Founders of the Race

Maximus Planudes
2 min readDec 28, 2021


Clariclea, a princess of Ethiopia who was miraculously born white to black parents and abandoned, here returns to Ethiopia and reconciles with her parents. A painted enamel on gold, gilding, mercury-tin amalgam on rock crystal. 1650. Walters Art Museum
Chariclea, an Ethiopian Princess, Reconciled with Her Parents, King and Queen of Ethiopia by Henri Toutin (c.1650). @ Creative Commons License

I’m in the process of updating an old online English translation of Heliodorus for a class I’m teaching. I’m updating the 19C translation of Rowland Smith (available via Project Gutenberg). Mainly, this involves removing commas and making multiple sentences out of long, rambling prose. One interesting passage, however, occurs in book 10, section 6. The Greek text comes from the Budé.

ἡρώων εἰκόνες προὔκειντο, Μέμνονός τε καὶ Περσέως καὶ Ἀνδρομέδας οὓς γενεάρχας ἑαυτῶν οἱ βασιλεύοντες Αἰθιόπων νομίζουσι·

From the Greek, it seems clear that the Ethiopian rulers believe that their royal house descends from these figures. Thus, indeed, Morgan translates it (in the Reardon collection (1989):

figures whom the kings of Ethiopia regarded as the founders of their house: Memnon and Perseus and Andromeda.

The Italian translation of Aristide Colonna seems to capture the same idea of heroic progenitors of a Royal house.

Memnone, Perseo ed Andromeda, che i sovrani d’Etiopia considerano i loro progenitori.

This is striking enough: the idea that the Ethiopian royal house traces its origin to such a Hellenized mythology. When the language of “race” comes in, however, it can be confusing and misleading. Smith translates in the following way:

Memnon, Perseus, and Andromeda — whom the kings of Ethiopia boasted to be the founders of their race.

Hadas (1957) translates it the same way:

Memnon, Perseus, and Andromeda — whom the rulers of Ethiopia regarded the founders of their race.

These translations make it seem as if these figures are to be understood as founders of the Ethiopians as a race. This is precisely the problem Kennedy pointed out in her review of the Cambridge Greek Lexicon, where γενάρχης is glossed as ancestor, founder, but with the explanation: “the originator of a race.” It is worth being sensitive to how race-talk enters our translations and lexica, particularly when dealing with works meant for popular audiences.



Maximus Planudes

The online pseudonym of the other online pseudonym Leopold “Poldy” Bloom. Really, tho, who I am doesn’t matter.