Tag Archives: Iliad

Novels Like Gospels (3) : How a Hero Is Created from Myths and Meets Historical Persons

The previous post covered some of the indications that the heroine of Greek novel Chaereas and Callirhoe was modelled on Ariadne of Theseus and the Minotaur fame. This post looks at the way the author Chariton has constructed his hero, Chaereas, from cuts of other mythical and legendary figures, in particular from Achilles.

Once again, of equal significance is that these fictional characters whose creation was inspired by mythical figures interact with real historical characters in the novel. This is similar to what we find in the Gospels: fictional characters and events modelled on Jewish and Greek stories interacting with historical persons such as Pilate, Caiaphas and Herod.

In the first post of this series we saw that the hero Chaereas was based on Achilles, Nireus, Hippolytus and Alcibiades. From Reardon’s translation we read in the opening paragraph of the novel:

There was a young man named Chaereas, surpassingly handsome, like Achilles and Nireus and Hippolytus and Alcibiades as sculptors portray them.

Cuevas comments:

These four men serve to illustrate the multifaceted persona of Chaereas. (p. 24 of Cueva’s Myths of Fiction)

Homer’s Iliad relates how both Achilles and Nireus fought with the Greeks in the Trojan War. Achilles was said to be the most handsome of the Greeks, while Nireus was the second-most handsome.

And Nireus brought three ships from Syme – Nireus, who was the handsomest man that came up under Ilius of all the Danaans after the son of Peleus [Achilles] – but he was a man of no substance, and had but a small following. (Iliad, 2)

So Nireus, while handsome, is flawed. He can only attract a small following. read more »

Christianity won over paganism by epitomizing pagan ideals

Rubens – Achilles Slays Hector

This continues my previous post, which was slightly misleadingly titled Why Christianity Spread So Rapidly . . .. It is for most part a distillation of Gregory J. Riley’s chapter, “Mimesis of Classical Ideals in the Second Christian Century”, found in Mimesis and Intertextuality edited by Dennis MacDonald. A related post is my discussion of Paul’s Christ crucified message and its relationship to Stoic philosophy, Why Paul did not need “the historical Jesus”. (Riley himself, however, is certainly not a Jesus-mythicist as far as I am aware.)

Riley is attempting to redress what he sees as an imbalance in the scholarship of early Christianity by pointing out that key Christian themes and messages originated in the Greco-Roman world, and were tacked on to Jewish heroes. Christianity’s attraction to many in the Roman Empire lay in the way it epitomized the best and noblest of Classical ideals as it narrated these through very “paganized” Jewish characters.

Anyone familiar with the New Testament who reads the classical literature of Greece and Rome cannot help but notice the many coincidences of thought and expressions. This was certainly my own experience. Questions inevitably begin to arise as one sees this so often the more one reads. It is refreshing and enlightening to see Riley address this question head on.

This part 2 post looks at “what made the Christian Gospel something familiar and alluring, even captivating, for the masses of people of the Roman world.” (p.99) I flesh out some of Riley’s notes with quotations from the classical sources themselves. read more »