Diodorus Siculus, Books 11-12.37.1: Greek History 480-431 BC, the Alternative Version

Diodorus Siculus, Books 11-12.37.1: Greek History 480-431 BC, the Alternative Version

Diodorus Siculus, Books 11-12.37.1: Greek History 480-431 BC, the Alternative Version

Diodorus Siculus, Books 11-12.37.1: Greek History 480-431 BC, the Alternative Version

Synopsis

Sicilian historian Diodorus Siculus (ca. 100-30 BCE) is our only surviving source for a continuous narrative of Greek history from Xerxes' invasion to the Wars of the Successors following the death of Alexander the Great. Yet this important historian has been consistently denigrated as a mere copyist who slavishly reproduced the works of earlier historians without understanding what he was writing. By contrast, in this iconoclastic work Peter Green builds a convincing case for Diodorus' merits as a historian. Through a fresh English translation of a key portion of his multi-volume history (the so-called Bibliotheke, or "Library") and a commentary and notes that refute earlier assessments of Diodorus, Green offers a fairer, better balanced estimate of this much-maligned historian. The portion of Diodorus' history translated here covers the period 480-431 BCE, from the Persian invasion of Greece to the outbreak of the Peloponnesian War. This half-century, known as the Pentekontaetia, was the Golden Age of Periclean Athens, a time of unprecedented achievement in drama, architecture, philosophy, historiography, and the visual arts. Green's accompanying notes and commentary revisit longstanding debates about historical inconsistencies in Diodorus' work and offer thought-provoking new interpretations and conclusions. In his masterful introductory essay, Green demolishes the traditional view of Diodorus and argues for a thorough critical reappraisal of this synthesizing historian, who attempted nothing less than a "universal history" that begins with the gods of mythology and continues down to the eve of Julius Caesar's Gallic campaigns.

Excerpt

My acquaintance with Diodorus goes back half a century, and involves a most improbable prophecy. While writing my first published book—an excruciatingly naïve account of my recent travels in Italy and Sicily—I found myself getting interested in that early Sicilian nationalist Ducetius. To find out more about him, I turned to Diodorus, as anyone must who studies the ancient history of Sicily. When my book appeared it was, to my considerable surprise, picked out by Harold Nicolson as the subject of a lead review in the London Observer. This, I very soon realized, was in order to let Nicolson play with it, as cat with mouse, and exercise his cultured irony at my expense. Still, column-inches, good or bad, measure publicity—something my publisher was quick to point out—so I couldn’t really complain. The acme of damning with faint praise was reached by Nicolson in his final sentence, where, magnanimously, he assured his readers that one day this neophyte author would “write a commentary on Diodorus Siculus that would delight us all.” Since I happened to remember—and so, I’m sure, did Nicolson—that Macaulay had described Diodorus as a “stupid, credulous, prosing old ass,” I wasn’t convinced that this was an unalloyed compliment. But it certainly stuck in my mind. In the fullness of time—and fifty years on can surely be so described— it looks as though Nicolson’s improbable forecast may, at long last, be coming true. The commentary, at least, is materializing. How many people it delights will, of course, be quite another matter.

For a great deal of my career as a professional classicist, I—like so many of my colleagues—looked on Diodorus as a mere pis aller fallback, only as good as his source of the moment. While there is undoubtedly a certain amount of truth in this popular thumbnail evaluation, it is very far from the whole picture, as I discovered when I began to investigate him more closely, as a necessary preliminary to my projected commentary on Herodotos. What struck me first, and most powerfully, was the violent, contemptuous, and often seem-

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.