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12-07-2015, 06:30

Timaeus of Tauromenium

Timaeus of Tauromenium’s Italian and Sicilian History (Italika kai Sicelika, FGrHist 566 T 1) was widely known, praised, and despised in antiquity, and to this very day its loss may be seen as the most acute of all of western Greek historiography. Son of Andromachus, commander (hegemon) of Tauromenium in the age of Timoleon, he was exiled by Agathocles and spent many years in Athens. Polybius’ tendentious quotation from Timaeus’ proem of Book 34, the first one devoted to Agathocles, gives a distorted image of Timaeus’ presence in Athens (12.25h.1 = F 34; see Vattuone 1991: 70-71). In Athens, contrary to what has been thought (Momigliano 1959: 529ff.), Timaeus was involved in lively debates on contemporary politics with Athenian intellectuals, but his main mission was to demolish Agathocles’ royal selfrepresentation. Diodorus (21.17 = F 124d) seems to think that his predecessor had tried in a cowardly manner to take revenge on the tyrant after the latter’s death, piling upon him all sorts of slander, but this is just one of many superficial judgments to be found in the Historical Library, and it is undercut by the fact that Diodorus himself made large use of Timaeus, even for Agathocles’ history (Vattuone 2005: 312-313). Timaeus may have returned to Sicily after Agathocles’ death (289 bce), which would account for his knowledge of historians favorable to Agathocles such as Callias and Antandrus, and perhaps too of Duris, and also for his use of information collected from eyewitnesses. This seems a possible meaning of the proem of the first of the five books on Agathocles, derided by Polybius.

Besides his Italika kai Sicelika (or simply Sicelica - as the work was sometimes called in antiquity and will be referred to henceforth - or Historiai) in thirty-eight books, the last five devoted to Agathocles, Timaeus also wrote a work on Pyrrhus ( Ta peri Pyrrhou), to all intents and purposes a continuation of the previous work down to 264 bce, which, like the Taperi Dionysiou or Theopompus’ Philippica, took its name from the main character. Polybius, who canonically took up from where Timaeus had stopped (1.5), starts with the Romans’ crossing into Sicily, and there is no reason to doubt that this was the endpoint of Timaeus’ work.

After a long introduction (prokataskeul) devoted to the early history of Italy and Sicily, Timaeus’ Sicelica reached down to the age of Dionysius and Timoleon, to which much space was allotted (Pearson 1987). Of course, as was the case with Philistus, contemporary history - that is, the years from 317 to 264 - must have been dealt with in much more detail than the rest. However, almost nothing has survived from this portion, and especially of the books on Pyrrhus, and we can have an idea of what they were like only by reading Diodorus’ Book 21, which is itself only partially preserved.

Beside Agathocles, the historian’s lifelong enemy in historical, political, and personal terms, Timaeus had a number of opponents among his fellow historians, foremost Polybius, but before him Polemon of Ilium, and in general antiquarian authors who disliked his arrogant tone and took revenge upon him by giving him mocking nicknames (ranging from the rather harmless epitimaios [‘‘fault-finder,’’ a play on his name] to the sarcastic grausyllektria [more or less ‘‘chatty old lady’’]). Timaeus may have had a difficult character, but his pedantic criticism of other historians (T 17) was not the product merely of a polemical attitude but also of his attempt at revising the whole of Sicilian history, because its structure, as laid down by his predecessors, justified Dionysius’ tyranny using the precedent of Gelon, and ended up by offering a ready-made legitimization for Agathocles.

Polybius devoted a large part of his Book 12 to criticizing Timaeus and placing him in a bad light before his Roman readers, intellectuals, politicians, and generals. Polybius’ shadow is the main hindrance to the study of Timaeus, and it is necessary carefully to overcome this obstacle if we want to understand Timaeus’ work (Walbank 2005: 2-3).

The fragments (164, many of which are mere explanations of place names) and testimonia (31) give a sense of the method and general historical interpretation that characterized Timaeus’ work, but it remains necessary to bear in mind that so much more has been lost, such that conclusions must be extremely tentative. Unlike Antiochus, Timaeus’ ‘‘Archaeology’’ was organized around a remote past when Greek heroes came into contact with the indigenous populations, creating a precedent that legitimized the appropriation of the land in the colonial phase centuries later. This rather artificial and historically not very trustworthy reconstruction preserves the notion, welcome to the Romans, of the originality of the Italic and Mediterranean world on the fringes of Sicily, which becomes the focus of a new movement (kinesis) between Greek colonies, the Punic world, and Etrusco-Italic Rome. The peculiar perspective that allowed Antiochus and Philistus to describe in an autonomous and consistent way the specificity of non-Greek peoples and cultures that preceded the colonization is enriched in Timaeus’ work by the perception of a new element in the Tyrrhenic area, which can be understood only by taking account of the historical culture that Timaeus inherited from the works of his predecessors, especially Antiochus and Philistus, which had established the cultural and political identity of the western Greeks. For Momigliano, Timaeus’ main merit was the discovery of Rome (1959: 529-530). We should add that such a discovery was possible starting from a special perspective that made visible the novelty of that polis: not only the vague notion of a Greek city, a polis Helleinis, as Rome could be called in an epideictic context such as the speech of Aelius Aristides, but a Tyrrhenian (i. e., Etruscan) city, located within a region, Latium, that it controlled with difficulty, among Italic peoples whose pressure was meanwhile felt also by the Greek colonies of southern Italy.

The ‘‘historical’’ past, from the foundation of the Greek colonies to the fourth century bce, was dominated in Timaeus’ work by the figures Gelon, Hermocrates, and Timoleon (F 22). He depicted Gelon as a philhellene (F 94) who was ready to come to the rescue of the mainland Greeks after having made Syracuse free and prosperous (Diod. 11.26). Modifying Philistus’ - and possibly Antiochus’ - perspective, Hermocrates appeared as the protagonist of resistance against Athens, the embodiment of a military aristocracy opposed to tyranny and to the hindrances and pointless debates of democracy: the opposite of Thucydides’ portrayal, and the product of a conscious and polemical rewriting (F 22) that provoked Plutarch’s surprise and dismay ( Nic. 1.1). After the tyranny and despotism of the Dionysii and Dion, Timoleon was, for Timaeus, the liberator of Sicily, the man who had brought about an age of prosperity for the island, purifying Syracuse from the images of the tyrants and preserving only Gelon’s statue (FF 31b; 118-119). The character of Timoleon, a Pythagorean imitator of Epaminondas, seems to embody a wisdom that is typical of western Greek culture, linked to the political heritage of Pythagor-eanism (FF 14-16), to republican politics, essentially to a moderate oligarchy. Timo-leon, a friend of the historian’s father Andromachus, may end up standing for these values beyond his real merits. Polybius tried to undercut this idealized portrait (FGrHist 566 F 119a-b), and if his narrow-mindedness prevented him from being totally successful at this, he certainly targeted Timaeus’ really immoderate praise: after all, the new Greek Sicily created by Timoleon was to surrender itself to Agathocles just a few years later (Vattuone 2005: 286-287).

Timaeus’ historical method (FF 7; 151), engaging intensely with fourth-century Greek culture, was criticized by Polybius, who saw it as the useless approach of an armchair historian afflicted by ‘‘a bookish disposition (bibliake hexis)," searching books for elements that allowed him to reconstruct not only the distant past but also more recent history, when it was not possible to be an eyewitness. In the case of Agathocles (F 34), exile compelled the historian to defend himself, probably claiming his ability in finding further information in books. His most difficult task was to convince the Athenians that Agathocles’ kingship and his self-proclamation in 307/6 BCE (Diod. 20.54.1) not only clashed with the spirit of western Greek wisdom, but also constituted a tyrannical usurpation. In his youth, the self-proclaimed king had sold his body to further his career, finding help from the wealthy Syracusan Damas (F 124b): his tyrannical nature is revealed from the very beginning (Vattuone 1983), and in the end he dies consumed by cancer in the arms of the self-interested Oxythemis, a minister of Demetrius Poliorcetes (Diod. 21.16.5); in contrast, Timo-leon had spent his old age in Syracuse, surrounded by universal affection and veneration (Plut. Tim. 37.6-7; Diod. 16.90.1), and Gelon had lived a simple life in his last years, loved by the Syracusans and finally receiving a heroic burial (Diod. 11.38.5-6). And after all, Agathocles’ proud kingdom, which minted coins with the effigy of its founder, had fallen apart right after the death of its notorious ruler (Diod. 21.18).

In the end, Pyrrhus may have been the character whom Timaeus most respected and admired (F 22). The only things for which Timaeus could have criticized Pyrrhus were the fact that he fought against Rome, which had been meanwhile reconciled with the Greek world by way of the meeting of Ulysses and Aeneas (Momigliano 1982b: 231-232), the fact that he had not been able to carry out the war against Carthage in a more resolute way because of the hostility of the Greek cities of Sicily, and finally, a certain irresolution that overcame him in the end, when he returned to Greece.

Above and beyond the criticism of Polybius, who at any rate acknowledged Timaeus’ almost maniacal care for documents (12.11.1-2), Timaeus’ image is that of a learned man, passionate, intelligent, and partisan, and at any rate sharp in catching, in the role of Rome which increasingly dominated the Mediterranean, the fruits brought forth by the seed of western Greek culture.


For a general survey on western Greek historiography see Walbank 1968-1969; Pearson 1987; Vattuone 2002a (with essays on Hippys, Antiochus, Philistus, and Timaeus; one can find here also a very large bibliography on the subject); and Vattuone 2002b. On Antiochus: Musti 1988; Sammartano 1998; Luraghi 2002. On Philistus see Sanders 1987; Sordi 1990; and Bearzot 2002. For Timaeus one should consult Brown 1958; Vattuone 1991, 2002c; and Schepens 1994.