Reception in historical novels set in ancient Greece and Rome differs fundamentally between the 19th and the 20th/21st centuries. In the 19th century, reception was governed heavily by imperial attitudes and religious controversies, particularly in regard to claims about the true Christian faith under the Roman Empire. Hence, novels set in Rome or the Roman Empire dominated the field. In the 20th century, attitudes to empire and religion were drastically revised in the wake of World War I. The growing authority of academic history in an age of scientific progress was another factor which helped to produce a decline in the reputation of historical fiction. Other changes, however, were more stimulating in nature, including the use of ancient Greece as a setting, more impressive source analysis, the rise of female novelists, different subjects and perspectives, and new social and sexual attitudes. These and other developments lifted the reputation of historical fiction once more.
The Alexander Romance is a fictionalized life of Alexander III of Macedon (Alexander the Great, 356–323 bce), originating in the 3rd century BC, though the earliest evidence for its circulation in textual form is from the 3rd century ce. Originally written in Greek (in which there are five recensions), it was translated into Latin in the 4th century ce, and from the 5th century, into every language of Europe and the Middle East. It narrates Alexander’s birth to Olympias, as son of the last Pharaoh, Nectanebo II, of Egypt; his upbringing; his campaigns (in a strange order); his encounter with Queen Candace of Meroe; and particularly his adventures in India and beyond, including his encounter with the naked philosophers of Taxila; his death, and his will. Later versions (recensions L, gamma) include a meeting with the Amazons and his invention of a diving bell and a flying machine.The Greek .
Heliodorus was the author of the Aethiopica, the latest and longest Greek novel to survive from antiquity. In his work, Heliodorus claims to be a Phoenician from Emesa, but there are good reasons against treating this as an authoritative autobiographical statement. The Aethiopica tells the adventures of Charicleia, the white daughter of the black queen and king of Ethiopia. Her mother abandons her, and she is brought up by foster-fathers in Ethiopia and Delphi. There she falls in love with the young Greek Theagenes, with whom she travels via Egypt to Ethiopia. They are almost sacrificed to the local gods, but Charicleia’s parents eventually recognise her. The protagonists become priests and marry. The novel is a narratologically ambitious work that draws on the structure of the Odyssey (in mediis rebus beginning, embedded heterodiegetic narratives) and takes these devices to a whole new level. A wide range of topics play important roles in the Aethiopica, such as religion, multiculturalism, identity, and epistemology.