Friday, May 24, 2019


Gertjan Verhasselt, Die Fragmente der Griechischen Historiker Continued. IV. Biography and antiquarian literature, B. History of literature, music, art and culture. Fasc. 9 Dikaiarchos of Messene No. 1400. Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2018. Pp. xx, 725. ISBN 9789004357419. €236,00.

Reviewed by Robert Mayhew, Seton Hall University (

Version at BMCR home site


Dikaiarchos1 of Messene was "a student of Aristotle, a philosopher, rhetorician and geometer. He wrote Measurements of the Mountains in the Peloponnese and Life of Greece in three books. He wrote the Spartan Constitution," etc. This is from the Suda entry on Dikaiarchos (Δ 1062), which is Testimonium 1 in the volume under review—the most recent volume in the continuation of Felix Jacoby's Die Fragmente der Griechischen Historiker.2

The book has three main parts: a lengthy introduction (pp. 1-74), edition and translation (on facing pages) of the testimonia and fragmenta (76-191), and commentary (195-583). The concordances, bibliography, and indexes (locorum and nominum) add well over 200 more pages (585-725).

Scholars of early Peripatetic thought after Aristotle will naturally be curious to know at least in a general way the difference between Verhasselt's book and the most recent previous edition with interpretation of the fragments of Dikaiarchos: W.W. Fortenbaugh and E. Schütrumpf, eds., Dicaearchus of Messana: Text, Translation, and Discussion,3 which contains an edition and translation of the 'sources' for Dikaiarchos, by David Mirhady, followed by ten essays. One comparatively minor difference: Verhasselt retains the traditional distinction between testimonia and fragmenta, whereas Mirhady (following the general practice of Project Theophrastus) does not. Another, more significant, difference is that a detailed commentary ensures that each text receives attention, which is not the case with a collection of essays (which cover some texts and topics in greater detail than a commentary can, but others barely or not at all). The other main difference is this: whereas Mirhady included all of the source texts, Verhasselt has intentionally omitted two kinds (as he explains in his introduction): "The edition is … limited to the so-called historical fragments, which is why Dikaiarchos' philosophical fragments on the soul [nos. 13-32 Mirhady] are omitted. The geographical fragments [nos. 117-127 Mirhady] are not included here either, since they will be edited in volume V" (p. 59). I refrain from further discussion of differences—for instance in the edition and translation, and assessment and interpretation, of the fragments —which would take me beyond the proper scope of a review. I shall simply add that both books are indispensable for the serious study of Dikaiarchos. Besides being an introduction to his edition of the texts (as is clear at the end, § 7, which explains the nature of this edition, compared to earlier ones, and provides detailed sigla for all testimonia and fragmenta), Verhasselt's introduction is now quite simply the best source for anyone wanting a detailed introduction to the life, work, and thought of Dikaiarchos. There are sections titled Life, Dates, Famous Homonyms, Works, Dikaiarchos as historian, and Dikaiarchos' reception. They are all excellent and informative. There is very little we can know for certain about Dikaiarchos' life, or about his precise dates, though Verhasselt argues that he "was probably born between ca. 370 and ca. 350 BCE and was still active in the late 320s or early 310s, which probably coincides with his acme" (p. 6). The core and gem of the introduction is the section on Works (§ 4), which contains seventeen subsections (most of them headed by book titles, which I have italicized): Life of Greece, On the destruction of men, On the Sacrifice in Ilion, Descent into the Sanctuary of Trophonios, Olympikos and Panathenaïkos, On Musical Contests and On Dionysiac Contests, On Alkaios, Works on Homer and Euripides?, On Lives and the fragments on philosophers, Tripolitikos, Constitutions, Letter to Aristoxenos, A work on proverbs?, Geographical works, Works on the soul, Rejected works: the 'hypotheses', and, Spurious works: Descriptions of Greece and the periegetic prose fragments. Note that even the omitted material on the soul and on geography receive attention (pp. 29- 38). Verhasselt's discussion of these titles (or topics), and the assigning of fragments to them, is of a consistently high quality. He often corrects the errors of earlier editors, and in general steers a proper course (in my view) between unwarranted skepticism and overly ambitious speculation. He does sometimes reject (and with cogent reasoning) fragments that were included in earlier editions: see for instance pp. 33-34, on Stobaeus 1.38.2 (p. 252 Wachsmuth) = F 114 Wehrli/127 Mirhady. He also argues convincingly—in the introduction (p. 38) and further in the commentary (pp. 509- 14)—that one of the fragments in his collection, namely A. Gellius 4.11.14 (F 58 = 36 Wehrli/42 Mirhady), which he includes under the heading 'Philosophy and philosophers', but which is often attributed to the On Lives, might actually belong to Dikaiarchos' work on the soul. One last comment on this superb introduction: the section on Dikaiarchos as historian includes an excellent discussion of his methodology (pp. 47-53), which features both positive aspects (e.g. his attention to chronology) and negative ones (his indulgence in the biographical fallacy). Verhasselt summarizes:

Dikaiarchos' research seems to have had a certain ambition: he was praised for being "well-informed" (T 34) and "learned" (T 35a-c). However, his moralizing intentions sometimes got in the way of the historical truth. Some of his views come across as naive: his story of women missing their brothers and forming a new type of union through their gatherings…. His three-stage model for early history is mainly a philosophical construction (inspired by Plato and perhaps Theophrastus), which he does not back up with evidence….

Some brief general comments on the edition and translation: although Verhasselt has relied on existing critical editions of the sources, his texts come with two apparatuses and he has provided information on the stemma of the relevant manuscripts (see the Sigla on pp. 61-72). Note also that Verhasselt is a skilled papyrologist: see as evidence fragments 37, 63a-d, 64, 68a-d, and 69 (with commentary). Aside from moving back and forth between text and translation in the course of reading the fragments, I selected a half dozen (Greek) passages at random for the purpose of comparing translation and text, and I found the translations quite reliable.4

There are 39 testimonia (pp. 76-93), the first four of which are on Dikaiarchos' life. These are followed by lists of references to his being: from Messene (5a-i); a contemporary of Aristoxenos (6a-b); a student of Aristotle (7a-f); and, a Peripatetic (8a-f). There are three uncertain testimonies (9-11). Testimonies 12-30 are the references to his works, in most cases referring to a title. The last ones (31-39) are appraisals of him—e.g. "Dikaiarchos, a great and prolific Peripatetic" (Cic. Off. 2.16 = T 36a). The commentary on the testimonia is quite brief (195-206), in large part because much of what needs to be said about these texts had been covered in the introduction.

There are scores of fragments and a massive commentary on them. I cannot begin to describe all (or even much) of the valuable material here. Further, what each reader is likely to find especially valuable will depend in part on his or her own interests. For instance, as my current interests include ancient Homeric scholarship, I was particularly intrigued by F 41 (from Porphyry's Homeric Questions on the Odyssey), which contains a criticism that Dikaiarchos leveled against Homer's portrayal of Penelope; Verhasselt's commentary on it (pp. 407-412) is quite illuminating. So given the space available to me, I thought it best to describe only a couple of fragments, with commentary, as an indication of what the reader can expect by way of presentation: one is pretty basic, the other more complex (and I think quite important).

I begin with F 2 (schol. Apoll. Rhod. 4.276, p. 278 Wendel). The first line of the passage is in small print, to indicate that it was included for context and is not part of the material from Dikaiarchos. The remaining text is brief enough to include Verhasselt's entire translation:

In the first book, Dikaiarchos says that after Horos, the son of Isis and Osiris, Sesonchosis was king. From Sesonchosis to the reign of Neilos there are 2500 years, [from the reign of Neilos to the capture of Troy there are seven years,] from the capture of Troy to the first Olympiad there are 436 years. In total 2943 years.

The commentary on this fragment runs to about six pages (pp. 213-19). Its first two sections are 'Context' (in which the general content of the scholium is briefly described) and 'Scope of the fragment' (in which Verhasselt explains why he did not limit the fragment to the first sentence). These are followed by a few conceptual lemmata (in English) with commentary: 'Sesonchosis or Sesostris'; 'Sesonchosis as Horos' successor'; 'Sesonchosis' dates'; and, 'The fall of Troy'. There then follow a couple of lemmata from the Greek text, with commentary.

Verhasselt writes in his introduction (p. 9) that "The most informative of the fragments of the Life of Greece—and indeed of the entire corpus of fragments in general—are F 6a-d, on the development of early life." These five fragments (6a includes two texts, a.1 & a.2) are fascinating (see pp. 98-107), and especially 6a.1, from Porphyry's De abstinentia, which is the lengthiest of them (and the only one in Greek). They fall under the subsection on Life of Greece labeled 'Fragments without book number'. The commentary on these texts (pp. 231-55) is—as is typical for the volume as a whole—superb. Verhasselt begins with commentary on this entire set of fragments: The first section is 'Origin of the fragment', in which he briefly makes the case for attributing these texts to Life of Greece, despite the fact that no title is cited. This is followed by four other sections: 'Ancient anthropological theories', 'Vegetarianism', 'Dikaiarchos' models', and 'Dikaiarchos as primitivist'. 'Dikaiarchos' models' is especially noteworthy. Here Verhasselt demonstrates the various influences on Dikaiarchos with four sets of two column lists of passages, comparing lines from F 6a-d with similar lines in Plato's Politicus, Laws 3, Republic 2, and Theophrastus F 584a FHS & G. The commentary then moves on to the individual texts. For instance, in the case of F 6a.1, there are sections labeled 'Context' and 'Porphyry's reliability', followed by nine lemmata from the Greek text, with commentary, all of which is of high quality. The commentary on 6d (from Censorinus' De die natali) contains a rare instance of something in the commentary that I disagreed with or thought was lacking in some way. In this text, Censorinus claims that Dikaiarchos was a proponent of the view that humans have always existed, and that Aristotle held the same view. In the commentary on the lemma Aristoteles quoque Stagirites, Verhasselt writes (p. 254): "It is unclear what Aristotelian text Censorinus means. In the extant works, Aristotle nowhere defends the eternity of the human race…." This may ultimately be correct. There is also evidence, however, that Aristotle may have maintained that species (eidê) are eternal, which if true would of course include humans. James Lennox's "Are Aristotelian Species Eternal?"5 is the best discussion of this topic that I'm aware of, and it should be consulted in this connection.

I could go on and on about this rich source of material on a wide range of topics. That such a mature piece of scholarship is a revised version of a Ph.D, dissertation (in Classics, KU Leuven, 2014) is remarkable (see p. xi). I'll simply add that the volume is beautifully produced, and I encountered no typographical errors.


1.   Out of respect for the author of the volume under review, here and throughout I write 'Dikaiarchos' rather than the more standard (in English) 'Dicaearchus'.
2.   The Editor-in-Chief of Part IV (Biography and antiquarian literature) is Stefan Schorn.
3.   Rutgers University Studies in Classical Humanities vol. 10 (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 2001).
4.   I for one am pleased that Verhasselt has "not used Sperrdruck for the verba ipsissima" (p. 59).
5.   In Aristotle's Philosophy of Biology (Cambridge University Press, 2001). Note for example that Metaph. Z.8.1033b11-19 argues that forms or species do not come to be; and, DA 2.4.415a22-b8 and GC 2.338b1-19 seem to connect generation and eternity. These are some of the texts discussed by Lennox.

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