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The physical attributes of the heroes and heroines of the Greek novels are prominent parts of their narrative scheme, as König notes, “the bodies of the ancient novels are hard to ignore,” (127). It is no surprise that Xenophon’s Anthia and Habrocomes is replete with both descriptions of and threats to the titular characters’ physical integrity. This paper will examine the three major physical hardships suffered by Habrocomes and argue that the hero’s response to these hardships enacts a process of self constitution. Habrocomes’ body becomes a point of contact for the development of identity, a self he must (re)construct away from stable, traditional modes of constitution such as oikos, polis, and Hellas. It is only when Habrocomes is able to intervene, to develop and deploy, in Foucault’s formulation, “a technology of self,” that the character is able to effectively move towards the completion of the narrative and the reunion with Anthia.

The first two hardships involve Habrocomes being falsely accused by women and punished for crimes that he did not commit. In the first instance, he is tortured under orders of the head of a household, a pirate who has kidnapped him and Anthia. Stripped naked, removed of all exterior identifying markers except for his beauty, he is described thus: “torture disfigured his whole body, unused to servile tortures, his blood drained away, and his handsome appearance faded”, (2.6). The lack of control of the body results in a corresponding loss of previously defining qualities, such as his beauty (1.2). It is only after the pirate has realized his mistake that Habrocomes is released. The second threat to Habrocomes’ body comes from crucifixion, having been convicted of murder. Here, it is divine action, on the part of the Nile, that saves him first from exposure on a cross, and second from being burned alive after it has been discovered that his crucifixion has failed (4.2). He is finally released by the prefect who discovers his true identity. Once again, Habrocomes, while summoning the aid of the Nile through a prayer, is still ineffectual. His fate, his bodily control, is determined by other powers, in the first case controlled by the pirate on the grounds of his control over his own household, the second case it is initially divine intervention, through the Nile, that saves Habrocomes, and then a legal power, embodied by the prefect who first imprisoned and ordered execution.

It is only the last instance of physical hardship that Habrocomes is able to exhibit any sense of control or individually effective action. Despairing of ever finding the lost Anthia, Habrocomes arrives in Italy, and, unable to make any progress, he takes work in a quarry, which, “for him was arduous, for he had not been used to subjecting himself to hard or rigorous work, he was in a bad way and lamented his fate often,” (5.8). It is only after this event, namely the voluntary subjugation of the physical body to hardship, that Habrocomes is able to begin his journey back to Epheseus and his reunion with Anthia. This narrative representation of intervention in pursuit of self constitution can be read, broadly, as a reflection of the process that Foucault described as “care for the self,” a micro-representation of wider structures of power and identity that were being negotiated during the middle to later Roman Empire.

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