Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2002.06.02

Robert L. Fowler, Early Greek Mythography Volume 1: Text and Introduction.   Oxford:  Oxford University Press, 2000.  Pp. xlviii, 459.  ISBN 0-19-814740-6.  $90.00.  

Reviewed by D. Felton, University of Massachusetts Amherst (
Word count: 1026 words

Fowler's Volume 1 of his planned two-volume Early Greek Mythography presents a collection of twenty-nine authors whose fragmentary works, taken together, represent early Greek mythography from its beginnings down to the early fourth century B.C. Volume 2, which has not yet appeared, will be both a mythological and philological commentary on the fragments presented in Volume 1. Standing on its own, Volume 1 is still an extremely useful collection of the early evidence for writers of "myth as history", one which answers the question, "What is the evidence in early Greek prose for this or that myth?"

Essentially, Fowler has culled his collection from Jacoby's FGrHist. Jacoby included all of Greek historiography in its broadest sense, including everything from ethnography to geography to mythography, and arranged the fragments not chronologically but rather "according to their place in the evolution of historiography" (xxix). Fowler explains his focus on the mythography: "The student wishing to know what early Greek prose-writers said about a given myth finds it exceptionally difficult to get the information out of Jacoby's fifteen volumes" (xxix), though it should be noted that Fowler, too, does not arrange the fragments chronologically but rather alphabetically by author, and you will thus find Pherecydes of Athens (ca. 465 B.C.) listed after Epimenides of Crete (early fourth century B.C.). Nevertheless, as this collection is much more specific than Jacoby's, you will still be able to get a good sense of the chronological development of mythography from its beginnings down to the fourth century.

Fowler clearly explains his main criterion for inclusion, namely that the fragments be totally or predominantly mythographical. He specifically excludes fragments that are totally or demonstrably historical by modern definition, that is, having no mythical content. Hence, Fowler includes fragments of ethnographical works so long as they deal with mythological peoples, such as the Amazons or Hyperboreans, but excludes Hecataeus's Periodos as not being demonstrably mythographic. Fowler also excludes fragments that date, or are thought to date, past the early fourth century, stopping just short of Hellenistic times. Thus, an author such as Damastes Sigeus, clearly dated to the fifth century by Dionysus of Halicarnassus and others, appears in Fowler's collection; but authors from the late fourth century, such as Amelesagoras (FGrHist 330, author of an Atthis) are out. In his Introduction, Fowler gives a brief history of both the word muthographos and the genre, pointing out that muthographos does not appear until the later fourth century, and muthographia appears first in Strabo. The genre itself, as stated above, was not well established until the Hellenistic period. Thus, despite comments from Herodotus and Thucydides identifying and disparaging (respectively) muthoi in "historical writing", the works of authors such as Hecataeus and Hellanicus were probably referred to as historia or logoi on a regular basis and were not considered to be crossing generic boundaries between myth and history. The Trojan War was generally taken as a historical event, perhaps unsurprisingly, but so were the genealogies of the gods.

The fragmenta of each author are preceded by testimonia about the author's life and works. For the most part Fowler has been able to follow Jacoby's numbering for the fragments, but differences are explained in an index comparing Fowler's numbering to that of Jacoby.

To look at a few brief examples: The first author in the collection is Acusilas of Argos. Josephus, in his contra Apionem, tells us that Acusilas was reported to have lived before the Persian wars, and the Suda tells us that he wrote a Genealogiae. Fragments of this work have survived, and are included here, e.g. fragment 1: "Oceanus married Tethys, his own sister; and from them were born three thousand rivers; Achelous was the oldest of these and the most honored" (this and others are the reviewer's translations). There are forty-six fragments of Acusilas included altogether, most of which are relatively short, but enough to make Acusilas one of the better represented authors in the collection; of Euagon of Samos there are only two fragments, for example.

The most substantial remains are those of Epimenides of Crete, Hecataeus of Miletus, Hellanicus of Lesbos, and Pherecydes of Athens. Of the fourth-century Epimenides we are told, by Diogenes Laertius, that he wrote a Theogony and an Argonautica, among other works, though these have not survived, whereas fragments of his work about Crete appear in Diodorus Siculus. Hecataeus, probably the most important early Ionian logographer, survives in fewer than forty fragments, but these include large chunks of his Genealogiae, for which we have Hecataeus's own introduction: "Hecataeus of Miletus speaks thus: I write about those things which seem to me to be true, for the stories of the Greeks are many and ridiculous, in my opinion" (frag. 1). Additionally, the life of Hecataeus is perhaps better attested than those of most of the other authors in this collection, as Herodotus refers to Hecataeus several times, including an account of his participation in the Ionian revolt.

Hellanicus of Lesbos, another author of major significance, continued the tradition of Ionian mythography begun by Hecataeus, and influenced both Herodotus and Thucydides (though the latter apparently didn't think much of him). Two hundred fragments of his writings survive, including portions of his Deucalionea, Atlantis, and Troica as well as parts of his ethnographic works on mythological tribes which are therefore included here. The longest section in Fowler's collection is that devoted to Pherecydes of Athens, who wrote a Historiae with much mythological content, including genealogies: "Agenor son of Poseidon married Damna daughter of Belus. From them were born Phoenix and Isaea, whom Aegyptus possessed, and Melea, whom Danaus married" (frag. 21).

Following the fragments of the twenty-nine authors are several indexes, including sources for the testimonia, words found in the fragments, and proper names. Overall, despite the lack of Volume 2, Fowler's collection in Volume 1 should appeal to Greek scholars, including graduate students, post-graduates, and professors working in the fields of Greek myth, mythography, historiography, and ancient religion. Some scholars may quibble with Fowler's criteria for inclusion/exclusion of fragments, but the collection certainly meets its goal, allowing readers to see for themselves the evidence for various myths in early Greek prose.

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