BMCR 2022.11.21

Die Fragmente der Griechischen Historiker IV: biography and antiquarian literature

, Die Fragmente der griechischen Historiker IV: biography and antiquarian literature A. Biography. Fascicle 5. The first century BC and Hellenistic authors of uncertain date [nos. 1035-1045]. Die Fragments der Griechischen Historiker. Leiden: Brill, 2021. Pp. xiv, 906. ISBN 9789004209138. €199.00 / $229.00.

This continuation of Die Fragmente der griechischen Historiker (FGrHist) contains an edition of, and commentary upon, two groups of Hellenistic biographers: Hellenistic authors of the First Century BCE (FGrHist 1035-41), and Hellenistic authors of uncertain date (FGrHist 1042-45). A full English translation of the fragments and testimonia is also provided. The editor notes (p3) that, since this volume is a contribution to FGrHist, the ambit of the commentary is historical and philological; any philosophical content of the fragments is not the subject of specific comment. At first blush, this might seem a serious limitation, in a volume so concerned with the ancient biographers of philosophers. In practice, the exclusion provokes little discomfort. This reader found only two cases in the whole volume where the philosophical content of the fragments might make one pine a little for such a treatment: the recitation of Pythagorean opinions which Alexander Polyhistor apparently found in an earlier document (FGrHist 1035 F8); and the introduction to Stoic logic which Diogenes Laertios seems to have owed to Diokles of Magnesia (FGrHist 1039 F2). In both cases, there is still full commentary on the constitution of the text, and copious reference to the relevant philosophical bibliography.

Of the writers covered in this volume, the following are given a full edition in it for the first time: Apollonios of Tyros (FGrHist 1037), Diokles of Magnesia (FGrHist 1039), Stratokles of Rhodes (FGrHist 1041), and the Anonymus Stoicus (an unidentified author cited, once, in P.Herc.1018, a Herculaneum papyrus of Philodemus; FGrHist 1042). Amongst the rest, Alexander Polyhistor (FGrHist 1035) and Nikanor (FGrHist 1044) have already been edited twice in a Jacoby or Jacoby-adjacent context (once in the original FGrHist; once in the first edition of Brill’s New Jacoby); Laitos (FGrHist 1043) has been edited thusly thrice (once for FGrHist; twice for BNJ).

In this instance, fear of philological freecycling would be unjustified. Zaccaria expounds the existing literature on these authors, which is sometimes mountainous, with lucidity and good judgment; where he follows prior opinions, or dissents from them, his arguments are clear. One may not always end up agreeing with him, but one comes away from his discussions settled in one’s mind as to what has been said about a passage and why. This is no small feat when a principal witness to one’s edited authors is so often Diogenes Laertius, in whose work textual uncertainty, the loss of that author’s own sources, and philological arguments conceived to support pre-existing scholarly conclusions can combine to brew a perfect storm of confusion. I would single out as a particularly good example of Zaccaria’s sure hand at the tiller on such occasions his discussion of the textual crux at Diogenes Laertius 7.48 (pp493-506), where the diversity of scholarly opinion from Hübner to the present day receives ample, judicious summary and critique.

The translations are clear and accurate; controversial renderings are justified in the commentary. Very occasionally, Zaccaria’s renderings verge on euphemism; that being said, while “beloved boy” (p183) is arguably a less than ideal rendering for παιδικά, the word has challenged others for sure.[1] I found only a handful of typographical errors in this hefty work: “accumstomed” (p23); “indentifying” (p28); “patronimic” (p31); “pared” (for “paired”, p292); “predeces” (for “precedes”, p505). None is likely to cause confusion.


Some comments on particular passages:

P55: For the enduring Stoic associations of Tarsus, add to the passages cited here Juvenal on the education of P. Egnatius Celer (Juvenal 3.117-8).

P98: If, with Zaccaria, we accept that Amphikrates of Athens was interested in drawing parallels between Theodoros, condemned to die by drinking poison, and Themistokles (FGrHist 1036 F2), it might be pertinent to add the tradition that Themistokles died by poisoning himself, by bull’s blood rather than hemlock (Aristophanes, Knights, 83-4).

P99: Amphikrates, for Zaccaria, was “surely anti-Roman” (this has receded to “probably an anti-Roman writer” by p103). Is the evidence for that thesis really so strong? The tradition attests that Amphikrates moved into the orbit of Kleopatra, who was married to Tigranes – a monarch who was certainly at hazard with Rome (FGrHist 1036 T1). On the other hand, Amphikrates seems to have fallen into disrepute there rather quickly (though honoured, eventually, with a burial) and was “barred from intercourse with the Greeks” – and Greeks, as Zaccaria goes on to note (p101), handed Tigranokerta over to Rome as soon as Lucullus invaded. Confidence as to this author’s politics seems unwarranted.

P455: Zaccaria moves from the assertion that Diokles of Magnesia was “of some importance in contemporary intellectual circles” to the inference that “he was active in a city with a lively cultural life”. Such reasoning would rule out Plutarch staying at Chaeronea (or Ephoros at Cyme, if so he did in later life).

P460: The useful remarks here on the definition of that fluid term “doxography” might, with profit to the reader, have been relocated to the opening pages of the whole volume.

P753: According to Zaccaria, the attestation of Lactantius that Nikanor “res gestas Alexandri Macedonis scripsit” (FGrHist 1044 F1a) “presupposes a Greek title such as Αλεξάνδρου πράξεις”, and so refutes the otherwise unanimous (but interdependent) tradition that Nikanor was one who wrote τὸν ᾽Αλεξάνδρου βίον. “We can therefore reasonably conclude that Nikanor… did not write a bios of Alexander, but rather a historical monograph about Alexander, possibly entitled Αλεξάνδρου πράξεις” (p757). This “unexpected conclusion” also makes it to the general introduction (p1).

There is a problem here. Vitae and res gestae (with these terms being conceived as titles, or the names of genres) could certainly be used by ancient writers to mark a distinction between biography and history.[2] On the other hand, to say that a biographer wrote the res gestas (the “deeds”) of his subjects would not have been inaccurate. Ausonius, for example, says of the twelve Caesars that Suetonius “peregit” their “res gestas” (Ausonius 14.1.5). To be sure, the subject’s res gestae would generally only be part of a biography:[3] Ausonius also says that Suetonius went through the “nomina… vitamque obitumque” of his subjects. An author not especially troubled to specify the genres of his sources might well not bother himself to do so, however. Lactantius in the Institutiones is happy to speak of poets as covering the res gestas of their subjects, too (Institutiones 1.5.3, 1.11.23).

In short, Lactantius is not a sure indication that Nikanor wrote a historical monograph about Alexander, rather than a biography. Of course, it may be that the boundary between a very biographical history and a very historiographical biography was not always obvious, for all that we customarily quote Plutarch Alexander 1.2 on the distinction. The attested titles (if accurate) of some lost works from antiquity might seem to have been skirting that boundary. Were Arrian’s works on ὅσα Τιμολέοντι τῶι Κορινθίωι κατὰ Σικελίαν ἐπράχθη and τὰ Δίωνι τῶι Συρακουσίωι ὅσα ἀξιαφήγητα ἔργα ἐπετελέσθη (BNJ 156 T4a) part of one work, monographs, or biographies?

P781 n72: To the examples of philoponia assembled here, we might add the Elder Pliny, according to Pliny, Epistulae 3.5.8-13.

In 1855/6, as Zaccaria’s delightful footnote at p214 n1 narrates, Constantine Simonides presented to the world a biography of the fifth century CE poet Nonnos. This biography Simonides claimed to have found in a rediscovered lost work by Demetrios of Magnesia, whose oeuvre was known to Cicero. Apart from demonstrating Simonides’ heroic disregard for the laws of God, man, and chronology, the story has a lesson: the significance of the lost Hellenistic biographers propagates beyond their own works, and is not to be slighted. Zaccaria has done us a service by putting their further study on such a good footing.



[1] K. J. Dover, Greek Homosexuality (London, 1978), 16.

[2] See, for example, J. Geiger, “Cornelius Nepos, De Regibus Exterarum Gentium”, Latomus 38 (1979), 662-9, at 668.

[3] Geiger, op. cit., ibid.