BMCR 2019.02.32

Jean Pédiasimos: Essai sur les douze travaux d’Héracles

, Jean Pédiasimos: Essai sur les douze travaux d'Héracles. Édition critique, traduction et introduction. . Orientalia Lovaniensia Analecta 270. Bibliothèque de Byzantion, 16. Leuven: Peeters, 2018. 149. ISBN 9789042935570 €86,00.

Table of Contents

This book by Katrien Levrie presents a new critical edition, translation and complete introduction of the mythological libellus De Herculis laboribus, written by the Palaeologan scholar John Pediasimus ( ca. 1250-1310/1314). The Libellus is a paraphrase of the second book of the Bibliotheca by Pseudo-Apollodorus (II, 72-126), probably penned during Pediasimus’ period as Imperial Professor, i.e., as ὕπατος τῶν φιλοσόφων (‘consul of the philosophers’) in Constantinople. The opuscule, which was previously edited by Leo Allatius (1641),1 Anton Westermann (1843),2 and Richard Wagner (1894),3 is an important testimony that allows us to delve deeper into how Greek mythography was received in Byzantium, more specifically in the Palaeologan Period, and Pediasimus’ exegetical contribution.

This new edition adds to the interest shown in recent years in Pediasimus’ work, for example, Inmaculada Pérez Martín’s identification of his hand 4 or this reviewer’s critical edition and translation of Pediasimus’ commentary on Cleomedes’ Caelestia. 5 In this new edition of the Libellus, the reader will find a complete introduction to the life and work of Pediasimus and an exhaustive study of the Libellus from a philological and mythographic approach. The most important contribution, though, is the critical edition, which for the first time takes into account the more than thirty manuscripts preserving the work, and the first translation of the work into a modern language, French.

The book is composed of seven chapters. Chapter 1 (“Introduction à Jean Pediasimus”) presents the biography of Pediasimus, his works, and intellectual value to the reader. It is divided into three sections: A. Biographie; B. Œuvres; C. Valeur de Jean Pédiasimos. Chapter 2 (“Introduction au Libellus de duodecim Herculis laboribus ”) is divided into four sections: A. La genre de la mythographie; B. Relation du Libellus avec la Bibliotheca de Pseudo-Apollodore; C. Comparaison du Libellus avec le poème iambique; D. La genre du Libellus de duodecim Herculis laboribus et son usage.

Section A. reflects on the mythographic genre and its role in Byzantium, where it seems to have disappeared due to the tendency of the Byzantines to imitate and conserve the ancient texts. However, texts such as the Libellus by Pediasimus could reveal a real interest in the genre. In Section B. the author conducts an interesting and exhaustive analysis of the Libellus; Pediasimus’ reworking of the mythographic material by Pseudo-Apollodorus (employing literal quotations, paraphrases, the omission of words, phrases or passages, textual elaborations, etc.) illustrates well his method of working in the text.

Section C. is devoted to the study of an iambic poem about the twelve labours of Hercules, solely preserved in the Uppsaliensis graecus 15 (ff. 128v-132v, fourteenth century). In this section, the author offers a complete study of the different datings proposed for the poem, the debate over its authorship, its sources, and its function in relation to the Libellus. Levrie supports the theory of Aubrey Diller, 6 who attributed the poem to Pediasimus. In this way, according to the author, the poem would just be a narrative exercise or poetic composition in accordance with Pediasimus’ role as Imperial Professor in Constantinople. Section D. introduces us to the context of the Libellus as a genre. The author here reflects on the nature of the Libellus as a grammatical exercise (schedography), as a mythographic treatise and as literary paraphrase meant to facilitate the comprehension of the text.

Chapter 3, “Traditio textus du Libellus de duodecim Herculis laboribus ”, is devoted to the textual transmission of the work. It is composed of two sections: A. La tradition directe: descriptio codicum; B. Éditions antérieures et traductions. Section A. opens with a list of the 39 manuscripts that transmit the work (fourteenth to eighteenth centuries). This is followed by a study dedicated to the testimonies, which is centred on their history and content more than on codicological or palaeographical aspects (as, indeed, Levrie notes: 32, n. 103). In this section we have detected an erratum: on p. 32, the date of the Laurentianus Plut. 60,19 is given as fourteenth century, perhaps due to the influence of the erroneous dating of Bandini’s catalogue,7 while p. 43 presents the correct date, provided by the project Commentaria in Aristotelem Graeca et Byzantina), i.e., the second half of the fifteenth century (n. 156 on p. 43 gives the erroneous dating of Bandini). Finally, section B. offers an interesting analysis of the three prior editions (v. supra), through a comparative table showing their divergent readings.

Chapter 4 is devoted to the “Recensio codicum”. It is divided into: A. Témoins non classables; B. Témoins aves des caractéristiques saillantes; C. Familles; D. Stemma codicum. Section A. includes the seven non-classifiable testimonies, as they contain the fragmentary text, as well as two testimonies to which Levrie has not had access: Mosq (Mosquensis Synodalis graecus 311) and the now lost Wroc (Wroclaviensis Biblioteka Uniwersytecka, Rehdiger 30). Section B. presents the testimonies with relevant characteristics: manuscripts in which the Libellus is accompanied by scholia (12 testimonies) or in which the text contains headings that were probably added by a scribe (7 testimonies). Section C. presents the manuscript filiation of the Libellus, which consists of three families that are derived from a lost common archetype: α, β, γ. Lastly, D. offers the stemma codicum, which does not include the fragmentary, non-classifiable testimonies.

Chapter 5 consists of the “Ratio edendi” prior to the critical edition: A. Principes d’édition du texte grec; B. Présentation du texte C. Orthographe, accentuation et ponctuation; D. Remarques concernant la traduction française. Chapter 6 provides the list of the exhaustive and updated biography employed in the volume. Finally, chapter 7, “Édition critique et traduction française”, begins with the conspectus siglorum of the 33 manuscripts employed for the edition, which also takes into account the three preceding editions (v. supra) and the text of the Bibliotheca by Pseudo-Apollodorus.

As far as the Greek text of the edition is concerned, it is divided into 12 chapters just as in the manuscripts. The author has opted to respect this structure, as it facilitates its reading and comprehension. There is no doubt that the edited text is philologically correct, though from a typographic point of view it is noteworthy that the publisher has chosen to present the Greek text in bold. Below the text there are two critical apparatus. The first, which is shorter, presents the manuscripts that transmit the work in question. The second, a rich critical apparatus, mentions only those testimonies that do not present the lectio adopted in the text.. An apparatus of sources is not included, although section C. (pages 25-28) already deals with the sources of the poem in detail. The French translation is presented facing the Greek text. It is without literary pretensions (as, indeed, Levrie notes in chapter 5D., p. 108), but is faithful to the Greek text and in correct French idiom.

This edition is an important contribution for classical philology, presenting the first critical edition that collates all the testimonies that transmit the opuscule De Herculis laboribus by Pediasimus and offers the contemporary reader a translation into a modern language. Indeed, Levrie has conducted a philologically rigorous work, well structured and of great quality, which allows us to delve deeper into the reception of a mythographic text such as the Bibliotheca by Pseudo-Apollodorus in Byzantium. Furthermore, an exhaustive philological analysis of the text also allows us a better understanding of Pediasimus’ interest in mythography and his exegetical method.


1. Allatius L. (ed.), “Pediasimis de utroque genere foeminarum”, BollClass, III.6 (1985): 96-9.

2. Westermann A. (ed.), Μυθογράφοι. Scriptores poeticae historiae graeci, Brunsvigae 1843.

3. Wagner R. (ed.), Apollodori Bibliotheca. Pediasimi Libellus de duodecim Herculis laboribus ( Mythographi Graeci 1), Leipzig 1894.

4. Pérez Martín I., “L’écriture de l’hypatos Jean Pothos Pédiasimos d’après ses scholies aux Elementa d’Euclide”, Scriptorium 64 (2010): 109-19.

5. Caballero Sánchez P., El Comentario de Juan Pediásimo a los Cuerpos celestes de Cleomedes: estudio, edición crítica y traducción (Nueva Roma 48), Madrid 2018.

6. Diller A., “The Text History of the Bibliotheca of Pseudo-Apollodorus”, in Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association 66 (1935), pp. 305-6.

7. Bandini A. M., Catalogus codicum manuscriptorum Bibliothecae Mediceae Laurentianae varia continens opera graecorum Patrum, vol. II, Firenze 1768, col. 610.