Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2009.12.03

Dino Ambaglio, Franca Landucci Gattinoni, Luigi Bravi, Diodoro Siculo: Biblioteca storica: commento storico: introduzione generale. Storia. Ricerche.   Milano:  V&P, 2008.  Pp. x, 145.  ISBN 9788834315842.  €18.00 (pb).  

Reviewed by Catherine Rubincam, University of Toronto (
Word count: 2108 words

[Table of contents is listed at the end of the review.]

This compact volume provides the general introduction to an ambitious undertaking by a consortium of researchers at four northern Italian universities (Bologna, Florence, Pavia, and Milan) to produce a historical commentary on all 15 complete books of Diodorus' Bibliotheca Historica, as well as, ultimately, on the 25 fragmentary books. The preface explains that the individual volumes of historical commentary will be assigned to different members of the research team, according to their particular interests and expertise, the first to be published being the commentaries on Book 13 (by D. Ambaglio) and on Book 18 (by F. Landucci, reviewed in BMCR 2009.03.45). This introductory volume to the whole project aims to be "not . . . a monograph on Diodorus, but a working tool, which limits itself to offering a general overview of the problems concerning Diodorus and his historiographic work (Ambaglio) [pp. 2-102], a synthesis of the chronological problems posed by the Bibliotheca (Landucci) [pp. 103-116], and a brief essay on questions regarding the manuscript tradition and the history of the text (Bravi) [pp. 117-130]" (IX). The volume is completed by three indices: names of people and places (pp. 131-136), passages cited from Graeco-Roman literature (pp. 137-142), and references to modern authors (pp. 143-145).

The ambitious nature of the project results not simply from the length and varied nature of the text -- the fifteen complete books run to something over 400,000 words, and include five of the six books devoted to prehistory ('archaeology and mythology', in Diodorus' terms), as well as the continuous annalistic narrative of events in the Greek sphere of knowledge from 480 to 301 BCE -- but more particularly from the complications caused by the work of nineteenth-century Quellenforscher on Diodorus. It is no accident that the last commentary attempted on the whole of the Bibliotheca was that of Peter Wesseling, published in 1746, before the development of this new hermeneutic tool made it impossible for any one individual to take sole responsibility for such a work. Source criticism set itself the task of identifying the historiographic sources used by Diodorus in the composition of his World History. The benefits expected to flow from this exercise were twofold. First of all, if one could establish which earlier and more detailed historical work had been the basis for Diodorus' condensed narrative of a particular sequence of events, then that source's reputation could serve as a criterion for determining the trustworthiness of the corresponding section of Diodorus' work. Second, given that the postulated sources of the Bibliotheca survived only in fragments, if one assumed that Diodorus preserved faithfully the essence of the earlier writer's narrative, one could reconstruct that lost work with fair assurance. But since the chronological and geographical range of Diodorus' Bibliotheca comprised all history known to Greek authors from the sack of Troy to Caesar's first consulship, the sources involved were many and various. Scholars of this methodological bent tended, therefore, to specialize in one source tradition. Hence the difficulty for any one individual in claiming sufficient expertise to tackle the work as a whole, as Wesseling had done.

This fragmentation of Diodoran scholarship no doubt explains why most twentieth-century commentaries seem to have concentrated on a single book of the Bibliotheca.1 At the same time, however, the drive to make the works of the major Greek historians accessible to readers with little or no Greek gave rise to several comprehensive translation projects. The most notable are: the Loeb edition (English; Harvard University Press, 1952-67), the Budé edition (French; Les Belles Lettres, 1972-present), the Sellerio edition (Italian; Sellerio, 1986-2000), the Rusconi edition (Italian; Rusconi, 1988-2008), and the Hiersemann edition (German; Hiersemann, 1992-present). All these translations contain some explanatory matter: at the least an introduction summarizing the meagre facts about Diodorus and the composition of the Bibliotheca, and a sprinkling of notes elucidating particular points of difficulty or controversy in the content of the text. All have involved teams of scholars. Most have attempted no textual advances on the work of the great eighteenth- and nineteenth-century editors (Wesseling [1745], Dindorf [1828-1831], and Vogel and Fischer [1888-1906]), but aimed simply to make the Bibliotheca accessible to a wider public. The last three listed above do not reprint the Greek text, while the Loeb edition reproduces a modified version of the Vogel-Fischer text. The Budé edition (launched in 1972, and still awaiting completion of a few volumes), exceptionally, contains a facing-page Greek text based on a new assessment of the manuscripts, which led to a significant revision of their filiation. This edition, therefore, does offer improvements to the Vogel-Fischer text.

These five translations represent the best efforts of 20th-century scholars to deal comprehensively with the whole Bibliotheca -- a change in direction from the more narrowly specialized work of scholars in the source-critical tradition, each of whom tended to focus on one section of the text selected for its postulated dependence on a particular source tradition. The work under review must therefore be welcomed as an attempt to extend the comprehensive approach evident in the translations cited above to a deeper level, by producing a historical commentary on the whole Bibliotheca. In so doing, the authors have clearly been influenced to a degree by some scholars' attempts in the past half-century to step away from the narrow focus of Quellenforschung and take a more unitary approach to Diodorus. The inauguration of this comprehensive historical commentary thus offers an important opportunity to summarize the results of these two different streams of Diodoran scholarship, whose proponents often seem unable or unwilling to engage seriously with the implications of one another's opinions, with a view to producing a more coherent synthesis.

As noted above, not only the length of Diodorus' World History but also the complexity of the compositional problems it poses necessitated that any such enterprise should involve a team of scholars. The Preface (Presentazione) of this volume describes the "long and intense collaborative activity in the field of historiography" (VII) among a large group of scholars from the four universities (through five conferences -- 1999, 2002, 2004 [bis], 2007 -- resulting in published volumes of proceedings), which furnished "the prerequisite for agreement, among all those involved in the project, on a common methodological framework" (VIII). Such agreement is seen as the means by which the individual commentary volumes will be able to maintain "a unitary character" transcending the interests of the particular commentators (VIII). The challenge for this introductory volume must therefore be to provide a summary account of scholarship on the Bibliotheca, which will serve as a guide for both the contributing scholars and their readers to the "common methodological framework" that is said to underlie the whole project.

The three contributing authors between them survey competently enough the state of scholarly opinion on the major aspects of the work: the author's life; the plan and state of preservation of his work; its aims, methodology, and sources; some important aspects of its content; its chronology and the prefaces to the individual books; and the manuscript tradition (see the detailed table of contents at the end of this review). The general approach to the Bibliotheca taken by Ambaglio and Landucci, however, displays some of the same ambivalence discerned by this reviewer2 in a volume of conference proceedings produced by members of the same research consortium, concerning the two different streams of Diodoran scholarship alluded to above: the older one, founded in Quellenforschung, tending to emphasize the diversity of the work, resulting from its dependence on many different sources, and the more recent one, focusing rather on the significance of Diodorus' own contribution to it. Comparison with the introduction to the Budé edition of Diodorus, by F. Chamoux,3 is illuminating in this respect.

Certain topics necessarily occupy a prominent place in both introductions: the plan of the Bibliotheca, its sources, composition, and chronology. But the tone of the two discussions differs markedly. Ambaglio's is more of the old school of source-criticism, emphasizing that the primary value of Diodorus' work is to have preserved significant remains of innumerable lost Greek historians. Early in his discussion of the Bibliotheca's sources he notes that the "heuristic discipline" of Quellenforschung has seen few advances in recent years beyond the work of its pioneers (20), but he continues defensively, "However, it is not properly true that Quellenforschung enjoys . . . a bad reputation. . . . On the contrary, Quellenforschung is -- from a strictly historiographic point of view -- the necessary point of departure and the most interesting aspect of Diodorus, as a necessary means of recovering portions of the corpus of lost historiography; for this purpose the fidelity of Diodorus to his models, which is generally recognized by all, is of great weight" (21). It is no accident that the next section is entitled, "La 'Biblioteca' e i frammenti degli storici greci." The effect of this approach is to treat the Bibliotheca as little more than a collection of excerpts from those otherwise lost earlier historical works, and thus to depreciate the author's own contribution to his book. This ignores the serious questions that have been raised by some recent Diodoran scholarship concerning the nature and extent of the presumed "fidelity of Diodorus to his models." Ambaglio is aware of much of the work done in recent years on Diodorus' own contribution to the Bibliotheca: his bibliography includes some of these publications.4 But his acknowledgment of their existence is minimal, and the views he expresses in this introduction have scarcely accommodated to the implications of this whole vein of recent Diodoran scholarship.5

Chamoux's introduction to the Budé edition, by contrast, while accepting in general many of the hypotheses proposed by the source-critics concerning Diodorus' sources in different sections of the Bibliotheca, emphasizes the justice of the author's claims of originality concerning the nature and scope of the work -- notwithstanding the faults in accuracy and completeness that modern scholars regularly criticize in it. His introduction includes sections entitled, "Originalité du plan," "Unité de l'oeuvre," and "Richesse et valeur de l'ouvrage," as well as several that direct attention to elements appearing consistently throughout the work, such as the role of great men, and moral and religious concerns. A similarly balanced attitude towards traditional and revisionist Diodoran scholarship can be seen in the general introduction to the first volume of the Rusconi translation.6

The approaches taken to Diodoran scholarship by the Budé and the Rusconi editions contrast clearly with that of the volume under review, which seems dominated by traditional Quellenforschung. A. Meeus' recent review of the first published volume of the commentary (that on Book 18, by F. Landucci Gattinoni, one of the contributors to this volume: BMCR 2009.03.45) makes a similar complaint: "Conspicuously little is said about Diodorus himself. Only his penchant for moralizing on the role of Fortune in human life is sometimes pointed out, as are his fixed formulas for changing from one theatre to another. Surely a historian who is an indispensable source for so much of Greek history from 480 until 302 B.C., and on whose independence and working methods scholars nowadays hold extremely opposite views, deserves more attention in a commentary on his text." Consistency in approach and methodology is certainly a desideratum in any commentary, and one particularly difficult to achieve when the separate books of a text as long and varied as the Bibliotheca are assigned to different members of the scholarly team. But a methodology that consistently offered so little beyond traditional Quellenforschung would be a disappointment. One would hope that later volumes of the commentary might attempt a better balance between the traditional and the revisionist poles of Diodoran scholarship.

Introduzione alla Biblioteca storica di Diodoro (D. Ambaglio [101 pp.])
1. Una biografia impossible ma non insignificante
2. L'impianto e lo stato di conservazione della 'Biblioteca'
3. Metodo di lavoro e obiettivi dell'opera
4. La questione delle fonti della 'Biblioteca'
5. La 'Biblioteca' e i frammenti degli storici greci
6. La koine historia et la storia universale
7. Geografia, etnografia, terre dell'utopia, paradossografia
8. Diodoro, La Sicilia e l'Occidente
9. Roma (e la Sicilia)
10. Diodoro Siculo tra storia locale e storia indigena
11. I discorsi diretti nella 'Biblioteca'
12. Per la nascita del genere biografico
13. La fortuna
Bibliografia (18 pp.)

Cronologic e proemi (F. Landucci [14 pp.])
1. La cronologia diodorea
2. I proemi diodorei
Bibliografia (3 pp.)

Storia del testo della Bibliotheca di Diodoro Siculo (L. Bravi [14 pp.])
1. Manoscritti
2. Tradizione de estratti
3. Edizioni a stampa
Stemmata (Figs. 1 and 2)
Tavola dei manoscritti
Bibliografia (2 pp.)


1.   E.g., M. Sordi, Diodori Siculi Bibliothecae liber sextus decimus, Florence 1969; A. Burton, Diodorus Siculus, Book 1. A Commentary, Leiden 1972; J. Boncquet, Diodorus Siculus (ii,1-34) over Mesopotamië. Een historisches kommentaar, Brussels 1987; P.J. Stylianou, A historical commentary on Diodorus Siculus, Book 15, Oxford 1998; P. Green, Diodorus Siculus, books 11-12.37.1: Greek history 480-431 B.C. -- the alternative version, Austin, TX 2006.
2.   BMCR 2007.02.48.
3.   Diodore de Sicile, Bibliothèque historique. Tome 1. Sous la direction de F. Chamoux. Introduction générale par F. Chamoux et P. Bertrac. Livre I. Texte établi par P. Bertrac et traduit par Y. Vernière. Paris: Les Belles Lettres 2002.
4.   E.g. C.I.R. Rubincam, "The organization and composition of Diodorus' Bibliotheke," EMC/CV 31 (1987) 313-328; eadem, "Cross-references in the Bibliotheke Historike of Diodoros", Phoenix 43 (1989) 39-61; eadem, "How many books did Diodorus Siculus originally intend to write?" CQ n.s. 47 (1998) 229-233.; K.S. Sacks, Diodorus Siculus and the first Century. Princeton 1990; idem, "Diodorus and his sources: conformity and creativity," in S. Hornblower (ed.), Greek Historiography, Oxford 1994, 213-232. It is interesting to note that M. Corsaro, in a 1998 article reviewing the history of Diodoran scholarship ("Ripensando Diodoro. Il problema della storia universale nel mondo antico (I)," Mediterraneo Antico 1.2 (1998) 405-436, p. 405, note 1), lists Ambaglio's book, La Biblioteca storica di Diodoro Siculo: problemi e metodo (Como 1995) among several recent works of revisionist tendency, stating that its author "cerca di evitare la riduzione di Diodoro alle sue fonti." The fact that two out of the four bibliographic entries listed under "Rubincam" (pp. 98-99) contain errors ("RUBINCAM 1977" should be "1987"; RUBINCAM 1998 was published in AJP rather than Phoenix) somewhat undermines confidence in the general accuracy of the bibliography.
5.   Thus, for example, he cites (pp. 15-16) an article published by this reviewer twenty years ago (Phoenix (1989)) which tabulates 95 cross-references in the Bibliotheca, in which it was argued that attention should be paid to all the cross-references, both forwards and backwards, not just to those few unfulfilled cross-references that many source-critics have assumed were mindlessly copied by Diodorus from one of his sources. He lists in his bibliography a second article (EMC/CV 31 (1987)), which made the case for seeing the cross-references as evidence of how Diodorus organized his 40-bookroll World History -- a function that surely shows some authorial control over the material he had collected from his many more specialized sources. He does not cite a third article ("Did Diodorus Siculus take over cross-references from his sources?" AJP (1998) 67-97), which made the point that the unfulfilled cross-references constitute a small minority of the whole group (10 out of the total of 95), but simply repeats the standard contention of the source-critics about one particular unfulfilled cross-reference's having been mindlessly copied from Diodorus' source.
6.   Diodoro Siculo. Biblioteca storica. Libri I-VIII. A cura di G. Cardiano e M. Zorat, Milan 1998.

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