Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2003.08.25

Gabriella Ottone, Libyka: Testimonianze e Frammenti. I Frammenti degli Storici Greci, Vol. 1.   Tivoli (Roma):  Tored, 2002.  Pp. xxxix, 707.  ISBN 88-88617-00-0.  

Reviewed by Stanley M. Burstein, History, California State University - Los Angeles (
Word count: 1337 words

Libyka: Testimonianze e Frammenti is the first volume of a new series entitled I Frammenti degli Storici Greci. Although the title of the series suggests that its purpose is to provide a new corpus of the fragments of the Greek historians comparable to Felix Jacoby's Die Fragmente der griechischen Historiker, its actual goals are more modest. Instead of a new general corpus, the purpose of the series is to produce fully annotated new editions of the fragments of individual historians or groups of historians, as is the case with this first volume.

Libyka: Testimonianze e Frammenta is an expanded and revised version of its author's doctoral thesis in ancient history, which she completed at the Università degli Studi di Rome Tor Vergata in Rome. The initial reaction in confronting 707 pages of Greek texts and detailed commentary on the fragments of the Greek historians of Libya is daunting and immediately calls to mind Kallimachos' dictum "Big book, big evil, " all the more so because one of the major themes of Libyka is the treatment of the history of Kallimachos' home, the city of Kyrene in modern Libya in ancient histories of Libya. Fortunately, this big book, although it has significant flaws, is far from being a big evil.

Although the purpose of I Frammenti degli Storici Greci is not to replace Jacoby's Die Fragmente der griechischen Historiker as a whole, individual volumes are clearly intended to serve as standard editions of their particular authors or groups of authors as in the case of Libyka. Comparison with Jacoby's edition is, therefore, instructive.

The Libyan section is one of the smallest in FGrHist, consisting of the fragments of five authors plus an Anhang. The whole section occupies a mere nine pages of the Ethnographie section of volume three of FGrHist (3C, 759-764). The contrast with Libyka is striking. Instead of five authors Libyka contains the fragments of seventeen authors. Not only does the number of authors treated in Libyka differ from the corresponding section of FGrHist, but so also does the presentation of the fragments.

The complexity of Jacoby's editions of fragments in FGrHist is notorious. On the one hand, the editions are Spartan, being limited to testimonia for the author's life and works, the fragments, apparatus criticus, and brief commentary on the testimonia and fragments. On the other hand, Jacoby used a multiplicity of different type sizes and fonts to distinguish graphically fragments from the context in which they were quoted and to indicate the relative reliability of individual testimonia and fragments. By contrast, Dr. Ottone's editions in Libyka are more extensive than their counterparts in FGrHist. Each contains a detailed and richly annotated introduction treating an author's life and works, Greek and Latin texts of the testimonia and fragments together with lucid Italian translations, and exhaustive fragment by fragment commentary, some of which are virtual monographs in themselves. While the editions in Libyka are far more extensive than their counterparts in FGrHist, they are simpler in plan since, unlike Jacoby, Dr. Ottone eschews any attempt to differentiate fragments from their contexts, on the ground that the tralactitious nature of the sources of the fragments makes it impossible to make such distinctions securely. Contrasts between Libyka and FGrHist are not limited to the formal presentation of the fragments but also include the definition of the theme of the works discussed.

The difference in the number of authors treated in the two works is not the result of the discovery of new texts -- Libyka includes only one fragment1 unknown to Jacoby -- but to a fundamental difference in the way the two editors conceived their projects. Jacoby2 distributed works dealing with Libya over three volumes of FGrHist on the basis of the historiographic genre to which he believed they belonged: local histories of Kyrene entitled Περὶ Κυρήνης, ethnographies entitled Λιβυκά, and monographs on institutions such as Aristotle's Κυρηναίων πολιτεία. Dr. Ottone rejected Jacoby's distinctions as artificial, arguing that whether entitled Περὶ Κυρήνης or Λιβυκά, the works all dealt with the same topic: the history of Kyrene. She ignored, therefore, Jacoby's division of the works by genre, organizing them instead chronologically to reflect her view that their authors, whatever their origin, belonged to a single historiographic tradition concerning Kyrene that extended from the fifth century BC to the second century AD.

Identification of a common theme that justifies the claim that these works belong to a single historiographic tradition is difficult. Only one of the authors is attested as actually coming from Kyrene!3 The remaining sixteen were from places as disparate as Arle in France and Olbia in the Ukraine. The fragments likewise provide little help. For only one work -- Aristotle's Κυρηναίων Πολιτεία -- are the fragments sufficient to permit a general reconstruction of the original work. The majority are brief citations in scholia or lexica such as Stephanos of Byzantium's Ethnika and generally lack any indication of their original context. Worse, many have suffered in transmission since the works in which they are cited do not survive in their original form but only in severely abbreviated epitomes. In this situation any general interpretation is necessarily somewhat arbitrary and Dr. Ottone's is no exception.

In her view, the focus of ancient histories of Libya, whatever their title, was the city of Kyrene. Although fragments indicate that some of these works dealt with the history of Kyrene at least to the end of the Battiad dynasty and possibly even subsequent events, the emphasis, in her view, was on the ktisis of the city, particularly the mythical forerunners of the historical foundation by Thera in the seventh century BC. So, for example, myths concerning the nymph Kyrene's fight with a lion and her relations with Apollo were transferred from Thessaly and Delphi to Libya, as were episodes of the Heracles, Argonaut, and Trojan sagas, thereby creating a place for Kyrene in Greece's heroic past. Moreover, although local themes are evident in the fragments, such as controversy between Kyrene and her rival Barka and revision of Herodotus' unflattering account of Battos, the founder and first king of Kyrene, Dr. Ottone argues that the primary ideological focus of the tradition was not Kyrenaian patriotism but legitimation of Ptolemaic rule over Kyrene and that the home of the tradition to which most of these works belong was not Kyrene but Ptolemaic Alexandria.

At first glance, this is an attractive thesis, especially since it purports to provide a unified interpretation of a poorly attested and disparate group of works. Unfortunately, closer analysis reveals serious flaws in the argument. The problems are twofold. First, the evidence for the Alexandrian origin of the majority of the ancient histories of Libya is weak. In actuality, only one author, Menekles of Barka, is securely attested as resident in Alexandria and the fragments of his work show no evidence of pro-Ptolemaic bias. For the remaining authors, the evidence is circumstantial and essentially consists of the fact or, better, impression that their works were little read in antiquity except by authors connected to Alexandria such as Apollonios of Rhodes and the scholiasts on the Argonautika. Second and equally important, Dr. Ottone severely underestimates the extent to which the apparent emphasis on the prehistory of Kyrene and the manipulation of myth in the fragments reflects the nature of their sources--scholiasts on works such as the Argonautika -- and not the primary focus of the original works.4

For these reasons I believe that Dr. Ottone's general interpretation of the nature and purpose of the ancient histories of Libya is in the end unconvincing, On the other hand, Libyka is undeniably a significant contribution to ancient history and historiography. Dr.Ottone has produced an invaluable source book for the study of the literary evidence for Kyrene and its environs that is marked by exceptional richness of documentation and lucidity and perception in the discussion the issues raised by the fragments. For this, if nothing else, all scholars interested in the history and historiography of ancient North Africa will be grateful to the author.


1.   Akesandros F 4 = P. Oxy. XXXII 2637, F 5, c. II, ll. 7-12.
2.   In volumes 3B, 3C, and a still unpublished section of volume 4.
3.   Aristippos (FGrHist 3C, 759. Jacoby also suggested that Theochrestos (FGrHist 3C, 761 and Akesandros (FGrHist 3B, 469 were from Kyrene. Supporting evidence is lacking, however, and Dr. Ottone did not accepts Jacoby's suggestion.
4.   So the scholia on Pindar Pyth. 4 and 5 quote fragments dealing with the Battiads (Akesandros, FGrHist 469 F 6; and Theotimos, FGrHist. 470 F 1).

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