Achilles Tatius’ Leucippe and Clitophon is generally seen as having had a limited ancient readership. In this view, several 2nd- and 3rd-century papyri, followed as they are by the passage of almost two centuries for which we have little evidence, attest to a certain vogue in the immediate aftermath of the novel’s composition and then an apparent decline. Heliodorus clearly knew the work, but we remain uncertain about the later novelist’s date--it may be the 3rd century--and his interest in prose fiction may not be representative of a broader readership if he belongs to the 4th. Then in the 5th century, Nonnus may betray some influence, while we can be very certain that later in the same century Musaeus imitates Leucippe and Clitophon (Orsini 1968, Kost 1971, Bowie 2003, Morales 1999). Photius, the 9th-century Patriarch, then becomes our next confirmed reader, to be followed by Michael Psellus in the 11th before the reemergence and revival of Achilles Tatius’ fortunes in the 12th when the Byzantine romances appear. It it now time for us to revise this scenario of an initial but brief enthusiasm followed by centuries of neglect with only occasional interruptions before Photius’ time.
The case for a broader and more continuous readership has been made before, but very badly, by Lehmann (1910), whose lists of supposed imitations by later authors are filled with questionable examples and supported by little discussion and have, by their weakness, brought more recent scholars to a point exactly the opposite of what he was trying to prove. However, the admiration that Photius and Psellus express for Achilles Tatius’ style was shared by late antique and early Byzantine writers as well, and I have traced distinctly his influence in this regard through imitations scattered in literature from the 4th through the 8th centuries. Musaeus and Heliodorus, in other words, are not isolated readers, nor does Achilles Tatius drop out of sight completely until Photius’ “rediscovery” of him. I will focus on four examples of imitation. First, two of the three Cappadocian Fathers imitate him in the 4th century in very public ways: Basil in his epistle of 373 to the newly installed bishop of Alexandria, Peter II, and Gregory of Nyssa in his funeral oration for the Empress Flacilla in 385. In the 6th century the so-called Anonymus de scientia politica models a sentence on the thought and words of a passage from the novel. In the 8th century, the author of the ε recension of the Alexander Romance on at least two occasions introduces phrases from Leucippe and Clitophon into his reworking of the earlier text.
This means that in every century but the 7th (and no doubt that hole will be plugged one day through more systematic investigation) we can confirm that other authors in the eastern Mediterranean were reading the novelist, found him worthy to imitate, and did so in a variety of genres. I will present these imitations, give some indication of what made the source passages so imitable, and briefly discuss the ways in which these Christian writers sometimes reworked the thought of the pagan novelist (who became a Christian, according to later tradition) while retaining his style and vocabulary.