Bryn Mawr Classical Review 02.06.19


Kenneth S. Sacks, Diodorus Siculus and the First Century. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990. Pp. xii, 242. ISBN 0-691-03600-4. $29.95.


Reviewed by P.J. Stylianou, Oxford.

Sacks states his aim at the outset, in an introductory section entitled "The Argument." His is nothing less than the rehabilitation of Diodorus. Far from being the uncritical compiler of common scholarly esteem, D. was a writer of considerable originality: "The Bibliotheke was not composed by rote, nor is it an arbitrary collection of thoughts derived from whatever source Diodorus happened to be following at the moment. It is, instead, a document substantially reflecting the intellectual and political attitudes of the late Hellenistic period" (p. 5). "From his use of historiographical conventions, to his development of broad themes, to his shaping of the Bibliotheke in response to contemporary politics, it is apparent that Diodorus had far more control over his work than is generally assumed" (p. 7). S.'s book in fact consists of a series of investigations into these three categories. Of the first category, conventions in the writing of history, S. selects for examination (in chapters 1 and 4) "prologues (prooemia), organizational markers, speeches, and polemics against earlier authors." He believes that his findings show "that for the composition of these aspects of historiography Diodorus himself is largely, perhaps entirely, responsible" (p. 5).

Of the second category (chapters 2 and 3) five broad themes of historiography in the Bibliotheke are investigated: character assessments, the rise and fall of empires, the power of fortune, explanations of human progress, and the idea of universalism. S. concedes that these themes were present in D.'s sources. "But Diodorus has modified these ideas to fit his own notion of history and to voice a contemporary message." "The third area of investigation concerns Diodorus' attitude toward Rome ... and the effect that had on the shape and bias of the Bibliotheke" (p. 6).

These are high claims for D, but can they be substantiated? Obviously, in a brief review it is not possible to consider all the many arguments S. advances, but I hope to consider enough of them to make it clear why I remain sceptical.

In chapter 1 S. examines the proems to the individual books of the Bibliotheke. What he seeks to do is to defend D. from the charge of having plagiarized the proems of his sources, of Ephorus in particular. He begins with the proem to book 1, the first part of which (1.1-3) scholars in the past have attributed to one or more of D.'s main sources. S. follows more recent opinion in maintaining that the substance of these chapters is D.'s own. Not only is the language that of the rest of the Bibliotheke, but many of the ideas, and indeed even the very phrases used to express them, occur elsewhere in the work. They are an integral part of D.'s conception of the function of history (pp.10f.).

S. then moves on to examine the rest of the proems (pp. 12ff.). Quite rightly he rejects early views that most of the Bibliotheke's proems were taken from Ephorus. He is less persuasive, however, when he argues that D. is himself responsible for all the proems, with only the occasional influence from his sources. He is fully aware of the importance of such a proposal. For well over a century scholars have worked on the principle that D. has retained "not just the substance but the spirit as well" of his sources. The principle becomes rather difficult to uphold if such an important feature as the proems can be demonstrated to be D.'s own. Happily for those of us who lay much store by the principle, S. does not quite succeed in making his case.

"No one should want to claim credit for the proem to xii" (p. 19) he says. True, but this is to ignore that it has passed through D.'s grinder. Why should we not see in 12.1-2.1 the sad remnants of an Ephoran preface (probably to book 11) which looked ahead to the glories not only of the 5th century, but of the 4th as well? It is a fact about Ephorus that he tended to digress at length, often rhetorically anticipating forthcoming narratives; also that he had a penchant for personalities. These characteristics (and of course D.'s incompetence as an epitomizer) suffice to explain the peculiarities of 12.1.4-2.1. The mention of "Isocrates and his pupils" (12.1.5) suggests Ephorus, as indeed does the inclusion of Myronides among the great 5th century generals of Athens. ("About whom one might write at length" comments D. [12.1.5] -- doubtless Ephorus did). Inevitably we are led to think of the E)/PAINOS bestowed on Myronides and the Athenian victory at Oenophyta (11.81.4-83). These passages are indubitably Ephoran in origin and Andrewes is surely correct in surmising that D.'s confusion over Oenophyta was caused by the rhetoric with which Ephorus introduced his account. He is also correct in further contending that such rhetorical comments were to be found in Ephorus not only in the proems, but also scattered throughout the Histories.1

Another feature of this preface is the high commendation of Athens for having humbled the power of the Persians to such an extent that they were forced to recognize the freedom of the Greek cities of Asia in a treaty (12.2.1). The theme is picked up twice later. First, when the Peace of Callias itself is related and its terms summarized in 12.4.5. The account is incontrovertibly that of Ephorus. 2 And secondly in 12.26.2 where the Peace of Callias (an Athenian achievement) is favourably contrasted with the King's Peace (a Spartan disgrace). The DITTAI\ SUNQH=KAI, as they are here called, must have been something of a rhetorical topos in the 4th century (cf. Demosth. 15.29, which is very close) and this may explain why Ephorus could not resist referring to them in a description of the general peaceful conditions he perceived as existing everywhere in the late 440s. For there is no reason why the whole passage, 12.26.2-4, should not be ascribed to him (pace S. p. 64). The tell-tale sign is the nonsense D. makes of the DITTAI\ SUNQH=KAI. Ephorus obviously wrote of the treaty existing between Persians and Greeks at this time and then went on to comment on the much later and less creditable peace. D., however, in lifting the information out of his source, quite misconstrued the matter; and though he retains the chronological indication (U(/STERON) he writes of the DITTAI\ SUNQH=KAI as existing then, in the late 440s! Also, when we read that the nations of the western Mediterranean H(SU/XAZE at this time we cannot but recall the ludicrous statement Ephorus once made that "at the same time the people of Cyme (his native city) TA\S H(SUXI/AS H)=GON" (FGH 70 F236).

As far as 13.1.1-2 is concerned no argument is needed: it is entirely D.'s own. But this short passage hardly amounts to a proem, and what S. should have done was to explain why book 13 lacks a proem; and indeed why 12.1-2 quite inappropriately heads a book which begins with 450/49.

S. rejects the attribution to Ephorus of the prefaces to books 14 and 15, mainly for two reasons. First, "both prooemia discuss and moralize on combinations of events found in their respective books, although in Ephorus' work these events were spread throughout many different books" (p. 19). And secondly, the opinion expressed in the proem to 14 that empires fall when they treat their subjects unjustly, "is part of a model ... found throughout the Bibliotheke and attributable to Diodorus himself" (p. 20). Neither reason is sound. With respect to the first, there are indications that some Ephoran prefaces touched on themes treated in several books. Also, the hypothesis that Ephorus, always and as a matter of principle, assigned separate books to Hellenica, Persica, and Sicelica is demonstrably false. The second reason adduced by S. we shall look at shortly, but here let us note that certain themes which recur in the Bibliotheke, for instance that of the military prowess of the Boeotians (cf. 11.82.2f.; 15.20.1; 15.26.1; 15.37.2; 15.39; etc.) are readily traceable to Ephorus. 3 D., therefore, has not only retained much of Ephorus' factual information (this is conceded by S.), but also the latter's opinions and tendencies (which S. seeks to deny). And if this is so within books, why not in the prefaces?

S.'s comments on the rest of the proems (pp. 20-22) need not detain us. The uniformity of language and the occasional repetition of certain words and even expressions, though an argument against "the extreme of Quellenforschung in analyzing the Bibliotheke" (p. 21), do not disprove plagiarism. "The proems are meant to establish themes for the subsequent narrative, as they frequently do in the Bibliotheke" (p. 21). Fine, but this was also true of many of the sources D. employed, not least of Ephorus. Further, if this was a principle D. applied independently of his sources, why do books 11 and 13 lack proper proems?

Having established, as he believes, that D. composed his own prefaces, even those to books 12, 14, and 15, S. uses this to underpin the rest of his investigations. In chapter 2 he considers "three important forces or historical patterns" which "help to shape Diodorus' narrative: benefit, chance, and the decline of empires" (pp. 23ff.). "These concepts pervade the Bibliotheke, providing thematic unity and structure," and they should be seen as D.'s own.

By "benefit" S. means the utilitarian function of historical writing. In D. this takes a moral and didactic character, best instanced in the assignment of either praise or blame to men for their characters or their actions. In this D. is usually thought to have been heavily influenced by Ephorus whose moralizing comments, whether in preface or narrative, he cribbed. S. disagrees, arguing at some length that Ephorus, following the example of Isocrates, did not in any case present examples of bad conduct, but only paradigms of virtuous behaviour, as is shown by FGH 70 (Ephorus) F 42. The E)/PAINOI and YO/GOI, therefore, in the Bibliotheke cannot derive from him, not even those in the "Ephoran" books. A good example of the praise/blame duty of history occurs in the preface to book 15 and these prefaces "should now be considered Diodorus' own composition" (p. 34).

S.'s reasoning is awry. Not only has he not established that D. is responsible for the core of his proems, but FGH 70 F 42 does not prove what he claims. Annoyed by other writers who liked to dwell on the violence and lawlessness of the Scythians, Ephorus retorted that the good qualities of the Scythians should be mentioned too and held up as examples for imitation. Well obviously, but this cannot mean that Ephorus did not censure as well as praise. Both activities were indispensable to a moralizing historian. The set E)/PAINOS of Themistocles in 11.58.4-59 is certainly based on Ephorus (cf. FGH 70 F 191 frr. 2-6 with 11.59.2-4) and it is illogical to deny that the YO/GOS of Pausanias in 11.46 is so based too. Theopompus, a contemporary and fellow student of Ephorus at the "school" of Isocrates, was a well-known practitioner of the kind of historiography which dealt out E)/PAINOI and YO/GOI (mostly the latter!) and his purpose it seems was ethical (FGH 115 T 20a). It does not surprise us to learn that the prefaces of Ephorus and Theopompus were very similar (FGH 70 F 7). Ephorus' famous GNWMOLOGI/AI and E)PIMETROU=NTES LO/GOI must have been largely ethical and didactic,4 and his predilections are further shown by the fact that he composed a work entitled PERI\ A)GAQW=N KAI\ KAKW=N.5

But why labor the point? No one today would deny D. his fair share of the moralizing in the Bibliotheke. And really, his contribution is usually quite easy to distinguish. Among the banal comments interspersed in the text, especially noticeable is the inane repetition that the PARRHSI/A of history should always be used to praise good men and censure bad ones. Such remarks cannot possibly derive from any of the sources he is known to have used, but they are frequently found attached, often by way of introduction, to comments he cribbed from his sources.

Similar results are obtained with regard to another prominent feature of the Bibliotheke, that of TU/XH (chance or fortune) which S. examines next (pp. 36-41). Again, he is disposed to give D. the main credit for this characteristic: "Most of the various facets of TU/XH ... cannot be traced to a particular source" (p. 40). The single exception he concedes is the case of the extraordinary TU/XH of Eumenes in book 18 behind which he perceives the hand of Hieronymus. This is correct , but in fact many more (perhaps even most) cases can be traced back to the sources once one begins investigating. For instance, TU/XH at 12.62.6 obviously goes back to Thuc. 4.12.3 via Ephorus. As for the hazardous nature of TU/XH at 15.54.5, something very similar is said by Xenophon too (Hell. 6.4.20) and so why not by Ephorus? The TU/XH which lets Epaminondas down both in D. (15.82.6; 84.2) and Polybius (9.8.13) is probably an explanation first given by Callisthenes which Ephorus adopted. And so on. On the other hand we should suspect verbose expositions of TU/XH as Diodoran elaborations of simpler statements he found in his authors.

The concept of TU/XH is hardly of earth-shaking significance as a historiographical device and would do little to improve the standing of D. as a historian, even if the majority of the instances were assigned to him. But the last aspect S. examines in chapter 2 is more important. He credits D. with a model for the rise and fall of empires and this, he thinks, is a significant theme which runs through the Bibliotheke. Simply put, the model is that empires are gained and maintained through just and moderate behaviour and lost when the imperial powers become arrogant and harsh. In books 11-15 the main examples are Athens and Sparta. And to such an extent is D. in control of his model that he can adjust it to fit different historical data: in 32.2, 4, for example, when he is faced with Roman imperialism (pp. 44-46). That the model is D.'s own is shown, S. thinks, by the fact that key-words such as E)PIEI/KEIA and FILANQRWPI/A used in association with the model, occur throughout the Bibliotheke. Further, Ephorus cannot have offered such an interpretation as nothing like it is found either in the fragments or in Isocrates.

First of all, the indiscriminate use of words like E)PIEI/KEIA and FILANQRWPI/A is not surprising in a moralizing hack and a poor stylist to boot. Secondly, there was already in the 5th century an intense discussion about the morality of empire and more specifically about justice and moderate behaviour (E)PIEI/KEIA); cf. e.g. Thuc. 1.96f. The superiority (not least moral) of the Athenian over the Spartan empire is argued repeatedly and at length by Isocrates (Paneg. 80f.; 103ff.; Panath. 53ff.; de Pace 95ff.) and there is every reason to assume that Ephorus accepted this and developed it further. Thirdly, S. concedes that the "model," "modified" in 32.2, 4, is all but cast aside in 34/35.33; 37.2.1, 3-8; and he agrees that the latter view is that of Posidonius (p. 46). But instead of assuming the obvious, that is, that the different "models" represent the botched and unassimilated views of different sources, he weaves a strange tale replete with hair splitting and what I can only describe as self-deception (pp. 46ff.). He will have us believe that D., having experienced the ugly side of Roman imperialism in Sicily, developed his own simple explanation for the rise and fall of empires. And though he came across more complicated theories in his leading sources, such as that of social decay, these he generally avoided. But to uphold such a view it is necessary either to ignore or to explain away all those instances where, as we have seen, the less simple theories show through the Bibliotheke -- something which S. does not quite succeed in doing.

In chapter 3, entitled "Culture's Progress," S. continues with his effort to represent D. as an original thinker who ably and successfully welded together the materials he derived from various sources for the purpose of illustrating his view of human progress and universality. At first sight the attempt appears convincing -- until one begins to look at the detail. For instance, one of the passages he adduces as evidence of D's thought is 12.26.2-4. But we have seen that the passage was probably lifted (and botched in the process) from Ephorus (a universal historian). Again, the many passages he cites to show that one of the moral slants D. imposed on his sources was that the performance of a benefaction created an obligation between individuals or states will not bear examination: "Absolutely formulaic is his sentiment that a benefaction (EU)ERGESI/A) rendered produces in return (DI/DWMI) gratitude (XA/RIS)" (p. 78). However, 15.26.1 derives from Ephorus, including the statement that in deciding to aid the Thebans in 378 the Athenians "were repaying the obligation for the good deed" the Thebans had done them. The same story is told by Xenophon who even uses the expression XA/RITA A)PODOU=NAI (Hell. 3.5.16). S. thinks he has an "excellent control" of his thesis in 20.93.6-7 (from the account of the siege of Rhodes by Demetrius in 304) and a papyrus fragment (FGH 533 F 2) which relates the very same siege, and which clearly derives from the same source as used by D., "Diodorus alone mentions benefactors ... and a city's proper response to them" (p. 78). But it is unthinkable that D. invented the episode related in 20.93.6-7 (the whole of which is missing from the papyrus, as S. does not seem to appreciate), and the conclusion drawn from the good sense of the Rhodians should also be credited to the source. This is not to deny that D., as a moralizing scribbler, was often likely to emphasize such details -- hence (let me say once more) the frequent repetition of words with a moral content.

In line with what has gone before, in chapter 4, entitled "Aspects of History Writing," S. tries to defend D. against the charge that even such integral parts of ancient historiography as "organizational and chronological markers, speeches, and polemics" were incorporated wholesale into the Bibliotheke from the sources, "sometimes inappropriately." Certainly extreme statements of this view are indefensible and S. scores some good hits. But as before, he pushes the pendulum far too far in the opposite direction, making D. responsible for most, if not all, of these features. What is more, much of the time he is considering quite insignificant points which cannot in any case be settled decisively either way. Acceptable in an apologia of a better writer, in the case of D. such a method is almost futile. As inconclusive argument follows upon inconclusive argument this reviewer at least must confess to a certain amount of irritation.

The final two chapters (5 and 6), bearing the respective titles of "Diodorus on Rome" and "Diodorus in the World of Caesar and Octavian," are meant to establish D.'s attitude toward Rome, and having done that to suggest that this attitude conditioned the structure as well as the moral bias of the Bibliotheke. But before this task is undertaken S. admits that important problems of methodology have to be faced. There is, first, the fact that the second half of the Bibliotheke survives only in fragments. And secondly, it is not easy to separate D.'s own opinions from those of the different sources he used, and considering the kind of writer he was there are likely to be contradictions.

These difficulties are best illustrated, he thinks (pp. 121ff.), by the example of Gelon who was a "personal hero" of D. Why then do we find both a favourable account of Gelon in the Bibliotheke (book 11) and an unfavourable one (book 10)? The answer, he suggests, is that for book 10 he was drawing upon the critical tradition in Ephorus, whereas for book 11 he turned to the Sicilian Timaeus. "This is an important illustrative example, because, despite the fact that the subject matter was personally meaningful to him, Diodorus still does not impose complete control on the material" (pp. 124f.). S., in other words, seems at this point (rather surprisingly, given his previous arguments) to be confirming the general view that D. is no historian, but an incompetent compiler, and I have no difficulty in concurring. As it happens, the example S. chose is not a good one. If there are inconsistencies between book 10 and book 11 these must be due to D. himself or (more probably) to the fragmentary nature of book 10, rather than to a conflict between Ephorus and Timaeus. FGH 70 F 186 proves that the two historians cannot have differed in their estimate of Gelon, though Timaeus may have been even more complimentary. And it is not really surprising that speeches made in the debate at Corinth by mainland delegates would be critical of Gelon (10.34), whether composed by Ephorus or Timaeus (the latter, I think).

It might be supposed, after what has just been said, that any attempt to establish D.'s own attitude to Rome, especially from a collection of fragments, would be pointless. Yet S. makes the attempt, reviewing at length such events as the First and Second Punic Wars, The Achaean War, etc. The result, in my opinion, is notable only for its inconclusiveness. S., however, believes he is able to show that D. was hostile to Roman rule, though not quite concerned with the writing of opposition historiography. He proceeds on the assumption that as the Romans (and in particular Octavian) were utterly beastly to the Sicilians, anti-Roman bias in D. would be understandable. Perhaps it would (though the case of Polybius should serve as a warning), but to assume is not the same as to demonstrate. There is clear praise of Rome in the Bibliotheke (S. agrees), and there is also criticism of the conduct of some Romans and Italians; but not of Rome. Whether that represented D.'s own view it is impossible to tell. In any case, the pattern S. thinks he can discern in the Bibliotheke whereby opposition to Rome was voiced, albeit with circumspection, is simply too subtle and intricate for someone like D.

The same doubt should be voiced in S.'s reconstruction of D.'s personal circumstances which are supposed to explain the shape and moral slant he gave to his work. (He admits himself that "much of the reconstruction is speculative," p. 202). If, for example, D. concluded his work with the year 60 B.C., instead of bringing it down to 46 B.C. as he had originally intended (and promised his readers), this may be because he realised that the period 60-46 B.C. was too dangerous to handle (as S. proposes); or it may be that D. "grew old and perhaps a little tired" (as Oldfather suggests: Loeb ed. I p. xix); or the reason may be none too complimentary to D. Why did he conclude book 13 with the end of the First Carthaginian War (13.114.3), contrary to his promise in 13.1.3 to carry it down to the beginning of the Second? Why did he not take the trouble to correct the statement at 13.1.3?

Long-term study of the Bibliotheke leads S. to see D. as an original, serious, and even diligent (cf. p. 90) historian, who should be studied for himself, like other Hellenistic historians. By contrast, study of D. over an extended period of time leads me to endorse the "traditional" view of D. The peculiarities of the Bibliotheke are best explained as the result of the fitful methods of a careless epitomizer with a moralizing bent, who produced, working in considerable haste, a historical compilation. Study of the ways of D. is of value only because it helps to establish the nature and worth of the sources which underlie the Bibliotheke. Had these survived (the narrative histories and the chronographers) who would pay the slightest attention to D.?


NOTES

  • [1] A. Andrewes, "Diodorus and Ephorus. One Source of Misunderstanding," in The Craft of the Ancient Historian: Essays in Honor of Chester G. Starr. Edd. J.W. Eadie and J. Ober (Lanham, 1985), 189ff.

  • [2] Cf. A. Andrewes, "Thucydides and the Persians," Historia 10 (1961) 18.

  • [3] Cf. Andrewes, "Diodorus and Ephorus," 190f.

  • [4] Polyb. 12.28.10 with Walbank, Commentary on Polybius ad loc.

  • [5] Following Schwartz, S. considers the PERI\ A)GAQW=N KAI\ KAKW=N to have been a collection of excerpts from Ephorus' Histories done in imperial times: p. 26 n. 7. But in 24 books?!: FGH 70 T 1. The assignment of praise or blame as a literary device goes back to the 5th century -- see Gorgias' Encomium on Helen.