BMCR 1995.11.09

1995.11.09, Flower, Theopompus of Chios

, Theopompus of Chios : history and rhetoric in the fourth century B.C.. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994. xii, 252 pages ; 23 cm. ISBN 9780198140795. $49.95.

Theopompus of Chios was the most prolific historian of the fourth century, and probably the most influential. Comprehensive monographs devoted to his entire historiographical program have been puzzlingly unavailable until recently. Flower’s book is an important addition to the growing bibliography on the subject. Flower began work on Theopompus with his dissertation ( Theopompus of Chios. Brown: May, 1986) which has been significantly re-worked and expanded for the present volume. With but few reservations (below), I can report that the result is a well researched, well considered contribution to our understanding of this fascinating historian and orator.

In the Introduction, Flower announces the scope of his work, its main objectives and accomplishments. He promises to look carefully at the “context” of the fragments, by which he means its relationship to the argument (if any) in the author providing the citation. Useful in all cases, this method can produce particularly significant results when a fragment comes from Plutarch and, in some cases, Athenaeus. According to Flower, “the principal new conclusions of this book” are that an alleged Isocratean school of history did not exist; Theopompus used moral explanations in ways that were at least anticipated by Herodotus and Thucydides; oral traditon was still vibrantly influential in the fourth century; and Theopompus was more concerned with historical accuracy than some have previously thought (9-10). These claims represent the book fairly well. If anything, they undersell it. The argument that Theopompus employed the techniques of forensic, rather than epideictic, oratory (175-182) in his moral judgments, for example, strikes me as a valuable insight. It must serve to modify our understanding of Theopompus’ relationship to earlier historians, which Flower delineates effectively in other respects.

Flower devotes his first chapter to Theopompus’ life and works. He is skeptical about the traditional date for Theopompus’ birth (c. 388/7). If it could be earlier, then we would have time for a career as an orator before Theopompus turned to history (11-17, 26-7). A chapter on “Theopompus, Isocrates, and the Myth of Rhetorical History” (42-62) disposes effectively with the view that Isocrates gave lessons in historical writing, but the argument that Theopompus was not a pupil of Isocrates is less convincing in my estimation (below). If the title of the chapter seems to promise a full assault on the idea that fourth-century historiography became more rhetorical than its fifth-century counterpart, that promise goes unfulfilled. Indeed, Flower’s later demonstration that Theopompus helped himself to the tricks of forensic oratory in his character-assassinations would go against such an argument.

Four chapters now follow in which the central questions of Theopompan historiography are treated: his moral and political views, the treatment of Philip and his career, and the treatment of Demosthenes. This leads into three chapters which tackle the problem of Theopompus’ place in the development of Greek historical writing. After a brief Conclusion, Flower devotes three pages to the fascinating Meropis story (FF 74-5) in Appendix 1, and translates some of the important fragments in Appendix 2. Clearly this is a very comprehensive study. It seems to me that the Delphic oracle was more important to Theopompus than Flower generally allows, but otherwise his selection of topics for discussion is balanced and remarkably thorough for a book of scarcely more than two hundred pages.

Flower’s work breaks new ground in ways that I have shown. In some other respects it reinforces a consensus that has been emerging since Connor ( Theopompus and Fifth-Century Athens. Cambridge, Mass. 1968; and see GRBS 8 [1967]: 133-54) that the fragments of the Philippica reveal an unremittingly hostile characterization of Philip. I agree with this conclusion but find it increasingly puzzling. Much of Philippica must have included a straightforward account of Philip’s many successes (see Bruce, History and Theory 9 [1970]: 86-109). Flower argues that this account was probably fairly reliable (184-210). (The case for Theopompus’ reliability deserves to be made, though, as often as not, the “proofs” Flower offers come down to showing that allegations of irresponsible fiction-mongering cannot themselves be proved.) So if Flower is right, the Philippica must have presented the reader with a sober narration of Philip’s conquests punctuated demonstrably with vicious, sometimes frenzied assaults on his character. It is not easy to reconcile this probable narration with the undoubted characterization. To complicate the puzzle, there is reason to think that Macedonians after Theopompus were not altogether displeased with the Philippica. If we trust T31, Philip V of Macedon regarded this work as the definitive account of the career of his great predecessor, for, according to Photius, Philip V discarded all the digressions but, without making any other changes, extracted a sixteen-book account of Philip’s career from the Philippica. It is difficult to understand why he would have gone to this trouble if Theopompus had merely produced an extended defamation of the Macedonian king.

This is simply to say that we could be faced with some real surprises if a full text of the Philippica were to be found one day. I believe that it is as well to leave some questions open. For example, did Theopompus make up his mind on a subject and never change it? This question has particular regard to characterizations. Negative descriptions of Philip come from every part of the Philippica. So, apparently, Theopompus’ opinion of him underwent little change, if any. But what about Demosthenes and the Byzantians (136-47)? Considering the importance of Demosthenes, references to him in the fragments are relatively few and brief. Flower argues from them that Theopompus, “…did not have a very high opinion of [Demosthenes’] abilities as a statesman (136).” My own view is that the historian approved of Demosthenes’ policy of resistance to Philip and so probably narrated most of his career with sympathy, but turned on the statesman to blame him when he failed at Chaeronea ( Theopompus the Historian. Montreal, 1991: 161-180). So stated, the two positions do not completely exclude one another. It would be possible to give a sympathetic account of a statesman’s policies while remaining critical of his methods. But Flower goes on to argue that Theopompus was generally hostile to Demosthenes. Anyone wishing to explore the question further may consult my own study to which I might add the following observations now that I have read Flower’s book.

First, Theopompus was caustic and thorough when he assaulted the character of someone he did not like ( Theopompus the Historian : 135-56). The reference to Demosthenes’ inconstancy (F 326) is a rebuke, to be sure, but by Theopompus’ standards, scarcely more than that. Second, Demosthenes was an important political figure and Theopompus was a key source for his career. So perhaps an argument from silence is permitted. The fact that no full-scale assassination of Demosthenes’ character survives in ancient literature may mean that no such thing ever existed: i.e. Theopompus did not produce one. Again, in the case of the Byzantians, I wonder how safe it is to conclude that the historian’s assessment of them given in book eight (F 62), when they were helping to dismantle the second Athenian confederacy, would have been unchanged some forty books, and a dozen years or more, later when he narrated their successful resistance to Philip’s attempted siege (see Flower: 124-5). Further, the argument that Theopompus was never a pupil of Isocrates flies in the face of a unanimous ancient tradition and of probability. The unanimity of the tradition carries more weight than Flower allows. The ancients had much more of Theopompus than we do, historical and rhetorical works. Theopompus knew no reticence in speaking of himself, and his rhetorical works like Panathenaicus and To Evagoras (T 48) may well have revealed clear Isocratean affiliations. Further, despite Flower’s arguments (52-5), Speusippus’ letter groups Theopompus with Isocrates and his star pupil (T 7). Finally, on grounds of probability, a rich, young, ambitious writer from Chios who needed both to learn the best Attic style and shed all traces of his native dialect will scarcely have avoided Isocrates and his school. But Flower is right to show that Isocrates did not control Theopompus’ mind, and there is no evidence that Isocrates taught the writing of history.

These differences of emphasis or interpretation are natural, indeed welcome, features of critical scholarship. However, I am obliged to defend myself against the suggestion that I have committed (or followed) an act of “bad method” (Flower: 120, n12) in preferring “Autariatae” to “Ardiaeans” as the subject of F40. Jacoby’s text (= Athen. 10.443B-C) is about a people called “Ariaeans” and their encounter with some Celts. To be sure, the reading “ariaeans” is nonsense and emends easily to Ardiaeans, an important Illyrian tribe. But the same fragment is briefly cited in Athenaeus elsewhere (6.271E), where the impossible reading “Arcadians” is found. This must cast doubt on the quality of Athenaeus’ text of Theopompus, or the care with which he represented it.

A full version of F 40 is given by Polyaenus (7.42) who calls the people Autariatae. In defence of the reading “Ardiaeans”, Flower remarks, “It is bad method, however, to give precedence to a paraphrase by Polyaenus over a verbatim quotation by Athenaeus, given the latter’s general reliability and the simplicity of the emendation. Philip is not otherwise known to have had any contact with the Autariatae, a tribe of northern Illyria.” But even an easy emendation of a highly suspect text can count for very little; and the securely attested “Autariatae”does fit the context of the fragment which is manifestly not about Philip’s dealings with Illyrians, but about a certain peoples’ contact with some Celts. The more northerly Autariatae were much closer to the Celts than the Ardiaeans.

These remarks notwithstanding, there is no hiding the general quality of this book. It is attractive in appearance and immaculately produced as one would expect from the Clarendon Press. It is a very well written book and, to repeat, impressively researched—not to be overlooked by anyone interested in the literature and ideas of the fourth century.