Diodorus

This is a post about an obscure Ancient Greek Historian and the conference I have just been to focussed on various aspects of criticism of his work so if Classics, Classicists, history, literary theory or Scotland bore you go ahead and skip it now.

Poor old Diodorus: after spending 30 years (he tells us) on his magnus opus of 40 odd books much is lost or saved for posterity only in encyclopedia style snippets and quotes and for a while he is plundered by historians mercilessly for information about Alexander and whole swathes of Hellenistic history, then worse the scholars who read him claimed that he was a mindless compiler no better than his lamented lost sources and proceeded to tear his work apart looking for the traces of what went before and now he has been handed to our tender mercies.

I have just spent 3 days immersed in contemporary criticism of his work in Glasgow. I am not going to give you a run down of all the papers – there is a conference website and hopefully there will be proceedings to follow – but there have been a few areas that are worth highlighting in terms of my thesis.
One of the key issues, even now after the rehabilitation of the idea of Diodorus’ personal style and contribution, when addressing his work is the issue of source material. The questions are in some respects no different from those we must pose to any historian:- where did he get his facts from, and how reliable was that information? In terms of a hellenistic writer we must consider what sections of the work represent autopsy, what are based on archival and epigraphical material and what are representations of earlier historians. It is important to look not just at named sources but at the places where sources are not specified and consider why they are suppressed [is it because it breaks the narrative flow/rhetorical styling; is it because there is reason to distrust the source and the point is not made if the ‘facts’ are in doubt or because the historian has previously criticised his source and doesn’t want to detract from that]. Furthermore we must consider the manner in which the sources are named – are they put forward as direct quotation, is this in line (collaborating) with the main historical argument or offered as an alternative view point, showing the studious research of the historian; are the sources named as part of a sequence of generic authors; are specific facts attributed to the source or the outline or idea – might the original source material in fact have held a different view of the causation of events or moral outcome?
I learned a lot about how modern scholars are investigating the problem of the ancient historian’s research methods. From statistical analysis of word frequency and its ability to show differences between historians to the problems of dating the composition of a piece and the way we can use terms and events to hypothesise about possible intervals.

In a more specific sense the conference encouraged me to consider how the wider intellectual environment of the text impacts on the section I am addressing. If I consider that the first 6 (5 extant) books for a general survey what principles hold that section together?  The key ideas that I have come away with today are:

  • that there is a strong sense of the importance of conquest on the knowledge of the oikoumene and that this ties into the foreshadowing patterns relating to the (unwritten/not surviving) conquests of Caesar.
  •  That even in this geographical discussion, the moral didacticism is important and the notion of civilising community which is linked to universal humanity and koinos bios (ala stoicism)
  • Following from that- there is a first century ‘mentality’ within which diodorus is crafting the notion of universal history. There is both an understanding of and use of Polybian Pragmatika but also a movement towards the incorporating pervasive stoic ideas and to be something other than historia of something but offering something accessible  (and yet still clearly different from the genres of Breveraria & Memorabilia – ie with more interpretation and theory, not just collection of key points/topics/dates/quotes)
  • That Diodorus shows a clear pro-greek bias (linguistically and ethnically) and an even more pronounced (perhaps obviously) Sicilian bias but does not shy away from offering positive points to ‘others’

Finally I discovered that the west-end of Glasgow is not a cheap place to eat or drink!

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