Apollodorus of Athens

Apollodorus of Athens

Apollodorus (c. 180 – c. 120 BCE) was a versatile Greek scholar and historian who worked in the 2nd century BCE. He was the author of many treatises on Greek mythol­ogy, grammar, and history, but his best-known works are On the Gods and Chronicles, a verse history of Ancient Greece from the fall of Troy in the 12th century BCE to the events of his own era. His work is an important link to pre-Homeric his­tory and provided later writers with fertile resources for their interpretation of Greek history.

Apollodorus studied as a youth with the scholar Aristarchus in Alexandria and the Stoic Diogenes of Babylon. After traveling to Pergamum, Apollodorus settled in Athens and produced a number of schol­arly works and commentaries on myth and history. The Chronicles is a four-volume encyclopedia that situates Greek history according to the ruling archons, or political leaders, each of whom held office for 1 year. This enabled later historians to identify events, philosophical schools, and major figures according to the rulers of the period in ques­tion. Apollodorus thus gives to Greek history not only a sense of continuity in time but also insight into the personalities that shaped the political climate of Greece at some of its most important cultural moments, such as the age of Socrates, Plato, and the tragic playwrights. The Chronicles are based on earlier research by Eratosthenes, but they enlarge the historical scope and strive for a more precise chronology of events. They are also notable for being written in iambic trimeter, a verse meter borrowed from comedy that may have helped in memorizing the stories. Although the Chronicles is Apollodorus’ most influential work, his essay on Homer’s Catalogue of Ships from the Iliad was also widely read and used as a critical source, notably by Strabo in his Geography.

Often attributed to Apollodorus is the famous Library, a compendium of Greek myth from epic and other archaic sources that became the most comprehensive guide to the heroes, legends, and gods of ancient Greece. But this work must have been written by a later author, probably in the 1st or 2nd century CE; it chronicles events that hap­pened well after Apollodorus’ death in around 120 BCE. The author of the Library remains anony­mous but is sometimes referred to as pseudo- Apollodorus to distinguish him from the author of On the Gods and Chronicles.

See also Alexander the Great; Herodotus; Hesiod; Homer; Mythology; Peloponnesian War; Plato

Further Readings

Fraser, P. M. (1972). Ptolemaic Alexandria. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Pfeiffer, R. (1968). A history of classical scholarship from the beginnings to the end of the Hellenistic Age. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

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