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Charles Nekrasov
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From Mythology to History: The Contents and Structure of the Historical Library of Diodorus Siculus



The Historical Library of Diodorus Siculus: An Ancient Treasure of World History




If you are interested in learning about the history of the ancient world, from the creation of the universe to the fall of the Roman Republic, there is one source that you should not miss: the Historical Library of Diodorus Siculus. This monumental work, written in Greek by a Sicilian historian in the first century BC, is one of the most comprehensive and fascinating accounts of world history ever produced. In this article, we will explore what the Historical Library is, what it contains, how it was written, and why it is important for us today.




the historical library of diodorus siculus


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Introduction




Who was Diodorus Siculus?




Diodorus Siculus (meaning Diodorus from Sicily) was a Greek historian who lived in the first century BC. He was born in Agyrium, a town in central Sicily, around 90 BC. He traveled extensively throughout the Mediterranean world, visiting Egypt, Asia Minor, Greece, Rome, Gaul, and other places. He spent most of his life in Rome, where he wrote his Historical Library, a universal history in 40 books. He died sometime after 30 BC.


What is the Historical Library?




The Historical Library (in Greek Bibliotheke Historike) is a monumental work that covers world history from the creation of the universe to 60 BC. It is divided into 40 books, each consisting of several chapters. It is one of the largest and most ambitious historical works ever written in antiquity. Unfortunately, only 15 books have survived intact (books 1-5 and 11-20), while the rest are known only from fragments or summaries.


Why is it important?




The Historical Library is important for several reasons. First, it is a valuable source of information for many aspects of ancient history, culture, geography, mythology, and religion that are not found elsewhere. Second, it is a remarkable example of the genre of universal history, which aimed to provide a comprehensive and coherent account of the human past. Third, it is a fascinating witness to the worldview and mentality of a Greek historian living in the Roman world, who tried to make sense of the diversity and complexity of human history.


The Contents of the Historical Library




The First Six Books: Mythology and Prehistory




The Creation of the World and the First Civilizations




The first book of the Historical Library begins with a cosmogony, or an account of how the world came into being. Diodorus follows the version of the Greek philosopher Plato, who said that the world was created by a supreme god out of chaos. He then describes the origin and nature of the four elements (fire, air, water, and earth), the heavenly bodies, the seasons, and the human race. He also gives an account of the first civilizations that emerged after the flood, such as those of Egypt, Mesopotamia, India, and China.


The Heroes and the Trojan War




The second and third books of the Historical Library deal with the age of heroes, or the legendary period of Greek history. Diodorus narrates the stories of famous heroes such as Hercules, Theseus, Jason, Perseus, and Bellerophon. He also recounts the events of the Trojan War, which was fought between the Greeks and the Trojans over the beautiful Helen. He follows mainly the version of Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, but also adds some details from other sources.


The Wanderings of Odysseus and Aeneas




The fourth and fifth books of the Historical Library continue with the aftermath of the Trojan War. Diodorus describes the adventures of Odysseus, who took ten years to return to his home in Ithaca after facing many dangers and temptations. He also tells the story of Aeneas, who escaped from Troy and founded a new city in Italy, which later became Rome. He follows mainly the version of Virgil's Aeneid, but also adds some details from other sources.


The Next Ten Books: History of the Ancient Near East and Greece




The Assyrians, Babylonians, Medes, and Persians




The sixth book of the Historical Library marks the transition from mythology to history. Diodorus begins with an account of the ancient Near East, focusing on the rise and fall of various empires. He describes the Assyrians, who dominated Mesopotamia for centuries; the Babylonians, who conquered Jerusalem and built the famous Hanging Gardens; the Medes, who overthrew the Assyrians; and the Persians, who created a vast empire under Cyrus, Darius, and Xerxes.


The Egyptians, Ethiopians, and Libyans




The seventh book of the Historical Library deals with Egypt and its neighbors. Diodorus gives a detailed description of the geography, history, culture, religion, and customs of Egypt. He also mentions some remarkable events and monuments, such as the pyramids, the sphinx, and the labyrinth. He then moves on to Ethiopia and Libya, where he reports some exotic stories about animals, plants, and people.


The Greeks, Macedonians, and Alexander the Great




The eighth to seventeenth books of the Historical Library cover the history of Greece from its earliest times to 301 BC. Diodorus traces the development of various Greek city-states such as Athens, Sparta, Thebes, and Corinth. He also narrates the wars and alliances that shaped Greek politics, such as the Persian Wars, the Peloponnesian War, the Theban Hegemony, and the Corinthian War. He pays special attention to the rise of Macedonia under Philip II and his son Alexander the Great, who conquered most of the known world in a few years. He describes Alexander's campaigns, battles, and achievements, as well as his death and legacy.


The Last Five Books: History of Rome and the Mediterranean World




The Rise of Rome and its Conquests




The Punic Wars and Hannibal's Invasion




The eighteenth and nineteenth books of the Historical Library deal with the Punic Wars, or the wars between Rome and Carthage. Diodorus describes the first Punic War, which was fought mainly at sea over the control of Sicily. He also recounts the second Punic War, which was marked by the invasion of Italy by Hannibal, the Carthaginian general who crossed the Alps with elephants. He narrates Hannibal's victories at Trebia, Lake Trasimene, and Cannae, as well as his defeats at Zama and other battles.


The Civil Wars and the Fall of the Republic




The twentieth book of the Historical Library covers the period from 219 to 60 BC, which was characterized by civil wars and political turmoil in Rome. Diodorus reports the events that led to the collapse of the Roman Republic, such as the Gracchan reforms, the Social War, the rise and fall of Marius and Sulla, the conspiracy of Catiline, and the first triumvirate of Caesar, Pompey, and Crassus. He also mentions some important figures and episodes in Roman history, such as Cicero, Cato, Spartacus, and Mithridates.


The Sources and Style of the Historical Library




The Use of Earlier Historians and Geographers




Herodotus, Thucydides, Polybius, and Others




One of the most remarkable features of the Historical Library is its extensive use of earlier historians and geographers as sources. Diodorus did not conduct original research or eyewitness observation, but relied on the works of previous writers who had done so. He often cites or paraphrases his sources by name, such as Herodotus, Thucydides, Polybius, Ctesias, Ephorus, Timaeus, Eratosthenes, and many others. He also sometimes compares or contrasts different versions of the same event or topic.


The Criticism and Evaluation of Sources




Another remarkable feature of the Historical Library is its critical and evaluative approach to sources. Diodorus did not blindly accept or copy everything he found in his sources, but tried to assess their reliability and accuracy. He often points out errors, contradictions, exaggerations, or biases in his sources. He also sometimes expresses his own opinion or judgment on historical matters. He shows a preference for rational and natural explanations over mythical and miraculous ones.


The Literary and Rhetorical Techniques of Diodorus




The Chronological and Geographical Organization




One of the main challenges that Diodorus faced in writing his Historical Library was how to organize such a vast amount of material in a coherent and clear way. He chose to follow a chronological and geographical scheme that divided world history into periods and regions. He started each period with a synchronism that listed the rulers and events in different parts of the world at that time. He then proceeded to narrate each region separately in a logical order.


The Digressions and Moral Lessons




Another challenge that Diodorus faced in writing his Historical Library was how to make it interesting and engaging for his readers. He used various literary and rhetorical techniques to achieve this goal. One of them was to insert digressions or excursuses on topics that were relevant or curious to his main narrative. For example, he gives descriptions of places, peoples, customs, animals, plants, monuments, arts, sciences, religions, etc. Another technique was to draw moral lessons or reflections from historical events or characters. For example, he praises virtues such as courage, justice, and wisdom, and condemns vices such as tyranny, cruelty, and greed.


The Reception and Influence of the Historical Library




The Preservation and Transmission of the Text




The Manuscripts and Editions




The text of the Historical Library


has suffered a lot of damage and loss over the centuries. Only 15 books have survived intact, while the rest are known only from fragments or summaries. The surviving books are preserved in a few manuscripts that date from the 10th to the 15th centuries AD. The first printed edition of the Historical Library


was published in Basel in 1539 by Hieronymus Froben. Since then, many other editions have been produced, based on different manuscripts or conjectures.


The Translations and Commentaries




The Historical Library


has been translated into various languages, such as Latin, French, Italian, Spanish, English, German, and others. The first English translation was made by John Skelton in the 16th century, but it was incomplete and inaccurate. The most recent English translation was made by Charles Henry Oldfather and others in the 20th century, as part of the Loeb Classical Library series. It is accompanied by notes and introductions that explain and comment on the text.


The Appreciation and Criticism of Diodorus by Modern Scholars




The Strengths and Weaknesses of Diodorus as a Historian




The Historical Library


has received mixed reviews from modern scholars. On the one hand, it is praised for its scope, ambition, and diversity. It is a valuable source of information for many aspects of ancient history that are not found elsewhere. It is also a remarkable example of the genre of universal history, which aimed to provide a comprehensive and coherent account of the human past. On the other hand, it is criticized for its lack of originality, accuracy, and criticality. It is often accused of being a mere compilation or epitome of earlier sources, without adding much of its own. It is also often blamed for being uncritical, uncritical, or inconsistent in its use and evaluation of sources. It is also sometimes faulted for being dull, dry, or tedious in its style and presentation.


The Contribution and Relevance of Diodorus for World History




Despite its flaws and limitations, the Historical Library remains an important and relevant work for world history. It is one of the few ancient works that attempted to cover world history in a systematic and comprehensive way. It is also one of the few ancient works that tried to integrate different regions and cultures into a unified historical narrative. It shows a remarkable interest and curiosity for the diversity and complexity of human history. It also reflects the worldview and mentality of a Greek historian living in the Roman world, who tried to make sense of the changes and challenges that he witnessed. It is a fascinating witness to the encounter and interaction between different civilizations in antiquity.


Conclusion




In conclusion, the Historical Library of Diodorus Siculus is an ancient treasure of world history. It is a monumental work that covers world history from the creation of the universe to 60 BC. It is divided into 40 books, each consisting of several chapters. It is one of the largest and most ambitious historical works ever written in antiquity. Unfortunately, only 15 books have survived intact, while the rest are known only from fragments or summaries. The Historical Library is a valuable source of information for many aspects of ancient history, culture, geography, mythology, and religion that are not found elsewhere. It is also a remarkable example of the genre of universal history, which aimed to provide a comprehensive and coherent account of the human past. It is also a fascinating witness to the worldview and mentality of a Greek historian living in the Roman world, who tried to make sense of the diversity and complexity of human history.


FAQs




Here are some frequently asked questions about the Historical Library of Diodorus Siculus:



Who was Diodorus Siculus?


  • Diodorus Siculus was a Greek historian who lived in the first century BC. He was born in Agyrium, a town in central Sicily, around 90 BC. He traveled extensively throughout the Mediterranean world, visiting Egypt, Asia Minor, Greece, Rome, Gaul, and other places. He spent most of his life in Rome, where he wrote his Historical Library, a universal history in 40 books. He died sometime after 30 BC.



What is the Historical Library?


  • several chapters. It is one of the largest and most ambitious historical works ever written in antiquity. Unfortunately, only 15 books have survived intact (books 1-5 and 11-20), while the rest are known only from fragments or summaries.



Why is the Historical Library important?


  • The Historical Library is important for several reasons. First, it is a valuable source of information for many aspects of ancient history, culture, geography, mythology, and religion that are not found elsewhere. Second, it is a remarkable example of the genre of universal history, which aimed to provide a comprehensive and coherent account of the human past. Third, it is a fascinating witness to the worldview and mentality of a Greek historian living in the Roman world, who tried to make sense of the diversity and complexity of human history.



What are the main sources and style of the Historical Library?


  • The main sources of the Historical Library are earlier historians and geographers who had written about different regions and periods of world history. Diodorus often cites or paraphrases his sources by name, such as Herodotus, Thucydides, Polybius, Ctesias, Ephorus, Timaeus, Eratosthenes, and many others. He also sometimes compares or contrasts different versions of the same event or topic. He also shows a critical and evaluative approach to sources, pointing out errors, contradictions, exaggerations, or biases in his sources. The main style of the Historical Library is literary and rhetorical. Diodorus uses various techniques to organize and present his material in a clear and interesting way. He follows a chronological and geographical scheme that divided world history into periods and regions. He also inserts digressions or excursuses on topics that were relevant or curious to his main narrative. He also draws moral lessons or reflections from historical events or characters.



How was the Historical Library preserved and transmitted?


  • The text of the Historical Library has suffered a lot of damage and loss over the centuries. Only 15 books have survived intact, while the rest are known only from fragments or summaries. The surviving books are preserved in a few manuscripts that date from the 10th to the 15th centuries AD. The first printed edition of the Historical Library was published in Basel in 1539 by Hieronymus Froben. Since then, many other editions have been produced, based on different manuscripts or conjectures. The Historical Library has also been translated into various languages, such as Latin, French, Italian, Spanish, English, German, and others.



What are the strengths and weaknesses of Diodorus as a historian?


  • The Historical Library has received mixed reviews from modern scholars. On the one hand, it is praised for its scope, ambition, and diversity. It is a valuable source of information for many aspects of ancient history that are not found elsewhere. It is also a remarkable example of the genre of universal history, which aimed to provide a comprehensive and coherent account of the human past. On the other hand, it is criticized for its lack of originality, accuracy, and criticality. It is often accused of being a mere compilation or epitome of earlier sources, without adding much of its own. It is also often blamed for being uncritical, uncritical, or inconsistent in its use and evaluation of sources. It is also sometimes faulted for being dull, dry, or tedious in its style and presentation.



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