Bryn Mawr Classical Review 95.09.26


J.C. Yardley (trans.), Justin, Epitome of the Philippic History of Pompeius Trogus. American Philological Association Classical Resources Series vol. 3. Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1994. Pp. 337. $44.95. ISBN 1-55540-950-4.


Reviewed by David Potter, The University of Michigan.

Panegyric can be dull, but that is what this excellent volume deserves. Yardley's translation is remarkably clear and accurate, and Develin's notes seem to me to be of exactly the right sort for a book of this kind. They point out areas of caution, but do not attempt to rewrite Justin. Given the fact that Justin is epitomizing a history that extended from Ninus to the Augustan settlement with Parthia in 19 BC, this is no mean accomplishment. In addition to Justin's epitome, Yardley has translated the book summaries of Trogus that have come down in two families of Justin manuscripts. These summaries, or prologues, are clearly composed by someone other than Justin and contain valuable information about the scope of the history that would otherwise be lost. One of the few criticisms that I have of this work is that the connection between Justin and the prologues is not spelled out in a bit more detail than it is on p. 6.

The result of this project may be to get more people to actually sit down and read Justin from beginning to end. It is not a project that has always seemed to offer great rewards: the Latin is uninspired and the history is inaccurate enough where it can be compared with other sources to rouse extreme discomfort when it cannot. But it is also the most complete account of a universal history to survive from antiquity. Trogus' original came in 44 books, just a bit longer than Diodorus, but considerably more interesting in its design, for while Diodorus appears to be controlled by his sources, and thus gives a strikingly Hellenocentric presentation of "world history" by hanging the information of various sources around the work of a chronographer, Trogus seized command of his texts and organized his history by kingdoms: the title attached to the prologues is the Liber historiarum Philippicarum et totius mundi origines et terrae situs. The result is some chronological confusion, and the history is broken by numerous digressions on the history of various states that were inserted at the point at which a given state becomes important in the narrative to merit this treatment. The digression then will typically offer a history of that state from earliest times to the point of the digression. The only states not treated in this way are Rome, where a narrative of the early history is delayed to the penultimate book, and Parthia, which is treated in books 41 and 42 even though Arsaces appears in book 35 (Trog. Prol. 35). What we get therefore is a series of histories of nations that come to an end after decisive contact with Rome. This point only emerges from the prologues: Justin, who admits that he only summarized the bits he thought interesting in his own preface (Praef. 4: omissis his, quae nec cognoscendi voluptate iucunda nec exemplo erant necessaria), deftly omits reference to Actium at the end of book 40 (which thus sees the extinction of both the Seleucids and the Ptolemies).

Trogus thus invites study as a major Augustan historian of some originality and, it seems, strong opinions. According to Justin, he explicitly criticized both Livy and Sallust for their habit of including speeches in oratio recta (Just. Epit. 38.3.11). As a figure of his age, the family history that he gives invites comparison with Velleius in the next generation (Just. Epit. 43.5.11-12)), and as a Roman, the alleged "anti-Roman" stance that some have detected in his history appears rather to be reflecting Augustan policy. This view is based upon the treatment of the Parthians in book 41. The statement that the two powers control the earth at Just. Epit. 41.1 is simply a statement of the Augustan status quo of 19 BC, and it is Justin who points out that Augustus accomplished more through his name than previous generals had through their deeds: plusque Caesar magnitudine nominis sui fecit, quam armis facere alius imperator potuisset (Just. Epit. 42.5.12).

Justin's epitome of Trogus (even with the prologues) will not, however, be a work at the top of every Augustan reading list. It may, however, appear on any reading list for a course on Hellenistic history. It is the only ancient source that gives anything like a narrative for the whole period from Philip II to Augustus. Because Yardley and Develin have done such a good job with this book, I would certainly use it in such a course: students get the story from Justin, and are taught not to believe everything that they read at the same time. This is absolutely the sort of book that the APA should be supporting, and the Classical Resources Committee should be happy with the result. My only regret is that at nearly $30 it is a bit expensive for the intended market.