Apollonius of Tyre is the subject of an ancient short novella, popular during medieval times. Existing in numerous forms in many languages, the text is thought to be translated from an ancient Greek manuscript, now lost.
In most versions, the eponymous hero is hunted and persecuted after he reveals a king's incestuous relationship with his daughter. After many travels and adventures, in which Apollonius loses both his wife and his daughter and thinks them both dead, he is eventually reunited with his family through unlikely circumstances or intercession by gods. The major themes are the punishment of inappropriate lust—the incestuous king invariably comes to a bad end—and the ultimate rewards of love and fidelity.
The story is first mentioned in Latin by Venantius Fortunatus in his Carmina (Bk. vi. 8, 11. 5-6) during the late 6th century; it is conjectured, based on similarities with the Ephesian Tale of Xenophon of Ephesus and idioms awkward in Latin but typical in Greek, that the original was a Greek romance of the 3rd century. The riddles with which the king tests the hero in many versions may be a later addition to the story. Some scholars also believe the incest story to have been a later addition, however, many experts such as Elizabeth Archibald (author of, amongst other works, "Apollonius of Tyre: Medieval and Renaissance Themes and Variations") see it as an integral thematic element of the tale.
The earliest manuscripts of the tale, in a Latin version, date from the 9th or 10th century; the most widespread Latin versions are those of Gottfried von Viterbo, who incorporated it into his Pantheon of 1185 as if it were actual history, and a version in the Gesta Romanorum. The earliest vernacular translation is an incomplete Old English prose text from the 11th century, sometimes called the first English novel; the existence of this text is something of a mystery, since secular prose fiction was extremely rare at the time. Various versions of the tale were subsequently written in most European languages.
A notable English version is the eighth book of John Gower's Confessio Amantis, which uses it as an exemplum against incest. Robert Copeland wrote an early 16th century prose version; Shakespeare's Pericles, Prince of Tyre was based in part on Gower's version, with the change of name probably inspired by Philip Sidney's Arcadia. It was also a source for Twelfth Night and The Comedy of Errors.