Emeralds and embassies in The Ethiopian story of Heliodorus. (2024)

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The events narrated in The Ethiopian story of Heliodorus purport tohave taken place at the time of the Persian occupation of Egypt (about525-332 BC). (1) Throughout the novel Persians rule the land and it isthey who are supposed to have come into conflict with the Ethiopiansover control of Philae and the emerald mines to the south of Egypt(Aeth. 2.32.2, 8.1.3, 9.6.5, 9.26.2, 10.11.1). (2) The retrospectiveprojection of the dramatic date of the work into the Classical period ofGreek history was conventional in the ancient novels. Chariton, forexample, who in all probability wrote his novel in the first century ofour era, placed the action of his Chaereas and Callirhoe in the time ofHermocrates, the tyrant of Syracuse in the fifth / fourth century BC,known to history from the writings of Thucydides. (3) However, despitethe fact that the ancient novelists in general (and Heliodorus inparticular) aimed to enhance the veracity of their narratives byadopting a 'historical pose' as if they were writing authentichistory, (4) the illusion that the action of the novels takes place inthe glorious period of Greek history is not consistently maintained andthe reader becomes aware that details of the narrative are betterunderstood in terms of the real world of the contemporary Roman Empire.(5) In the absence of any incontrovertible 'smoking gun' prooffor the date of composition of the novels, the circ*mstantial evidencearising from such cracks in the conventional facade of the dramatic datebecomes vitally important for establishing an approximate time periodduring which these works were written. (6)

The references to the emerald mines to the south of Egypt in theEthiopian story exemplify the problem at hand particularly well. Thehistorical record concerning relations between Persia and Ethiopia inthe Classical period is based on the narrative provided by Herodotus,and Heliodorus certainly made extensive use of the work of his famouspredecessor. (7) However, although emeralds were known to Herodotus, whomentions that the famous ring of Polycrates consisted of an emerald([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) set in gold (3.41), he makes nomention of any dispute between the Persians and the Ethiopians overemerald mines. According to Herodotus, the invasion of Ethiopia by thePersian king Cambyses was exploratory in nature (Hdt. 3.17) and,although it ended in failure (3.25), the Ethiopians continued to paytribute consisting of gold, ebony, ivory, and 'five Ethiopianboys' to the Persians in Herodotus's day (3.97). (8)Consequently, the situation in The Ethiopian story, in which a warbetween the Persians and the Ethiopians over Philae and the emeraldmines ended in the defeat of the Persians, is clearly not based on thefifth-century historical record, nor can any comparable incident befound in the fourth century. Instead Heliodorus has chosen to departradically from the dramatic context of his novel, despite the fact thathe clearly intended his reader to believe that his account was a'history', as noted above. Why has he done so? The answer tothis question lies in assessing the importance of precious stones in TheEthiopian story. However, it is important to note that Heliodorus doesnot substitute fiction for historical content in respect of his accountof how Persians and Ethiopians came into conflict with one another. Thehistorical context that he has in mind, however, is a very different onefrom that of Herodotus, and has much more to do with the concerns of thefourth century of our era.

Precious stones in The Ethiopian story

Precious stones play an important part in The Ethiopian story. (9)In addition to providing the cause of war between the Ethiopians andPersians, which sets the action of the plot in motion and brings aboutthe return of Chariclea to Ethiopia and her reconciliation with herparents, gems feature as high value commodities that are greatly prizedby bandits (1.3.2) and merchants such as Nausicles (5.15.1). However,jewels are also prized for their beauty, as Charicles' descriptionof the stones that Sisimthres gave to him shows (2.30.3):

He drew out a little pouch that he carried beneath his arm andopened it to reveal a prodigious display of precious stones: pearls thesize of small nuts, perfectly spherical and glistening the purest white;emeralds and sapphires, the former as green as grass in springtime,their depths glowing with a luster as clear and soft as olive oil, thelatter exactly the color of the sea in the shadow of a tall cliff,sparkling on the surface and a deep violet beneath. In short, all thesegems, with their blend of many scintillating hues, were a sight togladden the eye (tr. Morgan 1989).

The description of the 'Ethiopian amethyst' on the ringgiven to Nausicles by Calasiris is the subject of a 'purplepassage' (5.14) in which the engraver's art stands bysynecdoche for art in general, alluding to music (the flute melody),drama (the rock is a 'bucolic theater'), and the play betweenthe illusion of the scene represented and the reality of the materialfrom which the work was created:

Every amethyst from India or Ethiopia is as I have described, butthe stone that Kalasiris was now presenting to Nausikles was farsuperior to all others, for it had been incised and deeply carved torepresent living creatures. The scene depicted was as follows: a youngboy was shepherding his sheep, standing on the vantage point of a lowrock, using a transverse flute to direct his flock as it grazed, whilethe sheep seemed to pasture obediently and contentedly in time to thepipe's melody. One might have said that their backs hung heavy withgolden fleeces; this was no beauty of art's devising, for art hadmerely highlighted on their backs the natural blush of the amethyst.Also depicted were lambs, gamboling in innocent joy, a whole troop ofthem scampering up the rock, while others cavorted and frolicked inrings around their shepherd, so that the rock where he sat seemed like akind of bucolic theater; others again, reveling in the sunshine of theamethyst's brilliance, jumped and skipped, scarcely touching thesurface of the rock. The oldest and boldest of them presented theillusion of wanting to leap out through the setting of the stone but ofbeing prevented from doing so by the jeweler's art, which had setthe collet of the ring like a fence of gold to enclose both them and therock. The rock was a real rock, no illusion, for the artist had left onecorner of the stone unworked, using reality to produce the effect hewanted: he could see no point in using the subtlety of his art torepresent a stone on a stone! Such was the ring (tr. Morgan 1989).

A special gem with magical properties, the pantarb stone, alsoplays a vital role in Heliodorus's novel. The heroine, Chariclea,is exposed at birth by her mother, the Ethiopian queen Persinna. Thequeen places a ring with the stone in the infant's swaddling bandsin order to protect her with its magic power. The pantarb jewel laterplays an important part in the recognition of Chariclea as the daughterof Hydaspes since the king recognises it as one he had given Persinnaduring their courtship (4.8.7; 10.14.3). In the narrative ofChariclea's birth (4.8.7) the ring serves a number of functions: asan engagement ring, it informs the reader of the loving relationshipbetween Persinna and Hydaspes; as a seal it calls to mind thequeen's royal status; and lastly as an apotropaic amulet it warnsof the dangerous future which awaits the infant. In fact the ring latermiraculously saves Chariclea's life, as predicted in a dream, whenthe Persian queen Arsace attempts to have her burnt at the stake on afalse charge of murder (8.11). (10) Chariclea describes the ring as'set with a jewel called pantarbe and inscribed with certain sacredcharacters; it is full, it seems, of a supernatural and mystic property([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], which I think must have endowed thestone with the power to repel fire and bestow immunity from the flameson its wearer' (8.11.8). In the allegorical interpretation of TheEthiopian story by the Byzantine Neoplatonic philosopher Philip (ll.119-131), the partarb stone is interpreted as 'that which fearsall' ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]), suggesting the it standsfor fear of God, because God is all ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]),rather than literally 'fearing all things' as stated byTheagenes (8.11). (11)

The pantarb stone had a history in Greek literature prior toHeliodorus. Ctesias, for example, relates that pantarb stones had thepower of attracting others to them (Jacoby F.3c688.F fr. 45.11-13 =Photius Bib. 72.45a28 [Bekker]), while Philostratus adds to this accountthe details that the stone is elusive but sheds a brilliant light (VA3.46.10-18). Philostratus had also heard of such stones with magicpowers that were found in the head of a mountain-snake (VA 3.8). To someextent these gems resemble the magical ring of Gyges in Herodotus andPlato (Hdt. 1.8-12; Plato Rep. 359d2-360d7) or the'uncorrupted' stones in the mountains of the 'real'earth (Phaedo 110e). However, none of these accounts provide aconvincing context in which to interpret Heliodorus's narrative,which rather resembles the writings of Neoplatonists such as thefifth-century philosopher Damascius, who wrote about moon-stones thatchanged with the phases of the moon, and sun-stones that appeared havefire shining from them (Vit. Is. 119W).

Greco-Roman treatises on precious stones

A significant number of treatises on precious stones have survivedfrom antiquity and it is in these accounts that the most likelymineralogical context for Heliodorus's treatment of them should besought. The ancient Greeks and Romans, like many other peoples, weregenerally fascinated by the magical properties of precious stones, gems,and jewels of all kinds. (12) The first substantial discussion of thissubject to survive is that of Theophrastus, who wrote in the Hellenisticperiod. (13) This famous Peripatetic philosopher includes a wide rangeof green-coloured stones under the term [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]and attributes to them magical powers, such as the ability to change thecolour of water ([section]23) and the power to aid vision ([section]24).He knew that Egypt was an important source (among others) of preciousstones (but not specifically of emeralds) and he even specifies Syeneand 'the region called Psepho' as the area most closelyassociated with them ([section]34). However, Syene is not known for itsemeralds or jewels of any kind and the region that Theophrastus calls'Psepho' is otherwise unknown. The commentators speculate thatthis region was 'Psebo' (in Greek [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE INASCII]) which they identify with Lake Tana in Ethiopia, but there is noancient evidence of the mining of precious stones in this region. In anycase Heliodorus cannot have had Theophrastus' discussion ofemeralds in mind, since his account nowhere alludes to any of thedetails mentioned in it. Had he known of Theophrastus' account hewould surely have placed the mines at Syene, where the war between theEthiopians and the Persians in his novel is won.

It is also unlikely that Heliodorus made use of Pliny'slengthy discussion of emeralds in Book 37 of his first-centuryencyclopaedia, The natural history ([section]16-19). (14) Plinybelieved, from information provided by Juba of Mauretania, that emeraldswere mined in the hills of Egypt at a distance of twenty-five days'journey from Coptos in the Thebais ([section]17, [section]18). Thisinformation needs to be corrected on the basis of Strabo's moreprobable estimate that the trip only lasted six to seven days (17.815)and supplemented with the information that these mines were protected byRoman guards in the second / third century (Aelian 7.18, Ptol. 4.5.8[see generally also Ptol. 4.5-15]). The name given by these writers tothe hill from which the emeralds were mined was Mons Smaragdus. This istoday Wadi Sikait in the eastern desert of Egypt where archaeologicalinvestigations have uncovered the ancient mine workings dating from thefirst to the sixth centuries of our era. (15) There is no indication ofthe precise location of the emerald mines in The Ethiopian story,however, and the Elder Pliny can be safely eliminated from considerationas a possible source of information for Heliodorus, as no significantuse of Pliny's material can be detected in his work.

The pseudo-Orphic Lithica--a poem celebrating the magic powers ofprecious stones (16)--is much more promising. This work was first datedto the reign of Constantius II by the famous English scholar andphilanthropist, Thomas Tyrwhitt in 1781. (17) Writing in Latin, Tyrwhittargued in his introduction (pp. vi-xii) that verses 73-74 of the proemto the poem referred to the execution of the theurgist Maximus in thereign of Valens in terms of specific legislation against divinationpassed by the emperor Constantius II (25 January 357). Tyrwhitt is herereferring to Cod. Theod. 9.16.4 (sileat omnibus perpetuo divinandicuriositas. etenim supplicium capitis feret gladio ultore prostratus,quicumque iussis obsequium denegaverit. 'The inquisitiveness of allmen for divination shall cease forever. For if any person should denyobedience to these orders, he shall suffer capital punishment, felled bythe avenging sword', tr. Pharr 1952). It is important that thecharge--divination--for which Maximus was especially known, and themethod of execution--decapitation by the sword--is specificallymentioned in the legislation, since the poem refers to the executed manas a Magus (line 72, 'prophet' in King's translation) andmentions decapitation by the sword in the words [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLEIN ASCII] ('he lies stretched out in the dust deprived of his headby a sword in pitiful death, a divine man', cf. Gesner's Latintranslation: Et ille quidem in pulvere ense, abscisso capite, neminelugente, / Tristi morte, divinus vir, extensus iacet.) (18) The gruesometorture and execution of Maximus is described in similar terms byEunapius in his Life of Maximus 460 (tr. Wright 1921, cf. also Amm.Marc. 19.1.42, Zos. 4.14-15 for Valens' jealousy of educatedphilosophers):

 ... therefore just as though in the person of Maximus they were punishing some god, they sent away with him into Asia a certain Festus, a man of a murderous disposition with the soul of a butcher, judging Asia to be a worthy abode for such a man. When he arrived he carried out his orders, and of his own accord even went beyond them and indulged to the top of his bent his beastlike and rabid temperament. For first he cut off the heads of many, guilty and innocent alike, and next he slaughtered Maximus, that great man.

Tyrwhitt adds that the dating of the Lithica was particularlydifficult because the author had intentionally not recorded his name andhad left personal details out of the poem, because the theurgicaldiscussion of the magical powers of precious stones was punishable bytorture and death at the time. For the same reason the Lithica survivedin obscurity for eight centuries until the time of the 12th-centuryByzantine poet and grammarian John Tzetzes, who wrongly attributed it tothe authorship of Orpheus on the grounds that it followed Orphic poemsbound in the same volume.

Further support for dating the Lithica to the fourth century hasrecently been advanced by Zito on the basis of close linguisticsimilarities between this poem and the astrological [TEXT NOTREPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (On the Beginnings) of Maximus of Ephesus(attributed to Maximus by the Suda s.v. [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE INASCII]). (19) Zito concludes her argument by referring not only to thelinguistic similarities between the two texts but also to the sharedinterest in the animation of the statue of Hecate, the devotion toHecate, and the rites necessary to invoke the gods in the [TEXT NOTREPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], and the power of magical stones to alter thewill of the gods, the prominence of Helios, the animation of oracles,and the pervasive interest in Neoplatonic theurgy in the Lithica, toshow that all this points towards the conclusion that the author of bothpoems must have been a member of the entourage of the emperor Julian.(20) It is striking that all of these motifs can also be traced in TheEthiopian story, which refers to moving statues (3.13), the necromancyof the witch of Bessa (6.15), (21) the activity of the oracle at Delphi(2.27, 2.35), Helios (2.35, 4.8 and passim), magical stones (8.11), andsacrificial ritual (4.16). (22)

The arguments advanced by Tyrwhitt and Zito can be supplemented byconsideration of a sermon on the twelve gems on the breastplate ofAaron, the high-priest of the Jews (Exod. 28.15-21), composed byEpiphanius of Cyprus, which can also be dated to the fourth century.(23) This work was probably written in 394 but evidently referred toearlier unidentified treatises, possibly even the Lithica, by way ofrefutation and Christianization of the material contained within them.(24) The emerald is the third of the twelve stones described byEpiphanius in this text. The author notes that Roman emperors such asNero and Domitian tended the hills in which this precious stone wasfound, 'watering' (i.e. polishing?) them to increase theirgreen hue and sparkle. They were covetous of the emerald and'sought to find the[se] precious stones'. (25) According tothe information at his disposal, Epiphanius initially locates thesemines either in India or in Ethiopia--a common confusion in ancientgeographical discussions, (26) but in another passage he is morespecific, placing them near the Red Sea, from where travelers set out toIndia. (27) He states that this region was controlled by a number ofkings, including one from Adoulis and another from Axum. Epiphanius addsthat in his day new tribes had immigrated into this region: theHindobeni, the Fish-Eaters, and the Sirindibeni ('now other nameshave come in through immigrants from many places'). At this pointhe adds the following observation, which is worth quoting in full: (28)

 Now, however, we shall speak of the mountain where the gem emerald is found. It is under the dominion of the king of the Romans. The name of the mountain is called emerald (zmuriani, i.e [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]). It is like an off-lying island and is opposite to Berenike, the point of departure for India, when one goes to the Thebaid, and lies off in the sea, about one day's sail by vessel, i.e. about eighty miles (milion), and is contiguous to Berenike near the so-called Ivory Coast and is the hands of the tribe of the Blemmyes (Bleynielni), who rule many other places as well. At present strange heathen tribes extract (lit. cut out) the stone emerald and put it on the market.

Despite some confusion about the actual location of the mines on anisland 'off in the sea', this quotation clearly shows thatEpiphanius was aware of the name of the hill (Mons Smaragdus) from whichthe gems were extracted. He also speaks in the present tense ('atpresent') as if referring to the situation in his own day, statingthat the hill is under the control of Blemmyes and that it is worked bybarbarian tribes who mine the precious stones and trade them. Heconcludes his discussion of the emerald stating that it has mirror-likeproperties and the power to predict the future.

Political and religious upheavals in late antique Nubia

When this text is matched with the ethnographical informationsupplied by Heliodorus in The Ethiopian story, it becomes apparent thatthe fictional narrative reflects similar circ*mstances in the region asthose referred to by Epiphanius, although it is not precise about thelocation of the mines. An embassy from the people of Axum, for example,is referred to as one of the delegations who travel to Meroe tocongratulate Hydaspes on his victory over the Persians (10.27). Likewisethe Blemmyes are noted as one of the contingents that made up the armyof Hydaspes (9.16-18). They too send an embassy to celebrate theEthiopian victory (10.24-26). During this time of political upheavalHeliodorus' fictional narrative details many embassies and intensediplomatic activity in the region. (29)

The mention of Axumites and Blemmyes in both Heliodorus andEphiphanius needs to be placed in the context of a well-documented andprofound shift in power relations in ancient Nubia following Romandisengagement from the region under the emperor Diocletian in 298. (30)Although the Romans had long had an interest in Nubia, Diocletiandecided to withdraw his garrison to Philae at this time, relying ongoodwill payments to keep the Nobadae and Blemmyes at peace with Rome(Procop. On the wars 1.19.27-37). (31) With the departure of the Romanforces, power passed initially to the kingdom of Meroe and thereafter tothat of Axum at some time during the fourth century, probably from about350 on. (32) The last royal pyramids date to 350-360 and at the sametime the material culture of the region ceased to be predominantlyMeroitic, indicating that power had shifted away from Meroe to the Noba.(33) According to Torok 2009:518:

 The collapse of urban life, its institutions and social structure at Meroe City is indicated in the last habitation horizon by rural-type dwellings built for large extended families, the abandonment of the temples and squatter occupation within their walls; by burials in ruined palatial buildings and temples; the disappearance of Meroitic industries and the emergence of hand-made pottery wares ... It also seems that the bearers of the new culture were to some extent Meroiticized. Hence, it may be supposed that the decline and collapse of the Meroitic kingdom was, at least partly, brought about not only by the Noba occupation of Meroitic territories and Aksumite incursions, but also by a social, political and cultural imbalance caused by the presence of un-acculturated or superficially acculturated Noba settlers on Meroitic territory. Initially, the Noba immigration may nevertheless have been a centrally controlled process that may be viewed as a Meroitic variant of the settlement of barbarian foederati on Roman territories. The resettlement of tribes not an exclusively Roman invention: it was also practiced by the rulers of Aksum as recorded in Ezana's Greek inscription from the mid-fourth century AD.

The inscription referred to by Torok above was erected by theChristian King Aezanes (325-375) in Axum. In it he relates how hisforces attacked the Noba, who had rebelled against his rule, and laidwaste their lands including those of the Kazu (Meroe). (34) To celebratehis victory Aezanes erected a throne on which he carved the inscriptionin Greek, giving the numbers of casualties and prisoners taken in hiscampaign. The overall situation in this region, however, cannot beneatly reconstructed. Elements of Meroitic culture continued to beproduced but the kingdom was fragmented into a number of smallerpolitical units that survived until the early decades of the fifthcentury. (35) There were also incursions by the Blemmyes from theeastern desert. In 337-338, Constantius II appointed a Roman cavalrycommander, Flavius Abinnaeus, to take control of the Blemmyes--aresponsibility that he fulfilled for three years. (36) However, thesepeople continued to cause disturbances and this situation continued wellinto the Christian era as testified in the Historia monachorum and theautobiographies of Pachomius. (37)

Some decades before these events, the Roman emperor Constantineappears to have attempted to expand his Christian empire from its newbase in Constantinople towards the East and the limits of the inhabitedworld. (38) Eusebius mentions contact between India (including Axum andthe Blemmyes), and Constantinople on at least three occasions, duringwhich gifts, including precious stones from India, were exchanged (Lifeof Constantine 4.50: 'At about this time [c. 336] ambassadors fromthe Indians, who inhabit the distant regions of the East, arrived withpresents consisting of many varieties of brilliant precious stones, andanimals differing in species from those known to us.'). (39)Contact between India and the court of Constantine is testified to alsoin the Roman-Kushanian medallion in the British Museum and theexpedition of the philosopher Metrodorus to India. (40) SocratesScholasticus also writes (Eccl. Hist. 1.19) that a Tyrian, Meropius,decided to emulate the voyage of Metrodorus to India and took with himtwo of his younger relatives, Aedesius and Frumentius. However, thetravelers were attacked by the Indians and killed, with the exception ofthe two youths, who were sent to the Indian king as cup-bearer andsecretary respectively. These young men were set free on the king'sdeath and his queen asked them to educate her young son until he came ofa*ge. Frumentius and Aedesius agreed and devoted themselves toestablishing churches and converting the Indians to Christianity.Eventually, Aedesius returned to Tyre and Frumentius to Alexandria,where he reported on his activities to the bishop Athanasius.Sozomen's account (Eccl. Hist. 2.24) adds that Frumentius suggestedthat Athanasius should appoint a bishop to take charge of the Christiancommunity in India and that Athanasius duly appointed him, Frumentius,to this post. (41)

These arrangements, however, did not suit Constantine'ssuccessor, Constantius II, who deposed Athanasius from the see ofAlexandria and sent him into exile because of his heretical views (hewas not Arian). (42) Consequently, Constantius II dispatched a letter toAezanes, requesting him to return Frumentius to Alexandria forinterrogation and instruction in correct Christian belief byAthanasius' Arian replacement, George. The letter is quoted byAthanasius in his Defence to the emperor Constantius (31). Constantiusalso banned the ships of any delegation to the Axumites or Himyaritesfrom docking in Alexandria (Cod. Theod. 12.12.2), probably to deter themissionary efforts of Athanasius. Constantius II is also known to havesent Theophilus, an Indian from Ceylon, who had come to the court ofConstantine on a previous embassy, to convert the Sabaeans toChristianity. The mission was successful and the Sabaean king builtthree churches from his own resources. From there, after a trip to hishome country of Ceylon, Theophilus visited the Ethiopians (Eccl. Hist.3.6) and, in particular, Axum, where the outcome was unclear.

The correspondence between the diplomatic activity evident in TheEthiopian story (as discussed above) and the embassies between Rome andEthiopia in the reigns of Constantine and Constantius during a period ofpolitical change, strengthens an already strong and widely accepted casefor reading Heliodorus's novel as a fourth-century text, especiallyas these exchanges continued under the emperor Julian. Julian'scourt, as described by Ammianus, was the centre of a world Empire andthe goal of many delegations, including some from China, Arabia, andIndian and African Ethiopia. (43) As a member of Julian's circle,Heliodorus would have been well placed to learn indirectly about affairson the south-eastern fringes of the Roman Empire.


This investigation has gathered a wide range of evidence from thefields of literature, philosophy, religion, history, and archaeology inan attempt to explain the presence of what at first sight appears to bea minor detail in a huge narrative --the dispute over control of emeraldmines between the Persians in Egypt and the Ethiopians in The Ethiopianstory of Heliodorus. In doing so, it has revisited Classical scholarshipof the eighteenth century as well as the most recent research relevantto the problem. All this is evidence of the interest that the topic hasaroused among very disparate disciplines--an interest that has beensustained over a long period of time. Underlying the questionssurrounding the inclusion of Neoplatonic ideas concerning the magicalpowers of precious stones in the novel are the disturbances in thereligious order governing the Roman world arising from the recognitionof Christianity as the hegemonic creed of the state by Constantine andhis successors. The repercussions of these shifts in the religious orderof the Roman Empire were felt far and wide. Regions of the earthpreviously marginal to the Mediterranean area took on a role of greatlyincreased importance, reflected in the frequent exchange of embassiesbetween kingdoms on the fringes of the Roman world and its centre in thecourt of the Roman emperors. This upsurge in diplomatic activity waspartly driven by economic matters such as trade but also involved astruggle to win the souls of the multitudinous nations of the oikoumeneand even the regions beyond. (44) The issues involved are complex andthe evidence obscure and enigmatic, but nevertheless there is enough incommon between the [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] attributed toMaximus the philosopher and spiritual guide of the emperor Julian, theanonymous Lithica, and The Ethiopian story of Heliodorus to make itprobable to conclude that all these texts emanate from the fourthcentury of our era--a time of widespread change, intense emotion, andanxiety about the future.

http://dx.doi.org/ 10.7445/61-1-963

J L Hilton (University of KwaZulu-Natal)


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(1) For the basic facts concerning the Ethiopian story, see Morgan1996 (the dramatic date of the work is discussed on p. 435).

(2) Morgan discusses the emerald mines very briefly in his OxfordPhD thesis (Morgan 1979:1.60-61).

(3) For this see Hunter 1994.

(4) For the 'historical pose' of Heliodorus, see Morgan1982.

(5) This is particularly noticeable in Achilles Tatius, for example(see Hilton 2009). For a reading of Chariton in terms of the realitiesof the Roman world, see Schwarz 2003.

(6) A conspicuous example of this is the comparison between thesiege of Syene in Book 9 of the novel and the siege of Nisibis asdescribed by the emperor Julian in his panegyrics for Constantius II(Or. 1 and 3). The debate on this point in the scholarly literature hasbeen extensive and complex, but the discussions of Morgan 1996 andBowersock 1994 have convincingly shown that the fourth-century siege ofNisibis did influence Heliodorus' account of the siege of Syene inthe novel and both conclude that his fictional narrative was composed inthe fourth century of our era, most probably at the time of the emperorJulian. See Hilton 2012a for further arguments in support of thisconclusion. Ross 2014 also argues convincingly that Heliodorus'account of the siege of Syene makes use of the 'face ofbattle' style of describing sieges in fourth-centuryhistoriography, as can be seen in the narrative of the siege of Amida inAmmianus Marcellinus 18.9-19.9.

(7) Many examples could be given, but the parallel between thelake-dwelling herders (Hld. 1.5) and the Paeonians described inHerodotus (5.16) is sufficient to demonstrate this point.

(8) For Herodotus' treatment of the Ethiopians, see Romm1994:49-60.

(9) Elmer 2008:423 and n. 32 points out the importance of theemerald mines in the construction of the novel and notes that Charicleais portrayed as Ethiopia's most precious gem.

(10) This episode has often been taken as evidence of the fact thatthe novel was written at a time when the persecution of Christians waswell known. Of course, this does not necessarily mean that Heliodoruswas writing as a Christian--rather he appears to have been inspired bythe Neoplatonic reinvigoration of traditional Hellenic religious ideas,as will be seen below. For discussion of this point, see Morgan 2005;Hilton 2012a.

(11) Taran 1992:226-227.

(12) See the general discussions in King 1865; Kunz 1915.

(13) For the text and translation, see Caley & Richards 1956and Eichholz 1965. Caley & Richards discuss emeralds in section 23(pp. 97-104), cf. Eichholz pp. 102-107.

(14) Text in Wright 2001, translation by Eichholz 1962.

(15) Harrell 2004.

(16) Barb 1963:117; Syria, the province of the Roman Empire fromwhich Heliodorus originated, had strong associations with litholatry.For this, see Stromberg 1946.

(17) Tyrwhitt 1781. For a brief biography of Tyrwhitt, see Caldwell2004. Tyrwhitt was fond of detecting authorship through stylisticanalysis. For example, he proved that poems attributed to Rowley were infact composed by Thomas Chatterton. The text and a French translation ofthe Lithica can be found in Halleux & Schamp 1985. The only Englishtranslation of the Lithica is that of King 1865:375-396.

(18) In King's 1865 verse translation (p. 377) this isrendered as: 'The god-like seer beneath the sword unjust / His headstruck off lies out-stretch'd in the dust.'

(19) Zito 2012. Gerhard's 1820 text of Maximus is available asa Kessinger reprint (Gerhard 1820). Most scholars have followedTyrwhitt's authority for the fourth century date of the Lithica(Halleux & Schamp 1985:52 and esp. n. 2), including West 1983:36.For contrary views, see Halleux & Schamp 1985:51-57. The chargesbrought against philosophers executed by Domitian, however, range fromconspiracy, to atheism, and fighting as a gladiator--the use ofdivination is not especially prominent among them (see Dio Cassius67.13). Similarly, other suggestions lack the specific detailssurrounding the beheading of Maximus by sword on a charge of divination,as mentioned in the Lithica. To suppose as King does (King 1865:6-7)that a Neoplatonic philosopher in the time of Valens would have dreamedof 'inveighing against Christianity', as he suggests he shouldhave if he were writing at this time, is to misunderstand the climate ofterror that prevailed among pagans after the death of Julian.King's suggestion of the Hellenistic period (the same time as theOrphic Argonautika) as a likely date for the poem is unlikely in view ofthe poem's explicit reference to divination, which suggests thepolitical use of magic in predicting who would next become emperor.Halleux and Schamp place the poem in the 2nd century at the time of theChaldaean Oracles attributed to Julian the Chaldaean and Julian theTheurgist (p. 56), but this, while slightly more plausible, does notadequately address the lament for the execution of the Siog that sotroubled the author of the Lithica.

(20) Zito 2012:161-162.

(21) Hilton 2017a (forthcoming).

(22) Many of these details, especially the role of Helios andsacrifices in The Ethiopian story, are discussed in Hilton 2012b.

(23) Kim 2015:18 dates Epiphanius to the fourth century. Kimestimates that Epiphanius was in his middle to late seventies in 393 andthat he was probably born at around 315. The sermon on the twelve gemssurvives mainly in a Georgian transcription. For the text andtranslation see Blake and de Vis 1934.

(24) Kim 2015:210. Epiphanius mentions these sources from time totime in his account. An analysis of Epiphanius in relation to theLithica and Maximus's astrological poem cannot be undertaken here.

(25) Blake & de Vis 1934:106.

(26) For this see Lesky 1959.

(27) Blake & de Vis 1934:108.

(28) Epiphanius' testimony in this passage is confirmed alsoby Olympiodorus (fr. 1.37 = Photius Bib. 80.62a9-26 = Eide et al.1994:[section]3.309).

(29) For this diplomatic activity in The Ethiopian story, seeZiethen 1999, who documents these exchanges in detail. Embassies inHeliodorus are also discussed in Hilton 2017b (forthcoming).

(30) The fall of Meroe has attracted considerable scholarship whichhas continued to grow in recent years. See, for example, Shinnie 1955;Kirwan 1960; Adams 1977:382-390; Torok 1988:33-46; Burstein1995:207-214; Torok 2009:515-530. Adams attributes the change to theadvent of camels as a mode of transporting goods in this region, whichled to the rise of the tribes of the eastern desert and an upsurge oftrade.

(31) See Eide et al. 1994:3.1188-1193 = [section]328.

(32) Shinnie 1967:52 supplies the mid-fourth century date, aboutwhich there is an overwhelming consensus. See, for example, also Adams1977:387; Burstein 1995:207214 (wrongly placing Heliodorus in the 3rdcentury, p. 208). Attempts to date the inscription to an Aezanes II inthe fifth century by Altheim & Stiehl 1961:234-248 and Altheim &Stiehl 1976:471-479 have been convincingly refuted by Dihle 1964:36-64.

(33) Torok 2009:517-518.

(34) Shinnie 1967:52-57 provides a translation and discussion. Forthe text and another translation and commentary see Eide et al.1994:3.1094-1100.

(35) Torok 2009:521.

(36) Eide et al. 1994:[section]3.293, 295.

(37) See also Eide et al. 1994:[section]3.314.

(38) Palumbo 2016:114 and n. 60.

(39) Eide et al. 1994:[section]3.293

(40) Warmington 1981; Palumbo 2016:114 nn. 61, 62.

(41) See also the account in Rufinus of Aquileia Hist. Eccl. 1.9.

(42) Fernandez Gonzalo 1989.

(43) Hilton 2017b. For diplomacy in the reign of Julian see alsoAmm. Marc. 22.7.10, 22.9.1; Lonis 1987:235; Snowden 1970:134-135.

(44) Elm 2012; Simmons 2015.

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Emeralds and embassies in The Ethiopian story of Heliodorus. (2024)
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