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Title: An Improbable Symphony: Genealogy, Paternity, and Identity in Heliodorus' "Aethiopica"
Authors: Capettini, Emilio Carlo Maria
Advisors: Downie, Janet
Contributors: Classics Department
Keywords: ancient novel
personal identity
Subjects: Classical literature
Classical studies
Issue Date: 2016
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: In recent years, Heliodorus’ Aethiopica has attracted the attention of scholars interested in the cultural politics of the third and fourth centuries CE because of the hybridity of its female protagonist, Charicleia, a fair-skinned Ethiopian who, unaware of her true lineage, grows up in Delphi as the quintessential Greek pepaideumenē. Unsurprisingly, her story has been read as an example of the negotiation, transformation, or contestation of Greek ethnic and cultural identity during the Imperial period. Little attention has been paid, however, to Heliodorus’ presentation of the dynamics whereby personal identity is formed. In this dissertation, by pairing a careful examination of the Aethiopica’s literary texture and narrative sophistication with recent research on the ontological, social, and experiential dimensions of the self in antiquity, I show that the exploration of the dynamics of selfhood is one of Heliodorus’ central concerns. In the first two chapters, I argue that the genealogies devised by Heliodorus for his two protagonists, far from being decorative elements, play an essential part in the definition of their identity and immanent traits. In the third chapter, I focus on the Aethiopica’s presentation of biological and foster fatherhood and on the influence that this latter type of intersubjective relation exerts on the articulation of the protagonists’ selves. Heliodorus, I argue, gives prominence to a model of kinship predicated not on birth but on what the anthropologist Marshall Sahlins has recently called “mutuality of being.” The fourth chapter examines how the experience of traveling from Greece to Ethiopia affects the protagonists’ perception of their own identity and establishment of their own agency in the world. In the fifth and final chapter, I show that the stable identities that Charicleia and Theagenes acquire in Ethiopia do not efface but rather subsume the identities with which they experimented during their adventures. The complex interaction of genealogical inheritance, parental influence, and lived experience in the delineation of Charicleia’s and Theagenes’ characters shows, I contend, that the Aethiopica is a fascinating document not only of the cultural politics of the Imperial period but also of the development of the ancient reflection on selfhood.
Alternate format: The Mudd Manuscript Library retains one bound copy of each dissertation. Search for these copies in the library's main catalog:
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:Classics

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