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CJ-ONLINE  October 2007

CJ-ONLINE October 2007

Subject:

CJ On-Line 2007.10.94 SMITH-TRZASKOMA, Apollodorus' Library and Hyginus' Fabulae

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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: 

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/redirect-home/classjourn-20

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. 
xxvi–xxvii).

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 
genealogies.

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 
(p. 80):

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 
104.]

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 
footnote.

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 
Apollodorus 3.49.]

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 
mythographers.

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.

PAUL PROPERZIO
Boston Latin Academy


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