More significant than these honorable men for the historian of the mind is the appearance, in this century, of the romantic novel. It had had a long preparation in the Cyropaideia of Xenophon, the love poems of Callimachus, the legends that had accumulated about Alexander, and the “Milesian Tales” told by Aristides and others in the second century B.C. and afterward. These stories of adventure and love pleased an Ionian populace so classic in tradition but so Oriental in mood, perhaps now Oriental in blood. Petronius in Rome, Apuleius in Africa, Lucian in Greece, Iamblichus in Syria, developed the picaresque romance in varied ways, with no special accent on love. In the first Christian centuries, possibly responding to an increasing audience of women readers, the novel of adventure merged with the romance of love.

Our oldest extant example is the Aethiopica, or “Egyptian Tales,” of Heliodorus of Emesa. Of its date there is much dispute, but we may provisionally assign it to the third century. It begins in a style honorable with age:

The day had begun to smile cheerily, and the sun was already brightening the tops of the hills, when a band of men, in arms and appearance pirates, having ascended the summit of a slope that overlooks the Heracleotic mouth of the Nile, paused and surveyed the sea. Finding no sail there to promise them booty, they turned their eyes to the shore beneath them; and this is what they saw.

At once we meet the rich and handsome youth Theagenes, and the lovely and tearful princess Chariclea; they have been captured by pirates; and there befalls them such a medley of mishaps, misunderstandings, battles, murders, and reunions as might supply a season’s fiction today. Whereas in Petronius and Apuleius the chastity of maidens is a matter of swiftly passing concern, it is here the essence and pivot of the tale: Heliodorus preserves Chariclea’s virginity through a score of narrow escapes, and writes persuasive homilies on the beauty and necessity of feminine virtue. There may be here some Christian influence; indeed, tradition made the author become the Christian bishop of Thessalonica. The Aethiopica unwittingly fathered an endless chain of imitations: here is the model for Cervantes’ Persiles y Sigismunda, the story of Clorinda in Tasso’s Jerusalem Delivered, and the vast romances of Mme de Scudery; here are the love potions, signs, moans, faintings, and happy endings of a million pleasant tales; here is Clarissa Harlowe 1500 years before Richardson.

The most famous love story in ancient prose was Daphnis and Chloe. Of its author we know only the name Longus; and we merely guess at the third century as his time. Daphnis is exposed at birth, is rescued and reared by a shepherd, and becomes a shepherd in turn. Excellent passages of rural description suggest that Longus, like his poetic model Theocritus, had discovered the country after long residence in the city. Daphnis falls in love with a peasant girl who has also been rescued from infant exposure; they tend their flocks in charming comradeship, bathe together in innocent nudity, and intoxicate each other with an unprecedented kiss. An old neighbor explains their fever to them, and describes from his own youth the sickness of romantic love. “I thought not of my food, I cared not for my drink. I could take no rest, and sleep deserted me. My soul was heavy with sadness, my heart beat quickly, my limbs felt a deadly chill.” In the end their fathers, now wealthy, discover and enrich them; but they ignore their wealth and return to their modest pastoral life. The tale is told with the simplicity of finished art. Translated into supple French by Amyot (1559), it became the model for Saint-Pierre’s Paul and Virginia, and the inspiration of countless paintings, poems, and musical compositions. Akin to it is a fragment of poetry known as Pervigilium Veneris, “The Eve of Venus.” No one knows who wrote it, or when; probably it belongs to this century. The theme is that of Lucretius’ apostrophe and Longus’ romance- that the goddess of love, by inflaming all living things with reckless desire, is the real creator of the world: