It is a feather in the cap for Diodorus that a scholar of Peter Green’s cast should devote time to elucidating his text and defending his reputation. The sense of surprise that this may occasion is appropriately defused by the revelation that Sir Harold Nicholson (no less) once predicted (tongue-in-cheek) that he would give the world a commentary on Diodorus. Half a century on we have a first instalment (there is the prospect of more, covering
Translation. The first thing to consider is the translation, which I have approached by sampling five sets of five chapters (equivalent to something over 15% of the text).2
The slightly archaic quality of Oldfather’s Loeb translation is mitigated, but words like “zeal” (11.2.1, 3.5), “obloquy” (11.3.1), “dwelt” (11.2.6), “bade” (11.50.4) “marches” (in the sense of frontiers: 11.52.1), “succour” (11.89.6), “slew” (11.91.3), “indigent” (12.12.4) continue to feature. This is of a piece with a wider tendency (despite the absence of any reason in the Greek) to prefer words such as “initiated” (11.2.1), “worsted” (2.2) “uprooted” (49.1), “soliciting” (51.1, 12.33.1), “mustered” (11.52.3), “triumphed” or “prevailed” (52.4; 12.33.4), “bereft” (11.89.5), “menials” (89.8), “high death toll” (91.3), “magnitude” (12.33.1), “commissioned” (33.3). Similarly
There are other sorts of over-translation.
There is occasional under-translation as well.
Finally, there is the possibility of inaccurate translation.
Some cases are arguable. “To make [voluntary medizers] pay a tithe to the gods” is not an uncontroversial translation of
Other cases are more clear cut. In 12.12.3
It will not escape the reader that these mistranslations are relatively modest. They do not characterize Green’s overall approach to translation nearly as much as the issues of style and register raised earlier. Those exemplify a general problem that confronts those translating Greek into English. The size of the English lexicon and the possibilities for differentiation of register afforded by the overlapping sets of synonyms with which it is replete (or full) pose a real difficulty when set alongside the relatively plainer lexical approach adopted by many ancient authors of prose narrative. With Diodorus the difficulty is specially acute. To my taste Green runs the risk of putting a false veneer on a text that is stylistically very down-to-earth. The contrary view might be that, although he often goes for less plain vocabulary, the result is still rather stolid (perhaps even sometimes represents the clichéd use of higher register7), and that in an English-language context this is an appropriate equivalent for Diodorus.
Preface and Introduction. From the rendering of Diodorus’ Greek I move to the evaluation of his content. The Preface gives a first provocative taste of Green’s take on his author. Diodorus (we are told) has suffered from (mostly male) intellectual chauvinists who love Thucydides and despise pretty much everyone else. (This includes Diodorus’ own commentators, e.g. Stylianou.) Like many other ancient historians he is not as bad as such people say, and rejection of his version reflects an unwillingness to recognize that allegedly civilized people (e.g. classical Greeks) are capable of behaving badly. Green professes to have been alerted to this by the rabidly pro-Serb attitudes of otherwise decent modern Athenians and the tie-up between the sorts of thing Diodorus reports and the offerings of Greek television. He apparently (cf. p.16) has in mind such things as Pericles’ provocation of the Peloponnesian War because of private embarrassments;8 but the unwary might deduce from this (slightly startling?) analysis of Diodorophobia an entirely false impression of just how exciting Diodorus actually is.9 Another suggested source of Diodorophobia is the failure of critics actually to read the work they are denouncing — or to read it carefully enough to escape the shackles of tralatician judgement — and one must concede that he is an author more consulted than read: it is probable that few classicists or ancient historians have ever worked their way through the surviving books from start to finish. Not that this need inhibit high regard. A distinguished student of Greek political history told me some years ago that he had only recently — after well over three decades in the profession — read Aristotle’s Politics from cover to cover, and to have done so surely puts him in a small minority among Greek historians. But we all hold Aristotle in high regard — do we not?
The Introduction proper proceeds more systematically, surveying the facts about Diodorus’ life, circumstances of writing and intellectual inheritance, and articulating more positively the correct way to approach the author.
Not much is known of Diodorus’ life. Hints in the text (which Green, rightly, says we should not declare to be obscurely motivated lies) suggest that he was in Egypt in at least 60-55, in Rome from some time before 45, and still alive after 36. Green speculates that he lost his property at Agyrion to Roman colonists but also that he could have returned to Agyrion from Rome and died there. Appendix A argues (cf. 1.4.6-7, 1.5.1) that Diodorus originally intended a terminal date of 46/5 for the Library but eventually stopped with 60/59 because post-44 political conditions made writing about 59-46 dangerous. It is a (mildly) exciting thought, but one does wonder how much anyone would really have cared about the narrative of a Graeculus who had no connections with the elite (and therefore, surely, no significance).10 He may, of course, have been more frightened than he needed to be — and Green does picture him as a victim of Octavian and utterer of unguardedly favourable remarks about Antony. (Was he a Caesarian who could never accept the adoptive heir as the true one? Or did he just have the bad luck to be from the wrong part of Sicily?) On the other hand, he may just have run out of steam: Green’s intellectual vigour in old age may make him unduly sceptical about this suggestion. (Of course, we do not know when Diodorus was born.) Green is, in any case, convinced that the Library never received the final revision which (1.4.6) its author intended (and which might have ironed out some of the bêtises : cf. pp.30, 160), so the belated failure to execute plans in which Green cannot believe (p.239) certainly happened in that regard. There is no telling how long he lived after 36. A passage (1.44.4) referring to the Ptolemies as the latest dynasty to rule Egypt does not provide a useful terminus ante quem of 31, since it is known to have been written in 55. It does indicate that no revision of the passage was made after 31, but the date at which Diodorus had not got round to doing such a thing could perfectly well be long after 31.
As for intellectual inheritance, Green claims (p.37) that Diodorus’ text reveals “his careful study of, and methodological help from, all of his other various predecessors. . .from Theopompus to Posidonius”. This is the conclusion drawn from a rapid survey of such authors at pp.15-23, though the evidence seems to consist only in a Timaean use of Olympiads, an Ephoran predilection for book-prefaces (the contents of which, however, are not just pinched from Ephorus — perish the thought), and a number of more or less cliché methodological statements (p.25). Posidonius is regarded as of special importance (p.23f), and one should not, I suppose, deny that the academically modest can be genuinely inspired by those of quite different intellectual calibre. (It is what we fondly believe happens in universities all the time.) Diodorus did propose to himself a grand task (Green calls him the Will Durant of Greek historiography — a comparison with little resonance for us benighted Eurocentrics: but there is an informative entry in Wikipedia), and he is not lacking in character as an historian: after all, Green pictures him as a misogynist with a dislike of philosophers and rhetoricians and a taste for moralism, marvels, medical anecdotes and the power of Fate. (Is this supposed to be good? If only the dislike for rhetoricians had inhibited occasional outbursts of poor rhetoric.)
Diodorus is of vital importance to students of ancient history: Green insists upon this, rightly, and it is perfectly fair to point out that, if we are prepared to work with Diodorus in areas where he is pretty much all we have to work with by way of narrative framework, we should accord him decent attention in areas where that is not true. Professional students of the first half of the fourth century learned this long ago — though they have also started to suspect that the choice between Diodorus and the alternative is not a straightforward as it seemed to the pioneers of Diodoran rehabilitation — and, in a world where people are more prepared to be cynical about Thucydides (and on that I am entirely sympathetic to Green), the time is ripe to essay some fifth century rehabilitation. But there is a danger of confusing insistence on our debt to Diodorus with excessive claims for his quality. There are perhaps critics who, reckoning that, where Herodotus or Thucydides exist, Diodorus is useless, slip from “useless” to “stupid”. But “not useless” does not mean Fellow of All Souls. Green himself, inspired by Dominique Lenfant’s citation of a favourite dictum of Marc Bloch (the eponym of her university), adduces Ctesias to illustrate the view that almost no source is all bad. This is not meant to be a ringing endorsement of Ctesias. Why should Diodorus fare any better? The answer hovers in the vicinity of two principles: the evils of Quellenforschung and the delights of plausibility.
Green’s big methodological principle is denunciation of Quellenforschung — that is, the notion that one can identify the source of Diodoran narrative and then discard Diodorus himself on the grounds that he is simply the carrier of someone else’s work. (The analogy is drawn several times with MS traditions, and in those terms Green is with Housman.)
Now it is quite true that saying Diodorus is all really Ephorus does not get one far, because Ephorus is not a terribly well known quantity.11 But one aspect of this is that we cannot pin down the sources or the reasoning that prompted him to espouse versions that differ from Herodotus or Thucydides; and an entirely similar problem exists in Green’s world-view as well. For Green Diodoran narrative is the end-result of a study of various sources and a critical combination of their evidence — a process too complex (and personal) to be plausibly disentangled. Diodorus produced a story-line that cannot be objectively validated, any more than the Thucydidean story—line can normally be objectively validated. We are used to this: Thucydides tells us he has considered all sorts of material and reached a reasoned conclusion about it, and we just have to hope that he did so efficiently and cogently. The same goes for Diodorus. The challenge inherent in saying this is one that is worth issuing, though it will be less shocking to those who habitually work with bits of Diodorus not subject to the degree of certainty about identifiable sole source that tends to apply to “Ephoran” sections. But, whereas Thucydides dealt largely with contemporary history and implies that most of his evidence-gathering involved direct or nearly direct autopsy, Diodorus is four centuries adrift from the events covered in
This is where inherent plausibility comes in: it is not groundless characterisation of non-extant sources but plausibility that provides the basis on which to assess competing versions. But this means that Herodotus, Thucydides and Diodorus are being treated as equipollent carriers of information. At times there is almost an insinuation that Diodorus is a better carrier: Herodotus and Thucydides have their agendas, but Diodoran “slavery to sources” (p.30) has the merit that our “rational and reasonably diligent (if unimaginative)” author did not tinker with source-derived facts for the sake of it — so much so that what he produced was a derivative digest little read by those who could read the originals (p.32). Thus does general invisibility and characterlessness as a literary figure turn out to be his strong suit as a historian, and we have come some distance from the author who was applying critical intelligence to the weaving together of material from several sources. Perhaps the two pictures are not irreconcilable, but there is an inescapable degree of tension — and unidentified sources can have agendas just as much as familiar ones. There is also the problem that judgments of “inherent plausibility” are as subjective as the results of Quellenforschung.13 It is Green’s merit to have shown that this is the sort of price that has to be paid for taking Diodorus seriously; and, since, at least where the Pentakontaetia is concerned, the manifest inadequacy of Thucydides means that no one wants simply to discard everything in Diodorus,14 this is an important lesson: we are condemned to take Diodorus seriously, and we must face the consequences.
Like all other commentators Green fails to comment on everything demanded by every reader. Sometimes this is a matter of not addressing what might be thought failings in Diodorus’ treatment (pp.51, 58, 64, 68f, 102, 152), sometimes just not picking up on everything that is interesting, e.g. Cyme (pp.51, 83), Greek manning of Persian ships (p.54), Xerxes’ reasons for putting Medes in the front line (p.58), the contextually unexpected description of Darius as “the one who slaughtered the Magi” (p.121), public oratory in post-tyrant Sicily (p.168). He also makes judgements or floats ideas that provoke disagreement or correction. The Athos canal is visible from ground level as well as from the air (p.52); the Anopaea was not by and large “narrow and precipitous” (p.59); geographically speaking it seems unlikely that Cleonae was ever “in the territory of the Heraeum”, unless in very special circumstances which ought to be reported (p.132); the idea of a connection between Eurymedon and Persepolitan grain-price rises (p.125) is a “desperate hypothesis” (P.Briant, Cyrus to Alexander , 944); Diodorus does not imply the Mycenaeans fought in Leonidas’ last stand (p.132); the comment on the responsibility of the Thermopylae heroes for eventual victory is not a product of class-based hostility to seafaring, since Plataea is also downsized (p.63); and any normal reader will think Diodorus locates Charondas in Thurii (p.196).
Green’s big project in his annotations is to use Diodoran evidence and inherent plausibility to support an account of events from 480-431 which diverges from the consensus based on Herodotus and Thucydides. I end by listing some relevant items, with occasional brief comment. The Perso-Carthaginian alliance of 480 is historical (p.50). We can believe in the oracle that Sparta would fall or a Spartan king be killed, but not that Leonidas deliberately opted for death from the outset (p.55: Green’s cynicism about political leaders is in play here perhaps). There was a night-raid at Thermopylae (p.61), though Diodorus has wrongly amalgamated it with the final stand. The accounts of Artemisium in 11.12.5f and Hdt.8.9-11 are consistent (p.65: this is not obviously true). The Troezen Decree and Oath of Plataea are valid sources (pp.66, 85). At Salamis the Megara channel was blocked, the Samian deserter story could be true, both of Themistocles’ messages to Xerxes are historical, and Diodorus’s version of the Greek battle-order is preferable to Herodotus’ (pp.70-73). At Plataea, Diodorus’ MSS have the final Greek battle-positions accidentally reversed (p.87), but originally they were accurate (though Green does not explain how this is consonant with the topographical requirements). Themistocles took refuge with both Xerxes and Artaxerxes (pp.119f). There were multiple “Peaces of Callias” (p.126: as usual, no plausible explanation is advanced of the silence of fifth century sources), and two Spartan earthquakes in 468/7 and 464/3 (p.128), with the ten year Helot revolt running from the first till 459. (The latter implies that Cimon went on a successful expedition to Sparta in 468/7, but the chronological table [pp. 258-259] has him both doing that and winning a naval victory off Cyprus in the same time-frame. The entries are duly marked as of disputed dates, but is this failure to resolve the issue acceptable when Green is arguing that Diodorus’ “alternative version” of 478-431 has positive merit? He should be as prepared to postulate a single reconstructed story-line as are the Thucydides-supporting historians whom he so decries.) The Delian League treasury was transferred to Athens in 463/2 or 462/1 (pp.130, 139). Aegina was already at war with Athens in 463 (p.139: but “rebelled” is wrong). The Egyptian campaign ran 463-457, closely but not perfectly allied to Diodoran archon-dates. (Appendix B provides a plausible defence of low figures for Athenian casualties in Egypt.) Pericles attacked Sicyon and Oeniadae twice (p.169). Green suggests restoring a different archon in IG I 3 364 (Corcyra squadron expenses), dating it to 435/4, and bringing it into line with Diodorus’ chronology in 12.33.1 (p.227). But (a) the fact that the Amphipolis foundation in 12.32.3 is correctly dated is irrelevant and describing it “as in the same sequence” tendentious (it is a chronographic note imported from an outside source that assigned it its correct archon-date) and (b) Green does not actually endorse Diodorus’ high chronology for the Corcyraean and Potidean affairs (pp.222, 234-5, 271f), though it cannot be said that he castigates him for getting two years out. (Instead, he declares the conventional dating-scheme “fragile” and notes a coincidence with the start of a series of omissions in Thucydides — Hornblower’s Great Gap. One cannot help feeling that Thucydides’ undoubted failings are being used to distract attention from Diodorus’ incompetence.)
In conclusion, I have enjoyed studying this book. It is well-written, though probably not very accessible to the increasingly functionally illiterate undergraduate population, and informed by a strongly-held vision of its subject-matter. Serious students of mainland Greek and Sicilian history in the middle half of the fifth century will need to check it out. But it is a contentious period, and I doubt that Green will turn out to have settled all the problems with which he has to deal. Moreover, there are other important ones that do not figure at all. The really big agenda for historians of post-Persian War Greece is a full and positive assessment of the consequences of the fact that Mattingly-like scepticism about traditional Attic epigraphic dating is no longer eccentric. The grip of three-barred sigma has been loosened a bit, but the new history of Athenian imperialism that this may make possible is still to be written. By those standards, the rehabilitation of Diodorus is small beer.
1. Older bibliography is not always present: the absence of Pritchett’s topographical works is odd in a volume covering Persian War battles. McDowell’s Law in Classical Athens is not the last word on sycophancy (p.197). J.G.Taylor, AJP 119 (1998), 223-243 might have been included in 132 n.246. – I have notice few misprints (252/1 in p.108 n.184, and months for years in 233 n.192 [ ad fin. ] are a couple).
2. Incidentally, Green adopts some plausible adjustments to Vogel’s text (e.g. 11.86.2, 12.102, 12.10.7).
3. For another over-done
5. Other examples are “convinced” for
6. In 11.2.3, 11.89.8, 92.4 Green does allow it in.
7. And other types of cliché: “every other kind of recreational facility” (
8. Later Aristides’ good character is questioned, without evidence (p.107). On the other hand p.167 n.358 appears to forget that we should not assume that “nice” people are what they seem.
9. Slightly startling, because it is not obvious that the classical Greek inhabitants of the texts of Herodotus and Thucydides universally exemplify the moral niceness that Green’s argument seems to be assuming. Thucydides may lay more stress than some on the smoke-screens that politicians cast over greed and ambition, but that is just a product of his intellectual pretensions, and nobody (surely) thinks his world is one of sweetness and light.
10. We should not infer too much from the fact [40.6] that some books were “published” without Diodorus’ permission. Green suggests Books I or I-III were involved, to explain Jerome’s Diodorus floruit of 49 BC. The argument from the absence of reference to Caesar’s apotheosis in 3.38 (by contrast with its regular appearance elsewhere) does not seem to work: the passages which do mention the apothesois include 1.4.7 (also 4.10.2, 5.21.2,22.1, 6.25.4, 32.27.1-3)
11. Green sometimes tries too hard to detach Diodorus and Ephorus. The contrast between their laudations of Himera is not as telling as Green wants (p.78). Why should we trust the scholiast’s summary of Ephorus when there is a good case for saying it is governed by his own agenda of aligning Ephorus to the Pindaric line being glossed. At p.125 n.224 it is accepted that P.Oxy.1610 is Ephorus or an epitome thereof because of the link with Plut. Cim.12.4. At pp.26-27 we read that all that can be said is that the papyrus was “very probably from Diodorus’ source”, but that “identification of that source is still made on the a priori assumption that for the entire classical period, Ephoros was virtually the only text on which Diodorus depended”, and a similar view is espoused in p.125 n.226 (“the identification [of Ephorus as the author of P.Oxy.1610] is made solely on a passing resemblance to Diodorus”). These do not appear to be consistent positions.
12. Green treats this as a term of art for an alternative version to that in Herodotus or Thucydides. It is not my impression that fifth century historians currently talk about a vulgate in this fashion. The usage comes from Alexander history (Arrian-Ptolemy-Aristobulus against the Clitarcho-Diodoran-Curtian vulgate), and its importation here is perhaps meant to confer a greater degree of substance on the alternative version by implying it was once carried by several authors. If so, Green is begging the question.
13. The struggle to believe against the evidence can be almost palpable: cf. p.81 (Damarateion), 165 (454/3 truce).
14. The imputation (p.111) that believing in the Hetoemaridas debate is unorthodox is misleading.