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Diodo'rus Siculus or Diodorus the Sicilian

12. The SICILIAN, usually called DIODORUS SICULUS, was a contemporary of Caesar and Augustus. (Suid. s. v. Διόδωρος; Euseb. Chron. ad Ann. 1967.) He was born in the town of Agyrium in Sicily, where he became acquainted with the Latin language through the great intercourse between the Romans and Sicilians. Respecting his life we know no more than what he himself tells us (1.4). He seems to have made it the business of his life to write an universal history from the earliest down to his own time. With this object in view, he travelled over a great part of Europe and Asia to gain a more accurate knowledge of nations and countries than he could obtain from previous historians and geographers. For a long time he lived at Rome, and there also he made large collections of materials for his work by studying the ancient documents.



Diodorus states, that he spent thirty years upon his work, which period probably includes the time he spent in travelling and collecting materials. As it embraced the history of all ages and countries, and thus supplied the place, as it were, of a whole library, he called it Βιβλιοθήκη, or, as Eusebius (Praep. Evang. 1.6) says, Βιβλιοθήκη ἱστορική. The time at which he wrote his history may be determined pretty accurately from internal evidence : he not only mentions Caesar's invasion of Britain and his crossing the Rhine, but also his death and apotheosis (1.4, 4.19, 5.21, 25) : he further states (1.44, comp. 83), that he was in Egypt in Ol. 190, that is, B. C. 20; and Scaliger (Animadu. ad Euscb. p. 156) has made it highly probable that Diodorus wrote his work after the year B. C. 8, when Augustus corrected the calendar and introduced the intercalation every fourth year.

The whole work of Diodorus consisted of forty books, and embraced the period from the earliest mythical ages down to the beginning of J. Caesar's Gallic wars. Diodorus himself further mentions, that the work was divided into three great sections. The first, which consisted of the first six books, contains the history of the mythical times previous to the Trojan war. The first books of this section treat of the mythuses of foreign countries, and the latter books of those of the Greeks. The second section consisted of eleven books, which contained the history from the Trojan war down to the death of Alexander the Great; and the third section, which contained the remaining 23 books, treated of the history from the death of Alexander down to the beginning of Caesar's Gallic wars. Of this great work considerable portions are now lost. The first five books, which contain the early history of the Eastern nations, the Egyptians, Aethiopians, and Greeks, are extant entire; the sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth, and tenth books are lost; but from the eleventh down to the twentieth the work is complete again, and contains the history from the second Persian war, B. C. 480, down to the year B. C. 302. The remaining portion of the work is lost, with the exception of a considerable number of fragments and the Excerpta, which are preserved partly in Photius (Bibl. Cod. 244), who gives extracts from books 31, 32, 33, 36, 37, 38, and 40, and partly in the Eclogae made at the command of Constantine Porphyrogenitus, from which they have successively been published by H. Stephens, Fulv. Ursinus, Valesius, and A. Mai. (Collect. Nova Script. ii. p. 1, &c., p. 568, &c.) The work of Diodorus is constructed upon the plan of annals, and the events of each year are placed by the side of one another without any internal connexion. In composing his Bibliotheca, Diodorus made use, independent of his own observations, of all sources which were accessible to him; and had he exercised any criticism or judgment, or rather had he possessed any critical powers, his work might have been of incalculable value to the student of history. But Diodorus did nothing but collect that which he found in his different authorities : he thus jumbled together history, mythus, and fiction; he frequently misunderstood or mutilated his authorities, and not seldom contradicts in one passage what he has stated in another. The absence of criticism is manifest throughout the work, which is in fact devoid of all the higher requisites of a history. But notwithstanding all these drawbacks, the extant portion of this great compilation is to us of the highest importance, on account of the great mass of materials which are there collected from a number of writers whose works have perished. Diodorus frequently mentions his authorities, and in most cases he has undoubtedly preserved the substance of his predecessors. (See Heyne, de Fontibus et Auctorib. Hist. Diodori, in the Commentat. Societ. Gotting. vols. v. and vii., and reprinted in the Bipont edition of Diodorus, vol. i. p. xix. &c., which also contains a minute account of the plan of the history by J. N. Eyring, p. cv., &c.) The style of Diodorus is on the whole clear and lucid, but not always equal, which may be owing to the different character of the works he used or abridged. His diction holds the middle between the archaic or refined Attic, and the vulgar Greek which was spoken in his time. (Phot. Bibl. Cod. 70.)


The work of Diodorus was first published in Latin translations of separate parts, until Vinc. Opsopaeus published the Greek text of books 16-20, Basel, 1539, 4to., which was followed by H. Stephens's edition of books 1-5 and 11-20, with the excerpta of Photius, Paris, 1559, fol. The next important edition is that of N. Rhodomannus (Hanover, 1604, fol.), which contains a Latin translation. The great edition of P. Wesseling, with an extensive and very valuable commentary, as well as the Eclogae of Constantine Porphyrogenitus, as far as they were then known, appeared at Amsterdam, 1746, 2 vols. fol. This edition was reprinted, with some additions, at Bipont (1793, &c.) in 11 vols. 8vo.

The best modern edition is that of L. Dindorf, Leipzig, 1828, 6 vols. 8vo.

The new fragments discovered and published by A. Mai were edited, with many improvements, in a separate volume by L. Dindorf, Leipzig, 1828, 8vo.

Letters Attributed to Diodorus

Wesseling's edition and the Bipont reprint of it contain 65 Latin letters attributed to Diodorus. They had first been published in Italian in Pietro Carrera's Storia di Catana, 1639, fol., and were then printed in a Latin version by Abraham Preiger in Burmann's Thesaur. Antig. Sicil. vol. x. and in the old edition of Fabr. Bibl. Gr. vol. xiv. p. 229, &c.

The Greek original of these letters has never been seen by any one, and there can be little doubt but that these letters are a forgery made after the revival of letters.

Further Information

Fabr. Bibl. Gr. iv. p. 373, &c.

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