In constructing Pericles, Shakespeare relied upon Apollonius of Tyre, an ancient tale, lost forever in its original Greek, translated into Latin around the 5th century, into Old English in the 11th century, and into English by John Gower in the late 14th century. It is the version translated by Gower that Shakespeare used as his primary source for Pericles. Shakespeare chose to rename his hero from Apollonius to Pericles, and the change was likely inspired by the character Pyrocles in Sir Philip Sidney’s Arcadia, one of the play’s minor sources. This is evident as we study the following text:
ARCADIA (Canto IV)
When he in presence came, to Guyon first
He boldly spake, Sir knight, if knight thou bee,
Abandon this forestalled place at erst,
For feare of further harme, I counsell thee,
Or bide the chaunce at thine owne ieoperdie.
The knight at his great boldnesse wondered,
And though he scornd his idle vanitie,
Yet mildly him to purpose answered;
For not to grow of nought he it coniectured.
Varlet, this place most dew to me I deeme,
Yielded by him, that held it forcibly.
But whence should come that harme, which thou doest seeme
To threat to him, that minds his chaunce t’abye?
Perdy (said he) here comes, and is hard by
A knight of wondrous powre, and great assay,
That neuer yet encountred enemy,
But did him deadly daunt, or fowle dismay;
Ne thou for better hope, if thou his presence stay.
How hight he then (said Guyon) and from whence?
Pyrrhochles is his name, renowmed farre
For his bold feats and hardy confidence,
Full oft approu’d in many a cruell warre,
The brother of Cymochles, both which arre
The sonnes of old Acrates and Despight,
Acrates sonne of Phlegeton and Iarre;
But Phlegeton is sonne of Herebus and Night;
But Herebus sonne of Aeternitie is hight.
So from immortall race he does proceede,
That mortall hands may not withstand his might,
Drad for his derring do, and bloudy deed;
For all in bloud and spoile is his delight.
His am I Atin, his in wrong and right,
That matter make for him to worke vpon,
And stirre him vp to strife and cruell fight.
Fly therefore, fly this fearefull stead anon,
Least thy foolhardize worke thy sad confusion.
His be that care, whom most it doth concerne,
(Said he) but whither with such hasty flight
Art thou now bound? for well mote I discerne
Great cause, that carries thee so swift and light.
My Lord (quoth he) me sent, and streight behight
To seeke Occasion, where so she bee:
For he is all disposd to bloudy fight,
And breathes out wrath and hainous crueltie;
Hard is his hap, that first fals in his ieopardie.
Madman (said then the Palmer) that does seeke
Occasion to wrath, and cause of strife;
She comes vnsought, and shonned followes eke.
Happy, who can abstaine, when Rancour rife
Kindles Reuenge, and threats his rusty knife;
Woe neuer wants, where euery cause is caught,
And rash Occasion makes vnquiet life.
Then loe, where bound she sits, whõ thou hast sought,
(Said Guyon,) let that message to thy Lord be brought.
That when the varlet heard and saw, streight way
He wexed wondrous wroth, and said, Vile knight,
That knights & knighthood doest with shame vpbray,
And shewst th’ensãple of thy childish might,
With silly weake old woman thus to fight.
Great glory and gay spoile sure hast thou got,
And stoutly prou’d thy puissaunce here in sight;
That shall Pyrrochles well requite, I wot,
And with thy bloud abolish so reprochfull blot.
With that one of his thrillant darts he threw,
Headed with ire and vengeable despight;
The quiuering steele his aymed end well knew,
And to his brest it selfe intended right:
But he was warie, and ere it empight
In the meant marke, aduaunst his shield atweene,
On which it seizing, no way enter might,
But backe rebounding, left the forckhead keene;
Eftsoones he fled away, and might no where be seene.
ARCADIA (Canto V)
Pyrrochles does with Guyon fight,
And Furors chayne vnbinds
Of whom sore hurt, for his reuenge
Atin Cymochles finds.
Ho euer doth to temperaunce apply
His stedfast life, and all his actions frame,
Trust me, shall find no greater enimy,
Then stubborne perturbation, to the same;
To which right well the wise do giue that name,
For it the goodly peace of stayed mindes
Does ouerthrow, and troublous warre proclame:
His owne woes authour, who so bound it findes,
As did Pyrrochles, and it wilfully vnbindes….