Bibliotheca (Pseudo-Apollodorus)

The Bibliotheca (Ancient Greek: Βιβλιοθήκη, Bibliothēkē, 'Library'), also known as the Bibliotheca of Pseudo-Apollodorus, is a compendium of Greek myths and heroic legends, arranged in three books, generally dated to the first or second century AD.[1]

The author was traditionally thought to be Apollodorus of Athens, yet that attribution is now regarded as false, as a result "Pseudo-" has been affixed to Apollodorus.

The Bibliotheca has been called "the most valuable mythographical work which has passed down from ancient times."[2] An epigram recorded by the important intellectual Patriarch Photius I of Constantinople expressed its purpose:[i]

It has the following not ungraceful epigram: 'Draw your knowledge of the past from me and read the ancient tales of learned lore. Look neither at the page of Homer, nor of elegy, nor tragic muse, nor epic strain. Seek not the vaunted verse of the cycle; but look in me and you will find in me all that the world contains'.

The brief and unadorned accounts of myth in the Bibliotheca have led some commentators to suggest that even its complete sections are an epitome of a lost work.[3]


A certain "Apollodorus" is indicated as author on some surviving manuscripts.[4] This Apollodorus has been mistakenly identified with Apollodorus of Athens (born c. 180 BC), a student of Aristarchus of Samothrace, mainly as it is known—from references in the minor scholia on Homer—that Apollodorus of Athens did leave a similar comprehensive repertory on mythology, in the form of a verse chronicle. The text which has survived to the present, however, cites a Roman author: Castor the Annalist, a contemporary of Cicero in the 1st century BC. The mistaken attribution was made by scholars following Photius' mention of the name, though Photius did not name him as the Athenian and the name was in common use at the time.[5] As (for chronological reasons) Apollodorus of Athens could not have written the book, the author of the Bibliotheca is at times referred to as the "Pseudo-Apollodorus", to distinguish him from Apollodorus of Athens. Modern works often simply call him "Apollodorus".

One of his many sources was the Tragodoumena (Subjects of Tragedies) a 4th-century BC analysis of the myths in Greek tragedies by Asclepiades of Tragilus,[6] the first known Greek mythographic compilation.[7]

Manuscript tradition

The first mention of the work is by Photius in the 9th century. It was almost lost in the 13th century, surviving in one now-incomplete manuscript,[8] which was copied for Cardinal Bessarion in the 15th century; the other surviving manuscripts derive from Bessarion's copy.[ii]

Although the Bibliotheca is undivided in the manuscripts, it is conventionally divided into three books. Part of the third book, which breaks off abruptly in the story of Theseus, has been lost. Photius had the full work before him, as he mentions in his "account of books read" that it contained stories of the heroes of the Trojan War and the nostoi, missing in surviving manuscripts. Sir James George Frazer published an epitome of the book by conflating two manuscript summaries of the text,[9] which included the lost part.

Printed editions

The first printed edition of the Bibliotheca was published in Rome in 1555, edited by Benedetto Egio (Benedictus Aegius) of Spoleto, who divided the text in three books,[iii] but made many unwarranted emendations in the very corrupt text. Hieronymus Commelinus [fr] published an improved text at Heidelberg, 1559. The first text based on comparative manuscripts was that of Christian Gottlob Heyne, Göttingen, 1782–83.[10]

See also



  1. ^ Victim of its own suggestions, the epigraph, ironically, does not survive in the manuscripts. For the classic examples of epitomes and encyclopedias substituting in Christian hands for the literature of Classical Antiquity itself, see Isidore of Seville's Etymologiae and Martianus Capella.
  2. ^ Bessarion's copy, deposited in the Biblioteca Marciana, Venice, found its way into the Greek manuscripts of Archbishop Laud and came with them to the Bodleian Library in 1636. (Diller 1935:308, 310).
  3. ^ He based his division on attributions in the scholia minora on Homer to Apollodorus, in three books. (Diller (1935, pp. 298, 308–9)).


  1. ^ Hard (2004, p. 3); Perseus Encyclopedia, "Apollodorus (4)"; Simpson (1976, p. 1).
  2. ^ Diller (1935, pp. 296, 300).
  3. ^ Frazer, J. G.; Apollodorus (2017-06-21). The Library of Greek Mythology. Independently Published. ISBN 9781521558911.
  4. ^ Diller, Aubrey. 1983. "The Text History of the Bibliotheca of Pseudo-Apollodorus." Pp. 199–216 in Studies in Greek Manuscript Tradition, edited by A. Diller. Amsterdam: A. M. Hakkert.
  5. ^ Aldrich (1975, p. 1).
  6. ^ Smith & Trzaskoma (2007, pp. xxii–xxiii).
  7. ^ Graf, Fritz (1996). Greek Mythology: An Introduction. Baltimore, Maryland: Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 193. ISBN 978-0-8018-5395-1.
  8. ^ Bibliothèque nationale, Paris.
  9. ^ Frazer, James G. 1913. Apollodorus. Loeb Classical Library.
  10. ^ Diller (1935)

Works cited