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This webpage reproduces a portion of
The Library of History

Diodorus Siculus

published in Vol. II
of the Loeb Classical Library edition, 1935

The text is in the public domain.

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(Vol. II) Diodorus Siculus
Library of History

 p337  Book IV (beginning)

Contents of the Fourth Book of Diodorus

Introduction on the myths recounted by the historians (chap. 1).

On Dionysus, Priapus, Hermaphroditus, and the Muses (chaps. 2‑7).

On Heracles and the twelve Labours, and the other deeds of his up to the time of his deification (chaps. 8‑39).

On the Argonauts and Medea and the daughters of Pelias (chaps. 40‑56).

On the descendants of Heracles (chaps. 57‑58).

On the Theseus and his labours (chaps. 59‑63).

On The Seven against Thebes (chaps. 64‑65).

On the Epigoni1 of The Seven against Thebes (chaps. 66‑67).

On Neleus and his descendants (chap. 68).

On the Lapiths and Centaurs (chaps. 69‑70).

On Asclepius and his descendants (chap. 71).

On the daughters of Asopus and the sons born to Aeacus (chap. 72).

On Pelops, Tantalus, Oenomaus, and Niobê (chaps. 73‑74).

On Dardanus and his descendant as far as Priam (chap. 75).

On Daedalus, the Minotaur, and the campaign of Minos against the king Cocalus (chaps. 76‑80).

On Aristaeus, Daphnis, Eryx, and Orion (chaps. 81‑85).

 p339  1 1 I am not unaware of the fact that those who compile the narratives of ancient mythology labour under many disadvantages in their composition. For, in the first place, the antiquity of the events they have to record, since it makes record difficult, is a cause of much perplexity to those who would compose an account of them; and again, inasmuch as any pronouncement they may make of the dates of events does not admit of the strictest kind of proof or disproof, a feeling of contempt for the narration is aroused in the mind of those who read it; furthermore, the variety and the multitude of the heroes, demi-gods, and men in general whose genealogies must be set down make their recital a difficult thing to achieve; but the greatest and most disconcerting obstacle of all consists in the fact that those who have recorded the deeds and myths of the earliest times are in disagreement among themselves. 2 For these reasons the writers of greatest reputation among the later historians have stood aloof from the narration of the ancient mythology because of its difficulty, and have undertaken to record only the more recent events. 3 Ephorus of Cymê, for instance, a pupil of Isocrates, when he undertook to write his universal history, passed over the tales of the old mythology and commenced his history with a narration of the events which took place after the Return of the Heracleidae. Likewise  p341 Callisthenes and Theopompus, who were contemporaries of Ephorus, held aloof from the old myths. 4 We, however, holding the opposite opinion to theirs, have shouldered the labour which such a record involves and have expended all the care within our power upon the ancient legends. For very great and most numerous deeds have been performed by the heroes and demi-gods and by many good men likewise, who, because of the benefits they conferred which have been shared by all men, have been honoured by succeeding generations with sacrifices which in some cases are like those offered to the gods, in other cases like such as are paid to heroes, and of one and all the appropriate praises have been sung by the voice of history for all time.

5 Now in the three preceding Books we have recorded the deeds of mythological times which are found among other nations and what their histories relate about the gods, also the topography of the land in every case and the wild beasts and other animals which are found among them, and, speaking generally, we have described everything which was worthy of mention and was marvellous to relate; and in the present Book we shall set forth what the Greeks in their histories of the ancient periods tell about their most renowned heroes and demi-gods and, in general, about all who have performed any notable exploit in war, and likewise about such also as in time of peace have made some useful discovery or enacted some good law contributing to man's social life. 6 And we shall begin with Dionysus because he not only belongs to a very ancient time but also conferred very great benefactions upon the race of men.

 p343  We have stated in the previous Books that certain barbarian peoples claim for themselves the birthplace of this god. The Egyptians, for example, say that the god who among them bears the name Osiris is the one whom the Greeks call Dionysus.2 7 And this god, as their myths relate, visited all the inhabited world, was the discoverer of wine, taught mankind how to cultivate the vine, and because of this benefaction of his received the gift of immortality with the approval of all. But the Indians likewise declare that this god was born among them, and that after he had ingeniously discovered how to cultivate the vine he shared the benefit which wine imparts with human beings throughout the inhabited world.3 But for our part, since we have spoken of these matters in detail, we shall at this point recount what the Greeks have to say about this god.

2 1 The Greek account of Dionysus runs like this: Cadmus, the son of Agenor, was sent forth from Phoenicia by the king to seek out Europê, under orders either to bring him the maiden or never to come back to Phoenicia. After Cadmus had traversed a wide territory without being able to find her, he despaired of ever returning to his home; and when he had arrived in Boeotia, in obedience to the oracle which he had received he founded the city of Thebes. Here he made his home and marrying Harmonia, the daughter of Aphroditê, he begat by her Semelê, Ino, Autonoê, Agavê, and Polydorus. 2 Semelê was loved by Zeus because of her beauty, but since he had his intercourse with her secretly and without speech she thought that the  p345 god despised her; consequently she made the request of him that he come to her embraces in the same manner as in his approaches to Hera. 3 Accordingly, Zeus visited her in a way befitting a god, accompanied by thunder and lightning, revealing himself to her as he embraced her; but Semelê, who was pregnant and unable to endure the majesty of the divine presence, brought forth the babe untimely and was herself slain by the fire. Thereupon Zeus, taking up the child, handed it over to the care of Hermes, and ordered him to take it to the cave in Nysa,4 which lay between Phoenicia and the Nile, where he should deliver it to the nymphs that they should rear it and with great solicitude bestow upon it the best of care. 4 Consequently, since Dionysus was reared in Nysa, he received the name he bears from Zeus and Nysa.5 And Homer bears witness to this in his Hymns,6 when he says:

There is a certain Nysa, mountain high,

With forests thick, in Phoenicê afar,

Close to Aegyptus' streams.

5 After he had received his rearing by the nymphs in Nysa, they say, he made the discovery of wine and taught mankind how to cultivate the vine. And as he visited the inhabited world almost in its entirety, he brought much land under cultivation and in return for this received most high honours at the hands of all men. He also discovered the drink made out of barley and called by some zythos, the bouquet of which is not much inferior to that of wine. The preparation of this drink he taught to  p347 those peoples whose country was unsuited to the cultivation of the vine. 6 He also led about with himself an army composed not only of men but of women as well, and punished such men as were unjust and impious. In Boeotia, out of gratitude to the land of his birth, he freed all the cities and founded a city whose name signified independence, which he called Eleutherae.7

3 1 Then he made a campaign into India, whence he returned to Boeotia in the third year,8 bringing with him a notable quantity of booty, and he was the first man ever to celebrate a triumph seated on an Indian elephant. 2 And the Boeotians and other Greeks and the Thracians, in memory of the campaign in India, have established sacrifices every other year9 to Dionysus, and believe that at that time the god reveals himself to human beings. 3 Consequently in many Greek cities every other year10 Bacchic bands of women gather, and it is lawful for the maidens to carry the thyrsus and to join in the frenzied revelry, crying out "Euai!" and honouring the god; while the matrons, forming in groups, offer sacrifices to the god and celebrate his mysteries and, in general, extol with hymns the presence of Dionysus, in this manner acting the part of the Maenads11 who, as history records, were of old the companions of the god. 4 He also punished  p349 here and there throughout all the inhabited world many men who were thought to be impious, the most renowned among the number being Pentheus and Lycurgus. And since the discovery of wine and the gift of it to human beings were the source of such great satisfaction to them, both because of the pleasure which derives from the drinking of it and because of the greater vigour which comes to the bodies of those who partake of it, it is the custom, they say, when unmixed wine is served during a meal to greet it with the words, "To the Good Deity!" but when the cup is passed around after the meal diluted with water, to cry out, "To Zeus Saviour!"12 For the drinking of unmixed wine results in a state of madness, but when it is mixed with the rain from Zeus the delight and pleasure continue, but the ill effect of madness and stupor is avoided. 5 And, in general, the myths relate that the gods who receive the greatest approval at the hands of human beings are those who excelled in their benefactions by reason of their discovery of good things, namely, Dionysus and Demeter, the former because he was the discoverer of the most pleasing drink, the latter because she gave to the race of men the most excellent13 of the dry foods.

4 1 Some writers of myths, however, relate that there was a second Dionysus who was much earlier in time than the one we have just mentioned. For according to them there was born of Zeus and Persephonê a Dionysus who is called by some Sabazius and whose birth and sacrifices and honours are  p351 celebrated at night and in secret, because of the disgrace resulting from the intercourse of the sexes. 2 They state also that he excelled in sagacity and was the first to attempt the yoking of oxen and by their aid to effect the sowing of the seed, this being the reason why they also represent him as wearing a horn.

But the Dionysus who was born of Semelê in more recent times, they say, was a man who was effeminate in body and altogether delicate; in beauty, however, he far excelled all other men and was addicted to indulgence in the delights of love, and on his campaigns he led about with himself a multitude of women who were armed with lances which were shaped like thyrsi.14 3 They say also that when he went abroad he was accompanied by the Muses, who were maidens that had received an unusually excellent education, and that by their songs and dancing and other talents in which they had been instructed these maidens delighted the heart of the god. They also add that he was accompanied on his campaigns by a personal attendant and caretaker, Seilenus, who was his adviser and instructor in the most excellent pursuits and contributed greatly to the high achievements and fame of Dionysus. 4 And in the battles which took place during his wars he arrayed himself in arms suitable for war and in the skins of panthers, but in assemblages and at festive gatherings in time of peace he wore garments which were bright-coloured and luxurious in their effeminacy. Furthermore, in order to ward off the headaches which every man gets from drinking too much wine he bound about his head, they report,  p353 a band (mitra), which was the reason for his receiving the name Mitrephorus;15 and it was this head-band, they say, that in later times led to the introduction of the diadem for kings. 5 He was also called Dimetor,16 they relate, because the two Dionysi were born of one father, but of two mothers. The younger one also inherited the deeds of the older, and so the men of later times, being unaware of the truth and being deceived because of the identity of their names thought there had been but one Dionysus.

6 The narthex17 is also associated with Dionysus for the following reason. When wine was first discovered, the mixing of water with it had not as yet been devised and the wine was drunk unmixed; but when friends gathered together and enjoyed good cheer, the revellers, filling themselves to abundance with the unmixed wine, became like madmen and used their wooden staves to strike one another. 7 Consequently, since some of them were wounded and some died of wounds inflicted in vital spots, Dionysus was offended at such happenings, and though he did not decide that they should refrain from drinking the unmixed wine in abundance, because the drink gave such pleasure, he ordered them hereafter to carry a narthex and not a wooden staff.

5 1 Many epithets, so we are informed, have been given him by men, who have found the occasions from which they arose in the practices and customs which have become associated with him. So, for instance, he has been called Baccheius from  p355 Bacchic bands of women who accompanied him, Lenaeus from the custom of treading the clusters of grapes in a wine-tub (lenos), and Bromius from the thunder (bromos) which attended his birth; likewise for a similar reason he has been called Pyrigenes ("Born-of‑Fire"). 2 Thriambus is a name that has been given him, they say, because he was the first of those of whom we have a record to have celebrated a triumph (thriambos) upon entering his native land after his campaign, this having been done when he returned from India with great booty. It is on a similar basis that the other appellations or epithets have been given to him, but we feel that it would be a long task to tell of them and inappropriate to the history which we are writing.

He was thought to have two forms, men say, because there were two Dionysi, the ancient one having a long beard because all men in early times wore long beards, the younger one being youthful and effeminate and young, as we have mentioned before.18 3 Certain writers say, however, that it was because men who become drunk get into two states, being either joyous or sullen, that the god has been called "two-formed." Satyrs also, it is reported, were carried about by him in his company and afforded the god greatest delight and pleasure in connection with their dancings and their goat-songs.19 4 And, in general, the Muses who bestowed benefits and delights through the advantages which their education gave them, and the Satyrs by the use of the devices which contribute to mirth, made the life of Dionysus happy and agreeable. There is general agreement also, they say, that he was the  p357 inventor of thymelic20 contests, and that he introduced places where the spectators could witness the shows and organized musical concerts; furthermore, he freed from any forced contribution to the state those who had cultivated any sort of musical skill during his campaigns, and it is for these reasons that later generations have formed musical associations of the artists of Dionysus21 and have relieved of taxes the followers of this profession.

As for Dionysus and the myths which are related about him we shall rest content with what has been said, since we are aiming at due proportion in our account.

6 1 We shall at this point discuss Priapus and the myths related about him, realizing that an account of him is appropriate in connection with the history of Dionysus. Now the ancients record in their myths that Priapus was the son of Dionysus and Aphroditê and they present a plausible argument for this lineage; for men when under the influence of wine find the members of their bodies tense and inclined to the pleasures of love. 2 But certain writers say that when the ancients wished to speak in their myths of the sexual organ of males they called it Priapus. Some, however, relate that the generative member, since it is the cause of the reproduction of human beings and of their continued existence through all  p359 time, became the object of immortal honour. 3 But Egyptians in their myths about Priapus say that in ancient times the Titans formed a conspiracy against Osiris and slew him, and then, taking his body and dividing it into equal parts among themselves, they slipped them secretly out of the house, but this organ alone they threw into the river, since no one of them was willing to take it with him.22 But Isis tracked down the murder of her husband, and after slaying the Titans and fashioning the several pieces of his body into the shape of a human figure,23 she gave them to the priests with orders that they pay Osiris the honours of a god, but since the only member she was unable to recover was the organ of sex she commanded them to pay to it the honours of a god and to set it up in their temples in an erect position.24 Now this is the myth about the birth of Priapus and the honour paid to him, as it is given by the ancient Egyptians.

4 This god is also called by some Ithyphallus, by others Tychon. Honours are accorded him not only in the city, in the temples, but also throughout the countryside, where men set up his statue to watch over their vineyards and gardens, and introduce him as one who punishes any who cast a spell over some fair thing which they possess. And in the sacred rites, not only of Dionysus but of practically all other gods as well, this god receives honour to some extent, being introduced in the sacrifices to the accompaniment of laughter and sport.

 p361  5 A birth like that of Priapus is ascribed by some writers of myths to Hermaphroditus, as he has been called, who was born of Hermes and Aphroditê and received a name which is a combination of those of both his parents. Some say that this Hermaphroditus is a god and appears at certain times among men, and that he is born with a physical body which is a combination of that of a man and that of a woman, in that he has a body which is beautiful and delicate like that of a woman, but has the masculine quality and vigour of a man. But there are some who declare that such creatures of two sexes are monstrosities, and coming rarely into the world as they do have the quality of presaging the future, sometimes for evil and sometimes for good. But let this be enough for us on such matters.

7 1 As for the Muses, since we have referred to them in connection with the deeds of Dionysus, it may be appropriate to give the facts about them in summary. For the majority of the writers of myths and those who enjoy the greatest reputation say that they were daughters of Zeus and Mnemosynê; but a few poets, among whose number is Alcman, state that they were daughters of Uranus and Gê. 2 Writers similarly disagree also concerning the number of the Muses; for some say that they are three, and others that they are nine, but the number nine has prevailed since it rests upon the authority of the most distinguished men, such as Homer and Hesiod and others like them. Homer,25 for instance, writes:

The Muses, nine in all, replying each

To each with voices sweet;

 p363  and Hesiod26 even gives their names when he writes:

Cleio, Euterpê, and Thaleia, Melpomenê,

Terpsichorê and Erato, and Polymnia, Urania,

Calliopê too, of them all the most comely.

3 To each of the Muses men assign her special aptitude for one of the branches of the liberal arts, such as poetry, song, pantomimic dancing, the round dance with music, the study of the stars, and the other liberal arts. They are also believed to be virgins, as most writers of myths say, because men consider that the high attainment which is reached through education is pure and uncontaminated. 4 Men have given the Muses their name from the word muein, which signifies the teaching of those things which are noble and expedient and are not known by the uneducated.27 For the name of each Muse, they say, men have found a reason appropriate to her: Cleio is so named because the praise which poets sing in their encomia bestows great glory (kleos) upon those who are praised; Euterpê, because she gives to those who hear her sing delight (terpein) in the blessings which education bestows; Thaleia, because men whose praises have been sung in poems flourish (thallein) through long periods of time; Melpomenê, from the chanting (melodia) by which she charms the souls of her listeners; Terpsichorê, because she delights (terpein) her disciples with the good things which come from education;  p365 Erato,28 because she makes those who are instructed by her men who are desired and worthy to be loved; Polymnia, because by her great (polle) praises (humnesis) she bring distinction to writers whose works have won for them immortal fame; Urania, because men who have been instructed of her she raises aloft to heaven (ouranos), for it is a fact that imagination and the power of thought lift men's souls to heavenly heights; Calliopê, because of her beautiful (kale) voice (ops), that is, by reason of the exceeding beauty of her language she wins the approbation of her auditors.

But since we have spoken sufficiently on these matters we shall turn our discussion to the deeds of Heracles.29

The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 i.e. immediate descendants.

2 Cp. Book 1.15.6 ff., and Vol. 1 p71 and note.

3 Cp. Book 1.19.7 f.

4 Cp. Book 3.69.

5 i.e. Dio- (from Dios, the genitive form of the nominative Zeus) and -nysus (Nysa); cp. Book 1.15.6.

6 Homeric Hymns 1.8‑9.

7 i.e. "City of Freedom."

8 i.e. after one year had intervened.

9 Literally, "every three years," since the Greeks in reckoning from an event included the year in which it took place.

10 Scholars have wondered why Dionysus, who was originally a vegetation god, should have had his personal festival only every other year. L. R. Farnell (The Cults of the Greek States, 5.181) suggests that the Thracians, from whom the worship of Dionysus came to the Greeks, "may have shifted their cornº-land every other year," and so stood in special need of the vegetation god for the new soil only after this interval.

11 Cp. Book 3.65.4.

12 The Attic custom, as given by the scholiasts on Aristophanes, Knights, 85; Peace, 300, was slightly different: The toast to the "Good Deity" was given in unmixed wine after the dinner was over and the table removed, that to "Zeus Saviour" just before the guests went home.

13 Wheat.

14 Cp. p296, n1.

15 "Wearer of a mitra."

16 "Of two mothers"; but see Book 3.62.5º for a different explanation of the name.

17 i.e. the reed which formed the staff of the thyrsus.

18 Chap. 4.2. But in Book 3.63.3 the long beard is explained as due to the fact that the first Dionysus was an Indian.

19 The Greek word usually translated "tragedies."

20 The thymele was the altar of Dionysus which stood in the centre of the orchestra of the theatre, and so the adjective "thymelic" came to signify the action of the chorus as opposed to that of the actors. "Thymelic" contests included non-dramatic performances, such as the singing of songs, dancing, jugglery, and the like.

21 From the fourth century B.C. onward for at least eight centuries these "Artists of Dionysus" were members of power guilds which bore that title together with the name of the city in which their headquarters were situated. These guilds made contracts with cities in their territories for furnishing theatrical exhibitions of every description and their members in many cases enjoyed freedom from military service and similar privileges, as well as the exemption from taxation mentioned below.

22 Cp. Book 1.21‑2, where the murderer of Osiris is Typhon, not the Titans.

23 According to the account in Book 1.21.5 Isis used spices and wax to build each piece up to the size of a human body.

24 Diodorus is equating Priapus with the Egyptian god Min, a deity of fertility, whose statues were ithyphallic.

25 Odyssey 24.60.

26 Theogony 77‑9.

27 But muein means "to close" the eyes or mouth; Plato, Cratylus 406A, derives the word from μῶσθαι, which he explains as meaning "searching and philosophy." There is no agreement among modern scholars on the etymology of the word "Muse."

28 "The lovely one."

29 The following account of Heracles is generally considered to have been drawn from a Praise of Heracles by Matris of Thebes, who is otherwise unknown and appears to have omitted nothing that would redown to the glory of the greatest Greek hero.

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