You are here

Situating a Lost Greek Historian: The Works and Days of Hippias of Erythrae

Matthew Simonton

I propose a historical context for the fragmentary historian Hippias of Erythrae by identifying an allusion in his text to a famous honorary decree of Athens from the late fourth century BCE. By linking Hippias’ historical project to the wider circumstances of the decree, I illuminate the ways in which local historiography could serve the ends of an author and his community while maintaining connections with broader political trends. My analysis follows in the vein of recent efforts to cease treating lost historians as inferior practitioners of their craft and to situate them as far as possible in their original cultural milieu (Vattuone, Schepens, Clarke, Baron). Uniquely, though, I present the novel scenario of a historian using a monumental documentary source not so much to corroborate his claims as to establish an ideological frame for his narrative.

Athenaeus preserves our only fragment of Hippias (FGrHist 421 F 1), a local historian typically placed in the Hellenistic period. Hippias describes how Cnopus, the mythological king of Erythrae, was overthrown and his polis briefly occupied by a conspiracy of “oligarchic” tyrants. Although Hippias represents one of the longer fragments in volume IIIB of Jacoby’s collection of the lost Greek historians, and although he is clearly engaged in an act of inventing tradition (what Gehrke has dubbed “intentional history”), the fragment has attracted little attention. Scholars have either treated it in a positivistic manner, as a record of early Erythraean history (Mazzarino, Forrest, Jeffery), or criticized Hippias for his “unhistorical” understanding of Archaic tyranny (Berve, de Libero). Few have wondered what contemporary concerns Hippias may have been addressing as a historian of a particular time and place.

This is surprising given the fact that we can reconstruct Erythrae’s political history relatively well thanks to its membership in the Athenian empire and its substantial record of published decrees (Engelmann and Merkelbach). I connect Hippias with this evidence via a remarkable intertext: the historian’s description of Hippotes the tyrant-slayer, the brother of the dead king, strongly mirrors that of the honorand of a late-fourth-century Athenian decree, one Euphron of Sicyon (IG II2 448, an impressive stele with a symbolically charged relief on the crown: Lawton). The decree for Euphron is itself deeply enmeshed in late-Classical ideological battles between oligarchs and democrats at Athens; it is in fact the republication of an original decree destroyed by the oligarchic regime of Phocion (Oliver, Culasso Gastaldi, Luraghi).

I suggest that Hippias drew upon the Euphron monument for his reconstruction of Archaic Erythrae. He saw in the figure of Euphron a useful exemplum for depicting the triumph of democracy over oligarchy, a form of regime that his polis had experienced intermittently for several decades (Hornblower, Rhodes and Osborne nos. 56 and 68). A further historical episode cements the relationship between Hippias and the Euphron decree. An early-third-century decree from Erythrae describes how an oligarchy had defaced the statue of a local tyrannicide; it then orders a restoration of the icon (IK Erythrai 503). Just as Euphron’s decree had been proudly re-inscribed by the resurgent Athenian democracy, so Hippias would have viewed with approval his polis’ honors for the tyrannicide statue. It is no wonder that when he came to portray his own mythical tyrannicide, Hippotes, Hippias modeled him after the image of Euphron found on the Athenian monument.

I also detect hostility in Hippias’ account towards the tyrant Hermias of Atarneus, an acquaintance of Aristotle who had once ruled a significant portion of Asia Minor and allied himself with the then-oligarchic government of Erythrae (Wormell, Trampedach). The proposer of the Euphron decree, Hagnonides, shared this antagonism towards Hermias, Aristotle, and philosophers in politics (O’Sullivan). Hagnonides was an ally of the Athenian orator Demochares, who was himself a politically engaged historian (FGrHist 75). Hippias was likely following Demochares’ historiographical lead in writing a decidedly democratic history of his city. I thus shed light on a lost historian’s political project.

Session/Panel Title

Problems in Greek History and Historiography

Session/Paper Number

79.5

© 2020, Society for Classical Studies Privacy Policy