Spartan youth, see Kennell (Reference Kennell1995); Ducat (Reference Ducat2006).

101 See, for example, Plut. Lyc. 24.1. On sentences of death and exile in Sparta, see MacDowell (Reference MacDowell1986) 144–49. Christesen (Reference Christesen and Flower2016) 328–29 discusses Xenophon of Athens’ view of Spartan strictness.

102 Cf. Plut. Ages. 40.3, where the corpse of King Agesilaus II is embalmed in wax. On Spartan burial customs, see Mitchell (Reference Mitchell1964) 62–63. [Pl.] Minos 315D refers to those ‘of earlier times who used to bury their dead in the house’. Bowie (Reference Bowie2002) 56–57 sees in Thelxinoe’s mummification an allusion to Poppaea’s mummification by Nero (Tac. Ann. 16.6), which would necessitate a terminus post quem of AD 65.

103 Pomeroy (Reference Pomeroy2002) 40.

104 Meister (Reference Meister2020).

105 See Jones (Reference Jones1966), especially 66–70 on the date of Plutarch’s Lycurgus. For bibliography relating to the date of Xenophon’s novel, see n.10 above.

106 Plutarch’s biographies: Lycurgus, Lysander, Agis, Cleomenes, Agesilaus. Treatises: Sayings of the Spartans, Sayings of Spartan Women, Constitution of the Spartans. Lucchesi (Reference Lucchesi2014) deals with Plutarch’s Spartan texts. Tourism: Cairns (Reference Cairns2006) 384–85; Spawforth (Reference Spawforth2012) 100.

107 LSJ II s.v.

108 For Morgan (Reference Morgan, Adams and Roy2007) 148, there is no obvious reason why the story of Aegialeus and Thelxinoe is set in Sicily; De Temmerman (Reference De Temmerman and De Jong2012c) 514 connects their choice of destination with Sicily’s reputation for prosperity. Whitmarsh (Reference Whitmarsh2011) 55–56 suggests an ideological reason for Chariton’s choice of Sicily: ‘Centring the world in Sicily involves decentring the Greek mainland, shifting it further towards the barbarian East—a symbolic construction of the world that arguably reflects the Italocentric imperial mapping of Rome more than traditional Greek ideas’.

109 On the various suggestions for dating and relative chronology, see nn.10, 46 above.

110 See n.83 above.

111 See, comparably, Tagliabue (Reference Tagliabue2017) 28–34 on the framing device of the ecphrasis at Xen. Eph. 1.8.2–3.

112 On the power of framing devices in ancient art and texts in this regard, see Platt and Squire (Reference Platt and Squire2017).

113 As argued by Tilg (Reference Tilg2010).


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