“Callirhoe” is one of five complete Greek prose novels that have survived from antiquity. They were a genre, with certain conventions: “Each centers on the trials and tribulations of a romantic couple,” writes Stephen M. Trzaskoma, director of the Center for the Humanities at the University of New Hampshire, in the introduction. of his translation. of “Callirhoe”. “The general pattern involves the separation of lovers, adventures in distant lands, and a reunion with a happy ending.” (The best known “Daphnis et Chloé”, used as the basis for the ballets of Michel Fokine and Frederick Ashton, is another such example.)
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Like Greek tragedies and Homeric epics, these “adventures” are not for the faint-hearted: the story has its fair share of brutality. Callirhoe’s great beauty, often compared to that of Aphrodite, makes her the target of desire for virtually every man she meets. “As the story progresses,” Ratmansky said, “men get more and more powerful, but morally they get lower and lower.”
One of the things Ratmansky had to deal with was the violent act that in the novel sets the story in motion. Shortly after the marriage of the young lovers, Callirhoe and Chaereas, Chaereas is led to believe that Callirhoe has been unfaithful. In a fit of jealous rage, he confronts her. In the novel, he kicks her, after which she appears to die. She actually fell into a sort of coma. (There is a similar plot point in Shakespeare’s “The Winter’s Tale” which, according to former British historian Paul Cartledge, was likely influenced by “Callirhoe”.)
In Ratmansky’s ballet there is no kick. Instead, Chaereas confronts Callirhoe, who, finding herself accused, collapses in frustration. The confrontation takes place behind the scenes, like in a Greek tragedy. “There’s a chorus, commenting on the action, letting the audience know that something terrible has happened,” Ratmansky said.