Séance du 6 février 2016 : Mario Baumann, « Arabia revisited: narrative frequency and the function of repetitions in Diodorus’ « Bibliotheke » »

Voici le texte de la troisième séance parisienne, qui a eu lieu le 6 février 2014, de 14h à 16h, en salle F, à l’École normale supérieure de Paris.

L’orateur était Mario Baumann, de l’Université de Gießen, en Allemagne, et son répondant Aurélien Pulice, doctorant à l’Université de Bordeaux Montaigne.

Arabia revisited: narrative frequency and the function of repetitions in Diodorus’ Bibliotheke

The subject of my talk are repetitions in Diodoru’s Bibliotheke and their function. By “repetition” I not only refer to cases where sentences/sections/“scenes” are repeated in a strict sense, i.e. word by word, but also to instances where the narrator treats a specific topic not once in one passage, but several times in different parts of the Bibliotheke (cf. the narratological concepts of frequency and, in particular, iterative narration).

The model case and focus of my talk are the passages devoted to Arabia in the extant parts of the Bibliotheke. Those passages are distributed over three books (book 2, book 3, and book 19) as becomes clear from the following overview of the pertinent chapters:

  • 2.48–54: Arabia, the land “between Syria and Egypt”
    1. Northern Arabia: the Nabataeans (48) 
    2. Southern Arabia: the “Happy Arabia” (49) 
    3. animals of Arabia: struthocameli, camelopards etc. (50–51.2)
    4. scientific explanations I: effects of the sun, precious stones (51.3–52)
    5. scientific explanations II: birds, trees (53)
    6. Central and Southeastern Arabia (54)
  • 3.38–47: Periplus of the Read Sea
    1. [western (=Egyptian) side, from N to S (38–41)]
    2. eastern (=Arabian) side, from N to S (42–47)
  • 19.94–100: Campaigns of Antigonus against the Nabataeans
    1. customs of the Arabs (94) 
    2. unsuccessful campaign of Athenaeus (95) 
    3. Antigonos tries to outwit the Arabs (96)
    4. unsuccessful campaign of Demetrius (97)
    5. description of the “Asphaltic Lake” (98–99)
    6. Antigonus finally has to admit defeat (100.1–3)

As to methodology, I do not look at those passages from the perspective of Quellenforschung, like Krumbholz 1889, the “classical” treatment of repetitions in Diodorus, does, nor do I aim to elucidate problems of textual criticism by analysing repetitions (this is what Eck 2003, xiii–lxv focuses on). Instead I examine how the narrator uses repetitions to “shape” the communication with his addressee, i.e. the reader of the Bibliotheke.

A close reading of the sections dedicated to Arabia shows that even in cases of verbal repetition in a strict sense the narrator employs recontextualisation and refocalisation to create an informational (or descriptive, affective …) surplus:

1. Complementary information (Diod. 2.48 compared to Diod. 3.43.4–5)

The first passage I would like to examine is Diod. 2.48 which is devoted to the Nabataeans (I quote Oldfather’s translation):

(1) … τὰ μὲν οὖν πρὸς τὴν ἕω μέρη κατοικοῦσιν Ἄραβες οὓς ὀνομάζουσι Ναβαταίους, νεμόμενοι χώραν τὴν μὲν ἔρημον, τὴν δὲ ἄνυδρον, ὀλίγην δὲ καρποφόρον. (2) ἔχουσι δὲ βίον λῃστρικόν, καὶ πολλὴν τῆς ὁμόρου χώρας κατατρέχοντες λῃστεύουσιν, ὄντες δύσμαχοι κατὰ τοὺς πολέμους. κατὰ γὰρ τὴν ἄνυδρον χώραν λεγομένην κατεσκευακότες εὔκαιρα φρέατα, καὶ ταῦτα πεποιηκότες τοῖς ἀλλοεθνέσιν ἄγνωστα, συμφεύγουσιν εἰς τὴν χώραν ταύτην ἀκινδύνως. (3) αὐτοὶ μὲν γὰρ εἰδότες τὰ κατακεκρυμμένα τῶν ὑδάτων, καὶ ταῦτ’ ἀνοίγοντες, χρῶνται δαψιλέσι ποτοῖς· οἱ δὲ τούτους ἐπιδιώκοντες ἀλλοεθνεῖς σπανίζοντες τῆς ὑδρείας διὰ τὴν ἄγνοιαν τῶν φρεάτων, οἱ μὲν ἀπόλλυνται διὰ τὴν σπάνιν τῶν ὑδάτων, οἱ δὲ πολλὰ κακοπαθήσαντες μόγις εἰς τὴν οἰκείαν σώζονται.

(4) διόπερ οἱ ταύτην τὴν χώραν κατοικοῦντες Ἄραβες, ὄντες δυσκαταπολέμητοι, διατελοῦσιν ἀδούλωτοι, πρὸς δὲ τούτοις ἔπηλυν μὲν ἡγεμόνα τὸ παράπαν οὐ προσδέχονται, διατελοῦσι δὲ τὴν ἐλευθερίαν διαφυλάττοντες ἀσάλευτον. (5) διόπερ οὔτ’ Ἀσσύριοι τὸ παλαιὸν οὔθ’ οἱ Μήδων καὶ Περσῶν, ἔτι δὲ Μακεδόνων βασιλεῖς ἠδυνήθησαν αὐτοὺς καταδουλώσασθαι, πολλὰς μὲν καὶ μεγάλας δυνάμεις ἐπ’ αὐτοὺς ἀγαγόντες, οὐδέποτε δὲ τὰς ἐπιβολὰς συντελέσαντες.

(6) ἔστι δ’ ἐν τῇ χώρᾳ τῶν Ναβαταίων καὶ πέτρα καθ’ ὑπερβολὴν ὀχυρά, μίαν ἀνάβασιν ἔχουσα, δι’ ἧς κατ’ ὀλίγους ἀναβαίνοντες ἀποτίθενται τὰς ἀποσκευάς· λίμνη τε μεγάλη φέρουσα πολλὴν ἄσφαλτον, ἐξ ἧς λαμβάνουσιν οὐκ ὀλίγας προσόδους. (7) αὕτη δ’ ἔχει τὸ μὲν μῆκος σταδίων ὡς πεντακοσίων, τὸ δὲ πλάτος ὡς ἑξήκοντα, τὸ δ’ ὕδωρ δυσῶδες καὶ διάπικρον, ὥστε μὴ δύνασθαι μήτ’ ἰχθῦν τρέφειν μήτ’ ἄλλο τῶν καθ’ ὕδατος εἰωθότων ζῴων εἶναι. ἐμβαλλόντων δ’ εἰς αὐτὴν ποταμῶν μεγάλων τῇ γλυκύτητι διαφόρων, τούτων μὲν περιγίνεται κατὰ τὴν δυσωδίαν, ἐξ αὑτῆς δὲ μέσης κατ’ ἐνιαυτὸν ἐκφυσᾷ ἀσφάλτου μέγεθος ποτὲ μὲν μεῖζον ἢ τρίπλεθρον, ἔστι δ’ ὅτε δυοῖν πλέθρων· ἐφ’ ᾧ δὴ συνήθως οἱ περιοικοῦντες βάρβαροι τὸ μὲν μεῖζον καλοῦσι ταῦρον, τὸ δ’ ἔλαττον μόσχον ἐπονομάζουσιν. (8) ἐπιπλεούσης δὲ τῆς ἀσφάλτου πελαγίας ὁ τύπος φαίνεται τοῖς [μὲν] ἐξ ἀποστήματος θεωροῦσιν οἱονεὶ νῆσος. τὴν δ’ ἔκπτωσιν τῆς ἀσφάλτου συμβαίνει φανερὰν γίνεσθαι τοῖς ἀνθρώποις πρὸ ἡμερῶν εἴκοσι [δύο]· κύκλῳ γὰρ τῆς λίμνης ἐπὶ πολλοὺς σταδίους ὀσμὴ προσπίπτει μετὰ πνεύματος, καὶ πᾶς ὁ περὶ τὸν τόπον ἄργυρός τε καὶ χρυσὸς καὶ χαλκὸς ἀποβάλλει τὴν ἰδιότητα τοῦ χρώματος. ἀλλ’ αὕτη μὲν ἀποκαθίσταται πάλιν, ἐπειδὰν ἀναφυσηθῆναι συμβῇ πᾶσαν τὴν ἄσφαλτον· ὁ δὲ πλησίον τόπος ἔμπυρος ὢν καὶ δυσώδης ποιεῖ τὰ σώματα τῶν ἀνθρώπων ἐπίνοσα καὶ παντελῶς ὀλιγοχρόνια.

(9) ἀγαθὴ δ’ ἐστὶ φοινικόφυτος ὅσην αὐτῆς συμβαίνει ποταμοῖς διειλῆφθαι χρησίμοις ἢ πηγαῖς δυναμέναις ἀρδεύειν. γίνεται δὲ περὶ τοὺς τόπους [τούτους] ἐν αὐλῶνί τινι καὶ τὸ καλούμενον βάλσαμον, ἐξ οὗ πρόσοδον ἁδρὰν λαμβάνουσιν, οὐδαμοῦ μὲν τῆς ἄλλης οἰκουμένης εὑρισκομένου τοῦ φυτοῦ τούτου, τῆς δ’ ἐξ αὐτοῦ χρείας εἰς φάρμακα τοῖς ἰατροῖς καθ’ ὑπερβολὴν εὐθετούσης.

(1) … Now the eastern parts are inhabited by Arabs, who bear the name of Nabataeans and range over a country which is partly desert and partly waterless, though a small section of it is fruitful. (2) And they lead a life of brigandage, and overrunning a large part of the neighbouring territory they pillage it, being difficult to overcome in war. For in the waterless region, as it is called, they have dug wells at convenient intervals and have kept the knowledge of them hidden from the peoples of all other nations, and so they retreat in a body into this region out of danger. (3) For since they themselves know about the places of hidden water and open them up, they have for their use drinking water in abundance; but such other peoples as pursue them, being in want of a watering-place by reason of their ignorance of the wells, in some cases perish because of the lack of water and in other cases regain their native land in safety only with difficulty and after suffering many ills.

(4) Consequently the Arabs who inhabit this country, being difficult to overcome in war, remain always unenslaved; furthermore, they never at any time accept a man of another country as their over-lord and continue to maintain their liberty unimpaired. (5) Consequently neither the Assyrians of old, nor the kings of the Medes and Persians, nor yet those of the Macedonians have been able to enslave them, and although they led many great forces against them, they never brought their attempts to a successful conclusion.

(6) There is also in the land of the Nabataeans a rock, which is exceedingly strong since it has but one approach, and using this ascent they mount it a few at a time and thus store their possessions in safety. And a large lake is also there which produces asphalt in abundance, and from it they derive not a little revenue. (7) It has a length of about five hundred stades and a width of about sixty, and its water is so ill-smelling and so very bitter that it cannot support fish or any of the other animals which commonly live in water. And although great rivers of remarkable sweetness empty into it, the lake gets the better of them by reason of its evil smell, and from its centre it spouts forth once a year a great mass of asphalt, which sometimes extends for more than three plethra, and sometimes for only two; and when this occurs the barbarians who live about the lake usually call the larger flow a “bull” and to the smaller one they give the name “calf.” (8) Since the asphalt floats on the surface of the lake, to those who view it from a distance it takes the appearance of an island. And the fact is that the emission of the asphalt is made known to the natives twenty days before it takes place; for to a distance of many stades around the lake the odour, borne on the wind, assails them, and every piece of silver and gold and brass in the locality loses it characteristic lustre. But this returns again as soon as all the asphalt has been spouted forth; and the region round about, by reason of its being exposed to fire and to the evil odours, renders the bodies of the inhabitants susceptible to disease and makes the people very short-lived.

(9) Yet the land is good for the growing of palms, wherever it happens to be traversed by rivers with usable water or to be supplied with springs which can irrigate it. And there is also found in these regions in a certain valley the balsam tree, as it is called, from which they receive a substantial revenue, since this tree is found nowhere else in the inhabited world and the use of it for medicinal purposes is most highly valued by physicians.

The Nabateans are also mentioned in Diod. 3.43.4–5:

(4) παραπλεύσαντι δὲ ταύτην τὴν χώραν ἐκδέχεται κόλπος Λαιανίτης, περιοικούμενος πολλαῖς κώμαις Ἀράβων τῶν προσαγορευομένων Ναβαταίων. οὗτοι δὲ πολλὴν μὲν τῆς παραλίου νέμονται, οὐκ ὀλίγην δὲ καὶ τῆς εἰς μεσόγειον ἀνηκούσης χώρας, τόν τε λαὸν ἀμύθητον ἔχοντες καὶ θρεμμάτων ἀγέλας ἀπίστους τοῖς πλήθεσιν. (5) οἳ τὸ μὲν παλαιὸν ἐξῆγον δικαιοσύνῃ χρώμενοι καὶ ταῖς ἀπὸ τῶν θρεμμάτων τροφαῖς ἀρκούμενοι, ὕστερον δὲ τῶν ἀπὸ τῆς Ἀλεξανδρείας βασιλέων πλωτὸν τοῖς ἐμπόροις ποιησάντων τὸν πόρον τοῖς τε ναυαγοῦσιν ἐπετίθεντο καὶ λῃστρικὰ σκάφη κατασκευάζοντες ἐλῄστευον τοὺς πλέοντας, μιμούμενοι τὰς ἀγριότητας καὶ παρανομίας τῶν ἐν τῷ Πόντῳ Ταύρων· μετὰ δὲ ταῦτα ληφθέντες ὑπὸ τετρηρικῶν σκαφῶν πελάγιοι προσηκόντως ἐκολάσθησαν.

(4) After one has sailed past this country the Laeanites Gulf comes next, about which are many inhabited villages of Arabs who are known as Nabataeans. This tribe occupies a large part of the coast and not a little of the country which stretches inland, and it has a people numerous beyond telling and flocks and herds in multitude beyond belief. (5) Now in ancient times these men observed justice and were content with the food which they received from their flocks, but later, after the kings in Alexandria had made the ways of the sea navigable for the merchants, these Arabs not only attacked the shipwrecked, but fitting out pirate ships preyed upon the voyagers, imitating in their practices the savage and lawless ways of the Tauri of the Pontus; some time afterward, however, they were caught on the high seas by some quadriremes and punished as they deserved.

While Diod. 2.48 stresses that the Nabataeans were never subdued at land and portrays them as people who had always made a living from robbery, Diod. 3.43.4–5 adds the important details that they in fact were reined in at sea by the Ptolemies and that they had only turned to piracy at a certain point of time. Only a reader who links Diod. 2.48 and Diod. 3.43.4–5 gets the “full picture” of the Nabataeans’ customs and history.

2. Recontextualisation (Diod. 2.48 compared to Diod. 19.98 / 19.99.3–19.100.1)

Another conspicuous repetition occurs in the Bibliotheke’s nineteenth book where the Nabateans are highlighted again in the context of Antigonus’ campaigns in Syria and Phoenicia (Diod. 19.98 / 19.99.3–19.100.1):

ὁ μὲν οὖν Δημήτριος λαβὼν ὁμήρους καὶ τὰς ὁμολογηθείσας δωρεὰς ἀνέζευξεν ἀπὸ τῆς πέτρας· διατείνας δὲ σταδίους τριακοσίους κατεστρατοπέδευσε πλησίον τῆς Ἀσφαλτίτιδος λίμνης, ἧς τὴν φύσιν οὐκ ἄξιον παραδραμεῖν ἀνεπισήμαντον. κεῖται γὰρ κατὰ μέσην τὴν σατραπείαν τῆς Ἰδουμαίας, τῷ μὲν μήκει παρεκτείνουσα σταδίους μάλιστά που πεντακοσίους, τῷ δὲ πλάτει περὶ ἑξήκοντα. …

The rest of chapter 19.98 repeats 2.48.7–9 almost verbally, rendering this the most extended verbal repetition in the extant books of the Bibliotheke.

(99.3) ταύτην δ’ ἔχοντες οἱ βάρβαροι πρόσοδον ἀπάγουσι τὴν ἄσφαλτον εἰς τὴν Αἴγυπτον καὶ πωλοῦσιν εἰς τὰς ταριχείας τῶν νεκρῶν· μὴ μιγνυμένης γὰρ ταύτης τοῖς λοιποῖς ἀρώμασιν οὐ δυνατὸν γενέσθαι τὴν τῶν σωμάτων φυλακὴν πολυχρόνιον.

(100.1) ὁ δ’ Ἀντίγονος, ἐπανελθόντος τοῦ Δημητρίου καὶ τὰ κατὰ μέρος τῶν πεπραγμένων ἀπαγγείλαντος, ἐπὶ μὲν τῇ συνθέσει τῇ πρὸς τοὺς Ναβαταίους ἐπετίμησεν αὐτῷ, λέγων ὅτι πολλῷ θρασυτέρους πεποίηκε τοὺς βαρβάρους ἐάσας ἀτιμωρήτους· δόξειν γὰρ αὐτοὺς τετευχέναι συγγνώμης οὐ δι’ ἐπιείκειαν, ἀλλὰ δι’ ἀδυναμίαν τοῦ κρατῆσαι· ἐπὶ δὲ τῷ κατασκέψασθαι τὴν λίμνην καὶ δοκεῖν εὑρηκέναι τινὰ τῇ βασιλείᾳ πρόσοδον ἐπαινέσας ἐπὶ μὲν ταύτης ἐπιμελητὴν ἔταξεν Ἱερώνυμον …

Demetrius received hostages and the gifts that had been agreed upon and departed from the rock. After marching for three hundred stades, he camped near the Asphaltic Lake, the nature of which ought not to be passed over without remark. It lies along the middle of the satrapy of Idumaea, extending in length about five hundred stades and in width about sixty. …

The rest of chapter 19.98 repeats 2.48.7–9 almost verbally, rendering this the most extended verbal repetition in the extant books of the Bibliotheke.

(99.3) The barbarians who enjoy this source of income take the asphalt to Egypt and sell it for the embalming of the dead; for unless this is mixed with the other aromatic ingredients, the preservation of the bodies cannot be permanent.

(100.1) Antigonus, when Demetrius returned and made a detailed report of what he had done, rebuked him for the treaty with the Nabataeans, saying that he had made the barbarians much bolder by leaving them unpunished, since it would seem to them that they had gained pardon not through his kindness but through his inability to overcome them; but he praised him for examining the lake and apparently having found a source of revenue for the kingdom. In charge of this he placed Hieronymus …

The verbally repeated description of the “Asphaltic Lake” gains a specific and new significance in the context of book 19: it is the economic potential of exploiting the asphalt which compels Antigonus to mess with the Nabataeans again. His attempt to secure great revenues (a task delegated to Hieronymus) utterly fails, just like the previous campaigns by Athenaeus and Demetrius. Thus Antigonus’ campaign is turned into a negative exemplum from which a reader can learn: greed leads to Antigonus’ refusal to draw the right conclusions from his previous defeats, which results in the final embarrassing failure. The narrator thus demonstrates the didactic potential of a seemingly simple geographical description and invites the reader to look for similar “lessons” in other passages of the Bibliotheke.

3. Refocalisation (Diod. 2.49.1–4 compared to Diod. 3.46.4–5 and Diod. 3.47.1–3)

Another technique of employing functional repetition can be observed in those passages which centre around the so-called “Happy Arabia”. The first extended description of this part of Arabia occurs in Diod. 2.49.1–4:

(1) ἡ δ’ ἐχομένη τῆς ἀνύδρου καὶ ἐρήμου χώρας Ἀραβία τοσοῦτο διαφέρει ταύτης ὥστε διὰ τὸ πλῆθος τῶν ἐν αὐτῇ φυομένων καρπῶν τε καὶ τῶν ἄλλων ἀγαθῶν εὐδαίμονα Ἀραβίαν προσαγορευθῆναι. (2) κάλαμον μὲν γὰρ καὶ σχοῖνον καὶ τὴν ἄλλην ὕλην τὴν ἀρωματίζουσαν πολλὴν φέρει καὶ καθόλου παντοδαπὰς φύλλων εὐωδίας, καὶ τῶν ἀποσταζόντων δακρύων ὀσμαῖς ποικίλαις διείληπται· τήν τε γὰρ σμύρναν καὶ τὸν προσφιλέστατον τοῖς θεοῖς εἴς τε τὴν οἰκουμένην ἅπασαν διαπόμπιμον λιβανωτὸν αἱ ταύτης ἐσχατιαὶ φέρουσι. (3) τοῦ δὲ κόστου καὶ κασίας, ἔτι δὲ κιναμώμου καὶ τῶν ἄλλων τῶν τοιούτων χόρτοι καὶ θάμνοι βαθεῖαι τοσαῦται πεφύκασιν ὥστε τὰ παρὰ τοῖς ἄλλοις σπανίως ἐπὶ βωμοὺς θεῶν τιθέμενα παρ’ ἐκείνοις καὶ κλιβάνων ὑπάρχειν ἐκκαύματα, καὶ τὰ παρὰ τοῖς ἄλλοις μικρῷ δείγματι ὑπάρχοντα παρ’ ἐκείνοις στιβάδας οἰκετικὰς ἐπὶ τῶν οἰκιῶν παρέχεσθαι. τό τε καλούμενον κινάμωμον διάφορον χρείαν παρεχόμενον καὶ ῥητίνη καὶ τερέβινθος ἄπλατος εὐώδης φύεται περὶ τοὺς τόπους. (4) ἐν δὲ τοῖς ὄρεσιν οὐ μόνον ἐλάτη καὶ πεύκη φύεται δαψιλής, ἀλλὰ καὶ κέδρος καὶ ἄρκευθος ἄπλατος καὶ τὸ καλούμενον βόρατον. πολλαὶ δὲ καὶ ἄλλαι φύσεις εὐώδεις καρποφοροῦσαι τὰς ἀπορροίας καὶ προσπνεύσεις ἔχουσι τοῖς ἐγγίσασι προσηνεστάτας.

(1) That part of Arabia which borders upon the waterless and desert country is so different from it that, because both of the multitude of fruits which grow therein and of its other good things, it has been called Happy Arabia. (2) For the reed and the rush and every other growth that has a spicy scent are produced in great abundance, as is also, speaking generally, every kind of fragrant substance which is derived from leaves, and the land is distinguished in its several parts by the varied odours of the gums which drip from them; for myrrh and that frankincense which is most dear to the gods and is exported throughout the entire inhabited world are produced in the farthest parts of this land. (3) And kostos and cassia and cinnamon and all other plants of this nature grow there in fields and thickets of such depth that what all other peoples sparingly place upon the altars of the gods is actually used by them as fuel under their pots, and what is found among all other peoples in small specimens there supplies material for the mattresses of the servants in their homes. Moreover, the cinnamon, as it is called, which is exceptionally useful, and resin of the pine, and the terebinth, are produced in these regions in great abundance and of sweet odour. (4) And in the mountains grow not only silver fir and pine in abundance, but also cedar and the Phoenician cedar in abundance and boraton, as it is called. There are also many other kinds of fruit-bearing plants of sweet odour, which yield sap and fragrances most pleasing to such as approach them.

Quite different is the account of “Happy Arabia” given in the context of the periplus of the Red Sea in the Bibliotheke’s third book (Diod. 3.46.4–5):

(4) θεία γάρ τις φαίνεται καὶ λόγου κρείττων ἡ προσπίπτουσα καὶ κινοῦσα τὰς ἑκάστων αἰσθήσεις εὐωδία. καὶ γὰρ τοὺς παραπλέοντας, καίπερ πολὺ τῆς χέρσου κεχωρισμένους, οὐκ ἀμοίρους ποιεῖ τῆς τοιαύτης ἀπολαύσεως· κατὰ γὰρ τὴν θερινὴν ὥραν, ὅταν ἄνεμος ἀπόγειος γένηται, συμβαίνει τὰς ἀπὸ τῶν σμυρνοφόρων δένδρων καὶ τῶν ἄλλων τῶν τοιούτων ἀποπνεομένας εὐωδίας διικνεῖσθαι πρὸς τὰ πλησίον μέρη τῆς θαλάττης· οὐ γὰρ ὥσπερ παρ’ ἡμῖν ἀποκειμένην καὶ παλαιὰν ἔχει τὴν τῶν ἀρωμάτων φύσιν, ἀλλὰ τὴν ἀκμάζουσαν ἐν ἄνθει νεαρὰν δύναμιν καὶ διικνουμένην πρὸς τὰ λεπτομερέστατα τῆς αἰσθήσεως. (5) κομιζούσης γὰρ τῆς αὔρας τὴν ἀπόρροιαν τῶν εὐωδεστάτων, προσπίπτει τοῖς προσπλέουσι τὴν παράλιον προσηνὲς καὶ πολύ, πρὸς δὲ τούτοις ὑγιεινὸν καὶ παρηλλαγμένον ἐκ τῶν ἀρίστων μῖγμα …

(4) For a divine thing and beyond the power of words to describe seems the fragrance which greets the nostrils and stirs the senses of everyone. Indeed, even though those who sail along this coast may be far from the land, that does not deprive them of a portion of the enjoyment which this fragrance affords; for in the summer season, when the wind is blowing off shore, one finds that the sweet odours exhaled by the myrrh-bearing and other aromatic trees penetrate to the near-by parts of the sea; and the reason is that the essence of the sweet-smelling herbs is not, as with us, kept laid away until it has become old and stale, but its potency is in the full bloom of its strength and fresh, and penetrates to the most delicate parts of the sense of smell. (5) And since the breeze carries the emanation of the most fragrant plants, to the voyagers who approach the coast there is wafted a blending of perfumes, delightful and potent, and healthful withal and exotic, composed as it is of the best of them …

The description of “Happy Arabia” in Diod. 2.49.1–4 is enumerative rather than vivid: the focus here is more on detailing the broad spectrum of aromatic plants and on emphasising their sheer masses than on describing the actual scents. This, however, is exactly what Diod. 3.46.4–5 does: by lending the description a specific focalisation (as part of a periplus of the Red Sea, this passage describes the scents of Happy Arabia as they appear to sailors passing those shores), the narrator here vividly highlights the sensual impact on the nostrils of a passer-by, thus stimulating the reader’s imagination.

To this the narrator adds another important bit of information in the following chapter (Diod. 3.47.1–3):

(1) οὐ μὴν ὁλόκληρον καὶ χωρὶς φθόνου τὴν εὐδαιμονίαν τοῖς ἀνθρώποις ἡ τύχη περιέθηκεν, ἀλλὰ τοῖς τηλικούτοις δωρήμασι παρέζευξε τὸ βλάπτον καὶ νουθετῆσον τοὺς διὰ τὴν συνέχειαν τῶν ἀγαθῶν εἰωθότας καταφρονεῖν τῶν θεῶν. …

(3) ἴδιον δέ τι παρὰ τοῖς ἐγχωρίοις συμβαίνει περὶ τοὺς ἠσθενηκότας ὑπὸ μακρᾶς νόσου τὰ σώματα. διαπνεομένου γὰρ τοῦ σώματος ὑπ’ ἀκράτου καὶ τμητικῆς φύσεως, καὶ τῆς συγκρίσεως τῶν ὄγκων εἰς ἀραίωμα συναγομένης, ἔκλυσις ἐπακολουθεῖ δυσβοήθητος· διόπερ τοῖς τοιούτοις ἄσφαλτον παραθυμιῶσι καὶ τράγου πώγωνα, ταῖς ἐναντίαις φύσεσι καταμαχόμενοι τὴν ὑπερβολὴν τῆς εὐωδίας. τὸ γὰρ καλὸν ποσότητι μὲν καὶ τάξει μετρούμενον ὠφελεῖ καὶ τέρπει τοὺς ἀνθρώπους, ἀναλογίας δὲ καὶ καθήκοντος καιροῦ διαμαρτὸν ἀνόνητον ἔχει τὴν δωρεάν.

(1) Nevertheless, fortune has not invested the inhabitants of this land with a felicity which is perfect and leaves no room for envy, but with such great gifts she has coupled what is harmful and may serve as a warning to such men as are wont to despise the gods because of the unbroken succession of their blessings. …

(3) And there is also something peculiar to the natives which happens in the case of those whose bodies have become weakened by a protracted illness. For when the body has become permeated by an undiluted and pungent substance and the combination of foreign bodies settles in a porous area, an enfeebled condition ensues which is difficult to cure: consequently at the side of men afflicted in this way they burn asphalt and the beard of a goat, combatting the excessively sweet odour by that from substances of the opposite nature. Indeed the good, when it is measured out in respect of quantity and order, is for human beings an aid and delight, but when it fails of due proportion and proper time the gift which it bestows is unprofitable.

The effects of those scents, it appears, are not only pleasurable—excessive exposure to them is positively dangerous! With his gnome at the end of Diod. 3.47.1–3 the narrator points to a didactic “message”: the olfactory balance that the Arabs need to strike is just one instance of a fundamental principle of ἀναλογία and καιρός, a principle that the reader is invited to reflect upon.

Based on these observations three overarching conclusions may be drawn:

  1. Repetitions as implicit cross-references: The narrator uses repetitions to link different (and distant, cf. the “jump” from book 2 to book 19) parts of the Bibliotheke. Their presence invites the reader to actively look for related passages and to compare them. They thus function as implicit cross-references, enhancing and strengthening the effects of the many explicit cross-references in the Bibliotheke (for which cf. Rubincam 1989).
  2. Repetitions as markers of the Bibliotheke’s mediality, i.e. its “bookishness”: The Bibliotheke presents itself self-consciously and self-referentially as a piece of “book history”, or, more precisely, as the “book history”: as the title Bibliotheke indicates, this work aims to compile everything that is sound and noteworthy among previous historiography and to outdo and supersede these predecessors (cf. Wiater 2006). The repetitions mark and enact this “bookishness” by making the reader scroll through the Bibliotheke’s tomes and by urging him to actualise the interpretative as well as affective potential “hidden” in its many paragraphs—for only by linking, comparing and combining different passages can a reader arrive at what I called above “the full picture”.
  3. Diod. 3.47.1–3 as a meta-comment on the Bibliotheke: I suggest to interpret Diod. 3.47.1–3 as an instance of the Bibliotheke’s self-referentiality, in other words: as a meta-comment. Just like the aromatic plants of Happy Arabia entice the passer-by to indulge in their exotic scents, the Bibliotheke offers their reader many pleasures. But neither the inhabitants of Happy Arabia nor the readers of history can exclusively allow themselves to be absorbed by pleasurable sensations. Absorption and reflection, enjoyment and learning need to be brought into equilibrium: the Bibliotheke offers its reader both elements of that equilibrium.

Works cited

  • Bommelaer, Bibiane 1989, Diodore de Sicile. Bibliothèque Historique. Livre III, Paris.
  • Eck, Bernard 2003, Diodore de Sicile. Bibliothèque Historique. Livre II, Paris.
  • Krumbholz, Paul 1889, “Wiederholungen bei Diodor”, Rheinisches Museum für Philologie 44, 286–298.
  • Oldfather, Charles H. 1935. Diodorus of Sicily. The Library of History. Books II.35–IV.58, Cambridge (MA)/London.
  • Rubincam, Catherine I. R. 1989, “Cross-References in the Bibliotheke Historike of Diodoros”, Phoenix 43, 39–61.
  • Wiater, Nicolas 2006, “Geschichtsschreibung und Kompilation. Diodors historiographische Arbeitsmethode und seine Vorstellungen von zeitgemäßer Geschichtsschreibung”, Rheinisches Museum für Philologie 149, 248-271.

Voici les questions posées ensuite par A. Pulice :

Question 1 : In your paper you have underlined that Diodorus’ repetitions were implicit cross-references, especially between the so called « mythological » books and the « historical » ones. Are they so implicit given that they often seem to be working together with other narratological tools such as prolepses (cf. the very first mention of Arabia in Diodorus’ Bibliotheke already announces the very last one, i.e. the Macedonian Kings’ episode which is to be found in book 19)?

Question 2 : Your paper enhances a kind of cross-references (i.e. repetitions) completely ignored by C. Rubincam in her paper from 1989. She identifies three different kinds of cross-references in Diodorus’Bibliotheke : (1) resumptive statements (they consist in reaching back the main narrative after a digression) ; (2) annalistic cross-references (they are attempts to overcome the breaking up of related subject matter by the division of the historical narrative into annals) ; (3) encyclopaedic signposts (they are directing the reader to another of several places in the Bibliotheke dealing with the same material).

One of the main conclusions drawn by C. Rubincam is that there are no cross-references between the “mythological” books and the “historical” ones. Your study shows the contrary. Besides, if we keep her categories, repetitions should fall into the 3rd type (i.e. “encyclopaedic signposts”), am I right? Does your research about repetitions fit in these categories? Do you question them in your work?

Question 3 : One of your main points was to show us that Diodorus did not repeat some of the material at his disposal because he was an uninspired (not to say “bad”) compiler, but because he had a well-reasoned historical project. We understood that he was not using repetitions in case his reader had no knowledge of what was written in previous books, but, on the contrary, that he used repetitions to help him to connect every pieces of his narrative, and, in so doing, to master the Bibliotheke as a whole. From that point of view, Diodorus’ use of repetitions requires quite a zealous reader since he would have to master the whole work to become able to comprehend Diodorus’ project and to reach a deeper understanding of History. From that prospect, Diodorus’ expectations towards his reader seem to me quite close to those of Thucydides. I was wondering whether we could see in the Bibliotheke a transposition in universal history of the thucydidean project — τὸ κτῆμα ἐς αἰεί  — or not?

Question 4 : You have underlined the idea of balance. This idea pervades every section dedicated to Arabia. You have shown that Diodorus depiction of Arabia was linked to a medical and then more philosophical reflection about the importance of balance in human nature.

Diodorus’ Arabia is always characterized by its doubleness. It is an antithetic land (so to speak). Everything has its exact counterpart: the Nabataeans (in northern Arabia) are opposed to the inhabitants of the Happy Arabia (southern Arabia); the Nabataeans live near an asphaltic lake that smells very bad whereas Happy Arabia smells like Heaven because of its huge quantity of aromatic plants; the Nabataeans are warriors whereas people of Happy Arabia don’t know war; domestic or peaceful animals are always opposed to the wild and dangerous ones. But Diodorus goes even further. Everything has a double nature making it ambiguous: Arabia is full of hybrids creatures; a good thing (a nice smell for example) can become a bad one precisely because it is too good. On the contrary, a disgusting one (the smell of the asphalt) can bring salvation because it can restore a balance.

This essential characteristic of Arabia makes me think that repetitions might also have a third function here, a literary one: repetitions might be a stylistic device used by Diodorus to enhance Arabia’s doubleness and ambiguity. What do think about that?


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