IN HONOR OF the fifth anniversary of his celebrated Magazine on the World-Wide Web, Dr. Boli is reprinting some favorite articles and advertisements from the past five years.

Caprodorus: Scythian Tale

ALTHOUGH ONLY SCATTERED fragments remain today, Caprodorus’ Scythian Tale was one of the most popular Greek prose romances of the third century. From the many summaries, criticisms, pictorial representations, and character trading cards that have come down to us from antiquity, we can reconstruct the plot with surprising accuracy.

Theodore, a shepherd of Scythia, and Theodora, a shepherdess of the same address, declare their love for each other in frequent outbursts of song. But the flow of dactylic endearments is interrupted when a band of pirates, temporarily abandoning their maritime depredations to rustle a few sheep, invade the pasture and abduct Theodora, apparently misidentifying her cries for help as bleating. They leave Theodore for dead and depart for the high seas with their woolly cargo.

Theodore, however, is not dead, having merely stepped aside to answer a call of nature, or (according to the reading of Schleusegatter et al., 1931) the telephone. Informed by his remaining sheep of Theodora’s abduction, he vows to become a pirate himself and join the pirate band that abducted Theodora, seeking the earliest opportunity to effect her rescue. This is apparently the best plan he can come up with.

The pirates having meanwhile discovered that Theodora is more woman than sheep, Theodora evades their advances by pretending to be Ethiopian and also mad. This ruse puzzles the pirates, and before they have time to resolve their confusion, their ship is ambushed by a band of forest bandits, who have temporarily set aside their life of sheep-rustling to try their hands at piracy. Taken by surprise, the pirates have no choice but to surrender their ship and cargo to the forest bandits, who then become pirates themselves, leaving the former pirates to become maritime forest bandits.

Theodora attempts to elude the new pirates with the same ruse that proved so successful with the former group; but she is foiled when she discovers that the pirates, formerly forest bandits, are all Ethiopian themselves, and most of them are quite mad.

Theodore, meanwhile, has come to the island of Rhodes, where he had been told he had the best chance of finding a pirate band willing to take on a new member with no previous references. Here he immediately falls among witches, who propose to turn him into a hedgehog. When he pleads for his life, however, the witches spare him, on the condition that he will present them with his head in a sack in exactly a year’s time. Theodore readily agrees, being honest but not too bright. Upon his swearing a solemn oath, the witches put him in a small boat and give it a hard shove eastward.

Scarcely has Theodore departed when the pirate ship carrying Theodora, piloted as it is by former forest bandits with no experience on the high seas, smashes on the rocks off the shore of Rhodes. All the pirates are drowned, but Theodora, who knows how to wade, makes it to shore and immediately falls among the same witches who had threatened to turn Theodore into a hedgehog. The witches decide to try the same experiment on Theodora, but she makes the same agreement that Theodore made; and the witches place her in a similar small boat, giving it a hard shove to the west this time.

After many more adventures which it would be, and in fact was, tedious to relate, both Theodore and Theodora return to the island of Rhodes at the same time to fulfill their bargains. They fail to recognize each other, however, because they have both cut off their own heads and are carrying them in sacks to present to the witches. In a piece of droll comedy that was much talked about in Caprodorus’ time, Theodore stumbles and Theodora trips over him, both dropping their heads on the ground. When they pick themselves up and dust themselves off, each picks up the wrong head and presents it to the witches. Furious, the witches restore their heads to their bodies and tell them to do it all over again and get it right this time.

But just as they are about to cut off their heads again, Theodore and Theodora recognize each other, and their moving reunion so affects the head witch that she sobbingly reveals that she is in fact Theodora’s long-lost mother, who was abducted by pirates before Theodora was born. At that very moment comes a sudden attack by forest bandits, and you can imagine everyone’s surprise when the bandits turn out to be none other than the original pirates who had abducted Theodora. Recognizing Theodora’s mother the witch, the captain of the forest bandits reveals that he was the pirate who had abducted her all those years ago. A happy reunion is effected, and Theodora’s mother and the bandit captain decide to open a souvenir shop on the beach. No one is quite sure what happens to Theodore and Theodora.


  1. Brat Farrar says:

    A most amusing and edifying tale.

  2. John M says:

    Pity that neither Theodora nor Theodore realized that their respective promises did not include severing their heads – only presenting their heads to the witches in a sack. Wearing a sack over their unsevered head and pretending to be a Detroit Tigers fan was an option neither seems to have considered…

  3. This would make a good Gilbert & Sullivan operetta, if it hasn’t already.

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