The Persian Wars to the Fall of Athens: Books 11-14.34 (480-401 BCE)

The Persian Wars to the Fall of Athens: Books 11-14.34 (480-401 BCE)

The Persian Wars to the Fall of Athens: Books 11-14.34 (480-401 BCE)

The Persian Wars to the Fall of Athens: Books 11-14.34 (480-401 BCE)

Synopsis

Only one surviving source provides a continuous narrative of Greek history from Xerxes' invasion to the Wars of the Successors following the death of Alexander the Great--the Bibliotheke, or "Library," produced by Sicilian historian Diodorus Siculus (ca. 90-30 BCE). Yet generations of scholars have disdained Diodorus as a spectacularly unintelligent copyist who only reproduced, and often mangled, the works of earlier historians. Arguing for a thorough critical reappraisal of Diodorus as a minor but far from idiotic historian himself, Peter Green published Diodorus Siculus, Books 11-12.37.1, a fresh translation, with extensive commentary, of the portion of Diodorus's history dealing with the period 480-431 BCE, the so-called "Golden Age" of Athens.

This is the only recent modern English translation of the Bibliothekein existence. In the present volume--the first of two covering Diodorus's text up to the death of Alexander--Green expands his translation of Diodorus up to Athens' defeat after the Peloponnesian War. In contrast to the full scholarly apparatus in his earlier volume (the translation of which is incorporated) the present volume's purpose is to give students, teachers, and general readers an accessible version of Diodorus's history. Its introduction and notes are especially designed for this audience and provide an up-to-date overview of fifth-century Greece during the years that saw the unparalleled flowering of drama, architecture, philosophy, historiography, and the visual arts for which Greece still remains famous.

Excerpt

In a recent review (BMCR 2007.02.48) of a volume of Italian articles devoted to Diodorus Siculus, Catherine Rubincam—a scholar who has done as much as anyone to upgrade Diodorus’ abysmal reputation—described him, crisply, as “the historian whose work every modern historian of ancient Greece must use, while fervently wishing this could be avoided.” Use him they certainly must. His is the only connected ancient narrative of the period from the Persian Wars to the early conflicts of Alexander’s successors. Without what survives of his work, we should know virtually nothing—to take two obvious examples—about the history of ancient Sicily or the reign of Philip ii of Macedon. His chronological markers, book after book, despite their incidental errors, underlie much of our modern dating of ancient events; did they not exist, our knowledge of the Athenian archon list (to look no further) would be in tatters. It might be thought that modern scholarship would take all that this late, plodding, scissors-and-paste historian could give them and be thankful. Instead, a tradition developed in the nineteenth century of treating him as a mental defective: when he said what critics wanted to hear, that was due to his mindlessly copying a good source; when he did not, that was the result of his own stupidity.

There have been several unfortunate results of this general reaction. Large numbers of serious historical difficulties that Diodorus’ text raised were shelved or ignored on the grounds that this historian could not be taken seriously. Until recently the text of the Bibliotheke was studied only for what it might be able to tell us about its supposed sources. Lastly, no one in England or America has chosen to translate it in the last half-century, presumably out of fear of being associated with the mindlessness of its author. It is really astonishing, considering the crucial periods covered by the surviving books, that in fact the only English-language version available is that provided by the

1. Those interested in pursuing this sad historigraphical trail in detail should read the introduction to Green 2006.

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