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Diodorus Siculus

p. xxvi Introduction to Books I‑II.34

After the Preface to his whole work Diodorus describes the origin of animal life, and then, "since Egypt is the country where mythology places the origin of the gods" (1.9.6), and since "animal life appeared first of all" (1.10.2) in that country, he devotes the entire First Book to the gods, kings, laws and customs of that land. His interest in religion causes him to pay more attention to that subject than to political institutions and military affairs, in marked contrast to his later Books. As for his literary sources, he is generally held to have drawn primarily upon Hecataeus of Abdera, who visited Egypt early in the 3rd century B.C., for his account of the customs of the Egyptians, upon Agatharchides of Cnidus, an historian and geographer of the 2d century B.C., for his geographical data, and especially for the description of the Nile (cc. 32‑41.3), and upon Herodotus. He also mentions what is told by the priests of Egypt and natives of Ethiopia, and it is entirely possible that many a detail was picked up by personal observation and inquiry. By the time of his visit Greek had been the official language of the land for nearly three hundred years and was widely used in the better circles, and hence he was not in such danger of being imposed upon by guides and priests as was Herodotus.

In the opening chapters of the Second Book Diodorus moves to Asia and Assyrian affairs. Most of his material was drawn from Ctesias of Cnidus, who spent seventeen years as physician at the court of the Persian king, Artaxerxes Mnemon, returning to Greece some time after 390 B.C. Ctesias wrote a p. xxviiPersica in twenty-three Books, the first six of which dealt with Assyrian and Median history. Whether Diodorus used Ctesias directly or through a medium is still a question.1 He also used Cleitarchus and "certain of those who at a later time crossed into Asia with Alexander" (2.7.3). Incidentally, he quotes from a particular Athenaeus, otherwise unknown, and "certain other historians" (2.20.3) to the effect that Semiramis was nothing more than a beautiful courtesan. While there is some shadowy outline of the long history of Egypt in Book I, what Diodorus (or rather Ctesias, Cleitarchus and others) has to offer on Babylonian history is scarcely deserving of the name. It is astonishing to observe that a writer with the opportunities which Ctesias enjoyed should have been content to do little more than pass on the folk tales which constitute the "history" of the Assyrian Empire.

Into the daily widening field of the history of Egypt and Babylonia, which is the theme of this volume of Diodorus, and in which many dates change from year to year and many are still the subject of controversy among competent Orientalists, a classicist enters with extreme reluctance. It has seemed the better policy to draw upon the latest general survey of this period, The Cambridge Ancient History, for the chronology, recognizing at the same time that even the contributors to this single enterprise are not always in agreement.


The Loeb Editor's Note:

1 Cp. P. Schnabel, Berossos und die babylonisch-hellenistische Literatur (Leipzig, 1923), p34.


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Page updated: 11 Nov 08