756G Diodorus Siculus fl. 44 B.C.               Bibliothecae historicae libri VI   [a Poggio Florentino in latinum traductus]

[Paris] : [Denis Roce] Venundantur in vico sancti Iacobi sub signo Ensis. (1505-08)                                               $1.900

Approximate date of publication from Moreau, B. Inventaire chronologique des éditions parisiennes v. 1, p. 274 Printer’s mark of Jehan Barbier on title page.


Octavo inches alternate 8’s and 4’s   inches , a-v8·4 x6 y4            This copy is bound in full 18th century calf rebacked gilt spine.DSC_0107

Diodorus Siculus is the author of the ‘Bibliotheke’ or ‘Library,’ a universal history from mythological times to 60 B.C. Only fifteen of the original forty books survive fully (books one through five; eleven through twenty); the others are preserved in fragments.

ON December 6th, 2008 by Roger Pearse
Yesterday I mentioned N. G. Wilson’s statement that a complete copy of Diodorus Siculus existed in 1453. This led me to look again at his two books on how ancient Greek literature came to the west. These excellent volumes are Scholars of Byzantium, which discusses the fate of that literature in the Eastern Roman Empire from 400-1453; and From Byzantium to Italy, which talks about how it then got to Italy.
The statement about Diodorus is on the last page of text of the latter, p. 162, and note 4 on it, which tells us that Constantine Lascaris saw that volume in the imperial palace, PG 161:198. This is the last volume of the PG, in fact; containing material by Bessarion, George Trapezuntinus, Constantine Lascaris, Theodore of Gaza, and Andronicus Callistus.
The work by Constantine Lascaris is De scriptoribus Graecis Patria Siculis – Greek writers from Sicily – is in Latin, addressed to a renaissance ruler of Sicily, and commences on col. 195. Various writers are listed. I transcribe the whole entry on Diodorus from an unfortunately indistinct image:
9. Diodorus Siculus Argyrensis, historicus praestantissimus, qui sub Tiberio militavit. Historiam composuit libris quadraginta, quam Bibliothecam vocavit: de antiquitate Aegyptiorum, de Sicilia et aliis insulis, de bello Trojano, de gestis Alexandri et Romanorum usque ad suam artatem (?), quorum sex a Poggio Florentino traducti circumferuntur. Reliqui vix inventiuntur. Ego autem omnes ejus libros vidi in bibliotheca imperatoris C[onstantino]politani.
That’s plain enough:
9. Diodorus Siculus, of Argyra, a preeminent historian, who lived in the time of Tiberius. He composed a History in 40 books, which he called The Library: on the antiquities of the Egyptians, on Sicily and the other islands, on the Trojan war, the deeds of Alexander and the Romans, down to his own times, of which six translated by Poggio the Florentine are going around. The rest are hard to find. But I myself have seen all of his books in the imperial library in Constantinople.
We can take Lascaris at his word, I think. Constantine Lascaris was a nobleman of the empire who fled the city with others in 1454 and went to Italy. After staying in Milan and Rome he received an invitation from Ferdinand I to go to Naples, and eventually fixed himself in Messina in Sicily, where he taught Greek language and literature. His library ended up in the Escorial in Spain.

What we do have of Diodorus concentrates on Greece and his homeland of Sicily, until the First Punic War, when his sources for Rome become fuller. The ‘Bibliotheke’ is the most extensively preserved history by a Greek author from antiquity. For the period from the accession of Philip II of Macedon to the battle of Ipsus, when the text becomes fragmentary, it is fundamental; and it is the essential source for classical Sicilian history and the Sicilian slave rebellion of the second century B.C. For many individual events throughout Graeco-Roman history, the ‘Bibliotheke’ also sheds important light. Diodorus probably visited Egypt circa 60-56 B.C., where he began researching his history. By 56, he may have settled in Rome, completing the ‘Bibliotheke’ there around 30. He read Latin and had access to written materials in Rome. Books one through six include the geography and ethnography of the inhabited world, and its mythology and paradoxology prior to the Trojan war. Of special significance are the description of Egypt in book one; the discussion of India in book two; passages from the works of Agatharchides in book three; and the highly fragmentary Euhemeran material in book six.” (OCD)



Realistically speaking, he was not the greatest of historians. His work often combined fact and fancy in a confusing manner. Even so, Diodorus Siculus (or Diodoros Siculos to his Greek contemporaries), left a wealth of writings which have added to our knowledge of Sicily and the eastern Mediterranean during the “Roman” age. His work has been characterised as uncritical but we are reasonably certain of some details. He was born during the first century BC at Agyrium, in central-eastern Sicily, of a Greek family, and spent some time in Rome, Greece and Egypt, visiting the last around 60 BC. The most recent historical event mentioned in his works occurs in 21 BC. His Bibliotheca Historica (“Historical Library”) includes numerous surviving texts, some fairly reliable –particularly those “borrowed” from authors such as Apollodorus and Timaeus. The problem, as we have implied, is that Diodorus does not always differentiate historical events from historical legend, even though some historians of his era managed to do so. It’s one thing to repeat that the mythical hero Heracles (Hercules) visited Agyrium (Agyrium was east of Enna toward Mount Etna), but quite another to attribute actual events to people who could not possibly have been present to participate in them.DSC_0108

In considering his monumental work, the first portion deals with history until the destruction of Troy, the second segment with the death of Alexander, and the third, turning an eye westward, with the period leading up to Julius Caesar’s conquest of Gaul. Of the forty books, volumes 1 through 5 exist, and volumes 11 through 20 (inclusive) have also been preserved. Only those texts recounting events during the author’s own lifetime may be said to be truly original. It is thought that Hieronymus of Cardia and, for earlier periods, Ephorus, were the sources of his knowledge of Greek history.

Certain passages of Diodorus’ “missing” books are cited by other authors, such as Photius. That Diodorus’ work itself has preserved the earlier writings of several historians is important. His “mythic” treatment of Egyptian, Ethiopian, Assyrian and Persian history is relevant to studies of these civilizations. However, he did not necessarily travel to every place he wrote about. His description of Mesopotamia’s legendary Babylonian rulers is probably based on those of Ctesias.


It seems tat many book sellers were marketing this very printing book in paris about the same time, with different devices, J. Barbier seems to have taken Roce’s device about 1508.


Goff D215? ; Moreau I 274: 63; Renouard, Imprimeurs III 128 and I, 1508, 63; Renouard, 1005 (mark of D. Roce) Pell 4264; BMC(Fr) p.135