BMCR 2007.10.19

Apollodorus’ Library and Hyginus’ Fabulae. Two Handbooks of Greek Mythology

, , , Apollodorus' Library and Hyginus' Fabulae : two handbooks of Greek mythology. Hyginus, C. Julius. Fabulae.. Indianapolis: Hackett, 2007. lv, 247 pages : maps, genealogical tables ; 24 cm. ISBN 9780872208216. $12.95 (pb).

Smith and Trzaskoma (S/T) have produced an attractive translation of the two main surviving works of ancient mythography, the Library of (Pseudo-) Apollodorus (Apd.) and the Fabulae of Hyginus (Hyg.). The attention to Hyg. is especially welcome, as there has been only one other English translation, now out of print; this lack was the impetus for the project (vii).1 But to refer to this volume as just a translation is misleading, because S/T have provided much more, most notably the best short introduction to ancient mythography — and these particular authors — available in English.

They also include nineteen genealogical tables, three useful maps, and three indices (General, Peoples and Geographic Locations, Authors and Works cited by Apd. and Hyg.). Scholars who deal frequently with the Fabulae will want to keep this volume on hand in part for help in finding relevant passages more quickly and easily than they could by using the spare indices in the major editions.2 There is also an excerpt from Ps.-Dositheus, whose bilingual version of what seems to be a section from our Fabulae (though he calls it the Genealogy) provides our best terminus ante quem for the work (207 CE) and attests to the popularity of an earlier incarnation of this work (he calls it omnibus notam).

It would have been easy enough for S/T to put together quick, serviceable translations of these texts since they were already involved in translating large sections of them in their recent Anthology of Classical Myth, but they have gone much further, in part by basing their translations on better editions (section II, below).3 Not only have they produced translations that are readable and fair to these authors, S/T have also given both works a thorough going-over, and provide detailed textual notes at the end, which include numerous conjectures and supplements of their own.

The rest of this review is in two sections, the first addressing this book’s suitability for its primary purpose, use in college myth classes and by casual readers, and the second discussing it as a contribution to the scholarship on these two authors, especially in relation to how S/T treat the text.


This volume is competing with several other translations of Apd., all of which fall into roughly the same price range, and all of which are at least in part meant for an undergraduate mythology class.4 The primary difference is its inclusion of the Fabulae, meaning it offers more material than any of its competitors – a staggering amount, really. It also differs by offering relatively few notes (especially compared with something like Simpson’s translation). The footnotes S/T do provide, however, are judicious and brief, and usually provide all the information a reader needs when paired with their general index, which serves as a partial glossary for terms like “autochthon” and “xoanon” that are untranslated in the text.

Like the authors they translate, though, they are not consistent in providing notes and parenthetical glosses. For example, they offer the following sentence: “Elais (‘Olive Tree’), Spermo (‘Seed’), and Oino (‘Grapevine’), the so-called Oinotrophoi, were the daughters of Anios son of Apollo” (Apd. E. 3.10; oddly enough, Frazer does the opposite, glossing their collective name, but not their individual names). The lack of consistency is most obvious when dealing with etymologies: they help get Apd.’s meaning across with “One of the bulls broke loose ( rhegnumi) at Rhegion” (2.110), but not in translating Apd.’s description of how the Amazons disfigure their right breasts, which alludes to a well-known etymology (2.98). Additional problems arise in translating Hyg., who often provides etymologies from Greek; here, too, they lack consistency: e.g., “[Archelaus] established a town, naming it Aegeae after the word ‘goat,'” (219) for which they provide a note explaining that this myth depends on the Greek word for goat; for Hyg.’s account of the Daphne myth, however, they provide no note making it clear that that this myth involves the Greek word for laurel. While it is difficult to determine when Apd. and Hyg. are consciously offering etymologies, and practical issues of size and quantity of notes are always pressing, consistency would still seem to be desirable.

But why put these two works in the same volume? The obvious answer is that they are two of our major sources for Greek myth and so complement each other, but another is to facilitate comparison, for their versions of myth don’t always agree. Their intended audiences also differ, since Apd. is writing for a Greek audience whereas Hyg. is very Roman — much more so, in fact than scholars (including S/T) generally acknowledge. Spoiled by their Anthology, which includes suggestions for selections to read along thematic lines, I was hoping for similar guidance here in terms of which myths told by both authors would provide the best bases for comparison. Unfortunately, there is no such guidance (save a brief comparison of their treatments of Oedipus in the introduction), though it would be especially welcome with these two authors, I think, as few people will want to read these works in toto. A perusal of the index, of course, will help instructors find out where Hyg. and Apd. both tell a myth, but it will take some time to figure out which myths offer the best contrast (I offer a few suggestions below).5

The translations themselves (T is responsible for Apd., S for Hyg.) are clear and accurate, with just a slight tendency to be colloquial at times. My favorite, in part because it is colloquial and yet faithful to the Latin is “Juno grew angry, backhanded him across the face, and blinded him” for Iuno irata manu aversa eum excaecavit (Hyg. 75). Such translations, I think, are enough to catch students’ eyes without coming off as pandering or a sad attempt by a professor to speak like his students. Altogether, they strike a nice balance in their translations, trying neither to raise Apd. or Hyg. beyond the level of their prose, nor treating their tone with disrespect. The translations, like the originals, are pitched at the level of people in an undergraduate mythology class.

As is to be expected, there are occasional problems in the translation, most of which involve one word in the original, and so are more a matter of taste than anything else, like their use of “lactating nurse” for nutricem lactantem, (Hyg. 147). There are two mistakes, however, worth discussing, one because it affects the meaning of the myth and so might mislead students, and another because it affects their reading of the text.

In Fabula 164, Hyg. explains how Athens got its name from the contest (Hyg. uses certatio, which is more specific than their “dispute” here) between Neptune and Minerva. As Hyg. explains it, once they recruit Jupiter as a judge, Minerva quod primum in ea terra oleam sevit, quae adhuc dicitur stare, secundum eam iudicatum est (164.1). Their translation is, “The judgment fell in Minerva’s favor because she planted the first olive tree in that land (which, they say, still stands there).” But it’s not the tree that’s significant, but her establishing a token before Neptune and thus winning the city; the contest is about priority, hence primum and not primam here. As has long been observed, a competition of gift-giving involving an olive tree and a salt water spring is no contest at all, and sure enough, Hyg. doesn’t even mention Neptune’s token. This contest, possibly conceived of as a chariot race, is the subject of the Parthenon’s west pediment, and investigations into that sculptural group have helped clarify the nature of this episode.6

In Fabula 97, the list of “Those Who Went to Capture Troy and How Many Ships They Brought,” Hyg. provides the following entry: Neoptolemus Achillis et Deidamiae filius ab insula Scyro; hic idem Pyrrhus est vocitatus a patre Pyrrha (97.15). They translate: “Neoptolemus, the son of Achilles and Deidamia, from the island of Scyros (he was also named Pyrrhus by his father, Pyrrha),” and comment in a textual note that, “We have translated the text as transmitted, but ‘Pyrrha’ may be a later gloss to remind us of Achilles’ name while disguised…. Or perhaps we are to read a patris [nomine], ‘from the name of his father’ (suggested by [T]).” But there is no textual issue here, and the translation should be “this same man was called Pyrrhus, after his father, Pyrrha.” This use of ab is frequent in etymologies, so Hyg. is explaining Neoptolemus’ alternate name, not saying that Achilles himself gave his son a nickname.

The book is well produced, with a pleasing format and what seems to be a durable binding. I found only a few of the usual typographical and formatting errors — far fewer than one might expect, in fact, considering all of the names and textual issues.7 People who already order a translation of the Library for their undergraduate myth classes should find that this becomes their text of choice but those, like myself, who only use snippets of Apd. in teaching will be better served by continuing to use to the Anthology to which S/T contributed and which offers selections from so many other works.


My comments in this section have little or no bearing on the obvious suitability of this book for myth classes, and instead treat these careful translations, and the accompanying textual notes, as contributions to the study of these works. It is worth repeating that the prefatory materials will be of use to those encountering these authors, or any mythographers, for the first time; certainly there was nothing like this introduction available to me when I first stumbled upon references to Apd. and Hyg. while an undergraduate. Their overviews of the authors and the general subject of mythography are clear and thorough, and take these authors seriously, which isn’t a given in scholarship on these texts. I quote here with full approval:

If the myths and the justly famous literary tellings of those myths are among the most important parts of the artistic and cultural legacy that has come down to us from the Greeks and the Romans, we ought not to despise what the ancient mythographers wrote about them, and we have much to learn by looking at the mythographers’ explicit and implicit criteria of inclusion, what they find most important when summarizing, how they attempt to reconcile variants or relate two different myths, and their place in transmitting myth in the wider culture. (xvi)

This attitude, I think, is the necessary one for scholarship on these authors to progress beyond Quellenforschung, where it has too long been mired.

Also welcome are the discussions of Apd.’s organization (xxxii-xxxv) and of how we should think more closely about what Hyg. transmits before labeling it a mistake (lii-liii). In short, I would recommend these introductory sections to anyone as a primer on ancient mythography. My only quibbles are a lack of a reference to Henrich’s article on the subject (so long the only general treatment of the subject in English) and the exclusion of Philodemus’ De Pietate from their survey of ancient mythography, as the second part of that work deals primarily with myth and shows some similarities in form and content to both Apd. and Hyg.. Though Philodemus is not a mythographer in the sense of Apd. and Hyg., he should be on such a list as much as Cornutus, whom they do include.8

Perhaps their most direct contribution to the scholarship on these authors is their detailed attention to the texts themselves. The text of Hyg., especially, is difficult, and lends itself at times more to a squinting paraphrase than direct translation, but S/T face the challenge head-on, and have clearly examined every word, making their observations of great value. Anyone doing serious work on either author should consult their textual notes.

For Apd., they have based their translation on Wagner’s text for the first three books, and Frazer’s combined text of the epitomes (as opposed to just Frazer’s edition in their Anthology; many of their deviations from Wagner’s text come from adopting readings made by Papathamopoulos.9 Conspicuously absent are references to the edition of Scarpi, a scholar who has contributed much to our understanding of the Library.10 On occasion, consultation of Scarpi’s notes would have helped them construe a problematic section of text.

Their textual notes at the end of the book serve as a conspectus of where they have weighed in on a reading. They advance fewer conjectures for Apd. than for Hyg., which is only normal considering the relative quality of our preserved texts of these authors. Admittedly, I have conservative tastes when it comes to emendations, but I found a fair number of their suggestions unnecessary. For example, they translate Apd. 2.71 as “After Heracles got further instructions from [Rhadamanthys ] in the art of war, he got a sword from Hermes, a bow from Apollo, a golden breastplate from Hephaistos, and a robe from Athena; he cut his own club at Nemea.” Their textual note reads:

We hesitantly suggest τακτικήν (“tactics, art of war”) here for τοξικήν (“archery”), the reading of the manuscripts. Others keep the manuscripts’ reading but alter παρ’ αὐτοῦ (“from him”) to παρ’ Εὐρύτου (“from Eurytos,” who taught Heracles archery in 2.63 above) and accept προμαθών (“having first learned,” a reading in some, but not all, manuscripts) for προσμαθών (“having learned more”).

As their note and translation make plain, the verb can mean something like “learn more” or “learn in addition,” so there’s nothing that precludes Heracles from having two teachers in the bow, Eurytos in 2.63 and Rhadamanthys here. Indeed, Scarpi’s note ad loc. makes it clear that there were multiple traditions about who taught Heracles archery, though I would disagree with Scarpi and say that instead of showing a place where Apd. has not smoothed over contradictions, this is a place where Apd. is trying to join divergent traditions together, showing how Heracles could have had both as teachers, at different times. The reference to Rhadamanthys’ role is relevant at this point in Apd.’s narrative, because he has just told how Rhadamanthys married Alcmene after the death of Amphitryon. Furthermore, I know of no special connection between Rhadamanthys and tactics. To my mind, there is no problem with the text here.

Their translation of Hyg. is based on the second edition of Marshall’s Teubner (as opposed to the first edition, which they used in the Anthology), though with this text they are even more willing to advance their own conjectures and supplements. The text of Hyg. is famously vexed (depending primarily as it does on F, Micyllus’ transcription of the lone near-complete and now-lost MS) and, since large parts of it are comprised of names – so easily mangled in transmission – it is often maddening, making this attention doubly welcome. Some of their conjectures are convincing, but they often seem too quick to emend, though they are well aware of the difficulties in determining when an apparent mistake belongs to Hyg. or to the process of transmission (e.g. in their note on Fab. 15).

Attractive, for instance, is T’s suggestion of essent morati for F’s essent mortui in regardto the oxen that were to take the mother of Cleobis and Biton (Cleops and Bitias in Hyg.) to the festival. They cite for comparison Cicero’s account of the story at Tusc. Dis. 1.113, where he says morarenturque iumenta. The likeliest cause of error is the well-known ending of the story where the two youths die, but possibly also the odd detail in Hyg.’s account that the priestess will die if the sacrifices aren’t performed in time (though it’s amusing to think of an ancient author confusing the same two deponent verbs that students still do with regularity).

The following provides a not unrepresentative example of an unnecessary conjecture: in the list of Argonauts, they alter F’s alii aiunt Lynceum noctu nullum vidisse to alii aiunt lychno eum noctu primum vidisse (proposed by τ which they translate, “Others say that he was the first to see at night by using a lamp.” They offer no explanation, though their discomfort with the transmitted reading likely stems from the perceived contradiction between the immediately preceding description of Lynceus being so sharp sighted he could even see underground and him not being able to see at night. The thinking would then be that the possibly unusual word lychnus would have been corrupted, necessitating in turn a change of nullum to primum (assuming that the scribe perceived the same contradiction). Previous editors have simply emended nullum to multum, which would solve the apparent contradiction, and would possibly set up the rationalizing that is to follow (Hyg. says that Lynceus had this reputation for seeing underground because he knew about mining and was good at finding gold). This is certainly a simpler emendation than that offered here, but it may be even easier to keep the text as is, and suppose that Hyg. is referring to an otherwise unknown version where Lynceus can’t in fact see anything at night. Such a myth would fit well with the Greek mythical predilection for a kind of balance in people’s “sight,” as with Tiresias, Demodocus, etc. Thus, Lynceus, who can see so much during the day can see less than an ordinary man at night. The possibility that Hyg. provides otherwise unattested versions of myths is one of the things that makes the Fabulae so fascinating and valuable.

In addition, then, to people using this for teaching a myth class their own reading, those who work on these authors or refer to them often will want to own a copy of this admirable volume. S/T are to be commended on dedicating so much time to two authors used by many but studied by few.


1. M. Grant, The Myths of Hyginus (Lawrence 1960).

2. H. J. Rose, Hygini Fabulae (Leiden 1967); F. Serra, C. Iulius Hyginus, historicus et mithographus (Pisa 1976); P. K. Marshall, Hygini Fabulae. 2nd ed. (Munich and Leipzig 2002); J.-Y. Boriaud, Hygin. Fables. 2nd ed. (Paris 2003).

3. S. M. Trzaskoma, R. Scott Smith, and Stephen Brunet, Anthology of Classical Myth. Primary Sources in Translation (Indianapolis 2004). In this they translated 178 of the 246 extant Fabulae and, at a rough estimate, maybe a quarter of the Library.

4. K. Aldrich, The Library of Greek Mythology (Lawrence 1975); M. Simpson, Gods and Heroes of the Greeks: The Library of Apollodorus (Amherst 1976); R. Hard, The Library of Greek Mythology (Oxford 1997).

5. See, e.g.: Apd. 1.52 and Hyg. 65: the myth of Ceyx and Alcyone, arrogant blasphemers in the former and pious lovers in the latter; Apd. 3.42-44 and Hyg. 7: the background and birth of Zethus and Amphion; Apd. E. 2.3-9 and Hyg. 84: how Pelops won his race against Oenomaus and what happened afterwards; and Hyg. 99-101 and Apd. 2.146-7, 3.103-4, E. 3.17, E. 3.20: the life and times of Telephos.

6. Cf. J. Binder, “The West Pediment of the Parthenon: Poseidon” in Studies Presented to Sterling Dow. GRBS Monographs 10 (Durham, NC 1984) pp. 15-22. O. Palagia, The Pediments of the Parthenon (Leiden 1993) p. 40 offers a convenient summary of the matter.

7. They refer to “the priest Brisa,” when Hyg. uses the genitive Brisae sacerdotis (106); the nominative here is not Brisa, but Brises (like, e.g., Anchisae as the genitive of Anchises at Aeneid 4.351); the same error is repeated in the index. Hyg. 277 “Clothos” should be “Clotho.” In the General Index, s.v. Telephos, they include Apd. 1.79, which is not the same figure; this Telephos should have a separate entry. In the same entry, they have Apd. 1.146-147, but this should be 2.146-147 (a similar error occurs on p. xii, where Apd. 3.48-56 is cited as 2.48-56). The entry for “Pity” in the index doesn’t include Apd. 2.167, “at the altar of Pity.” Also missing is a citation of Apd. 380 under “Epigoni.” There are several formatting errors as well: Hyg. 73, Alcmaeon is hyphenated “Al-cmaeon”; Hyg. 136.4, there is a space missing in “me.’While” (and a similar error appears in Hyg. 252). The verses at Apd. 3.72 (about Actaion’s dogs, bracketed by most editors) and E. 2.15 (a supplement from Tzetzes Chiliades 1.456-65) are not indented as they are at, e.g. Apd. 3.32, and thus readers will not know that they are excerpted from poems.

8. A. Henrichs, “Three Approaches to Greek Mythography,” in J. Bremmer, ed. Interpretations of Greek Mythology (London and Sydney 1987) pp. 242-77. The forthcoming edition of the second part of De Pietate by D. Obbink will facilitate study of this key work.

9. R. Wagner, Mythographi Graeci vol. 1. Apollodori Bibliotheca. Pediasimi Libellus de Duodecim Herculis Laboribus. 2nd ed. (Stuttgart 1926); J. G. Frazer, Apollodorus. The Library. 2 vols. (Cambridge, MA 1921), still, to my mind, the best value in the Loeb Classical Library. M. Papathomopoulos, “Pour une nouvelle édition de la Bibliothèque d’ Apollodore.” Hellenika 26 (1973) 18-40.

10. P. Scarpi, I miti greci (Biblioteca). Traduzione di Maria Grazia Ciani (Milan 2000).