The Library of Greek Mythology (Oxford World's Classics)

BOOK: The Library of Greek Mythology (Oxford World's Classics)
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2 6

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© Robin Hard 1997

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First published as a World’s Classics paperback 1997

Reissued as an Oxford World’s Classics paperback 1998

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British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data

Data available

Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data


[Bibliotheca. English]

The library of Greek mythology / Apollodorus; translated by Robin Hard.
(Oxford world’s classics)

Includes bibliographical references and indexes.

1. Mythology, Greek.   I. Hard, Robin.   II. Title.   III. Series.

PA3870.A73   1997   29.1’3—dc20   96–34135

ISBN–13: 978–0–19–283924–4

ISBN–10: 0–19–283924–1


Printed in Great Britain by

Clays Ltd, St Ives plc


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Refer to the
Table of Contents
to navigate through the material in this Oxford World’s Classics ebook. Use the asterisks (*) throughout the text to access the hyperlinked Explanatory Notes.



The Library of Greek Mythology

Translated with an Introduction and Notes by



is the name traditionally ascribed to the author of the
. Although he was formerly identified as Apollodorus of Athens, a distinguished Alexandrian scholar of the second century
, it is now recognized that the
must have been written at a later period, probably the first or second century
. It is not known whether Apollodorus was the author’s true name; in any case we know nothing about him. Essentially an editor rather than an original writer, he compiled this brief but comprehensive guide to Greek mythology by selecting and summarizing material from the works of earlier writers. Based in the main on good early sources, it is an invaluable reference work.

studied Greek at Aberystwyth and Reading, writing a doctoral thesis on Plato’s
, and is currently combining writing and translating with the part-time teaching of ancient philosophy and Greek.



Note on the Text and Translation

Select Bibliography



Genealogical Tables


The Library

Appendix: Some Interpolations and an Unreliable Passage from the Epitome

Explanatory Notes

The Twelve Gods

References to Animals and Transformations

Index of Names


of Apollodorus is a concise but comprehensive guide to Greek mythology. It covers the full span of mythical history from the origins of the universe and the gods to the Trojan War and its aftermath, and between these limits it tells the story of each of the great families of heroic mythology, and of the various adventures associated with the main heroes and heroines.

This is the only work of its kind to survive from classical antiquity. Although the Greeks developed an extensive and varied mythographical literature in Hellenistic and Roman times, the few handbooks which have been preserved are mostly specialist anthologies, recording myths of the constellations, for instance, or tales of transformation, and many of the stories contained in them are relatively obscure and of late origin. The author of the
, by contrast, wanted to provide his readers with a general handbook which would offer them an account of the most important myths as related in the earlier tradition (with only the occasional late or recondite variant). Otherwise we possess only two works which are at all comparable. There is a Latin compendium, the
Myths (Fabulae)
of Hyginus, probably dating to the second century
, which was based on a Greek predecessor, but conveys its contents in a very imperfect form; it presents summaries of myths and various catalogues in many separate chapters. Although it is a valuable source for myths or versions of myths which would otherwise have been lost, it is disorganized and sadly unreliable, and has to be approached with caution. Secondly, when Diodorus of Sicily was compiling his historical compendium in the first century
, he departed from the more austere practices of many fellow historians and included a section on the mythical history (or pre-history) of Greece. Although it contains a useful biography of Heracles and other interesting material, Diodorus’ account of Greek myth is not nearly as complete as that in the
, and much of it is based on inferior Hellenistic sources.

It may seem surprising that this unpretentious handbook should have survived when the most important works of the
ancient mythographers have been lost. Fortune, of course, plays a large part in such matters; all surviving manuscripts of the
derive from a single archetype. But if it is unpretentious to a fault, the
encloses a mass of reliable information in a short space, and it is clear that the scholars of later antiquity found it exceptionally useful for that reason. It is often cited in the scholia (explanatory comments on the works of the classical authors) and similar sources, and in the twelfth century the Byzantine scholar John Tzetzes made extensive use of it. This suggests that the preservation of this particular handbook was not simply a freak of fortune, and that the writers of this later period thought that it had its virtues, at least from a purely practical point of view. As it happens, we know directly what one of the finest Byzantine scholars thought of the
, for Photius, patriarch of Constantinople in the ninth century, registered his opinion in a brief review. While travelling abroad on a diplomatic mission, Photius kept a record of his reading for his brother, and in this record, after summarizing the contents of another mythical work, he noted:

In the same volume, I read a small work by the scholar Apollodorus; it is entitled the
. It contained the most ancient stories of the Greeks: all that time has given them to believe about the gods and heroes, and about the rivers, and lands, and peoples, and towns, and thence everything that goes back to the earliest times. And it goes down as far as the Trojan War, and covers the battles that certain of the heroes fought with one another, and their exploits, and certain of the wanderings of the heroes returning from Troy, notably those of Odysseus, with whom this history of ancient times concludes. All in all, it is a general summary which is by no means lacking in usefulness to those who attach some value to the memory of the ancient stories.

BOOK: The Library of Greek Mythology (Oxford World's Classics)
9.07Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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