Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2019.10.51 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2019.10.51

Cécile Durvye, Diodore de Sicile. Bibliothèque historique. Tome XV: Livre XX. Collection des universités de France, 538.   Paris:  Les Belles Lettres, 2018.  Pp. cliv, 294.  ISBN 9782251006208.  €45,50.  


Reviewed by Dario Nappo, Università di Napoli “Federico II” (dario.nappo@unina.it)

More than 40 years have passed since a team, led by the late professor François Chamoux for the Collection des Les Belles Lettres, started working on Diodorus’ Bibliotheke Historike. The book analysed in this review (Book XX) encompasses the last of the fully preserved books of the Bibliotheke Historike. After Book XVII, which documented Alexander the Great’s exploits, and Books XVIII-XIX, which covered the long quarrel among his successors to divide the huge empire among them, Book XX discusses events occurring in the Mediterranean basin in the years between 310 and 302 BCE. This discussion is divided into three political spheres.

The first of these is the western Mediterranean Sea, where Agathocles, tyrant of Syracuse, was engaged in a war to drive the Carthaginians out of Sicily. He first initiated a military expedition against Carthage itself in Libya: this was unsuccessful, and so he turned his attention to the Carthaginian colonies in Sicily instead. The second political sphere is the eastern Mediterranean Sea where, subsequent to the peace treaty of the year 311, Antigonos and Demetrios were attempting to obtain control over the islands and coastlines of the Aegean Sea and Egypt. This led to a coalition of the diadochs forming against Antigonos, eventually resulting in the latter’s death in the year 301. Lastly, the third sphere addressed by Book XX is Italy, as Rome was expanding its domains against the nearby peoples in the Peninsula. Relative to the other topics, the discussion of Italy is minimal as it occupies only eight of the book’s 113 chapters.

Durvye’s introduction (‘Notice’ in the original French) is divided into eight sections: ‘Sujet du livre; Composition du livre; Les sources du livre XX; Le récit sicilien : une histoire d’Agathocle; Le récit égéen : une histoire des Diadoques centrée sur Démétrios; Les annales romaines; Les royaumes orientaux; Une histoire de l’ingénierie militaire : navires et machines de guerre dans le livre’. The history of the text is presented in six separate sections: ‘Les prototypes; Les apographes de R.; Les apographes de F.; La tradition indirecte; Histoire des éditions; Principes d’édition. Bibliographie; Tableau chronologique, and Index siglorum’.

In the ‘Composition du livre’ section, Durvye addresses the issues that arise from the text’s annalistic framework and chronological organisation. In Book XX, Diodorus chose to provide chronological data in accordance with both the Roman and the Athenian systems, as well as including dating by Olympiads from the year 776 BCE onwards. This choice engenders difficulty because Athenian and Roman calendars did not start their years in the same month (the Athenian calendar started in July, the Roman calendar in March). Diodorus’ choice to include both calendars creates narrative confusion, as Book XX follows an annalistic chronology. To assist the reader in navigating this, Durvye offers an exhaustive chronological summary at pp. xiii-xiv and xvi. Durvye then comments extensively on Diodorus’ use of direct speech, comparing it to speeches reported in the surviving work of Polybius.

After these more general elements of her introduction, Durvye addresses various specific issues (particularly the issue of sources) related to Book XX and its historiographical and stylistic context. In order to address these issues comprehensively, Durvye discusses each of the three political spheres separately.

The first of these is the Sicilian political sphere. In a surviving fragment of Book XXI, Diodorus criticises some of his predecessors’ portrayals of Agathocles (namely, Timaeus, Callias of Syracuse, and Antandros of Syracuse). The problem lies in the fact that, in that fragment, Diodorus only lists the historians with whom he disagrees, making it unclear which historians he agreed with. The authors Diodorus might realistically have consulted include: Timaeus of Tauromenios, although it is not clear what Diodorus’ opinion of him was; Duris of Samos, whom Diodorus explicitly cites twice; Callias of Syracuse, whom Diodorus also explicitly cited; and Demochares of Athens.

Durvye then analyses the writing on the Mediterranean political sphere, suggesting that its sources are likely to include Hieronymus of Cardia and Demochares of Athens. Durvye also highlights the difference between this part of the text and the previous one: in contrast to the Sicilian sphere, the Aegean one is quite complicated to navigate. To guide the reader through the complexities of this section, Durvye offers a schematic explanation of each change of setting. Finally, Durvye touches on the sources for Diodorus’ discussion of the Italian political sphere, primarily through referring to the analysis of Bizière (p. lxxxiii: see F. Bizière, Diodore de Sicile. Bibliothèque historique. Livre XIX, Paris 1975, p. xviii).

A very short commentary on the history of the Eastern Kingdom follows, and then a substantial section on military engineering. This section may be especially interesting for classicists reading the volume, since they may not otherwise be exposed to discussions of this subject. Of note is the fact that this section relies heavily on the classic work of L. Casson, Ships and Seamanship in the Ancient World: while this work is still arguably the most important monograph on the subject to date, there are more recent works on the subject that could have been considered as well, such as Z. Friedman’s Ship iconography in mosaics: an aid to understanding ancient ships and their construction, or J. Litwin’s Down the River to the Sea.

The last 36 pages of the introduction discuss the traditional text used for translations of Diodorus’ Book XX and Durvye’s philological and methodological decision to depart from this. Unlike the translations published in the late 20th and 21st centuries that were based on the Vogel/Fischer Teubner text (1888-1906), this translation is distinct in that, like others in this series, it is based on a new text which reflects more recent textual scholarship. While Durvye clearly states her choice to incorporate this recent scholarship, an element lacking in her discussion is authorial commentary on the differences between this text and the Teubner one, an issue discussed at the end of this review.

The bibliography for the ‘Notice’ only lists the works cited frequently in it, in keeping with the predecessor volumes in the series. Nevertheless, such a choice is not ideal as the reader is unable to access a complete list of the works consulted by the editor. The introduction ends with a chronological table of the events reported in Book XX.

As for the text, it generally differs very little from the Vogel/Fischer Teubner edition. Most of the changes and improvements in this edition are relatively marginal, and they are normally a return to the tradition of the codices, such as at XX, IV, 2 ἠδύναντο (mss.) instead of ἠδύνατο (a conjecture by Reiske, printed by Fischer); at XX, IV, 7 Durvye mentions in the apparatus Fischer’s supplement <ἑαυτούς>, but does not print it in the text.

One significant improvement is the inclusion of the full apparatus criticus that Durvye provides. This enables the reader to understand the textual history as comprehensively as possible, as it conjures up a clear picture of the text’s possible variations. Another important development is the book’s richness in terms of notes and comments, which give this work the air of being somewhere in between a critical edition and a very thoroughly researched essay on Book XX and Diodorus. In this respect, Durvye’s text clearly supersedes both the Teubner and Loeb editions, providing much more substantial analysis.

This work is well researched and offers an important contribution to the existing scholarship on Diodorus. Although the progress made in terms of restoring the original text may appear somewhat limited, the extensive historical and philological commentary is of great value and will be a highly useful tool for scholars wishing to engage with Diodorus’ text.

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