Over Troubled Water: A Herodotean Allusion at Aethiopika 1.5.1-4

Katherine Panagakos

Rhodes College

Many scholars have commented on the distinctly unusual opening of Heliodorus' Aethiopika. While some have focused their study on its highly cinematic flavor[1] or drawn attention to the arrangement of its visual elements,[2] others have highlighted its Homeric resonances.[3]  In fact, in studies of Heliodorus allusions to Homer typically receive more attention than do allusions to any other genre or author.  In this paper, I wish to consider a hitherto overlooked, yet noticeably Herodotean allusion Heliodorus employs at 1.5.1-4.

In the Histories 5.16.1-4, Herodotus describes the tribes living by Mount Pangaeum and those who live around Lake Prasias.  Herodotus not only points to the unusual construction techniques employed by the lake-dwellers but also the extraordinary care taken by them to prevent their young children from crawling off the platforms and falling into the lake.  Heliodorus unquestionably drew inspiration from Herodotus' lake-dwelling people for his own description of the Nile-dwelling Boukoloi at Aethiopika 1.5.  While this detail finds a welcome home in a work such as the Histories given its focus on geography, historiography, and ethnography, it might seem ill suited for a prose romance.  I would argue that when considered in light of its Herodotean context the description of the lake-dwellers holds greater significance in Heliodorus than previously thought. 

In this presentation, I will concentrate on the clever and unusual changes Heliodorus employed in his novel, focusing on matters of both language and context.  Furthermore, I will call attention to many of the incidental details that both add to the historical realism of the episode and provide insight into the characterization of Boukoloi.  Finally, I will analyze the passage in terms of foreshadowing a later event (1.33-2.1), one that proves to be an inverse of the Herodotean allusion.

[1] Bühler, W. “Das Element des Visuellen in der Eingangsszene von Heliodors Aithiopika,” WS 10: 177-185 (1976).

[2] Bartsch, S. Decoding the Ancient Novel (1989) Ch. 4.

[3] Morgan, J.R. “Heliodorus,” in G. Schmeling’s The Novel in the Ancient World (1996) 436 ff.


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