NEW PROJECT: Apollonius of Tyre, Chapters 1-5

Over the next few weeks, dear readers, I will be translating for you the anonymously-authored, History of Apollonius of Tyre. In his edition of 1595, Marcus Welser wrote, “If there is anyone in the world who is eager to pick gold and gems out of a pile of shit, then this is the book for him!” (Si quis aurum paratus et gemmas ex stercore legere, is demum aptus huic libello continget lector.)Not much is certainly known about this work, but the most important details can be summarized thus:

-It is a prose ‘history’ with many elements of romance which were highly popular in later Greek/Roman literature: pirates, kidnappings, completely fantastical coincidences, and so on. This is roughly equivalent to a short modern novel.

-It is a Latin translation of a Greek original which has been lost. The Greek original may have been composed in the 3rd Century A.D., but most of this is speculative. It bears many similarities to the prose romances popular at the time.

In any event, it is a thoroughly ridiculous work, and on that account quite a fun little read. I will try to translate and publish a few chapters a day; perhaps, at the end, I will collate them into one post for anyone who wants to read the story in a convenient format.

The History of Apollonius of Tyre


In the city of Antioch, there was a certain king by the name of Antiochus, from whom the city itself derived its name. He had one daughter, a most beautiful maiden, in creating whom nature made no error but for the fact that she was mortal. When she had reached a marriageable age and her beauty and attraction were increasing, many men sought her hand in marriage and rushed to her with promises of great dowries. Now, when her father debated with himself about whom he should marry his daughter to, the wicked and covetous flame of lust compelled him to fall for his own daughter, and he began to love her in a way which was more than appropriate to a father. He struggled with his madness, he fought against his grief, he was conquered by his lust; piety left him entirely, he forgot that he was a father, and he put on the part of a husband. And when he could no longer bear the wound in his heart, he one day – at first light, having laid awake all night – burst into his daughter’s room, ordered the servants to go far away (as if to have a secret talk with his daughter), and urged on by the madness of his desire he overcame her after a long struggle and snatched away her bond of maidenhood. Once the crime was committed, he left the room. But the girl stood and was shocked by the impiety of her wicked father, and tried to conceal the blood, but the scarlet drops fell upon the ground.


Suddenly, her nurse entered the room. As she saw the girl with a weeping countenance all rosy-red, and the ground covered with blood, she said, “What does your troubled mind need?” The girl responded, “Dear nurse, in this very room, two noble reputations were just destroyed.” The nurse, not understanding, said, “My lady, why do you say so?” The girl said, “You see me violated by a vicious crime before my wedding day.” As the nurse heard and saw these things, she was terrified and said, “Who was so bolstered by such audacity as to violate the bed of a princess?” The girl said, “Impiety has wrought this deed.” The nurse then responded, “Why do you not then inform your father?” The girl said, “And where is my father? Dear nurse, if only you know what has been done: my father’s reputation perishes in me. And so, lest I publicize the crime of my own begetter, death is a pleasing solution. I am terrified that this defilement could become known to all our race.” As the nurse saw that the girl desired death, she was hardly able to coax her, with a soothing bit of talk, to abandon the extremity of the proposed death, and urged her, though unwilling, to reconcile herself to her father’s will.


Her father, meanwhile, through some dissimulation presented himself as a pious parent to his own people, but within his own walls he boasted that he was his daughter’s husband. And since he was always delighting in the impious bed, he got into the habit of driving away his daughter’s suitors by proposing riddles, saying, “Whoever of you can discover the solution to my riddle will take my daughter as his wife; whoever fails will be decapitated..” And if by some chance a man had found the solution to the riddle thanks to his knowledge of the liberal arts, he was decapitated as though he had proposed no answer, and his head was suspended at the peak of the roof. And indeed, a an abundance of kings and princes came from all over because of the unbelievable beauty of the princess, which caused them to spurn the threat of death.


While Antiochus was giving his faculty of cruelty a thorough workout, a certain very rich young man, hailing from Tyre and named Apollonius, happened to land at Antioch in the course of a naval expedition, and making his way to the king saluted him and said, “Greetings, my lord, King Antiochus! Because you are such a pious father, I have come with some haste to fulfill your prayers; I am born of regal stock, and seek your daughter’s hand in marriage!” As the king heard what he hated most to hear, he looked back at the lad with an angry countenance and said to him, “Boy, do you know the conditions of the marriage?” He responded, “Yes, I know them and saw them hanging from the peak of your roof.” The king then said, “Then listen to this riddle: I am carried by wickedness, and feed on my mother’s flesh; I am looking for my brother, the husband of my mother, the son of my wife: yet I do not find him.” Apollonius, when he wisely thought over the riddle and discovered the answer with a bit of help from god, he marched up to the king and said, “My lord, you have proposed a riddle to me, so listen to the solution. You said ‘I am carried by wickedness,’ and you did not lie – just look at yourself. Nor did you lie when you said, ‘I feed on my mother’s flesh – look at your daughter!”


As the king saw that Apollonius had discovered the solution to the riddle, he said to him, “You are wrong, lad! None of this is true! You should, indeed, be beheaded, but you have a space of thirty days to re-think your answer. And when you have returned and discovered the solution to my riddle, you will take my daughter’s hand in marriage.’ Apollonius’ mind was anxious as he boarded his ship to return to Tyre.

1 In civitate Antiochia rex fuit quidam nomine Antiochus, a quo ipsa civitas nomen accepit Antiochia. Is habuit unam filiam, virginem speciosissimam, in qua nihil rerum natura exerraverat, nisi quod mortalem statuerat.

Quae dum ad nubilem pervenisset aetatem et species et formositas cresceret, multi eam in matrimonium petebant et cum magna dotis pollicitatione currebant. Et cum pater deliberaret, cui potissimum filiam suam in matrimonium daret, cogente iniqua cupididate flamma concupiscentiae incidit in amorem filiae suae et coepit eam aliter diligere quam patrem oportebat. Qui cum luctatur cum furore, pugnat cum dolore, vincitur amore; excidit illi pietas, oblitus est se esse patrem et induit coniugem.

Sed cum sui pectoris vulnus ferre non posset, quadam die prima luce vigilans inrumpit cubiculum filiae suae, famulos longe excedere iussit, quasi cum filia secretum conloquium habiturus, et stimulante furore libidinis diu repugnanti filiae suae nodum virginitatis eripuit, perfectoque scelere evasit cubiculum. Puella vero stans dum miratur scelesti patris impietatem, fluentem sanguinem coepit celare: sed guttae sanguinis in pavimento ceciderunt.

2 Subito nutrix eius introivit cubiculum. Ut vidit puellam flebili vultu, asperso pavimento sanguine, roseo rubore perfusam, ait: “Quid sibi vult iste turbatus animus?” Puella ait: “Cara nutrix, modo in hoc cubiculo duo nobilia perierunt nomina.” Nutrix ignorans ait: “Domina, quare hoc dicis?” Puella ait: “Ante legitimam mearum nuptiarum diem saevo scelere violatam vides”. Nutrix ut haec audivit atque vidit, exhorruit atque ait: “Quis tanta fretus audacia virginis reginae maculavit thorum?” Puella ait: “Impietas fecit scelus.” Nutrix ait: “Cur ergo non indicas patri?” Puella ait: “Et ubi est pater?” Et ait: “Cara nutrix, si intellegis quod factum est: periit in me nomen patris. Itaque ne hoc scelus genitoris mei patefaciam, mortis remedium mihi placet. Horreo, ne haec macula gentibus innotescat.”

Nutrix ut vidit puellam mortis remedium quaerere, vix eam blando sermonis conloquio revocat, ut a propositae mortis immanitate excederet, et invitam patris sui voluntati satisfacere cohortatur.

3 Qui cum simulata mente ostendebat se civibus suis pium genitorem, intra domesticos vero parietes maritum se filiae gloriabatur. Et ut semper impio toro frueretur, ad expellendos nuptiarum petitores quaestiones proponebat dicens: “Quicumque vestrum quaestionis meae propositae solutionem invenerit, accipiet filiam meam in matrimonium, qui autem non invenerit, decollabitur.” Et si quis forte prudentia litterarum quaestionis solutionem invenisset, quasi nihil dixisset, decollabatur et caput eius super portae fastigium suspendebatur. Atqui plurimi undique reges, undique patriae principes propter incredibilem puellae speciem contempta morte properabant.

4 Et cum has crudelitates rex Antiochus exerceret, quidam adulescens locuples valde, genere Tyrius, nomine Apollonius, navigans attingit Antiochiam, ingressusque ad regem ita eum salutavit: “Ave, domine rex Antioche!” Et ait: “Quod pater pius es, ad vota tua festinus perveni; regio genere ortus peto filiam tuam in matrimonium.” Rex ut audivit quod audire nolebat, irato vultu respiciens iuvenem sic ait ad eum: “Iuvenis, nosti nuptiarum condicionem?” At ille ait: “Novi et ad portae fastigium vidi.” Rex ait: “Audi ergo quaestionem: scelere vehor, maternam carnem vescor, quaero fratrem meum, meae matris virum, uxoris meae filium: non invenio.” Iuvenis accepta quaestione paululum discessit a rege; quam cum sapienter scrutaretur, favente deo invenit quaestionis solutionem; ingressusque ad regem sic ait: “Domine rex, proposuisti mihi quaestionem; audi ergo solutionem. Quod dixisti ‘scelere vehor’, non es mentitus: te respice. Et quod dixisti ‘maternam carnem vescor’, nec et hoc mentitus es: filiam tuam intuere.”

5 Rex ut vidit iuvenem quaestionis solutionem invenisse, sic ait ad eum: “Erras, iuvenis, nihil verum dicis. Decollari quidem mereberis, sed habes triginta dierum spatium: recogita tecum. Et dum reversus fueris et quaestionis meae propositae solutionem inveneris, accipies filiam meam in matrimonium.” Iuvenis conturbatum habebat animum, paratamque habens navem ascendit, tendit ad patriam suam Tyrum.

3 thoughts on “NEW PROJECT: Apollonius of Tyre, Chapters 1-5

  1. The incest parts are pretty horrific, especially since it is written in such a casual style. However, if I were pitching this translation to a publisher, I would insist that the work is just, ahem, a “family friendly” tale.

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