A CJ-Online Exclusive. Adobe PDF attached.
Apollodorus’ Library and Hyginus’ Fabulae: Two Handbooks of Greek
Mythology. Translated, with Introductions, by R. SCOTT SMITH and STEPHEN M.
TRZASKOMA. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 2007. Pp. lxxvi + 247.
Paper, $12.95. ISBN 0–87220–820–6.
Order this text for $12.95 from Amazon.com using this link and benefit
CAMWS and the Classical Journal:
Smith and Trzaskoma present, for the first time in the same volume,
complete English translations of Apollodorus’ Library and Hyginus’
Fabulae—the two most important surviving “handbooks” of Greek
mythography—enabling readers to compare the ancient authors’ versions of
the most important Greek and Roman myths. A General Introduction puts the
Library and Fabulae into the broader context of ancient mythography, and
Introductions to each text discuss at greater length issues of authorship,
aim and influence. A General Index, an Index of People and Geographic
Locations and an Index of Authors and Works Cited by the Mythographers
complete the work.
The authors, with Stephen Brunet, already published translations of the
bulk of Apollodorus and Hyginus in Anthology of Classical Myth: Primary
Sources in Translation (Hackett, 2004). The footnotes of their new book are
designed to facilitate immediate clarification on matters of content, and
full indexes for the names, places and authors cited have been provided to
reduce the clutter of footnotes and cross-references. Technical and textual
matters of interest to a more limited audience are relegated to endnotes
(marked in the text by asterisks).
Among the many salient features of this volume is the generous and useful
General Introduction, which focuses on the wider context and development of
mythography. This is not an easy task, since evidence for the Greek myths
comes from a complex literary and artistic tradition spanning nearly two
millennia. Organizing the myths and evaluating the sources pose further
problems. The many sides of the Oedipus myth, for example, demonstrate the
nature of mythography and what ancient mythographers were aiming at:
retelling or paraphrasing myths to capture their essential features, or at
least their essential plots, and providing a reliable version without
embellishment (pp. x–xv). Another kind of mythography deals with
interpreting or analyzing myths to explain their origin, function, inner
logic and hidden meanings (p. xv). Further complicating matters is the fact
that the surviving mythographic writings of Apollodorus and Hyginus, which
contribute most to our understanding of Greek myth, are relatively late
reflections of the corpus.
Herodotus, the 5th-century BC historian of the Persian Wars, is one of the
first mythographers to attempt to rationalize myth. Even Thucydides, widely
considered the first objective historian, engaged in mythography at the
beginning of his history (pp. xviii–xix). For the Greeks, the past was
mythical; fact and fiction had to be differentiated before the myths could
be completely understood. Hellenistic mythographers like Palaephatus
inconsistently rationalized early myths by stripping them of miraculous and
supernatural elements, often leaving them threadbare and improbable.
Medea’s convincing Pelias’ daughters to boil him, for example, is presented
as nothing more than a spa treatment gone terribly wrong (p. xxiii). Then
there is the rationalizing of Euhemerus (whence the term Euhemerism), who
argued that the gods of myth were deified human beings who accomplished
great deeds (p. xxiv). Of the small number of Latin mythographers, the
Christian writer Fulgentius should be mentioned for his Myths (Mitologiae),
allegorical interpretations of pagan material, along with the three Vatican
Mythographers whose medieval collections contain numerous entries (pp.
Smith and Trzaskoma also provide thorough introductions to both
Apollodorus’ Library and Hyginus’ Fabulae (pp. xxix–lv). Apollodorus’ work,
treating the bulk of mainstream Greek myth, moves from his theogony to the
Wanderings of Odysseus, though the author himself is otherwise completely
unknown to us. Apollodorus relied on an earlier source or sources for his
work but painstakingly created his own mythographic narrative; the work is
organized seamlessly and economically using relatively few main
As for the Fabulae, we know next to nothing about its author and date of
composition. The work falls into three sections: (1) a short theogony; (2)
narrative accounts of myths; and (3) lists compiled from different myths
under an individual category. Though written in Latin and to some degree
adapted for a Latin audience, the Fabulae almost exclusively treats Greek
myth and is based mainly on Greek sources. It must therefore be read with
care and caution, especially since Hyginus provides genuine but otherwise
unknown variants of stories, and the dubious reliability of the text
presents serious problems of interpretation. It nonetheless remains an
invaluable source for Greek myth.
The text of Apollodorus’ Library is comprised of three Books and an Epitome
(pp. 1–93). Book 1 treats the Gods and the Lineage of Deucalion; Book 2,
the Lineage of Inachus; Book 3, the Lineage of Agenor; and the Epitome,
Events and Genealogies from Theseus to the End of the Trojan War. An entry
from the Epitome is cited here as an example of Apollodorus’ mythography
Protesilaos and Laodameia 3.30 Protesilaus was the first of the Greeks to
leave his ship. After killing quite a few barbarians he was killed by
Hector. His wife, Laodameia, continuing to love him even after his death,
made a statue in the image of Protesilaos and interacted with it. [n. 5]
The gods took pity on her, and Hermes brought Protesilaos up from the house
of Hades. When she saw him, Laodameia thought that he was back from Troy,
so she was momentarily happy. But then when he was taken back to the house
of Hades, she killed herself.
[n. 5 The verb translated here, “interact with,” can carry connotations of
socializing from mere conversation to sexual intercourse. Compare Hyginus
Apollodorus offers a standard account of the story Protesilaos and
Laodameia, and Smith and Trzaskoma provide a straightforward but not overly
literal English translation of his Greek, as well as a brief but important
Hyginus’ Fabulae (pp. 95–182) opens with a brief theogony, followed by
narrative accounts of Greek myths and lists compiled from different myths
under individual categories. The following entry from the narrative
exemplifies Hyginus’ mythographic style (p. 118):
66 Laius Laius son of Labdacus received a prophecy from Apollo warning him
to beware death at the hands of his own son. So, when his wife Jocasta,
Menoeceus’ daughter, gave birth, he ordered the child to be exposed. It
just so happened that Periboea, King Polybus’ wife, was at the shore
washing clothes, found the exposed child, and took it in. When Polybus
found out, because they had no children, they raised him as their own,
naming him Oedipus because his feet had been pierced. [n. 16]
[n. 16 Hyginus relies on a Greek etymology that he does not explain; see
Hyginus provides a standard narrative about Laius, while Smith and
Trzaskoma offer a sensible English translation of his Latin, along with a
short and pertinent footnote.
The Endnotes for both Apollodorus’ Library and Hyginus’ Fabulae are more
critical and analytical, and offer alternative readings of Apollodorus’
Greek and Hyginus’ Latin texts (pp. 183–95). The General Index (pp.
196–238) presents minimal but relevant information for each entry; the
Index of Peoples and Geographic Locations (pp. 239–45) is concise but
adequate; and the Index of Authors and Works Cited by Apollodorus and
Hyginus (pp. 246–7) adds some new names to the list of ancient
Every student and scholar of Greek mythology and the mythographic tradition
will want to own this book, and every library should have it on the shelf.
Smith and Trzaskoma have produced an indispensable volume that is easy to
use and understand. They have invested a tremendous amount of time and
scholarship to make this a valuable resource for traditionalists and
non-traditionalists alike. Even the general reader can benefit from their
judicious essays, thoughtful translations and concise textual notes.
Teachers of mythology will welcome this handbook for its readability and
applicability to general mythology books currently in use. Everything about
this work will make it the standard handbook for years to come.
Boston Latin Academy
You may remove yourself from the CJ-Online list-serve by sending an
email to: [log in to unmask]
Leave the subject line blank, and in the first line of the message
write: UNSUBSCRIBE cj-online