Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2002.08.27

Malcolm Kenneth Brown, The Narratives of Konon. Text, Translation and Commentary on the Diegeseis. Beiträge zur Altertumskunde 163.   München, Leipzig:  K.G. Saur, 2002.  Pp. viii + 406.  ISBN 3-598-77712-4.  EUR 88.00.  

Reviewed by Jerker Blomqvist, Lund University (
Word count: 2487 words

"Conon's corpus of fifty 'Stories' (Diegeseis) ranks as the most interesting and at the same time the most neglected of the smaller mythographical collections." Those words were written by Albert Henrichs in 1987,1 and after pointing out the deficiencies of existing editions and scholarly studies of the Konon collection, he concluded: "As long as no adequate commentary is available, Conon remains in the closet." Malcolm Kenneth Brown, with the volume under review here, now has provided a commentary together with Greek text and English translation.2 Is it the "adequate" commentary wished for by Henrichs or does it serve other purposes? Let's have a look at the book.

Konon the mythographer is known mostly from Photios' Bibliotheke. Ancient references to a Konon who may or may not be identical to him are known but are ambiguous.3 In addition, about forty lines of what appears to be the original text of Konon have been partially preserved in P. Oxy. 3648. Photios refers to Konon's work with the diminutives βιβλιδάριον and πονημάτιον, and he read it in a manuscript (cod. 186 in the standard numbering) which contained Apollodoros' Bibliotheke as well (or an epitome of it), so Konon's book was not a voluminous one. Photios' treatment of it fills 32 pages in Henry's edition.4 It consisted of fifty διηγήματα or διηγήσεις (Photios uses both words). Photios' section on Konon is almost totally made up of his summaries of those fifty stories; he adds only three lines of introduction and another three lines as a conclusion with a judgment on Konon's style, plus a short redactional note at the end of narr. 3.

Brown's book starts with an introduction (pp. 1-46) with the content that you may expect to find in a work of this sort: the successive sections discuss Konon's date, the title of his work, the specific features of it as a whole and of the individual stories, Konon's alleged rationalistic approach, his sources, his language and style, Photios' excerpting methods, and the constitution of the Greek text. The rest of the book (pp. 47-352) is devoted to the Greek text of the stories, translations of them and commentary. The Greek text is not printed continuously, but each story, with its accompanying translation and commentary, forms a section of its own. Each commentary starts with a general introduction where other versions of the same story, Konon's possible sources and the effects of Photios' epitomizing are discussed; then follows a detailed, sometimes word-by-word, commentary, which takes up anything that attracts the commentator's interest but in particular Konon's deviations from, or agreements with, other mythographical sources. The volume ends with a bibliography (selective; pp. 353-368), indexes of Greek words commented upon (a short one; pp. 369-370) and passages quoted (also selective; pp. 370-386), and a general index (mostly names, mythical and geographical; pp. 386-406).

Given the circumstances under which Konon's work has been preserved, an assessment of its scope, content and form is an extremely difficult task. Photios' excerpting methods are known only on a general level. Brown refers to Hägg's study on texts that Photios does not quote in full but summarizes, as he does with Konon.5 Hägg's conclusion was that Photios normally followed his exemplar closely, reproducing its contents fairly correctly and reusing much of the original's vocabulary. But this is a general conclusion, which cannot be applied to an individual case, and, when it comes to Konon, it is evident that Photios did not adhere to the same procedure throughout his account. The first three narratives seem to be rather exhaustively reproduced -- they cover on an average more than 20 lines each -- but coming to the end of narr. 3, Photios declares: "But why should I practically transcribe these? I must approach them in a much more summary manner." The next c. fifteen narratives are much shorter, seldom exceeding ten lines, but from no. 18 or 19 onwards Photios gradually returns to reporting at greater length, and from no. 31 the summaries regularly exceed 20 lines. Thus, Photios used not one, but several summarizing procedures for the same text. Even in the longer summaries omissions are not absent. This is shown by the papyrus fragment, which contains the end of narr. 46 and the beginning of 47. The Photios text has no equivalent of what are the last 18 lines of narr. 46 in the papyrus, nor have lines 25-27 of fr. 2 left any trace in narr. 47. Such discrepancies make it hard to believe "that, on the whole, Photios is a reliable guide to the contents of the Diegeseis, at least in the longer summaries", as Brown (p. 39) claims.

As for verbal agreements with the papyrus, most of the instances noticed by Brown on p. 38 involve names, for which there are no alternatives, or extremely common words (article, δέ, καί, αὐτός). These are hardly evidential. Real evidence for Photios' dependence consists of a few less-frequent but relatively context-independent words such as ὁμοίως and μετὰ σφῶν, but even in such cases Photios demonstrates that his dependence is only partial by writing αὐτοῖς when the papyrus has σφίσιν and by transforming what presumably was [κατὰ τὸν αὐτὸν] χρόνον into καθ' ἑαυτούς.6 Comparison with the papyrus also reveals differences in sentence structure (στασιάζει for στασιάσας, ἔγνω omitted by Photios) and word order. Thus, Photios' summaries may give some hints about Konon's choice of words, but hardly any other reliable information on linguistic or stylistic details. Brown is much more optimistic and offers a rather detailed survey of the characteristics of Konon's language and style (pp. 39-44); it must be read with circumspection.

The textual history of Konon is of course closely related to that of Photios. Martini intended to include Konon in a volume of his Mythographi Graeci and found it necessary to start by establishing the relationships between the Photios manuscripts.7 Martini's edition never appeared, but his manuscript collations were used by Jacoby for FgrH, and Henry's edition of the Bibliotheke was founded on Martini's stemma codicum, according to which only two MSS. have independent value as text witnesses, viz., Marcianus gr. 450 (A) and 451 (M). Brown has collated them both from photocopies. His text is, on the whole, conservative, and he admits fewer emendations than previous editors, who freely "corrected" obvious or alleged mistakes that, in their view, could be imputed to Photios or some anonymous scribe but not to Konon. Since Brown -- correctly, in my view -- aims at reconstructing Photios' (or his secretary's) autograph rather than Konon's (which would be an impossible task), he refrains from certain emendations accepted or proposed by previous scholars, e.g., when Konon's dedicatee, king Archelaos of Cappadocia, is called Φιλοπάτωρ by Photios, although his actual title was Φιλόπατρις, as shown by epigraphic and numismatic evidence.8 Some of those departures from established tradition may derive from Konon himself or at least be considerably earlier than Photios, for the papyrus confirms the elsewhere unattested genitive form Τημένους; this hero is normally called Τήμενος, not Τημένης. Also, Photios is unlikely to have invented the peculiar variants of certain myths that are attested only for Konon.

Deviations from the linguistic norms of classical Greek create a problem for editors of the Photios text. Brown, like most other classicists, seems to have acquired his knowledge of Greek predominantly from texts of the classical period and, when it comes to deciding whether a certain manuscript reading is due to a scribal error or exhibits a genuine Byzantine idiom, he must rely on existing lexica and grammatical handbooks, which are inadequate for the purpose. He is not unaware of the problematic situation and at times resolves the dilemma by printing the manuscript reading in the text and airing his doubts in the commentary. This is a sensible method and Brown's decisions in textual matters are seldom indefensible. But mistakes regarding Byzantine usage do occur, some of which could have been avoided. E.g., at narr. 1.12 Brown incorrectly deletes τὰ before ὅσα, with the justification (p. 57): "Since the construction τὰ ὅσα is unattested elsewhere it is best to ... delete τὰ." Admittedly, to my knowledge, none of the existing handbooks records the increasing frequency of the article positioned before relative clauses in Hellenistic and later Greek, but a search in TLG would have yielded about a hundred relevant attestations of τὰ ὅσα, and Photios himself uses τῶν ὅσα at narr. 45.29.

As Brown points out, the closest parallel to Konon's narratives, as summarized by Photios, is Parthenios' Narrationes amatoriae.9 The two collections are fairly contemporary, and both writers dedicate their works to political figures of the same period, Parthenios to Cornelius Gallus (who was a poet too) and Konon to Archelaos Philopatris, who was king, by the grace or Rome, of Cappadocia 36 BC to AD 17. Both collections were scholarly works; the stories retold in them were summaries of what poets or historians had written on the same themes and did not claim to be independent inventions with literary or rhetorical ambitions of their own. Parthenios, in his preface to Gallus, indicates that his collection could provide the poet with material for literary compositions. Konon's narratives could serve the same purpose.

One striking difference between the two mythographers is that the Konon collection shows no unifying principle, such as the love theme of Parthenios'. Instead, heterogeneity is a noticeable feature of it. Erotic themes, which were popular with Hellenistic writers, appear only in a few narratives, and Brown (pp. 21-22) classifies them as occasional manifestations of the romanticist inclinations of the period rather than a guiding principle for the collection. The most frequent type of narrative in Konon is the foundation legend, but, even so, that category accounts for only seventeen out of fifty narratives (Brown pp. 16-19). Aetiological myths come next, with thirteen instances according to Brown's classification (pp. 19-20). In two cases, Konon's main motive for including a myth seems to be his intent to explain a proverbial saying (narr. 28 'axe of Tennes' and 34 'Diomedean compulsion'; Brown pp. 24-25, 206-207, 242). Hellenistic paradoxography has left its traces in at least three narratives (pp. 22-24), e.g., in the story about the pet snake that, when it grew up and became unwieldy for its size, was put out in the wilderness but saved its former master by strangling or scaring away his assailants when he was attacked by robbers in the same area (narr. 22).

The last-mentioned story does not belong to the mythical world of gods and heroes but concerns an ordinary Cretan boy. Konon's collection does not demarcate sharply between myth and history. Anonymous humans are the actors also in narr. 35 and 38, which Brown (pp. 25-26) classifies as fables. Historical individuals, identified by their names, appear in some narratives: Eunomos the citharode, who, paradoxically, was assisted by a cicada when a string of his instrument snapped (narr. 5); Stesichoros of Himera, who is introduced telling his fellow citizens a parable directed against the tyrant Gelon (18); the shepherd Peithenios of Apollonia (30); Leodamas and Phitres, rivaling, would-be kings of Miletos (44); and -- the most obvious instance -- the tyrant Alexandros of Pherai and his wife Thebe, who had him killed (50).

In many cases, Konon's narratives deviate conspicuously from other accounts of the same myths. Konon's, or his Hellenistic context's, taste for romance may explain some of those deviations, e.g., when the story of Alexandros' murder is embroidered with "several novelistic additions and elaborations", as Brown puts it (p. 345). However, it is the sources Konon used that must be supposed to be responsible for the majority of the specific variants. Konon does not refer to any source himself, and there is no trace of source indications in the shape of so-called manchettes that appear in the MSS. of Parthenios and Antoninus Liberalis. Only Photios indicates that the narratives had been "gathered from many ancient sources". Hoefer, in an ambitious investigation into Konon's sources in 1890,10 explained most of Konon's deviations as due to his dependence on his sources and the supposed tendencies in them. Brown (pp. 31-35) shares today's skepticism towards Quellenuntersuchungen of this sort and their speculative conclusions. He is prepared to accept only such source indications as are confirmed by hard textual evidence. This approach makes it unlikely that the well-known names of Kallimachos, Apollonios of Rhodes and Poseidonios deserve a place in the list of Konon's sources, whereas the rather obscure Hegesippos of Mekyberna and other Hellenistic writers of local histories turn out to be more likely candidates, although it is not clear whether Konon used any of them directly. When Brown discusses Konon's departures from the mythographical mainstream under the heading "Mythical Innovation", it is not because he perceives traces of Konon's innovative activities in the elsewhere unattested variants of the myths. Brown rather wants to stress the fact that Konon had at his disposal immensely many more poetical, historical, rhetorical and mythographical texts of the prolific Hellenistic period than we have and that, consequently, source analyses carried out today will be little more than educated guess-work. Konon seems to have taken over the accounts of his sources rather uncritically. Whereas Henrichs (cf. footnote 1) speaks of Konon's "extreme rationalism", which is said to be "reminiscent of similar explanations in Palaephatus ... and Dionysius Scytobrachion", Brown (pp. 27-31) points out that only three myths are provided with rationalizing explanations and that παράδοξα that challenge normal physical laws are presented without reservation. Konon, with his variegated collection of stories, evidently eludes shorthand categorizations such as "rationalizer" or "euhemerist" that may apply to other Hellenistic mythographers.

Undoubtedly, Brown's commentary brings Konon out of the closet, to use Henrichs' phrase. But it is hardly the ultimate commentary on Konon, for in many respects Konon remains a shadowy figure. What principles guided his selection of myths, what sources he used and how he used them, what audience he had in mind, what his own contributions to the original stories were, those are questions to which no comprehensive answer yet has been given. Brown's commentary was originally presented as a dissertation at Bern University, and it bears the stamp of being an academic specimen of a continental university; its author has been more keen to demonstrate his familiarity with traditional learning and his wide reading than his analytical and argumentative powers. As a consequence, the book brings together an impressive amount of data that will provide material for further analysis (and, to be frank, certain things that are unlikely ever to become relevant, at least in the specific context of Konon), whereas Brown's own evaluation of the evidence is often inconclusive or perfunctory. However, despite those shortcomings -- or because of them -- it stands a chance of stimulating future research on Konon and on Greek mythography in general. In that capacity, it deserves to be regarded as a standard work that takes its place beside Lightfoot's Parthenius and Fowler's Early Greek Mythography.11


1.   Albert Henrichs, "Three Approaches to Greek Mythography", in: Jan Bremmer (ed.), Interpretations of Greek Mythology. London & Sydney, 1987, p. 244.
2.   There may be some doubt as to what exactly Brown has intended to call his book, for the words 'Text, translation and commentary of the Diegeseis' appear only on the cover not on the title page, and on the back of the title page they are put within square brackets.
3.   Collected by Jacoby, FgrH 26.
4.   Photius, Bibliothèque. Tome III. Texte établi et traduit par René Henry. Paris, 1962.
5.   Tomas Hägg, Photios als Vermittler antiker Literatur: Untersuchungen zur Technik des Referierens und Exzerpierens in der Bibliotheke. Studia Graeca Upsaliensia 8. Stockholm, 1975. Cf. also Hägg's article "Photius at work: Evidence from the text of the Bibliotheca", GRBS 14, 1973, 213-222.
6.   The text of the papyrus is of course uncertain, but Photios certainly has no equivalent of χρόνον, which is clearly visible on the papyrus. Cf. the image of the papyrus at
7.   Edgar Martini, Textgeschichte der Bibliotheke des Patriarchen Photios von Konstantinopel. Abhandlungen der philologisch-historischen Klasse der Königlich Sächsischen Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften 28:6. Leipzig, 1911.
8.   IG II/III 3430.4, 3431.2, 3432.2, Inscr.Magn. 193.3, Inscr.Olymp. 315.2, Barclay Head, Historia numorum. New edition. Oxford, 1911, p. 752.
9.   Cf. J.L. Lightfoot (ed.), Parthenius of Nicaea: The poetical fragments and the Erotica Pathemata. Oxford, 1999 (reviewed by Christopher Francese, BMCR 2000.04.14).
10.   Ulrich Hoefer, Konon: Text und Quellenuntersuchung. Greifswald, 1890.
11.   Robert L. Fowler, Early Greek Mythography. Volume 1: Text and Introduction. Oxford, 2000 (reviewed by D. Felton, BMCR 2002.06.02).

Read Latest
Index for 2002
Change Greek Display
Books Available for Review

HTML generated at 13:28:06, Friday, 03 April 2009