Author: Xenophon of Ephesus
Publication Year: Mid-2nd century CE
Genre: Classic, as in old (not classic, as in everyone should have read it in high school)
The other day I was rummaging through some bins for stationary when I found, to my delight, my copy of the Ephesiaca (Book 1) by the Xenophon most people don’t encounter in their reading. You may be scoffing, “As opposed to the other Xenophon I don’t know?” And that’s okay, because unless you’re really into classics, history or philosophy, you don’t particularly have a reason to know of the Xenophon who wrote about Socrates (yup, Plato is not the be-all and end-all of Socratic wisdom) and concluded the History of the Peloponnesian War (you’re forgiven if you thought only Thucydides touched that subject too).
But Xenophon of Ephesos is not that guy. Xenophon of Ephesos is like the Danielle Steele of Greek writers, as opposed to say James Madison. This Xenophon is so lightweight that Wikipedia only has a stub about him, but the Ephesiaca has a lengthy plot summary on a separate page.
And here is where the fun starts, because the Ephesiaca is one of the oldest surviving novels, and it’s an adventure/romance. Pirates, true love, robbers, forced marriage, deathlike sleep, torture…can we say, proto-Princess Bride?
I should probably wait until I’ve read more to post about this, but I’m having too much fun so far. Here’s what’s going on in the first page:
Some youth Habrocomes is a popular guy, good at sporty things, with a rocking body and noble soul. I’m not totally convinced I’m translating the soul thing correctly because a sentence later we find out that he’s conceited. People will tell him that they’ve found some beautiful boy or shapely virgin, and he’ll look and laugh, saying that he doesn’t see anything great. (I couldn’t help hearing Colin Firth’s Darcy: “I saw little beauty and no breeding” and “She a beauty? I should as soon call her mother a wit.”)
Habrocomes is so convinced that he’s hot stuff, he’s been mocking shrines and statues of Eros (Cupid) under the belief that he’ll never fall in love with anyone.
This is clearly foolish on Habrocomes' part. And where I left off, “Eros rages at these things: for the god loves to win and is merciless to the conceited. He searched for something to use against the young man, yes for even to the god, Habrocomes seemed hard to beat.” Ha, Habrocomes, you are going down!
I can’t tell if it’s because I was just reading Wodehouse, but I love that Eros is kind of in awe of Habrocomes to the point that he can’t immediately find an opening to teach him a lesson. It seems like the sort of reaction that Bertie Wooster or Lord Elmsworth would have—but in an age of unironic togas. Sweet stuff.
Anyway, you know you want to read this one with me!
(Bonus points if you do it in the Greek! :-P)