Achilles Tatius: The loves of Clitophon and Leucippe, Translations 1638 & 1855

Two translations of Achilles Tatius’s The loves of Clitophon and Leucippe are now available in our library.

The two translators write very different introductions (see below). The top ten most frequently used words in each translation suggest that the two translators may have interpreted the original very differently (and chosen different translation styles). The 1855 translator comments little on his translation style but mentions that he is not familiar with the 1638 translation.


0.415 leucippe, 0.226 love, 0.201 made, 0.201 time, 0.186 melite, 0.185 man, 0.167 said, 0.158 great, 0.158 thersander, 0.156 seeing


0.336 leucippe, 0.293 said, 0.237 love, 0.188 time, 0.165 maiden, 0.163 thersander, 0.153 melitta, 0.147 death, 0.124 sea, 0.122 man

The function word spectra also suggest different interpretations. (See more details on the function word spectra and explore how to compare the spectra for two texts in this post.)


COurteous Reader, how this recreation of my idle houres (whose hard fortune it is now to come under thy censure) shall please thee, it matters not much; since I begge not thy approbation, or feare thy dislike; either because thy phancy may be mother to the one, thy prejudice to the other; or because I my selfe cannot —digito monstrari & dicier hic est: wherefore thou maist condemn the Translator, not me. If thou cry me downe for a d •• inquent, I may perhaps be sory for taking so much pains to offend, yet never feare comming to execution. But lest I should so farre betray my owne cause, anticipate thee in thy censure, or passe too hard a censure upon so petty a crime (as abusing a Readers patience is now adaies accounted) heare what I can say in my owne defence. First, how difficult a thing it is to maintaine the elegancy of a Greeke author in our language, I appeale to thee, if thou hast read either Aristaenetus, Eustathius, Longus the Sophist, or Parthenius; from whose pens, as sometime from the tongue of Vlysses, — 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉 : A voice more sweet than hony did distill; yet were they Englisht, they would bee as little esteemed of, as the Latine translation of Plato, or that of my Author done by Hanniball Cruceius; which I may in Photius language truly call 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉 : The second thing which may excuse me, is, that by the exection of the two testicles of an unchaste dispute, and one immodest expression, I have so refined the author, that the modestest matron may looke in his face and not blush. Besides, I present him not here clad in the ra •• es of mine owne phancie, nor yet in language rackt and disjoynted out of its proper idiom; but I have observed a medium betwixt both: I could with some unnecessary paines have given it a flourish, but I preferred the fidelity of the Translation before the Ornament. That little which I have spared to English, prostituted my author not onely to the censure of the Patriarch of Constantinople, but also of some of these times, and would have appeared as a mole in his face; whose worth, were it not so great, I might have good colour to piece out my unseasonable advertisements with; but sparing thee, and not willing to injure him, I bid thee farewell.

The Translator to the Reader (The loves of Clitophon and Leucippe 1638)

Achilles Tatius was a native of Alexandria, commonly assigned to the second or third century of the Christian æra, but considered by the best critics to have flourished after Heliodorus, to whom he is looked upon as next in point of literary merit, and whom he has more or less imitated in various parts of his works, like him frequently introducing into the thread of his narrative the Egyptian buccaneers. According to Suidas, he became, towards the end of his life, a Christian and a Bishop; a statement which is however considered doubtful, as no mention is made by that lexicographer of his Episcopal see, and Photius, who mentions him in three different places, is silent upon the subject.

In point of style, Achilles Tatius is considered to excel Heliodorus and the other writers of Greek Romance. Photius says of him,—”With regard to diction and composition, Tatius seems to me to excel when he employs figurative language: it is clear and natural; his sentences are precise and limpid, and such as by their sweetness greatly delight the ear.”

Like Heliodorus, one of his principal excellences lies in descriptions; and though these, as Mr. Dunlop observes, “are too luxuriant, they are in general beautiful, the objects being at once well selected, and so painted as to form in the mind of the reader a distinct and lively image. As an example of his merit in this way, may be mentioned his description of a garden, and of a tempest followed by a shipwreck; also his accounts of the pictures of Europa, Andromeda, and Prometheus, in which his descriptions and criticisms are executed with very considerable taste and feeling.” The same writer, however, justly notes “the absurd and aukward manner in which the author, as if to show his various acquirements, drags in without the slightest necessity, some of those minute descriptions, viz., those of the necklace, and of different zoological curiosities, in the Second Book, together with the invention of purple-dying, and the accounts drawn from natural history, which are interspersed in the Fourth Book.”

In his discussions upon the passions of love, and its power over human nature, however we may object to the warmth of his description, we cannot but allow the ability with which the colours are laid on.

“The rise and progress of the passion of Clitopho for Leucippe,” observes Mr. Dunlop, “is extremely well executed,—of this there is nothing in the romance of Heliodorus. Theagenes and Chariclea, are at first sight violently and mutually enamoured; in Tatius we have more of the restless agitation of love and the arts of courtship. Indeed this is by much the best part of the Clitopho and Leucippe, as the author discloses very considerable acquaintance with the human heart. This knowledge also appears in the sentiments scattered through the work, though it must be confessed, that in many of his remarks he is apt to subtilize and refine too much.”

In the hero of his work, Achilles Tatius is more unfortunate even than Heliodorus.—”Clitopho,” says a reviewer, “is a human body, uninformed with a human soul, but delivered up to all the instincts of nature and the senses. He neither commands respect by his courage, nor affection by his constancy.” As in the work of Heliodorus so in that of Achilles Tatius, it is the heroine who excites our sympathy and interest:—”Leucippe, patient, high-minded, resigned and firm, endures adversity with grace; preserving throughout the helplessness and temptations of captivity, irreproachable purity and constancy unchangeable.”In concluding these remarks upon one of the three chief writers of Greek Romance, one more observation of Mr. Dunlop will not be out of place.—”Tatius,” he says, “has been much blamed for the immorality of his Romance, and it must be acknowledged that there are particular passages which are extremely exceptionable; yet, however odious some of these may be considered, the general moral tendency of the story is good; a remark which may be extended to all the Greek Romances. Tatius punishes his hero and heroine for eloping from their father’s house, and afterwards rewards them for their long fidelity.”

Several French translations of Achilles Tatius have appeared; an Italian one by Coccio; also an English one published at Oxford in 1638, which the present writer, after many inquiries, has been unable to procure a sight of.

R. S.

October, 1855.


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