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Diodorus Siculus

 p. vii  Introduction to Books II.35‑IV.58

Book II.35‑42 is devoted to a brief description of India which was ultimately derived from Megasthenes. Although Diodorus does not mention this author, his use of him is established by the similarity between his account of India and the Indica of Arrian and the description of that land by Strabo, both of whom avowedly drew their material from that writer. Megasthenes was in the service of Seleucus Nicator and in connection with embassies to the court of king Sandracottus (Chandragupta) at Patna was in India for some time between 302 and 291 B.C. In his Indica in four Books he was not guilty of the romances of Ctesias, but it is plain that he was imposed upon by interpreters and guides, as was Herodotus on his visit to Egypt. It cannot be known whether Diodorus used Megasthenes directly or through a medium; his failure to mention his name a single time is a little surprising, if he used him directly.​1 The Scythians, the Amazons of Asia Minor, and the Hyperboreans are then briefly discussed, and Chapters 48‑54 are devoted to Syria, Palestine, and Arabia. It is thought that this last section may go  p. viii back to the Stoic philosopher, Poseidonius of Apameia, especially because of its explanation of the varied colouring of birds and different kinds of animals as being due to the "helpful influence and strength of the sun." The Book closes with a description of a fabulous people living in a political Utopia on an island "in the ocean to the south," the account purporting to be the adventure of a certain Iambulus, which may indeed be the name of the author of the original tale.

The Third Book opens with an account of the Ethiopians on the upper Nile, then describes the working of the gold mines on the border between Egypt and Ethiopia, and includes a long discussion of the Red Sea and the peoples dwelling about it, with some mention of the tribes along the shores of the Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf. Much of this material was drawn from the geographer Agatharchides of Cnidus, whose work, On the Red Sea, is preserved to us in the excerpts of Photius. This work of Agatharchides, composed in the latter part of the second century B.C., embraced five Books and is on the whole a sober and fairly trustworthy discussion of that region; much of it was certainly based upon the stories and accounts of travellers in these parts and on personal observation. With chapter 49 Diodorus turns to Libya and embarks upon the myths of the Libyans about the Gorgons and Amazons, this subject serving to lead him over into Greek mythology, which is the theme of the entire Fourth Book.

Since, as Diodorus tells us, Ephorus, and Callisthenes and Theopompus, contemporaries of Ephorus, had not included the myths in their histories,  p. ix Diodorus opens the Fourth Book with a defence of his exposition of Greek mythology. The gods were once kings and heroes who have been deified because of the great benefits which they conferred upon mankind; they have been the object of veneration by men of old and we "should not fail to cherish and maintain for the gods the pious devotion which has been handed down to us from our fathers" (ch. 8.5); if their deeds appear superhuman it is because they are measured by the weakness of the men of Diodorus' day. Much of this material was drawn directly from Dionysius of Mitylene who lived in Alexandria in the second century B.C. and composed, doubtless with the aid of the library in that city and certainly with considerable indulgence in the romantic, his Kyklos, a kind of encyclopaedia of mythology, which included accounts of the Argonauts, Dionysus, the Amazons, events connected with the Trojan War, and all this he described with such devotion and assiduity that he was given the nickname Skytobrachion ("of the leathern arm"). It is generally held that for his account of Heracles Diodorus took generously from a Praise of Heracles by Matris of Thebes,​2 who is otherwise unknown and composed his encomium with vigorous rhetorical flourishes, taking care to mention every maiden ravished by Heracles and her child, in order to establish Heraclean ancestry for the numerous families in the Greek world which raised such a claim. But here and there, when he touched the western Mediterranean, Diodorus used Timaeus of Tauromenium, who, an exile in Athens for the best  p. x fifty years of his life, completed, not long before his death about 250 B.C. and almost altogether from literary sources, a history of Sicily and the western Mediterranean in thirty-eight Books. Any attempt to continue further the quest for the sources of Diodorus in this section of his work must run into the sands.

The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 On Megasthenes see now B. C. J. Timmer, Megasthenes en de Indische Maatschappij, Amsterdam, 1930.

2 Cp. E. Holzer, Matris, ein Beitrag zur Quellenkritik Diodors, Program Tübingen, 1881.

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