Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2018.11.56 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2018.11.56

Lisa Irene Hau, Alexander Meeus, Brian Sheridan (ed.), Diodoros of Sicily: Historiographical Theory and Practice in the «Bibliotheke». Studia Hellenistica, 58.   Leuven:  Peeters, 2018.  Pp. x, 612.  ISBN 9789042934986.  €115,00.  

Reviewed by W. P. Richardson, University of Otago (

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[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

Diodoros of Sicily: Historiographical Theory and Practice in the «Bibliotheke» contains a variety of contributions on this influential ancient historian, based on a 2011 conference at the University of Glasgow. Broad topics include, but are not limited to, Diodoros’ context within the first century B.C.E., the composition of the Bibliotheke, Diodoros’ depiction of mythology, and the concept of New Quellenforschung. The term New Quellenforschung is the name suggested by the editors (p. 8) for a more recent development in the scholarship, the revival, albeit in a moderated form, of the traditional view of Diodoros, which argued that his work was largely restricted to being a copyist of earlier writers and included limited original content.

In the Introduction, the editors do an exemplary job of setting the scene, and especially of describing the evolution of Diodorean scholarship from the 1800s to the modern day. While the review of the literature is relatively condensed, they define Diodoros’ key themes and issues in a manner straightforward enough for a relative novice to the topics to understand, while still being technical enough to engage seasoned scholars. They are well supported by the subsequent paper based on Catherine Rubincam’s keynote address, since this contribution expands on the more recent development of the scholarship and muses on ways to bridge the divide between the competing interpretations of Diodoros. The most important part of the Introduction comes on p. 12 where the stated theme binds the following 24 chapters into a cohesive whole. The editors assert that the collected papers demonstrate the modern potential of scholarship on Diodoros, and more importantly, that these studies open up new avenues of inquiry and new perspectives on his work. Our focus will be on the most noteworthy entries from each section. Most commonly, the stronger contributions did not definitively answer every question, but rather introduced a new theory or perspective with the potential to be applied more broadly to Diodoros or even, in some cases, other ancient works.

Following the Introduction, the second section of this volume examines Diodoros within the context of the first century BCE. Kenneth S. Sacks’ contribution begins by discussing the impact of previous and contemporary philosophical thinking upon Diodoros’ work, as well as his views on these schools of thought. While the whole paper is interesting, this chapter shines especially when it discusses parrhesia in Diodoros’ work. Beginning by analysing the use of this concept, Sacks demonstrates Diodoros’ development of a concept of historike parrhesia, and discusses Diodoros’ representation of the historian as an objective judge of past figures and events who aims to improve society. The final comments show how Diodoros used the reception of parrhesia by historical figures as a means of judging past rulers and opens up a wealth of potential future studies on the depiction of leaders in this work. This convincing discussion of Diodoros’ development of parrhesia makes this contribution the highlight not only of this section, but of the volume as a whole.

The third section turns to an examination of Diodoros’ Genre and Purpose. Alexander Meeus’ contribution asks an interesting new question. The claim is that the old debate over Diodoros’ originality should not be the main focus, particularly in regards to his proem. The focus should instead be on Diodoros’ purpose in writing, and Meeus explores this, with particular emphasis on a comparison with Cicero’s definition of history (De Or. 2.36). Regardless of the originality of any particular passage, Diodoros made a choice to include it, and that reveals information about him. Meeus has demonstrated well how such an examination can be undertaken, and while the debate over originality will continue, it need not dominate the scholarship.

Liv Mariah Yarrow’s contribution in the section on New Quellenforschung has perhaps the greatest potential usefulness in this volume. This chapter sets forth a typology of fragments (or reliquiae, the term Yarrow prefers here) and their uses by ancient authors. As noted (p. 251), the basis for this discussion comes from Yarrow’s previous work, which itself was influenced by a 1980 article by Brunt. This chapter functions as a ‘How-To’ guide on utilising this typology and, more generally, as an argument in favour of it. It does so through an analysis of Diodoros as both a source transmitter and a source being transmitted. The most exciting aspect of this chapter is that the methodology and typology can be genericized, and are applicable to the transmission of any fragment, not just those of Diodoros. Yarrow here provides an approach to fragmentary evidence that can be emulated, and will supplement the study of a wide variety of sources.

Following this is the section devoted to the Composition and Narrative of the Bibliotheke. Lisa Irene Hau’s contribution, much as Meeus’, demonstrates the editors’ desire for this volume to reveal new methods of inquiry in Diodorean studies. In this case, Hau argues that there is fertile ground for the discussion of Diodoros’ narratorial interventions throughout his work. That is to say, there is work to be done on the ways in which Diodoros relates himself to the narrative of his work. The strength of Hau’s suggestion (pp. 300-301), is that it may appeal to scholars favouring either side of the copyist debate; traditionalists may use this stance as a way of examining narrative structures in Diodoros’ sources, while revisionists may prefer a study of the choice of narratorial register as emblematic of Diodoros’ intent in a particular episode. As with Meeus’ contribution, this paper will not entirely dissipate the originalist/copyist debate. Hau, though, has shown additional avenues to explore.

In the section on Gods and Myth, Charles E. Muntz explores Diodoros’ choice to include a discussion of mythological times in his historical work. While a number of points are raised in this chapter, here we focus upon Muntz’s final discussion. Having established the methods by which Diodoros demarcated history from mythology, with a further explanation of Diodoros’ trifurcated understanding of historical matters (for Muntz’s summary, see p. 384), a comparison is made between Diodoros’ methodology and that employed by two other contemporary writers, Varro and Livy. Muntz argues for parallels between those two authors and Diodoros, indicating Diodoros’ interaction with Roman historiography of his period. While this discussion is brief, Muntz expresses (p. 387) a compelling belief that exploration of Diodoros’ interaction with his literary context is a strong area for future study.

In the section on Ethnography, Language, and Literacy, Dylan James discusses Diodoros’ view of the Greek language in the multilingual Roman world, as expressed in Book 17. The argument is that Diodoros saw Greek as a cultural unifier and means of overcoming practical issues surrounding multiculturalism. Primarily using examples based upon narratives of conflict, James shows that Diodoros praises the resilience and pervasiveness of Greek, even outside of Greece itself. Within the context of Book 17, this leads to the conclusion that Diodoros praised Alexander for disseminating the language. While these discussions are convincing, again, the most intriguing aspect is what James left unsaid, and the application of this concept to sections of Diodoros outside of Book 17 is another promising line of inquiry.

For the section on Rhetoric and Speeches, I break with my pattern to discuss both contributions, and I actively encourage that these chapters be read together. Dennis Pausch begins, discussing Diodoros’ stated methodology for employing oratory in his work, in that he tries to avoid it where he can. Extended orations, it is shown, are employed when they have utility to the overall structure of the Bibliotheke, serving his didactic purposes or some literary function. This viewpoint gives us a tool with which to analyse further those speeches Diodoros did include, and that is indeed what Christopher Baron achieves in the accompanying contribution; Baron examines the inclusion of a speech of Theodoros in Book 14, and concludes that it was included in order to highlight aspects of Sicilian history important to Diodoros. Baron’s work gives a practical demonstration of Pausch’s concept, and explores the deeper meanings of Diodoros’ use of oratory.

The final section of this book, on Military History, concludes with Nadejda Williams’ discussion of Diodoros’ depiction of morality in warfare. The argument is that Diodoros was more interested in that aspect of military history than reporting on the actual events. Diodoros’ focus on siege warfare, the consequences of battle, and statements on warfare’s negative consequences for the advancement of civilisation in general all provide convincing evidence for this point, and Williams (pp. 536-9) also relates such themes to Diodoros’ reasons for writing his work. Interestingly, Joseph Roisman’s contribution to this section also argues for a lack of actual military history in Diodoros, suggesting that Diodoros’ focus is on the valour and virtue displayed by individuals and groups, rather than on in depth descriptions of battle narratives. Taken together, these two papers again complement each other, and demonstrate Diodoros’ intriguing interest in the more human elements of warfare.

This volume has two primary weaknesses, though the editors know of and openly acknowledge both. Moreover, while these weaknesses should be stated, neither of them is overly detrimental, and an awareness of them when reading this work is sufficient to redress the issues they create. The first stems from the fact that this volume originated in a 2011 conference, and original drafts of the published papers were submitted in 2012. As such, the editors note (p. x) that there is a lack of the most recent bibliography. While there are clear signs of contributors trying to amend this in later editing phases, works from 2013 onwards are cited less frequently than might be expected. Consequently, this volume should not be entirely relied upon for a full bibliography of the most recent scholarship. The second is the imbalance in the traditionalist/revisionist debate. The editors note (p. 9) that in the submissions to their conference and volume, traditional Quellenforschung has largely died out; the balance now appears to be heavily in favour of the revisionist approach, with examples of New Quellenforschung beginning to emerge. This could simply be attributed to the current scholarly trends, though the lack of balance is noticeable when the volume is read as a whole. As such, the Introduction’s short bibliography of exponents of New Quellenforschung (p. 8) will prove useful for those wishing to explore this viewpoint further. This reviewer would note, though, that the emergence of New Quellenforschung does in itself encourage new areas of discussion; it removes the need for tribal debates on Diodoros as a copyist versus an originalist. Instead, it allows us to place him on a spectrum between the two extremes.

As a last note, the overall production quality is excellent. The apparatus is strong, typographical errors are very rare, and those few that escaped notice are inconsequential. Finally, a random check of 20 entries from each index (General and Locorum) revealed no errors.

This volume set out to demonstrate that Diodorean scholarship is alive and well in the early twenty-first century. In that regard it has excelled. More than that, the studies within it, both those discussed and those not discussed in this review, have effectively laid the groundwork for the expansion of Diodorean studies by presenting a wealth of new concepts for further investigation. The editors say that the scholarship surrounding Diodoros is ‘as vibrant as ever’ (p. 12). This reviewer can only agree.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgements (ix)
Setting the Scene
Introduction; Lisa Irene Hau, Alexander Meeus & Brian Sheridan (3)
New and Old Approaches to Diodoros: Can They Be Reconciled?; Catherine Rubincam (13)

Diodoros in the First Century
Diodoros of Sicily and the Hellenistic Mind; Kenneth S. Sacks (43)
The Origins of Rome in the Bibliotheke of Diodoros; Aude Cohen-Skalli (65)
In Praise of Pompeius: Re-reading the Bibliotheke Historike; Richard Westall (91)

Genre and Purpose
From Ἱστορίαι to Βιβλιοθήκη and Ἱστορικὰ Ὑπομνήματα; Johannes Engels (131)
History’s Aims and Audience in the Proem to Diodoros’ Bibliotheke; Alexander Meeus (149)
A Monograph on Alexander the Great within a Universal History: Diodoros Book XVII; Luisa Prandi (175)

New Quellenforschung
Errors and Doublets: Reconstructing Ephoros and Appreciating Diodoros; Victor Parker (189)
A Question of Sources: Diodoros and Herodotos on the River Nile; Jessica Priestley (207)
Diodoros’ Narrative of the First Sicilian Slave Revolt (c. 140/35-132 B.C.) – a Reflection of Poseidonios’ Ideas and Style?; Piotr Wozniczka (221)
How to Read a Diodoros Fragment; Liv Mariah Yarrow (247)

Composition and Narrative
Narrator and Narratorial Persona in Diodoros’ Bibliotheke (and their Implications for the Tradition of Greek Historiography); Lisa Irene Hau (277)
Ring Composition in Diodoros of Sicily’s Account of the Lamian War (XVIII 8–18); John Walsh (303)
Terminology of Political Collaboration and Opposition in Diodoros XI-XX; Cinzia Bearzot (329)

Gods and Myths
The Role of the Gods in Diodoros’ Universal History: Religious Thought and History in the Historical Library; Cécile Durvye (347)
Diodoros, Mythology, and Historiography; Charles E. Muntz (365)
Diodoros and Myth as History; Abram Ring (389)

Ethnography, Languages, and Literacy
Ethno-Geography as a Key to Interpreting Historical Leaders and Their Expansionist Policies in Diodoros; Serena Bianchetti (407)
Diodoros the Bilingual Provincial: Greek Language and Multilingualism in Bibliotheke XVII; Dylan James (429)
Inscriptions and Writing in Diodoros’ Bibliotheke; Peter Liddel (447)

Rhetoric and Speeches
Diodoros, the Speeches, and the Reader; Dennis Pausch (473)
The Road Not Taken: Diodoros’ Reasons for Including the Speech of Theodoros; Christopher Baron (491)

Military History
Fate and Valour in Three Battle Descriptions of Diodoros; Joseph Roisman (507)
The Moral Dimension of Military History in Diodoros of Sicily; Nadejda Williams (519)
Bibliography (541)
Index Locorum (589)
General Index (605)

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