You are here

Tyrant labeling and modes of sole rulership in Diodorus Siculus’ Bibliotheke

Marcaline Boyd

In the past scholarly interest in Diodorus’ Bibliotheke focused primarily on determining what source Diodorus used in a particular section or book and on surmising what of the original historian might be reconstructed from the Diodoran account (i.e. Quellenforschung). Owing to the work of K. Sacks (1990; 1994) a growing consensus has begun to emerge that acknowledges original elements in Diodorus’ history (Pavan 1991; Green 2006). This paper will continue in that line of argumentation and suggest that Diodorus, contrary to the usual belief that he had a uniform view about tyranny, evaluated tyrants on a case-by-case basis. Linguistic and thematic parallels shared by tyrants and non-tyrants demonstrate Diodorus’ idiosyncratic treatment. These similarities, moreover, occur in a number of books traditionally assigned to different historical sources, and as such they offer further evidence of Diodorus’ unique imprint on the Bibliotheke.

            By way of example, the former tyrant of Syracuse, Gelon, is invoked as a model both in Diodorus’ account of Dionysius I and Timoleon: in the case of Dionysius, Gelon serves as an exemplum for his election to strategos autokrator and victory over the Carthaginians (13.94.4–5), and in a later speech before the army Timoleon contrasts Carthaginian cowardice with Gelon’s military success (16.79.3). Equally important for interpreting the model of Gelon is both Dionysius and Timoleon’s election to the generalship (Dionysius: 13.94, Timoleon: 16.65). It is in Diodorus that Timoleon dies still serving as strategos (16.90.1), while in Plutarch’s noticeably more favorable account the commander lays down his monarchia beforehand (Tim. 37.6; Teodorrson 2004).

            The two strategoi also share similar leadership styles, encouraging loyalty through largesse and interaction with the populace. When faced with a potential mutiny during the Carthaginian siege of Syracuse (396/5 BCE), Dionysius wins the favor of the multitude with kindly words “honoring some of them with gifts and inviting others to banquets” (καὶ τινὰς μὲν δωρεαῖς ἐτίμα, τινὰς δ’ ἐπὶ τὰ συσσίτια παρελάμβανε, D.S. 14.70.3). Timoleon likewise regains the support of his troops before the battle at the river Crimisus by “urgent pleading and the offer of gifts” (πολλὰ δεηθεὶς αὐτῶν καὶ δωρεὰς ἐπαγγελλόμενος, 16.79.1). These leadership models would not apply to the Sicilian commanders alone. Ptolemy Lagides exhibits similar behavior in Book 20. There, Diodorus claims that “after winning popular support with promises among Ptolemaeus’ troops” (τοὺς δὲ συνηκολουθηκότας στρατιώτας ἐπαγγελίαις δημαγωγήσας, 20.27.3) Ptolemy enrolled them into his own army.

            According to previous interpretations, these figures’ narratives in Diodorus have been attributed to a number of different sources. In the case of Dionysius, Pearson (1987, 157–91) posited that Diodorus’ negative portrayal of the tyrant bears the unmistakable mark of the tyrant-hater Timaeus of Tauromenium. By contrast, Sanders (1987, 110–57) has argued that Dionysius meets with a rather positive assessment in the Bibliotheke and therefore sees the historian Philistus behind Diodorus’ narrative. That Diodorus ran out of Ephorus’ account halfway through Book 16 of the Bibliotheke leaves the source for Timoleon’s narrative variously attributed (Pearson 1987, 212; Tonini 1991, 65-75; Stylianou 1998, 95–104). Finally, Hieronymus of Cardia is credited with the decidedly military and political tenor of Books 18–20 (Hornblower 1981; Roisman 2010). It was Ptolemy’s laudatory passages especially which Hornblower thought should be dismissed and to explain them she posited an Alexandrian source had infiltrated Diodorus’ rendering of Hieronymus (1981, 50–1).

            Study of tyrants in the Bibliotheke offers much for the enhancement of our knowledge of Diodorus.  Dionysius shares more in common with Timoleon than assumed at first glance, while Dionysius, Timoleon and Ptolemy evince similar modes of behavior with a particular emphasis on gift-giving, promises, and persuasion. The noted similarities in diction and themes speak to a decidedly Diodoran element across a number of the Bibliotheke’s books and is further confirmation of the dangers of source attribution. This paper then will advance our understanding of Diodorus’ originality and will contribute a study of tyrant models in the Bibliotheke.

Session/Panel Title

The Figure of the Tyrant

Session/Paper Number


© 2020, Society for Classical Studies Privacy Policy