01. Ancient Alexandrographs + Comments, 1.3 Diodorus Siculus, Alexander - Non Fiction Book, Reviews

Book Review: “The Library, Books 16-20 Philip II, Alexander the Great, and the Successors” by Diodorus of Sicily, Robin Waterfield translator and editor

Recensione in italiano: QUI.

Quotes: HERE.

Hello everyone, you are on Alessandro III di Macedonia- your source on Alexander the Great! Today I am talking to you about the first of the fundamental readings which I still lacked to read and which I’m recovering in this period. Today I will tell you about:

The Library, Books 16-20

Philip II, Alexander the Great, and the Successors

by Diodorus of Sicily translated and edited by Robin Waterfield

Oxford University Press, 2019, 624 pg.

ISBN: 9780198759881

Starting with the most meagre resources, Philip made his kingdom the greatest power in Europe

The Greek historian Diodorus of Sicily is one of our most valuable sources from ancient times. His history, in forty volumes, was intended to range from mythological times to 60 BCE, and fifteen of The Library’s forty books survive.

This new translation by Robin Waterfield of books 16-20 covers a vital period in European history. Book 16 is devoted to Philip, and without it the career of this great king would be far more obscure to us. Book 17 is the earliest surviving account by over a hundred years of the world-changing eastern conquests of Alexander the Great, Philip’s son. Books 18-20 constitute virtually our sole source of information on the twenty turbulent years following Alexander’s death and on the violent path followed by Agathocles of Syracuse. There are fascinating snippets of history from elsewhere too – from Republican Rome, the Cimmerian Bosporus, and elsewhere.

Despite his obvious importance, Diodorus is a neglected historian. This is the first English translation of any of these books in over fifty years. The introduction places Diodorus in his context in first-century-BCE Rome, describes and discusses the kind of history he was intending to write, and assesses his strengths and weaknesses as a historian. With extensive explanatory notes on this gripping and sensational period of history, the book serves as a unique resource for historians and students.

Diodorus Siculus

Robin Waterfield is a writer, living in Greece. His previous translations for Oxford World’s Classics include Plato’s Republic and five other editions of Plato’s dialogues, Aristotle’s Physics, and The Art of Rhetoric, Herodotus’ Histories, Polybius’ Histories, Plutarch’s Greek Lives and Roman Lives and Hellenistic Lives, Euripides’ Orestes and Other Plays and Heracles and Other Plays, Xenophon’s The Expedition of Cyrus, Demosthenes’ ISelected Speeches and The First Philosophers: The PreSocratics and the Sophists. He is the author of Dividing the Spoils: The War for Alexander the Great’s Empire (Oxford, 2011), Taken at the Flood (Oxford, 2014), and Creators, Conquerors, and Citizens (Oxford 2018).

Reading time: from April 25th to May 14th 2020.

Classificazione: 5 su 5.

The Library by Diodorus Siculus is a fundamental reading for those who want to get to know Alexander the Great well. Too bad that in Italy there isn’ a worthy edition, but the English Oxford University Press has instead published an excellent edition: cured, complete and at a great price. Robin Waterfield in the Introduction explains that Diodorus lived between 95 and 30 BCE and wrote the Library around 60 to 30 approximately. The Library is a collection carried out by Diodorus of the accessible sources at the time, but unfortunately it’s also a selection of them so many facts are omitted, it’s not his original work, even if there is his imprint in the moral he wants to give us, in his being useful for knowledge and Diodorus is an author who wants to entertain his reader. There is little politics in Diodorus’s text, while battles are not lacking. However, Diodorus’ work isn’t free from many errors: dating, in the names (some errors are also the work of his scribe but also testify to a lack of revision by Diodorus), in giving incomplete information, in repeating events, but often he is also the only one who narrates some events and we must trust his work. The narrative of the Library is divided into years and the author doesn’t lose sight of what is happening in other parts of the world, for example in Italy. Waterfield also warns us that Diodorus a little too often relies on the goddess Fortune and is actually right.

But why is this a very important reading for Alexander’s lovers? Because here we are given many details that, albeit minor, shed light on many facts that we don’t find elsewhere or that are explained too quickly. I myself have found many more details on the assassination of Philip; the background on the destruction of Thebes, as the Oracles of Delphi and Thebes had heralded great disasters; the siege of Tyre is extremely detailed; I had never read water from the Siwa oasis which changes temperature according to the time of day; the king Sopeithes gives to Alexander some dogs which he competes with a lion; when Alexander lost many ships at the confluence of the Acesines river and the Hydaspes; the history of Dioxippus; Alexander heals Ptolemy from the poisoned wound thanks to a plant he had seen in a dream; of the population with long nails (!!).

When the young Alexander obtained the role of commander of the expedition against the Persian empire already covered by his father from the Hellenic league in Corinth, he made a speech that I’d like to have reached us. Reading this passage I thought that it must have been wonderful to listen and be in the presence of this ambitious young man with an above average intellect and a reflective character. I’d like to know what the audience thought.

In book 16 Diodorus doesn’t mention the birth of Alexander and his childhood – as in book 18 he doesn’t even mention that of Alexander IV – but he speaks only of Philip’s exploits, but on the 17th is dedicated entirely to Alexander, in fact Waterfield in the notes tells us:

Actually, this book entirely omits events in Sicily and Italy in order to focus on Alexander.

Diodorus also delves into the story of Darius, of how he came to power and it’s beautiful because the story is complete and detailed in this way. The narrative is further enhanced by the addition of Diodorus’ personal experiences and knowledge, for example of his trip to Alexandria in Egypt. In addition, the author tells of Alexander’s meeting with the Queen of the Amazons, but he talks about Caranus’ death without having explained where he came from.

Unfortunately, in book 17, the one dedicated to Alexander, 15 chapters are missing, between chapters 83 and 84, which contained the years between the end of 328/7 and the beginning of 327/6 with the marriage with Roxana, the killing of Cleitus, the conspiracy of the Pages and the arrest of Callisthenes. Book 17 is nice long but with those 15 lost chapters it would have been about 15 pages longer 😦

This edition by the Oxford University Press is almost perfect, almost because it has everything: introduction, glossary, maps, bibliography, appendices but the two types of notes, textual and explanatory, aren’t inserted at the bottom of the page but they’re all at the end of the translation of the text, which makes reading not agile because to read the notes while reading the text you have to go to the end of the book at least three times per page. The original text is also missing. But Waterfield does an excellent translation job because his translation is fluent, he explains all the shortcomings and errors of Diodorus, he explains the discrepancies that often exist between the editions of the two original texts that he used for his translation, he gives many ideas to deepen the themes with many references to other books, he explains to us which are the probable sources of Diodorus which unfortunately didn’t reach us. Furthermore, Waterfield explains that of the last 20 books of the Library we have few fragments or nothing and it would have been nice to know from Diodorus how the Diadochi’s war would have ended because book 20 ends in the year 302-1 with Demetrius Poliorcetes, Seleucsu, Ptolemy, Antigonus, Lysimachus and Cassander are still alive. I can’t not thinking that if Alexander would had lived until old age, books 18, 19 and 20 from the Library would have been about him too.

To conclude, I’d like to criticize the Italian publishers because there is no popular edition of the books of the Library on Italian shelves to now. It would be enough if they would translate this and they would add to their catalog an excellent book that should not be missing from the collections of history buffs. As I have already told you, it is a fundamental reading, which I myself have only done now because is not in Italian, but if you can read in English this edition is excellent! The Library is a book that all fans of Alexander the Great should read.

Good day everyone,

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