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Apollodorus, a Troezenian

Apollodorus (2), Athenian leader of mercenaries

Apollodorus (3), tyrant of Cassandria

Apollodorus (4)

Apollodorus, Library c. 100 - 200 AD

In the second century BC, Apollodorus of Athens was a scholar who studied under the famous Aristarchus at Alexandria, but left that city around 146 BC, perhaps for Pergamon. He spent much of his later life working at Athens, and produced a wide range of major scholarly works. In the Byzantine period, his name became associated with the “Library,” the mythological handbook which now survives as our best single source on Greek mythology.

Apollodorus of Athens could not, however, have composed the “Library.” The text that we possess cites a Roman author, Castor the Annalist, who was a contemporary of Cicero in the first century B.C. Since there is no reason to doubt that his passage belongs to the Library, the text which we have was composed at least a century after the historical Apollodorus of Athens was in his prime. The real author of the Library of Apollodorus is thus unknown. Scholarly opinion, arguing from the language used by the text, generally places the Library in the first or second centuries A.D.

One aspect of the Library which also suggests that it is not the work of Apollodorus the Athenian contributes to this work's great value for modern scholars: where Apollodorus the Athenian seems to have interpreted ancient myths according to the intellectual trends of his day, the author of the Library reports its myths with little interpretation and draws often upon very old and conservative sources. The Librarypreserves many mythological variants which Greek epic and lyric poetry seem to presuppose without directly mentioning, and thus often seems to provide a picture of Greek mythology as it appeared in the archaic and classical period. Apollodorus is thus an invaluable source to the student of Greek mythology.

sources used by Apollodorus

The Library was composed at least four hundred years after the death of Alexander the Great (the conventional end of the Classical period), but this work nevertheless derives in large part from very early sources and gives us a better idea of Greek mythology in the archaic and classical period than other works written centuries earlier.

In a number of cases, we can see how the Library follows surviving sources, and the reader can compare the originals with the versions in the Library to get a sense of how faithful this text is: Apollod. 3.5.7-9-Sophocles, Oedipus Tyrannus Apollod. 1.9.15-Euripides, Alcestis Apollod. 1.9.28-Euripides, Medea Apollod. E.7-Homer, Odyssey Apollod. 1.9.16-26-Apollonius of Rhodes, Argonautica

The most important lost source used by the Library seems to have been Pherecydes of Athens, a prose author from the fifth century BC, who composed a long work on Greek mythology. Many of the most useful traditions preserved in Apollodorus seem to derive from Pherecydes, and Apollodorus thus offers us glimpses of myths as they were recorded at a very early date.

The text of the Library is not complete, and the later sections are missing. Two manuscripts, however, contains largely identical summaries of the Libraryas a whole, and James Frazer, the editor of the Loeb Edition Apollodoros [Frazer, 1913], created the “Epitome,” a composite text, drawn from these two manuscript summaries. Frazer includes that section of this Epitome which takes up where the regular text breaks off, thus providing a more or less complete version of whole.

In addition, the index and especially the notes which accompany the text of the Libraryin the Loeb Classical Library edition were composed by Sir James Frazer, the author of the Golden Bough. The index is thorough, and the notes contain references to most of the other major literary sources for the myths mentioned in the Library. A reader interested in seeing how Greek texts portray the story of Herakles and the Hesperides can begin by looking for the Hesperides in the index to Apollodorus, check what Apollodorus has to say and then look up the references collected by Frazer in the notes.

    Apollodorus. Gods and Heroes of the Greeks: the Library of Apollodorus translated with Introduction and Notes by Michael Simpson. Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 1976. vi+311. Apollodorus. The Library. Loeb Classical Library. 2 vols. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1921. Apollodorus. The Library of Greek Mythology: Translated with Notes and Indices. Lawrence, Kansas: Coronado Press, 1975. x+297.
Gregory Crane
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