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Pamphila's Historical Commentaries

Dina Guth

University of Manitoba

Pamphila of Epidaurus, a polymath and Greek author of the mid-1st cent. CE, is now best known as an early miscellanist who influenced the likes of Aulus Gellius and Apuleius (Müller-Reineke, 2006; Klotz and Oikonomopoulou, 2011).  Not included by Jacoby in his magisterial Fragmente der Griechischen Historiker (even though she appeared in Müller’s older Fragmenta Historicorum Graecorum (Müller, 1849 vol. 3, 520-1)), Pamphila has received hardly any recognition as a historian (Cagnazzi 1997 is a notable exception). 

Yet Pamphila’s major work, the Ἱστορικὰ ὑπομνήματα, is deeply embedded in ancient historiography. Much of the modern confusion surrounding the genre of the Ἱστορικὰ ὑπομνήματα may be due to Pamphila’s self-fashioning as a female author.  In her introduction Pamphila carves out for herself an unusual, and uniquely feminine, space as a historian: she states that her material was gathered largely by listening to discussions between her husband Socratidas and his friends, and that she decided not to organize her work by any set system but to write in a ‘variegated’ (ποικίλη) manner for the enjoyment of her readers.  Both claims emphasize the feminine nature of Pamphila’s work, first in drawing on a typically female source of knowledge – her husband – and second in employing an organizational methodology that recalls the feminine labour of embroidery. These authorial decisions result in a writing style that closely resembles that of the miscellanists; yet considerations of source material and organization are essentially historiographical problems that had exercised historians all the way back to Thucydides, who equally expressed concern over his source material (Th. 1.22) and crafted a clearly defined chronological system for the main body of his narrative (Th. 2.1).  It is surely no accident that Pamphila claims that her unsystematic writing process will make her work more pleasing (ἐπιτερπέστερον) for her audience (T1), where Thucydides had contrasted the displeasing (ἀτερπέστερον) style of his work with its useful (ὠφελίμα) nature (Th. 1.22.4). As a work with universal scope, Pamphila’s project also drew and similarly innovated on notions of universal history as articulated by Polybius, Ephorus, and especially Strabo, who also wrote Ἱστορικὰ ὑπομνήματα some hundred or so years before her time. The playful manner in which Pamphila engaged with her predecessors is clear not only in her introduction but also in the other fragments of her Ἱστορικὰ ὑπομνήματα. 

Pamphila’s influence on later miscellanists should not blind us to her roots within Greek historiography.  Accepting her work as essentially historiographical provides new avenues for exploring the eleven fragments of her Ἱστορικὰ ὑπομνήματα and, perhaps more importantly, a new, ancient reinterpretation of the genre of history from the perspective of a woman.  Pamphila’s Ἱστορικὰ ὑπομνήματα is unique, in large part because of her female authorial voice, but its unusual qualities are also precisely what make it worth study. 

Session/Panel Title

Women and Agency

Session/Paper Number

43.4

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