In 400 BCE in the Greek city of Syracuse, a chorus of women celebrate Aphrodite, the goddess of love. They are joined by Callirhoe, a young woman so astonishingly beautiful that everyone compares her to Aphrodite. Callirhoe’s many suitors and her maid follow close behind her. A group of swaggering young men, led by Chaereas, also arrive. During the festivities, Callirhoe and Chaereas lock eyes and instantly fall in love. The suitors grow envious of Chaereas and plot to break up the young lovers. They know that Callirhoe’s father, Hermocrates, and Chaereas’s father, Ariston, are bitter enemies, so the suitors summon them to end the budding romance. The fathers, however, are convinced to put aside their feud and allow their children to marry. Callirhoe and Chaereas exchange bracelets as a sign of their devotion, and wedding celebrations ensue.
Undeterred, the suitors devise a new scheme to separate the couple. One secretly gives Callirhoe’s maid a bracelet identical to the jewelry exchanged at the wedding. They use it to trick Chaereas into thinking Callirhoe is unfaithful. In a jealous rage Chaereas confronts Callirhoe, who pleads her innocence. When he refuses to listen, she collapses in fear and frustration, appearing lifeless. The maid, consumed by remorse, reveals the suitors’ plot to Chaereas, who now knows that Callirhoe did no wrong. He despairs, as he believes he has killed her.
The mourning citizens of Syracuse bury Callirhoe alongside offerings of treasure. Brokenhearted, they bid her farewell. After everyone leaves, Callirhoe awakens and is horrified to find herself buried alive. The pirate Theron and his crew come to loot the tomb, and they gleefully abduct Callirhoe along with the treasure.
In grief, Chaereas returns to Callirhoe’s resting place and is shocked to find the tomb ransacked and Callirhoe gone. He realizes that she must be alive. He enlists the help of his friend Polycharmus and they hasten off to find her.
Across the sea in Miletus, the pirates sell Callirhoe to Dionysius, a nobleman lamenting the death of his wife. As soon as he sees Callirhoe, however, Dionysius forgets his sorrow and falls madly in love with her. Under great stress, Callirhoe faints, and Dionysius orders his servant Plangon to attend to her. Plangon suspects that Callirhoe is pregnant and questions her. Callirhoe tells her story and reveals that she is indeed pregnant with Chaereas’s child. Plangon advises her to marry Dionysius in order to protect herself and her baby, and Callirhoe reluctantly agrees. As the wedding begins, Chaereas arrives in Miletus. Plangon spots his bracelet and deduces that he is Callirhoe’s husband. Loyal to Dionysius and seeking to preserve his newfound happiness, Plangon has Chaereas and Polycharmus arrested.
Now captive, Chaereas and Polycharmus are carted off as slaves to the palace of the rich and powerful Mithridates. Mithridates sees Chaereas’s fine bracelet and asks him who he is. As Chaereas narrates his past, it unfolds before him in a vision. His description of Callirhoe intrigues Mithridates, who orders his guards to find her. When she arrives with Dionysius, Mithridates asks her to dance for his court. He becomes so enchanted by her beauty that he too falls in love. A fight erupts between Dionysius and Mithridates. However, they are stopped and reminded that, by law, all disputes between noblemen must be settled by the King of Babylon.
In Babylon, Dionysius and Mithridates present their case to the King. Dionysius states that Mithridates tried to seduce his wife, but Mithridates argues that Callirhoe is not Dionysius’s wife because she is already married to Chaereas. He produces Chaereas as proof. Dionysius is stunned, and Mithridates is cleared of all charges. The King summons Callirhoe to hear what she has to say. As soon as he sees her, the King, like the others, succumbs to her beauty.
Suddenly, the palace is thrown into chaos when it is announced that Egypt has declared war on Babylon. The King whisks his court away to safety, taking Dionysius and Callirhoe along with them. A vengeful Chaereas enlists in the Egyptian army, as he believes that the King has stolen Callirhoe from him. In battle, the Egyptian General is killed, and Chaereas’s resolve to fight for his love is doubled. He leads the Egyptian forces to victory.
After their harrowing ordeal, Callirhoe and Chaereas are reunited. A remorseful Chaereas begs Callirhoe for forgiveness, and she is torn. Although she is grateful for Dionysius’s kindness, she realizes that she has only ever loved Chaereas.
She chooses to forgive.
Dionysius accepts her decision and, as a gesture of his love, has Plangon bring Callirhoe her son. The mistakes of the past are understood with compassion. Callirhoe, Chaereas and their son sail home to Syracuse.