The Ephesian Tale of Anthia and Habrocomes by Xenophon of Ephesus is a novel belonging to the mid second century of the Common Era. Translator Graham Anderson sees the Ephesiaca as "a specimen of penny dreadful literature in antiquity." Moses Hadas, an earlier translator, takes a slightly different view: "If An Ephesian Tale is an absorbing tale of love and improbable adventure, it is also a tract to prove that Diana of the Ephesians (who was equated with Isis) cares for her loyal devotees."
Due to its shortness and other factors, some scholars maintain that the version we have is merely an epitome of a longer work. The Suda, a 10th century Medieval Greek historical encyclopedia, describes the novel as having ten books when the version we have is divided into five. But Anderson suggests that "we may well find that our version is one of not two but a multiplicity of retellings of a familiar story, whose relationships to Xenophon are not easily identifiable." The story is very similar to the later story of Apollonius of Tyre.
In the city of Ephesus, Habrocomes was renowned as an attractive and cultured young man of 16, but he thought a little too highly of himself. Elsewhere in the city, Anthia was renowed as an attractive and chaste young woman of 14. After a brief encounter at the festival of Artemis, the two fell helplessly in love with each other. But because each was afraid to reveal this love to the other, each suffered miserably and began to waste away.
The parents of the two youths soon became alarmed at this worsening situation and tried various soothsayers and sacrifices to effect a cure. But nothing worked, so they sent emissaries to the shrine of Apollo at Colophon. The message received back addressed the fate of Habrocomes and Anthia together, predicting travails involving pirates, tombs, fire, and flood, followed by an improvement in their condition. In an effort to avert such evils, the parents arranged that the two would quickly be married to each other and then sent abroad for their safety.
The whole city turned out for the festive nuptials. The couple then had a wedding night of ardent lovemaking. Shortly thereafter, the parents put the two, along with many gifts and valuables for the trip, aboard a well-provisioned ship bound for Egypt.
On this voyage, Habrocomes and Anthia pledged to each other that if they ever became separated they would remain faithful. The ship soon stopped at Rhodes and the couple was received with much fanfare. This attention, plus the wealth of goods and slaves aboard, alerted a crew of Phoenician pirates who were posing as merchants. The pirates subsequently followed the ship of Habrocomes and Anthia when it set sail again and, at an opportune time, captured it, stole its goods, and set it aflame. The couple was taken captive.
The pirates then sailed for the Phoenician city of Tyre and unloaded their booty at a pirate stronghold nearby. The pirate captain, Corymbos, having fallen in love with Habrocomes, confided his passion to a fellow pirate, Euxinos, who confessed his own love for Anthia. So the two pirates arranged that they would each talk persuasively to the love object of the other, encouraging cooperation. This they did, but Habrocomes and Anthia separately said they needed more time to think before deciding.
Afterwards, when in private, Habrocomes and Anthia decided that their only acceptable recourse was to commit suicide together. However, Apsyrtos, the chief of the pirate stronghold, was struck by the beauty of the young couple and concluded that they would bring an excellent price on the slave market. So he took them, along with their loyal servants Leucon and Rhode, from Corymbos. Transporting them to his house in Tyre, he put them under the care of a trusted slave. Then he departed to Syria on other business.
While Apsyrtos was absent, his daughter Manto fell in love with Habrocomes and wrote the latter a note expressing her feelings. But Habrocomes spurned her advances. When Apsyrtos returned, bringing with him a young man named Moeris as a husband for his daughter, Manto took revenge on Habrocomes by telling her father that Habrocomes had raped her. Apsyrtos thereupon had Habrocomes whipped and tortured. He then married Manto to Moeris and gave the couple a wedding present of three slaves: Anthia, Leucon, and Rhode.
Moeris later departed with Manto, the slaves, and their other wedding gifts to his abode in Antioch. Once there, Manto separated Leucon and Rhode from Anthia by having them sold to an old man living far away at Xanthos in Lycia. Then she completed her revenge by having Anthia married to another slave of hers, a rural goatherd named Lampo.
Meanwhile, Apsyrtos discovered the love note his daughter Manto had written to Habrocomes. So he immediately released Habrocomes from his chains, apologized to him, declared him a free man, and gave him employment as manager of the house.
As for Anthia, she lived in the country with Lampo, a man who honored her wish to remain faithful to Habrocomes. But Moeris, Manto’s husband, often visited the goatherd and, in so doing, soon fell in love with Anthia. He then sought Lampo’s help to win Anthia over to him. But Lampo feared Manto and so informed her of this development. Manto immediately became enraged, especially because Anthia continued to be her rival in love, and therefore ordered Lampo to take Anthia into the forest and kill her. Lampo promised to do so but later took pity on Anthia and sold her to Cilician merchants, instead.
These merchants set sail for their country but were shipwrecked en route. The survivors managed to reach shore with Anthia but were then captured in the forest by a robber named Hippothoos and his band. During this time, Habrocomes managed to learn that Lampo had sold Anthia. So he secretly left Apsyrtos’ house for Cilicia in search of her.
When the robber band was about to sacrifice Anthia to the god Ares, a body of troops led by Perilaos, the chief law enforcement official in Cilicia, suddenly appeared. A fight ensued; all the robbers were killed or captured save Hippothoos, who escaped; and Anthia was rescued.
Perilaos then took Anthia and the captured robbers to Tarsus in Cilicia. But Anthia’s beauty got the better of him and now it became Perilaos’ turn to fall in love with her. Because he was most insistent in his entreaties of marriage, she finally, for fear of a worse fate, relented. But she found a pretext to make him wait thirty days before the wedding.
Meanwhile, Habrocomes reached Cilicia but, wandering off of the main road that would have led him to Tarsus, he came upon Hippothoos. The two immediately became friendly and pledged to travel together.
Hippothoos led Habrocomes away from Cilicia to the city of Mazacos in Cappadocia. There, at an inn, Hippothoos narrated his personal story, as follows:
He had been born to a distinguished family in Perinthos, near Thrace. When he was a young man he became involved in a passionate love affair with another young man, Hyperanthes. But then a rich teacher, Aristomachos, visiting from Byzantium, also became smitten by Hyperanthes and subsequently convinced the boy’s father to let his son be taken to Byzantium on the pretext of improving his education. This development eventually led Hippothoos to go to Byzantium, sneak into Aristomachos’ house, murder the man in his sleep, and run away with Hyperanthes. The two set sail for Asia but, near Lesbos, were shipwrecked. Hyperanthes didn’t make it to shore before drowning. So Hippothoos buried his lover’s body on the beach, then left the area and took up the life of a robber.
When he came to the conclusion of his story, Hippothoos told Habrocomes of his capture of Anthia in Cilicia and how she was then taken in the fight that destroyed his robber band. With this news, Habrocomes became excited. Appealing to the memory of Hyperanthes, he convinced Hippothoos to return with him to Cilicia to help find Anthia.
When the thirty days was nearly passed and it was almost time for Anthia to wed Perilaos, she fell into despair. Believing that Habrocomes must be dead, and finding marriage to another man intolerable, she conspired with Eudoxos, an Ephesian physician, to give her a poison. In return she would give him enough of Perilaos’ possessions to buy him passage back to Ephesus. Also, she wouldn’t use the poison until he’d safely departed. Eudoxos agreed to the plan but gave her a hypnotic drug instead of a lethal one, knowing he would be long gone by the time Anthia awakened after its use.
At the conclusion of the wedding, when waiting in the bridal chamber for Perilaos to finish his feasting, Anthia drank the potion. A little later Perilaos discovered her body and suffered great grief. Indeed, his whole household was filled with lamentations. So Anthia was wrapped in rich robes and decked with gold, then placed upon a bier and conveyed at daybreak to the cemetery where she was placed in a funerary chamber.
Some time afterwards Anthia awakened. Disappointed at finding herself alive, she determined to remain in the tomb and starve to death. But a group of robbers had heard of her rich burial and, after waiting for nightfall, they broke into her vault, took all the silver and gold, and, discovering her alive, took her as booty also. They then boarded a ship that sailed for Alexandria, Egypt. The voyage took a number of days, after which the robbers planned to sell her to certain merchants.
Meanwhile, Habrocomes, with a new band of thieves led by Hippothoos, had arrived at an inn near Tarsus. There they all heard from a barmaid the story of how Anthia, after being rescued from robbers, had wed her rescuer, killed herself, been entombed, and then had her body stolen by tomb raiders who escaped on a ship to Alexandria. Habrocomes waited until Hippothoos and his band were drunk and asleep before making his way to a ship bound for Alexandria. His aim was to recover her dead body.
The robbers sold Anthia to merchants who sold her to Psammis, a prince of India. But Anthia was able to play on the Indian’s superstitions by lying that she had been consecrated to the goddess Isis until the proper time for her marriage, which was still a year off. Isis would punish any who made her break her vows. So Psammis agreed to wait a year before bringing her to his bed.
The ship bearing Habrocomes, in the mean time, ran aground at Paralion near the mouth of the Nile, which is near the shores of Phoenicia. Shepherds nearby captured the crew, looted the ship, and took all across the desert to the Egyptian city of Pelusium. There the crew was sold into slavery. Habrocomes was sold to Araxos, a retired veteran soldier, whose annoying and ugly wife, named Bitch, became attracted to Habrocomes.
Eventually Bitch murdered Araxos in his sleep so she could marry Habrocomes. But Habrocomes fled in horror. So Bitch went to the marketplace in Pelusium the next morning and declared that her slave Habrocomes had murdered her husband. At this, Habrocomes was quickly arrested and taken to Alexandria to be punished by the governor of Egypt.
After Habrocomes had left Hippothoos in Tarsus, the latter had enlarged his band to five hundred men and had traversed Syria, Phoenicia, and Egypt to arrive at Coptos near Ethiopia, where he and his band stationed themselves to waylay travelers.
Habrocomes, by contrast, was placed on a cross upon a cliff overlooking the Nile. Left there to die, he prayed to the gods for mercy. Then a big wind crumbled the cliff and blew the cross into the river. Habrocomes was thereupon carried downstream to the mouth of the Nile, where he was seized by guards and taken to the governor of Egypt.
The governor, viewing the matter as an escape, had Habrocomes placed where he had been captured, but on a pyre which was set aflame. Habrocomes prayed again and was again delivered, this time by waves from the Nile that overwhelmed the flames. Ovservers viewed it as a miracle and so the governor had Habrocomes imprisoned but well cared for until his story could be learned.
Meanwhile Anthia traveled with Psammis and all his goods to Ethiopia. After they passed Coptos, however, Psammis’ caravan was raided by Hippothoos and his band, Psammis was killed and Anthia was captured. Since Anthia and Hippothoos didn’t recognize each other, Anthia remained a prisoner.
Habrocomes, on the other hand, was released. The governor had managed to learn his story and so helped him set sail for Italy (of all places) to continue his search. The governor also had Bitch crucified.
Anchialos was a robber highly regarded in the band. But his lust for Anthia led him to assault her. In self defense she managed to kill him with a sword. For this Hippothoos had her cast into a pit with two Egyptian mastiffs and left under guard to die. But her guard, Amphinomos, took pity upon her and kept both Anthia and the dogs fed.
Habrocomes, blown off course, landed in Sicily where he lodged in Syracuse with an elderly fisherman, Aigialeus, in his house by the sea. The latter told his own story of how, in his native Sparta, his love for Thelxinoe had caused him to elope with her before her father could have her married to another. The two settled in Sicily and lived out their lives. Thelxinoe recently died but Aigialeus mummified her body in the Egyptian manner and continued to eat, sleep, and talk with her. The steadfastness of this love was an inspiration to Habrocomes.
Hippothoos, assuming Anthia was dead, set out on new ambitions to conquer whole cities. So he led his even more enlarged band in the sacking of the Egyptian village of Areia. Meanwhile, Amphinomos freed Anthia and took her to Coptos. When the governor of Egypt learned of Hippothoos’ attack on Areia, he sent a large force under the command of Polyidos to destroy his band. The encounter took place near Pelusium. The robbers were vanquished but Hippothoos escaped and eventually boarded a ship bound for Sicily. Polyidos, however, guided by captured robbers, took his force to Coptos to root out any remaining members of the band. There he caught Amphinomos and Anthia.
Taking Anthia back to Alexandria, Polyidos fell in love with her. When Polyidos’ wife, Rhenaia, learned of this, however, she had her slave Clytos take Anthia far away and sell her to a brothel keeper in Tarentum, Italy.
When Hippothoos arrived in Sicily he landed at Taormina. At the same time, Habrocomes sailed to Italy.
As for Leucon and Rhode, their master in Xanthos had died and left them a considerable portion of his estate. So they sailed for home, Ephesus, stopping at Rhodes along the way. There they learned that Habrocomes and Anthia hadn’t returned home and that their parents had died of old age and despair. So Leucon and Rhode decided to remain in Rhodes until they could learn more.
Meanwhile Anthia, in order to avoid working as a prostitute, feigned a cataleptic fit and later declared that she suffered from the “sacred disease.” And Habrocomes took up the hard work as a stonecutter in Nuceria, Italy.
Hippothoos, out of poverty, married a rich old woman in Taormina. But she soon died and he inherited her fortune. After that he acquired the love of a younger man, Clisthenes, and sailed with him to Italy to purchase slaves and luxuries. While in Tarentum he encountered Anthia, who he recognized as the woman he’d thrown in the pit with the dogs. Wondering how she’d escaped, he purchased her from the brothel keeper. He then took her home where he learned her story, including that she was the wife of his missing friend Habrocomes.
When Habrocomes could no longer endure stonecutting, he took passage on a ship home to Ephesus. Stopping at Syracuse he mourned the recent death of Aigialeus. Then he continued on to Rhodes. There, in the temple of the sun, he chanced to meet Leucon and Rhode, who took him to their lodging.
Meanwhile, Hippothoos decided to take Anthia home to Ephesus and packed up all of his belongings to move there, himself. Clisthenes went with them and they stopped briefly at Rhodes. There, during the festival of the sun, Anthia went to the temple of Isis. Leucon and Rhode discovered her there and, eventually, Habrocomes found them all. Everyone, including Hippothoos and Clisthenes, thereupon retired to the house of Leucon and Rhode, swapped stories, and spent the night. Habrocomes and Anthia confirmed to each other that they had been faithful all during their travails. The next day they all set sail together for Ephesus.
After arriving home, Habrocomes and Anthia made sacrifices to Artemis, raised tombs for their deceased parents, and passed the remainder of their days in Ephesus with Leucon, Rhode, Hippothoos, and Clisthenes.
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