Bryn Mawr Classical Review 97.7.11


Walter Lapini, Il POxy 664 di Eraclide Pontico e la cronologia dei Cipselidi. Accademia Toscana de Scienze e Lettere. Firenze: Leo S. Olschki, 1996. Pp. 219. L 49000. ISBN 88-222-4445-1.


Reviewed by Alden A. Mosshammer, amosshammer@ucsd.edu, Department of History, University of California, San Diego.

Oxyrynchus Papyrus 664 preserves fragments of a philosophical dialogue set in Athens during the tyranny of Pisistratus. The narrator portrays himself as having gone into exile when Pisistratus first became tyrant and having visited with Solon in Ionia. At the urging of Solon, among others, he returned to Athens and participated in the dialogue that he here reports. Pisistratus himself was present at the conversation. The discussion focused on the question of why it is better sometimes to be governed than to govern. A story about the cruelty of Periander serves as an object-lesson. The story is difficult to reconstruct from the fragments, but it is introduced in such a way as to suggest that the incident was quite recent at the time of the conversation.

W. Lapini uses these fragments to reopen an interrelated set of questions upon which our whole reconstruction of sixth-century chronology depends. The main question, as the title of the study suggests, is whether we should adopt the so-called "high" chronology for the Cypselid tyranny at Corinth, reconstructed by Felix Jacoby (among others) from the Chronicle of Eusebius and fragments of tradition attributed to Apollodorus of Athens, or the "low" chronology proposed by Karl Julius Beloch and based on synchronisms in Herodotus among Periander, Croesus, and the Pisistratids. Related questions include the date of Solon's self-imposed absence from Athens after his reforms and the chronology of the Pisistratid tyranny.

In an opening chapter, Lapini reviews the scholarly literature about these fragments and defends the attribution of the anonymous fragment to Heraclides Ponticus. He also offers a new interpretation of the incident referred to in the fragmentary tale drawn from the tradition about Periander. The object of Periander's murderous plot was not his father Cypselus, as some interpreters have supposed, but members of the Bacchiad clan, descendants of the old ruling elite of Corinth. In his final chapter, the author connects this incident with the war between Corinth and Corcyra, which he dates to the 560's. The six chapters that intervene are devoted to the chronological problems that stand in the way of accepting this reconstruction as historical or, at least, historically plausible.

The general thesis of the study is that there did exist in antiquity a tradition about Periander that makes a synchronism with Pisistratus possible. This tradition was not, however, the "low chronology" of Beloch and his followers, who would date the end of the Cypselid tyranny as late as 550 or even 540 -- several decades later than the "traditional" date in the 580's. Lapini argues that the traditional chronology is correct (or approximately so), but that Periander lived for another twenty years or so after his expulsion from Corinth. The dastardly deeds of Periander portrayed as recent in the dialogue are to be associated with the famous battle between Corinth and Corcyra mentioned by Thucydides as having taken place some 260 years before the end of "this war." Taking Thucydides' reference as implying a date in the 560's for the battle, Lapini suggests that the conflict represented Periander's attempt to establish himself on Corcrya after having lost control of Corinth.

In addition to this central argument about the date of Periander, Lapini reviews the evidence for Solon and for the vicissitudes of the Pisistratid tyranny. He connects the statement of the papyrus that Solon was in Ionia at the time of Pisistratus's first tyranny with the tradition that Solon absented himself from Athens after instituting his reforms; and he accepts the argument that Solon's reforms should be dated to the 570's, some twenty years after his archonship. He accepts the general outlines of Felix Jacoby's solution to the problem of reconciling the variant dates for the Pisistratid tyranny, but lowers the date of the Battle of Pallene from Jacoby's 546, in approximate synchronism with the Fall of Sardis, to about 540.

Lapini's suggestions are plausible, but unlikely to put an end finally to this debate. The greatest value of the book lies in its thorough and lucid review of more than a hundred years of scholarly debate on these problems. There are chapters on the dates of Solon, Pisistratid chronology, the war between Athens and Mitylene in the Troad (Herodotus 5.94), and the story (Herodotus 3.48) that Periander sent 300 Corcyraean boys to Lydia to serve as eunuchs. In a set of appendices, the reader will find brief discussions of such problems as the Cylonian affair, the colonization of Thera, and the first exile/return of Pisistratus.

Anyone interested in the problems of early Greek chronology will read this volume with profit.