Heliodorus was a minister of Seleucus IV Philopator ca. 175 BC, and is said to have assassinated Seleucus. 2 Maccabees reports that he entered the Temple in Jerusalem in order to take its treasure, but was turned back by three angels.
At about the same time there was a surgeon named Heliodorus, probably from Egypt, and mentioned by Juvenal. This Heliodorus wrote several books on medical technique which have survived in fragments and in the works of Orobasius.
According to his own statement his father's name was Theodosius, and he belonged to a family of priests of the sun.
The Aethiopica was first brought to light in modern times in a manuscript from the library of Matthias Corvinus, found at the sack of Buda (Ofen) in 1526, and printed at Basel in 1534. Other codices have since been discovered.
The title is taken from the fact that the action of the beginning and end of the story takes place in Aethiopia. The daughter of Porsine, wife of Hydaspes, king of Aethiopia, was born white through the effect of the sight of a marble statue upon the queen during pregnancy. Fearing an accusation of adultery, the mother gives the babe to the care of Sisimithras, a gymnosophist, who carries her to Egypt and places her in charge of Charicles, a Pythian priest. The child is taken to Delphi, and made a priestess of Apollo under the name of Chariclea. Theagenes, a noble Thessalian, comes to Delphi and the two fall in love with each other. He carries off the priestess with the help of Calasiris, an Egyptian, employed by Persine to seek for her daughter. Then follow many perils from sea-rovers and others, but the chief personages ultimately meet at Meroe at the very moment when Chariclea is about to be sacrificed to the gods by her own father. Her birth is made known, and the lovers are happily married.
The rapid succession of events, the variety of the characters the graphic descriptions of manners and of natural scenery, the simplicity and elegance of the style, give the Aethiopica great charm. As a whole it offends less against good taste and morality than others of the same class. Homer and Euripides were the favourite authors of Heliodorus, who in his turn was imitated by French, Italian and Spanish writers. The early life of Clorinda in Tasso's Jerusalem Delivered (canto xii. 21 sqq.) is almost identical with that of Chariclea; Racine meditated a drama on the same subject; and it formed the model of the Persiles y Sigismunda of Cervantes.
According to the ecclesiastical historian Socrates (Hist. eccles. V. 22), the author of the Aethiopica was a certain Heliodorus, bishop of Tricca in Thessaly. It is supposed that the work was written in his early years before he became a Christian, and that, when confronted with the alternative of disowning it or resigning his bishopric, he preferred resignation. But it is now generally agreed that the real author was a sophist of the 3rd century AD.
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This entry was originally from the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.