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Historiographic Frames and Ancient Miscellanies

Dina Guth

University of Manitoba

Why were so many works commonly classed as miscellanies titled historiae (Pamphila’s Συμμίκτων Ἱστορικῶν Ὑπομνημάτων, Favorinus’ Παντοδαπῆ Ἱστορία, Aelian’s Varia Historia)?  This paper argues that the titles of these works point to their close connections with historiography.  While the roots of miscellany in philosophy and elite sympotic traditions have rightly been emphasized (Jacob 2013, Klotz and Oikonomopoulou 2011, Morgan 2007), reading such works against the tradition of historiography is equally compelling.  Historiography, as a prose genre focused on the collection and arrangement of knowledge meant to be useful for its (elite male) audience (cf. Hau 2014, Marincola 2011), also has distinct links with miscellaneous works: it is no accident that the prologues to such works as Pamphila’s Commentaries (T1), Plutarch’s Table Talks (2. Praef. 629d), and Aullus Gellius’ Attic Nights (Praef.) raise the issues of source material, the usefulness of the work to the reader, and its organization (or apparent lack thereof).  Both genres also wrestled with the Hellenistic impetus toward universalization, even if in historiography this drive manifests itself as a geographic widening whereas in the miscellany it is the scope of learning (paideia) itself that is at issue.    

Viewing miscellanies through the lens of historiography is no mere scholarly exercise: if works like Pamphila’s Commentaries can be grounded in historiographic traditions in terms of their overall form and function, then their content, too, ought not simply to be used as a mine for anecdotes of questionable historical seriousness but as carefully researched stories with contemporary historical value.  

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Characterizing the Ancient Miscellany

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