BMCR 2004.11.21

Storici greci d’Occidente

, , Storici greci d'Occidente. Percorsi. Bologna: Il mulino, 2002. 588 pages ; 22 cm.. ISBN 8815090983. €34.00 (pb).

[The reviewer apologizes unreservedly both to the editors of BMCR and to the authors of the volume under discussion for the lateness of this review. All concerned must have thought that volume and reviewer had gone the way of Antiochos and his fellow ‘lost’ historians.]

Writing books about books that are lost, as Lionel Pearson memorably put it, is an activity worthy of Lewis Carroll’s “Wonderland”. It is also a field that contains more pitfalls for the unwary than most of the darker corners of ancient history.1 This volume on the Greek historians of the West, produced by Riccardo Vattuone of Bologna and his collaborators from Pavia, Milan, Florence and Sassari, is a welcome survey of an area of Greek historiography that is often ignored, no doubt precisely because of its extremely fragmented nature. Vattuone and his collaborators have produced an impressive body of work on the subject over the last couple of decades, and their familiarity with the material is apparent throughout.

Vattuone, Bearzot, and Ambaglio claim in the preface (p. 9) that the book seeks to fill a perceived lacuna — a common refrain, but one that may be acknowledged to be true in this instance. Other surveys are either more wide-ranging and general or else rather more specific in their focus on a particular author.2 As several of the contributors note, the decision by F. Jacoby to relegate those who wrote specifically western histories to a sub-section of volume three of his monumental ‘Die Fragmente der griechischen Historiker’ (vol. IIIb, nos. 554-77) had an inevitable impact on the attention paid to them by later scholars. Vattuone et al. express the hope that this volume will serve as a handbook for students and offer a ‘panorama’ of past and present research for colleagues, with ‘forse, anche qualche spunto originale.’ There is no doubting the expertise of the scholars involved, both junior and senior (a ‘warning’ is issued that this volume is the product of scholars of diverse age and experience — but it is not always the younger scholars who produce the most problematic results). However, short-comings in the areas of format, content, and methodology, mean that, despite some 500 pages of densely distilled scholarship, it does not always achieve its stated aims. I shall concentrate on these problems, since readers will need to bear them in mind, before concluding with a ‘spunto originale’, in the hope that the book’s many positive aspects will not be overlooked.

After an introduction from Vattuone, the volume divides into two halves. Part one is a chronologically ordered series of eight contributions, surveying the ‘Greek historians of the West’ (an opaque category — see below), beginning with the possibly spurious figure of Hippys of Rhegion, and concluding with Diodorus Siculus. Besides Hippys (by G. Vanotti), individual studies are provided of Antiochos (N. Luraghi), Philistos (C. Bearzot), Timaios (R. Vattuone), Philinos (R. Scuderi) and Diodorus (D. Ambaglio); contributions on the period from Philistos to Timaios (by F. Muccioli) and on the Hellenistic period (S. Spada) sweep up the stragglers. The starting point needs little explanation; but to end with Diodorus, without further explanation, rather begs the question. Does the western tradition end with Diodorus? Or is he significant as the first largely intact survival and the source for much of what precedes? Much more problematic, however, is the second half of the volume. Here we have a sequence of papers on subjects as seemingly diverse as ‘Pythagoras and the Pythagoreans in the ancient tradition’ (F. Muccioli), ‘Lykos of Rhegion and historiography of Libya’ (G. Ottone), ‘Euthymenes and Pytheas of Massalia: geography and historiography’ (S. Bianchetti), and ‘Hyperochos of Kuma’ (G. Urso). While it is true that the subject matter is extremely pertinent to any discussion of western Greek historiography, the peripheral position given to these papers is unhelpful, to say the least, and highlights a number of the methodological questions which this volume never satisfactorily confronts.

The title of this volume is ambiguous: ‘Storici greci d’Occidente’, ‘Greek historians of the West’. Is that Greek historians (or historians writing in Greek) who lived in the West, however defined, or Greek historians/historians writing in Greek who wrote (only?) about the West (however defined)? And that is not even to begin to question the precise significance of the word ‘historian’ in this context. Some of the criticisms levelled against the work of F. Jacoby in more recent years (while taking nothing away from what has rightly been hailed as one of the greatest achievements of any classical scholar in the last century) revolve around the assumptions made both about the categorization of genre and about the distinctiveness and priority of Thucydidean/Polybian pragmatic history. Vattuone perhaps lets the cat out of the bag when he admits (p. 26) that, if one were to put together all the relevant sections of Jacoby’s FGrHist and the work of G. De Sanctis,3 then the need for this volume would diminish mightily. This is in fact not necessarily true (as Vattuone, for all that the disarming nature of the comment suggests, is undoubtedly well aware), but more work was needed to make it clearer why not. Deep within the volume, S. Spada begins her contribution with a summary of Jacoby’s organisational plan and the problems which it creates (pp. 233-35; such a summary would have been welcome in the introduction). But the more pressing question must surely be, why retain Jacoby’s framework at all? Having complained about it, Spada then reverts to a chronological and typological survey that follows Jacoby. Part One of this volume as a whole follows Jacoby, explicitly. This is the primary reason for the dislocation of the papers in Part Two (with economy of exposition the justification offered by Vattuone, p. 25). But precisely as the perceived need for the papers in Part Two demonstrates, there is a serious question hanging over the whole premise. Vattuone, in his paper on Timaios, alludes to the issues raised by the role of Pythagoreanism in both the politics and literature of the western Greeks (pp. 208-11); Muccioli, in discussion of the fourth-century historians touches on the question of biography (pp. 158-59). Both of these topics are dealt with extensively in the paper in Part Two on the Pythagorean tradition (Muccioli), but there is no attempt at integration. A paper dedicated to the far western geographical tradition (Bianchetti) only intensifies the artificial nature of the distinctions.4

That said, if the volume were merely following Jacoby perhaps one might let this pass. The relegation of Lykos of Rhegion to Part Two demonstrates a rather more serious level of confusion within the overall plan. It emerges on p. 26 that only authors of western origin are to be considered; nonetheless, authors of non-western origin are included if they focus on the West (the sentence in which this is justified is, if my Italian is not wholly awry, a logical non sequitur). This latter category would be better rendered as ‘fragmentary authors attested as having written on the West’; otherwise the door would have been re-opened to the likes of Polybios, Posidonios, et al. (and even then, one wonders why Douris of Samos did not warrant more of a mention). But, as the placing of Lykos in Part Two indicates (and as the first line of Vattuone’s introduction rather implies), what we should actually understand by ‘the West’, both in terms of origin and focus, is Sicily. Hippys of Rhegion is in, because he apparently wrote a ‘Sikelika’; Lykos of Rhegion is on the fringe, because he wrote a ‘Libyka’. More disconcertingly, if Jacoby’s argument regarding the ultimately ‘ethnographic’ and ‘local’ nature of the western historians (whence their relegation to FGrHist vol. 3) is to be rejected, thereby justifying their elevation within the Greek historiographical canon (so essentially Vattuone, pp. 15-17, and he is not alone), then the categorization of Lykos as an ethnographer (p. 25) on the basis of c. 15 fragments, and his separation out from the rest, seem wholly retrograde steps. The sense of confusion is most apparent in the rapid survey of Hellenistic writing by Spada, where authors from East and West are very unevenly treated, authors who were not always writing about the West either. The longest discussion of a single fragment in this paper (pp. 249-50 on Hippostratos, FGrHist 568 fr. 5) is of no immediately obvious relevance to the rest of the volume (it concerns the authorship of the Homeric hymn to Apollo, and by an author who was very likely not even Sicilian). If Moschion’s ekphrasis on Hieron II’s ship the Syrakosia warrants inclusion, then the definition of historiography is similarly uneven.

The underlying reason for all of this is presumably the explicitly light editorial touch that has been employed (p. 26). But while it is undeniable that such a dense and rich body of material severely hinders editorial attempts to render such a collection coherent (this refrain, too, is familiar), that does not necessarily excuse the failure to establish a clear framework for action at the beginning. The problem could in part have been avoided by an introduction which sought to impose and tease out the coherence which exists — and there is considerable coherence between the papers, though the reader must work hard to follow it. However, while the introduction (by Vattuone) is of undoubted interest (at its heart, Vattuone sketches his personal interpretation of the historical development of primarily Syracusan historiography from fifth to third centuries B.C.), what it does not do is introduce the material that follows. Indeed, there is within it no reference to the papers that follow (except for a single mention in the most general terms on p. 25). The sense of coherence is further diminished by the absence of an index. This is a great pity, since without it one cannot, other than by reading c.500 pages extremely attentively, pick up the various discussions of subjects such as chronology, nor the fact that individual historiographers are discussed, often for the same reasons, in several of the papers.5 An index of the ancient passages cited is provided, but this has occasional omissions and will not guide one to every instance when an ancient author is discussed in the main text, since explicit reference to specific passages is by no means as frequent as it might have been.6 While it is not necessarily a problem to have separate papers discussing the same points apparently in ignorance of each other, the additional absence of any editorial guidance at these moments of overlap is at the least a missed opportunity.

The same general approach is presumably responsible for the complete absence of methodological discussion. In a handbook to an almost entirely fragmentary tradition, that constitutes probably the most serious flaw in this volume. The problems raised by the attempt to make sense of a ‘fragmentary’ tradition are notorious. But the simple observation (p. 27), at the end of a lengthy introductory essay, that each of the subsequent studies is based on first-hand study of the surviving fragments by experienced scholars, underlying which is ‘Il paziente e talvolta snervante lavoro di Quellenforschung‘, is hardly adequate, and certainly not if this is to be a handbook for students as well as more experienced colleagues. Occasional references to the existence of methodological problems are to be found buried deep within the text (e.g., pp. 38, 77, 192, 206-7, and especially 226-27, 233-35, 268), but the reader is only referred to somewhat fuller discussions elsewhere, by Vattuone himself, Pearson, Fornara, and Schepens — an approach justified for reasons of space on p. 227!7 This situation is compounded by the methodologically questionable statements made by some of the contributors, of which I offer three examples. (1) One cannot claim that any hypothetical citation of Hippys by Hellanikos would have been such an invaluable piece of chronological information for the doxographers that it would have been recorded rather than lost and that therefore the absence in our surviving tradition of any such citation implies there was none (as Vanotti does, on p. 47). (2) Nor can one suggest, sic et simpliciter, that the varying critical fortune of ancient writers is reflected in the proportion of surviving fragments (as Muccioli does, on p. 165); were Philistos and Timaios considered so much worse than Diodorus at any period in the past? (3) Nor is it legitimate to state, ‘Poiché Filino non fornisce indicazioni cronologiche per la datazione possiamo basarci solo su indizi interni’, in discussion of Polyb. 3.25-26 = Philinos, FGrHist 174 fr. 1 (as Scuderi does, p. 279). To accuse Philinos of failing to give us a date for a treaty, when all we have is Polybios’ polemic indicating the terms of the treaty, which he considered Philinos misguidedly to have recorded, is, at the very least, an extremely loose and misleading use of language.

The vast majority of the contributions seem to assume that the reader has either an extremely close acquaintance with the texts discussed, or else a copy of FGrHist, in its entirety, readily to hand. Vanotti’s discussion of Hippys (FGrHist 554) exemplifies this problem. Testimonium 1 (Suda, s.v. Hippys) is discussed in close detail for some five pages (pp. 33-38), but without ever actually quoting the text. All nine fragments are then worked through, but without actually being quoted. In one paper (Scuderi on Philinos, pp. 275-79) all of the fragments are quoted in translation, but this is exceptional. Greek appears twice that I noticed in the text; it was not clear why it should appear then but not on other occasions.

My final, more practical concern regards the form of referencing adopted, viz. minimal in-text references (ancient authors only) and no footnotes, with each paper instead followed by an extensive end-note, which outlines the problems and main bibliography for the issues touched on in the main text. This mode seems to be becoming ever more frequent, and I remain unconvinced of its real value, however much it may be intended to facilitate the reading of the text (and to escape the perils of excessive footnotes). It does not allow one easily to chase up a reference or explore a particular point. In several cases the readers will find themselves essentially reading the same thing twice, once without and once with references. Vague references in the main text to, e.g., ‘la critica recente’ are essentially untraceable in the endnote, unless one already knows to what the author refers (which, in a handbook, is surely not the expectation). This is compounded when the endnote does not always pick up every area of the main text’s discussion, and/or does not always follow the same order of discussion. In one case, the endnote is longer than the main text itself!8

Do not be misled, however. Besides a wealth of material and constituting an important new synthesis of the western historiographic tradition, readers will also find ‘qualche spunto d’originale’. This book is Vattuone’s swansong to Timaios (or so he intimates, p. 29), on whom he has been working for many years. Vattuone’s piece on Timaios, which sits consciously at the heart of the volume, is of a rather different tone and form than the others. Instead of a survey we get both a heartfelt apology for Timaios in the face of the Polybian polemic and also a persuasive portrayal of Timaios’ grand design.9 A. Momigliano, in a classic paper on the ‘discovery of Rome’, argued that Timaios ‘with his Siceliot sensitiveness realized that Rome, through her victory over Pyrrhus, was replacing the Greeks in the position of adversary of Carthage’.10 Vattuone takes Momigliano as his starting point, and goes on to develop in much more detail how this perspective might have been worked out in Timaios’ grand narrative. Timaios’ hostility to Agathokles in particular, and to the tyrannical tradition in general, was further fueled by the portrayal of Agathokles as bulwark of the Greeks in the West, a view doubtless given considerable currency in Timaios’ adopted home, Athens. The ultimate failure of Agathokles, and then Pyrrhus, in this role opened the door to Republican Rome. Vattuone argues convincingly that in his hostile reaction to Agathokles and the Agathoklean historiographers (Antander and Kallias especially), Timaios sought to break down the links that his predecessors, beginning with Philistos, had developed in the tradition between successive Syracusan tyrants. Previously, in the fourth century, both tyrants and historiographers had sought legitimation in the glories of earlier tyrants, the Deinomenids above all: as Dionysios inherited the mantle of Gelon, so Agathokles drew legitimacy from both. For Timaios, Gelon remains a part of a golden past, but the Syracusan Hermokrates marks a decisive break from a tyrannical tradition into an aristocratic political tradition to which firstly Dionysios I and ultimately Agathokles is the antithesis. It is worth recalling that Antiochos’ history seems to have taken the conference at Gela in 424 B.C. as its end point; and, as Vattuone emphasises, it was Timaios’ rewriting of Hermokrates’ speech at this gathering, precursor to the Syracusan victory over Athens, which so aroused Polybios’ ire. Rewriting the history of Dionysios I becomes therefore the first major step for Timaios in presenting a revised version of Agathokles’ activities. Although the link is all too often unspoken (more is said both in Muccioli’s paper in Part Two, and in Vattuone’s 1991 book on Timaios), there is a clear implication in this volume that the Pythagorean versus Platonic philosophical-political debate, most obvious in the Tarentine tradition, is intricately bound up with the entire fourth-century historiographical process. Although one could accuse Vattuone of excessive partisanship towards his subject (the characterization of Agathokles’ activities with words such as ‘Blitz’ and ‘Putsch’ is telling), this is a reading of Timaios which none should ignore.


1. The happiest example must be Frank Walbank’s observation that ‘… it is no doubt agreeable to believe that the study of history is conducive to longevity … But these are attested longaevi, whereas the case of Silenus is purely speculative.’ Having written those words in 1968, Prof. Walbank has now passed his 90th year and is still hard at work.

2. In the former category, O. Lendle, ‘Einführung in die griechische Geschichtsschreibung: von Hekataios bis Zosimos’ (Darmstadt 1992) and K. Meister, ‘Die griechische Geschichtsschreibung: von den Anfängen bis zum Ende des Hellenismus’ (Stuttgart 1990); in the latter category, especially L. Pearson, ‘The Greek Historians of the West’ (Atlanta 1987), which is ultimately about Timaios, and R. Vattuone’s own ‘Sapienza d’occidente: il pensiero storico di Timeo di Tauromenio’ (Bologna 1991).

3. G. De Sanctis, Ricerche sulla Storiografia siceliota: Appunti da lezioni accademiche (Sikelika 1), Palermo, S.F. Flaccovio, 1958 (published by E. Manni after De Sanctis’ death).

4. See in particular the comments of G. Schepens, ‘Jacoby’s FGrHist: problems, methods, prospects’, in G.W. Most (ed.), ‘Collecting Fragments / Fragmente Sammeln’ (Göttingen 1997), 144-72, esp. 160-61.

5. Discussions of chronological systems occur, e.g., at 41-42 (with 52); 107 (with 131); 222-24; 251; 281 (with 287-88); and 309-10, 322 (with 334). The lack of integration between the different papers emerges most clearly with the several independent discussions of possible uses of Olympiads and/or Olympic victories for dating. This is a topic of some interest when considering the western historiographers, given, e.g., Timaios’ supposed importance in the development of such methods. Vanotti (pp. 41-42 with 52) discusses the extremely problematic Olympiad and victor dating in Hippys (FGrHist 554 fr. 3), often taken as evidence either for the corruption of the fragment in question or for the downdating of Hippys in general. Vanotti wishes to suggest that ‘un autore marginale ed antico’ might light upon the Olympiads as ‘un punto di riferimento panellenico’, and cites Inschr. Olymp. 22, discussed at length by D. Asheri in ‘Rimpatrio di esuli a Selinunte’, ASNP ser. 3, vol. 9 (1979), 479-97, as a possible parallel. But, as Asheri himself commented (p. 491), ‘non dovremmo troppo meravigliarci di trovare, intorno al 500 a.C., una datazione elea locale secondo le Olimpiadi.’ What is an obvious local development of the relatively standard procedure of dating by principal magistrate cannot provide sufficient support for such an innovation by the already historically questionable figure of Hippys. At p. 107, Bearzot remarks that Philistos FGrHist 556 fr. 2 ‘testimonia l’uso da parte di Filisto della datazione olimpica, nella cui diffusione egli potrebbe avere avuto, accanto ad Ippia e a Timeo, un ruolo significativo ….’ The case is a problematic one, deserving of more attention, and any interpretation requires further discussion than it is given here. Actual attribution to the 6th Olympiad within the fragment depends upon a speculative restoration by Jacoby based upon Pausanias, as Bearzot acknowledges; but Pausanias has a lot to say on the victory of Oebotas of Dyme and its later significance for the battle of Plataea and creation of a hero-cult (see Paus. 6.3.8 and 7.17.13-14). When we know nothing about the context of Philistos’ mention of the victory, speculation must be couched in more cautious terms. Finally, Vattuone himself presumably alludes to these two discussions with his suggestion (p. 224) that ‘È probabile che il criterio cronologico “per Olimpiadi” per datare gli eventi storici precedette gli interessi di Timeo, anche se egli diede forma scientifica più certa a questo metodo ….’ But without index, cross-references, or further discussion, the thesis which begins to emerge will pass largely unnoticed. The argument is ignored entirely on p. 251 when Hippostratos is dated to the third century BC precisely because he uses Olympic dating. Silenos (FGrHist 175) is one of several victims of this general problem. He is discussed in his ‘Jacobyan’ place by Spada (pp. 238-40, with 269-70); but his possible role as intermediary between Philinos and later historians (the notorious thesis of E. Manni et al., largely debunked by F. Walbank) is also looked at by Scuderi (pp. 284, 287 and 299) and Ambaglio (pp. 334-35). The index of passages cited (see next note) will only lead one to the discussion of Spada.

6. Apart from the fact that this index is inadequate for picking up all the discussions of the principal historiographers under examination (as in the example of Silenos discussed in the previous note), it is even less helpful when it comes to seeking out discussion of a highly relevant but not directly discussed figure such as Posidonios. Besides the unhelpful situation in which some contributors cite Posidonios by FGrHist numbers and others by means of Edelstein and Kidd (an inconsistency which is further retained in the index, at which point it could surely have been edited out), not only does the index omit reference to p. 426 where EK frr. 223, 245 and 246 are cited, but without any other index readers remain unaware of further discussion of Posidonios at, e.g., pp. 272-73 and 337.

7. R. Vattuone, ‘Sapienza d’occidente: il pensiero storico di Timeo di Tauromenio’ (Bologna 1991); L. Pearson, ‘The Greek Historians of the West’, (Atlanta 1987); C.W. Fornara, ‘The Nature of History in Ancient Greece and Rome’ (Berkeley/Los Angeles 1983); G. Schepens, ‘Jacoby’s FGrHist: problems, methods, prospect’, in G.W. Most (ed.), ‘Collecting Fragments / Fragmente Sammeln’ (Göttingen 1997), 144-72 are the principal discussions cited in the text. But what, e.g., of P.A. Brunt’s classic paper in CQ 1980, or many of the other papers in G. Most’s ‘Collecting Fragments’ (1997) volume, such as that of I.G. Kidd?

8. The bibliography in these endnotes has some worrying gaps. Rather less non-Italian scholarship of the last 10 years or so appears than one might hope. Both Fowler in JHS 1996 and Hornblower in JHS 1995 might have warranted a mention, as might more recent works by, e.g., Sacks, Pearson, Sanders, and Walbank. Even within Italian literature, one might have expected reference to Stefania De Vido’s ‘Gli Elimi: storie di contatti e di rappresentazioni’ (Pisa 1997), or Antonio Pinzone, ‘Per un commento alla Biblioteca storica di Diodoro Siculo’, in ‘Mediterraneo antico: economie, società, culture’, 1.2 (1998), pp. 443-84. Not a single article from Scripta Classica Israelica is noted, which, considering the presence there in the last decade of highly relevant papers by Walbank, Meister, Asheri, and Sanders, among others, seems a startling omission. R.L. Fowler’s ‘Early Greek Mythography’ (Oxford 2000) is noted by Luraghi for Antiochos (p. 85), but not by Vanotti on Hippys. Considering Fowler’s decision to omit Hippys (p. xxxvi), on the grounds that he was probably not a fifth-century figure (not in itself a new position), this important new corpus at least required a response. The total absence of H.D. Westlake’s work from the bibliography seems a little harsh.

9. A survey of the 164 fragments of Timaios, in the manner of the other contributions, would not have been viable, although more of an overview might have been desirable in a handbook. For an extremely pithy resume of Timaios, not cited in the bibliography, see K. Meister, ‘The role of Timaeus in Greek historiography’, in Scripta Classica Israelica 10 (1989-1990), 55-65. Note also L. Pearson, ‘The character of Timaeus’ History as it is revealed by Diodorus’, in E. Galvagno and C. Molè Ventura (eds.), ‘Mito, Storia, Tradizione: Diodoro Siculo e la storiografia classica’ (Catania 1991), 17-29.

10. A. Momigliano, ‘Athens in the third century B.C. and the discovery of Rome in the Histories of Timaeus of Tauromenium’, originally in RSI 71 (1959), 529-56; reprinted in idem, ‘Essays in Ancient and Modern Historiography’ (Oxford 1977), 37-66. Quotation from (1977), 54.