John of Antioch was a late antique Greek historian whose work only survives in fragments. At the end of the nineteenth century a section of the work was discovered directly preserved in a fourteenth-century manuscript from Mount Athos, Iviron 812, and this was published in the obscure setting of its editor’s personal academic journal, Neos Hellenomnemon, in 1904, but otherwise it is only known from collections of excerpts. Some of these are explicitly attributed to John of Antioch, but for the most part their identification depends on linguistic and textual parallels. The first edition was published by Carl Mueller in 1851 as volume 4 of Fragmenta Historicorum Graecorum with important additions published in volume 5 in 1870. He based his collection of Johannine texts on the excerpts preserved in the surviving volumes of the Excerpta sponsored by the tenth-century emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogenitos (913-59), some fragments found in Cod. Parisinus gr. 1630 (a fourteenth-century excerpt collection), those copied by Claude Saumaise from a mid-twelfth century manuscript, Cod. Vaticanus Palatinus 93, and so known as the Excerpta Salmasiana, and a short passage from the Patria Constantinopolitana, also of the late tenth century. To this he added a number of lemmata from the Suda, a late tenth- or early eleventh-century Byzantine encyclopaedia that has also drawn on John’s work.
On any grounds a new edition has been long overdue. Mueller used outdated editions for some of his texts, and apart from the section of John’s history found in Iviron 812, there have been more fragments identified in the Excerpta Planudea, a collection of excerpts on Roman history put together by the scholar monk Maximos Planudes (c.1260-1330) and preserved in a variety of manuscripts, the oldest dating to the late thirteenth century; more in the so-called Vienna Troica, a collection of excerpts on the Trojan War preserved in Cod. Vindobonensis hist. gr. 99 of the fourteenth century; and another short fragment in the Hypothesis of the Odyssey known from a Heidelberg manuscript, Cod. Pal. gr. 45, dated to 1201.
Four years ago just such a new edition appeared, Umberto Roberto’s Ioannis Antiocheni Fragmenta ex Historia chronica. Introduzione, edizione critica e traduzione. Texte und Untersuchungen zur Geschichte der altchristlichen Literatur, 154, which provides a very full 180 page introduction, and an edition and Italian translation of ALL the fragments. Alan Cameron’s very favourable review in BMCR 2006.07.37 was typical of the general response.
But as anyone even vaguely familiar with the Johanneische Frage, the lively debate about which of these fragments should really be identified as by John of Antioch, will know, Roberto had entered a lion’s den. As soon as Mueller’s work was published in the nineteenth century a series of distinguished German and Greek scholars pointed out that not all these fragments shared the same characteristics. Whereas most of the fragments from the Constantinian Excerpta were written in a high-style classicizing Greek, not dissimilar to that of Procopius, the bulk of the Salmasian excerpts were in a simpler register, closer to that of the chronicler, John Malalas. A minority view emerged that the real John of Antioch was a chronicler, akin to Malalas; but the weight of opinion was that John was a high-style historian, and consequently any fragments which did not meet those stylistic criteria (including some from the Constantinian Excerpta) cannot be by John and must have been written by someone else. This was the position reached by 1914, after which the debate lay dormant until 1989 when Panagiotis Sotiroudis reopened the topic, with a comprehensive survey of his predecessors’ work that decisively reaffirmed the majority opinion. For Sotiroudis John of Antioch was only the author of the high-style fragments. The rest were at best the work of a later continuator, or simply misattributed. Agreed that a new edition was badly needed, but from this perspective Roberto’s edition was unacceptable. A proper edition of John of Antioch would excise the fragments that had nothing to do with the real John, and add only the genuine material that had been identified since 1870. So out would go the bulk of the Salmasian material, all but two fragments from Parisinus gr. 1630, and some low-style fragments of the Constantinian Excerpta (which include the passages covering the fall of Maurice and reign of Phokas), and in would come the portion from Iviron 812 and most of the Excerpta Planudea, but none of the fragments identified in the Vienna Troica or the Heidelberg Hypothesis. Sotiroudis had apparently planned to do the work himself, but in the event that was not to be possible, and the task was passed to Sergei Mariev, then a doctoral student at the Ludwig-Maximilians University at Munich, and the edition being reviewed here is the revised version of that thesis.
What we have in Mariev’s edition is Sotiroudis’ John of Antioch: a high-style historian, whose work we can date to the early sixth century on the grounds that none of the fragments that cover a period after the reign of Anastasios (491-518) are written in the requisite style. By the standards he has set himself this is a good job well done. I have no complaint about Roberto’s edition or translation, but where they edit and translate the same texts I have a slight preference for Mariev’s versions. He keeps closer to the manuscripts than Roberto, and his translation is rather more precise in terms of the Greek text. Roberto prefers to correct misspellings of placenames and titles; Mariev prefers to leave them be, on the grounds that it is not known when these errors entered the text. They may be the excerptors’ mistakes, but then again they could equally be John’s. Mariev’s edition also has the advantage of printing parallel passages, so that for example, when a fragment is preserved in the Constantinian Excerpta but also in a less direct version in the Suda too, we are given both. But other than that there is little to choose between them. Except of course that you get much more for your money with Roberto.
And there’s the rub. Roberto does not accept the Sotiroudis-Mariev line. According to him, there is enough overlap in theme and content to link up all these fragments as part of a single work. The simpler style of some of the fragments, notably the bulk of the Salmasian excerpts, is because they have come to us via a later epitome which has taken away their classical brio. Mariev dismisses this as “the virtual annulment of the previous one and a half centuries of philological research” which actually gives Roberto too much credit. Like Mariev or Sotiroudis, or their nineteenth-century predecessors, Roberto accepts without questioning that a sixth-century author must have written in a consistent style, and so has to posit an epitome to explain the differences. Much more radical would be to accept Michael Whitby’s suggestion that John of Antioch was a compiler whose style reflected that of his sources.1 When he has access to high-style sources like Cassius Dio or Herodian John of Antioch can produce high-style history; when he has to use simpler chronicler sources, such as Malalas, or when he has to compose the work from scratch he writes something much more basic. The point, however, is that Mariev is attempting to close down a debate which is actually still open. One may agree with him that John of Antioch was a high-style author writing in the early sixth century, and accept neither Roberto’s nor Whitby’s hypotheses, but to see what the issues are about one needs all the texts to hand, and it is not very helpful to reach for a volume entitled “All the surviving fragments of John of Antioch” only to discover that many of the fragments which reputable scholars think are genuine John of Antioch are not there. Had Mariev done as Roberto did, and published all the relevant fragments, putting the ones he did not accept in an appendix, there is no doubt that with its exemplary scholarship, its English translation, and its presence in the prestigious Corpus Fontium Historiae Byzantinae, this would have been the standard edition, but as it is Roberto’s has to be the edition of choice.
Mariev’s work will certainly have an impact. With his English translation he will introduce John of Antioch to a larger audience than Roberto’s Italian. That a sixth-, or as Roberto would argue early seventh-century, Greek author could be so interested in the history of the Roman Republic was highlighted by Elizabeth Jeffreys some years ago, but will no doubt come as a revelation to many.2 The detailed coverage of Anastasios’ reign will no doubt prompt rethinking of that comparatively neglected period. The publication of this material will also encourage new work on the tenth-century excerptors and compliers. What did they see in John of Antioch that they were so keen to preserve? But the fact remains that for many of us who work on Byzantine history, the first thing we think about when the name John of Antioch arises is the passages that cover the fall of Maurice and the reign of Phokas. To open an edition and discover they are not there has to appear perverse.
1. Michael Whitby, “John of Antioch”, Classical Review n. s. 40 (1990), 255-6.
2. Elizabeth Jeffreys, “The attitudes of Byzantine Chroniclers towards Ancient History”, Byzantion 49 (1979), 199-238.