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Winkler_2000-1_Cinematic_Heliodorus - The Cinematic Nature...

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The Cinematic Nature of the Opening Scene of Heliodoros’ Aithiopika MARTIN M . WINKLER Fairfax, Virginia I. Heliodoros’ Opening and Cinematic Technique The Aithiopika of the Greek novelist Heliodoros of Emesa, written around 360 A.D., is the last in a series of surviving ancient Greek novels combining romance, adventure, and mystery. Heliodoros’ Ethiopian Story excels over all its predecessors with an extremely clever plot of almost fiendish com- plexity. Heliodoros puts his readers in medias res , then returns to his open- ing scene exactly halfway through the text; he also provides two first-person narratives embedded in an otherwise authorially told story. Given such a narrative structure, it is not surprising that Heliodoros should present us with a prime example of mystery fiction. He is the first author in the Western tradition to employ a wily and not always trustworthy detective, Kalasiris, who gives us a detailed account of his search for a missing person. 1 This missing person is the Ethiopian princess Charikleia, who had been exposed at birth by her mother, the queen. When she grew up, Charikleia became the priestess of Apollo at Delphi. One year, at the Pythian Games, a young man called Theagenes falls in love with her, as she does with him. They elope together with Kalasiris, who had found Charikleia, and eventu- ally, after a number of adventures both preceding and following Kalasiris’ death, they reach Ethiopia, where Charikleia is recognized and acknowl- edged as the daughter of the king and queen, marries Theagenes, and lives with him happily ever after. ————— 1 On him see J. J. Winkler 1982. On Heliodoros’ novel as a mystery cf. Morgan 1994. Cf. further Haight 1950. The locus classicus on ancient mystery fiction is the 1935 lecture “Aristotle on Detective Fiction” by Dorothy Sayers, in Sayers 1947, 222–236.
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MARTIN M . WINKLER 162 But none of this is my subject. Instead I will concentrate on the novel’s most famous scene, its opening. Heliodoros begins his story at daybreak near the mouth of the Nile. A gang of bandits are coming over the top of a hill and stumble upon a strange scene. They discover a ship at anchor, loaded with cargo and without a soul on board—an ancient Marie Celeste , as it were. On the beach they see the aftermath of a feast which has turned into a massacre, with corpses and half-dead people lying along the beach. When they come closer, the bandits notice among the carnage a beautiful maiden, at her feet a handsome young man so seriously wounded as to be near death. These, of course, will soon turn out to be Charikleia and Theagenes, the lov- ers and our heroes. This opening is designed in such a way as to arouse our curiosity by showing us a fascinating mystery. But what twentieth-century readers who come to Heliodoros for the first time may not have expected is that the open- ing of this ancient text appears almost exactly like the transcript—the ‘nov- elization,’ as it is often called today—of a scene in a mystery film or thriller.
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