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An Introduction to the Metz Epitome: its Traditions and Value

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  08 May 2015

Elizabeth Baynham*
University of Newcastle, N.S.W.


The historical and quasi-romantic traditions represented by the Metz Epitome and its companion piece on the death and will of Alexander (Liber de morte) are late, problematic and derivative texts on the reign of Alexander the Great, which students often overlook and scholars often discredit on grounds of date and reliability. It seems appropriate to offer an introductory appraisal of these texts with a view to asserting their importance; however, some preliminary comments on the function of epitomes in the later Roman Empire may help establish a historiographical context.

Research Article
Copyright © Australasian Society for Classical Studies 1995

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This paper was first presented as a seminar held in the Department of Classics and Ancient History of the University of Western Australia. I am most grateful to Professor A.B. Bosworth and his colleagues for their useful comments and their hospitality. I also appreciated the advice of the anonymous referee for Antichthon and Associate Professor G.R. Stanton, both of whom helped in the reshaping of the seminar into article form.

1 Cf. Bernard, P., ‘Diodore XVII, 83, 1: Alexandrie du Caucase ou Alexandrie de l'Oxos?’, Journal des Savants (1982) 217242CrossRefGoogle Scholar. The Metz Epitome has remained inaccessible to students without Latin and the text's corrupt nature has hitherto deterred translators; however, I look forward to the publication of Professor J.C. Yardley's recent English translation which will fill this obvious gap. The text of the Metz Epitoma rerum gestarum Alexandri Magni and the Liber de morte cited here is that by Thomas, P.H. (Leipzig 1966)Google Scholar.

2 For a standard, although somewhat dated, history of the epitome see Galdi, M., L'Epitoma nella letteratura latina (Naples 1922)Google Scholar; also Brunt, P.A., ‘On Historical Fragments and Epitomes’, CQ 30 (1980) 477494CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

3 See Croke, B. and Emmett, A.M. (eds.), History and Historians in Late Antiquity (Sydney 1983) 2Google Scholar, who suggest a marked decline in educational and literary standards; but compare Brown, P., The World of Late Antiquity (London 1971) 34 fGoogle Scholar. and Malcovati, E., ‘I Breviari del IV secolo’, AFLC 21 (1942) 511Google Scholar, who argue for a strong interest amongst the upper classes in cultural tradition. Cf. also Jones, A.H.M., The Later Roman Empire 2 (Oxford 1964), especially 1006 fGoogle Scholar.

4 Momigliano, A., Essays in Ancient and Modern Historiography (Oxford 1977) 112Google Scholar. Cf. also Eadie, J.W., The Breviarium of Festus (London 1967)Google Scholar.

5 Cf. Plut, . Mor. 172Google Scholar C-E; the attribution is controversial but see D.F.C. Babbitt (Loeb, Moralia 3.3 f.Google Scholar) who believes the work was genuine; cf. Brunt (above, n.2) 491 n.40.

6 Cf. Polyaen. Pref. 1.

7 Aelian, , Tact. Pref. 7Google Scholar; cf. Campbell, B., ‘Teach Yourself How to be a General’, JRS 77 (1987) 1329Google Scholar.

8 Just. Pref. 4-5: ‘cognitione quaeque dignissima excerpsi et omissis his, quae nec cognoscendi voluptate iucunda nec exemplo erant necessaria, breve veluti florum corpusculum feci, ut haberent et qui Graece didicissent, quo admonerentur, et qui non didicissent, quo instruerentur.’

9 Brunt (above, n.2) 487.

10 See Jal, P., ‘A propos des Histoires Philippiques: Quelques remarques’, REL 65 (1987) 194209Google Scholar; cf. Yardley, J., ‘The Literary Background to Justin/Trogus’, AHB 8 (1994) 6970Google Scholar.

11 O. Seel attempted a ‘reconstruction’ of Trogus based on Justin's epitome, from what he determined were echoes or parallels in other texts; see Pompei Tragi Fragmenta (Leipzig 1956), especially 13Google Scholar for his collection of testimonia.

12 This assumes the text is an epitome; on the frequent misuse of titles, see Eadie (above, n.4) 11. But in the case of the Metz Epitome, although there are no other references with which to compare, the title appeared on the Metz Codex and stylistically the text reads like an epitome.

13 See Pfister, F., ‘Zur Epistola Alexandri ad Aristotelem’, L'Antiquité Classique 8 (1939) 410CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

14 See Merkelbach, R., Die Quellen des griechischen Alexanderromans [Zetemata, 9] (Munich 1954) 122Google Scholar; see also the revised second edition (Munich 1977).

15 O. Wachsmuth was the first to note the texts' dissimilarity on structural grounds: see Zur Metzer Alexander-Epitome’, RhM 56 (1901) 150154Google Scholar; cf. Geissendörfer, D., ‘Die Quellen der Metzer Epitome’, Philologus 111 (1967) 258266CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

16 For a survey of the scholarship on the issue see Heckel, W., The Last Days and Testament of Alexander the Great (Stuttgart 1988) 2 ffGoogle Scholar. The thesis that the Liber de morte was propaganda was first raised by Ausfeld, A., ‘Das angebliche Testament Alexanders des Grossen’, RhM 50 (1895) 357-66Google Scholar; subsequently refined by R. Merkelbach (above, n.14).

17 Contra Heckel, see Seibert, J., ‘Das Testament Alexanders, ein Pamphlet aus der Frühzeit der Diadochenkämpfe?’ in Kraus, A. (ed.), Land und Reich, Stamm und Nation: Festgabe für Max Spindler (Munich 1984) 1.247260Google Scholar and Gnomon 62 (1990) 564567Google Scholar; but cf. W. Heckel, ‘The Early Evidence for the Plot to Poison Alexander the Great’ (forthcoming).

18 Cf. Ruggini, L., ‘L'Epitoma rerum gestarum Alexandri Magni e il Liber de morte testamentoque eius’, Athenaeum 39 (1961) 285 n.1Google Scholar.

19 Geissendörfer (above, n. 15) 258. For Wagner's text, see Incerti auctoris epitome rerum gestarum Alexandri Magni ed. Wagner, O., Diss. Strasbourg 1900Google Scholar and NJKPh Suppl. 26(1901)91167Google Scholar.

20 Athenaeum 39 (1961) 285357Google Scholar.

21 Cf. Hammond, N.G.L., Three Historians of Alexander the Great (Cambridge 1983) 1 f.Google Scholar; Bosworth, A.B., Conquest and Empire (Cambridge 1988) 298Google Scholar.

22 See Landgraf, G., ‘Die Sprache der neuaufgefundenen epitoma rerum gestarum Alexandri Magni’, BPhW (1901) 252254Google Scholar and Die Vorlage der neuaufgefundenen Epitome rerum gestarum Alexandri Magni’, BPhW (1901) 410414Google Scholar. In these articles, Landgraf explores similarity in language usage in Sisenna, Sallust and the Bellum Africanum; he concludes (cf. ‘Die Vorlage’, 413) that the epitomator used a Latin adaptation of Timagenes' treatment of Alexander with some supplementation from Cleitarchus.

23 See Pfister, F., ‘Studien zum Alexanderroman’, Würzburger Jahrbücher 1 (1946) 2966Google Scholar (= Kleine Schriften zum Alexanderroman [Meisenheim am Glan 1976] 1752Google Scholar). He believes Curtius was used directly along with other sources (28).

24 See Merkelbach (above, n.14 [1954]) 118 n.2.

25 One may note P. Goukowsky's recent, pertinent comment; see Alexandrie de l'Oxus ou Alexandrie du Caucase?’ in Mactoux, M.M. and Geny, E. (eds.), Mélanges Pierre Lévêque, 2 Anthropologie et Société (Paris 1989) 245Google Scholar.

26 Cf. Hammond, N.G.L., ‘The Sources of Diodorus Siculus 16 (I)’, CQ 31 (1937) 7991Google Scholar and Three Historians (above, n.21) who argues that Diyllus was one of the main sources Diodorus used in Books 16-17; but more recently, see Markle, M.M., ‘Diodorus' Sources for the Sacred War in Book 16’ in Worthington, I. (ed.), Ventures into Greek History (Oxford 1994) 4369Google Scholar.

27 The text is uncertain; testudinesque is accepted by Wagner, but cf. Thomas 13. We may also compare another classical military term, scorpio (42), for a kind of catapult.

28 Cf. Curt. 5.3.9; see Atkinson, J.E., A Commentary on Q. Curtius Rufus' Historiae Alexandri Magni, Books 5 to 7.2 (Amsterdam 1994) 81Google Scholar. Curtius may have been referring to the Greek χελώνη (cf. Dio 49.29.2), a variation on συνασπισμός, a tightly packed formation using overlapping shields; cf. Diod. 16.3.2, Polyb. 4.64.6-7, Arrian, , Tact. 2.4Google Scholar. On the types of these formations, see Walbank, F.W., A Historical Commentary on Polybius 2 (Oxford 1967) 183 ff., 3 (Oxford 1979) 342-44Google Scholar.

29 Cf. Xen, . Cyr. 8.3.3Google Scholar, Ephippus apud Ath. 12.537 E = FGrH 126 F 5, Curt. 3.3.17.

30 Cf. Pliny, , NH 37.174Google Scholar who uses mesoleucos as a technical term to describe a precious stone when marked with a white stripe; according to the OLD, it also referred to a plant with variegated leaves, see Pliny, , NH 27.102Google Scholar.

31 Cf. 12, 34, 36-37 (Dionysus), 46-47 (Hercules and the Rock of Aornus). See also below, n.65.

32 Spitamenes: see Curt. 8.3.1-15, cf. Arrian, Anab. AMI. The dogs: Curt. 9.1.31-34, Diod. 17.92, Strabo 15.1.31 (C 700); elsewhere, Plutarch cites Aristobulus as an authority on a breed of dog which fought lions, cf. FGrH 139 F 40. The Gymno-sophists: cf. Plut, . Alex. 64Google Scholar, the Berlin Papyrus 13044 = FGrH 153 F 9 and, for a different version of the episode, Ps -Call 3.S-6; on the traditions, see Hamilton, J R., Plutarch, Alexander: A Commentary (Oxford 1969) 178179Google Scholar.

33 See Bosworth, A.B., A Historical Commentary on Arrian's History of Alexander (Oxford 1980–) [hereafter Arrian] 2.210Google Scholar.

34 The text is heavily corrupt. On one level, tyrannical tendencies are suggested by the king's adoption of a personal bodyguard which has implications of tyranny; on corporis sui custodes multos, cf. Livy 1.15.8, Plut, . Marius 35Google Scholar; on Livy's tradition, see Ogilvie, R., A Commentary on Livy, Books I-V (Oxford 1965) 84Google Scholar. According to Plato, , Repub. 8.567 d-eGoogle Scholar, the appointment of personal bodyguards was normal practice for a tyrant. But the context in ME seems rather to suggest the conventional vulgate tradition.

35 Cf. Goukowsky (above, n.25) 261 n.7.

36 Siege of Massaga: see Curt. 8.10.22-36, Arrian, , Anab. 4.2627.4Google Scholar, Diod. 17.84, cf. Polyaenus 4.3, Just. 12.7.9-11.

37 ME (39) says the ‘Cordiaean mountains’; cf. Just. 12.7.9, Curt. 8.10.19, the ‘Daedalian’ mountains.

38 Heckel, W., Justin's Epitome of Pompeius Trogus Books 11 and 12 (Oxford, forthcoming 1996) 12.7.911 ad locGoogle Scholar. suggests the name may go back to Cleitarchus, but see Gutschmid, A. v., ‘Tragus und Timagenes’, RhM 37 (1882) 553-54Google Scholar. Cf. also Bosworth, , Aman 2.170Google Scholar.

39 So Bosworth, ibid. On Amminais, see Berve, H., Das Alexanderreich auf prosopo-graphischer Grundlage 2 (Munich 1926) no. 54Google Scholar.

40 So Heckel, ibid.; cf. Berve (above, n.39) 2.25-26 but see Bosworth, , Arrian 2.174Google Scholar, who says the commander or hegemon of Massaga need not have been a member of the ruling dynasty.

41 A brother of Assacenus is mentioned by Arrian, , Anab. 4.30.5Google Scholar, but this does not preclude Amminais' possible death at Massaga; Assacenus may have had several brothers—so Bosworth, , Arrian 2. 194Google Scholar.

42 Cf. Plut, . Alex. 28.2Google Scholar, Mor. 180 E, 341 B; on the adulatory tradition surrounding the story, see Bosworth, , Arrian 2.172Google Scholar.

43 Betis of Gaza: cf. Hegesias, , FGrH 142 F 5Google Scholar; Alexander supposedly dragged him alive behind his chariot around the walls of the city. On the historicity of the episode, see Atkinson, J.E., A Commentary on Q. Curtius Rufus' Historiae Alexandri Magni, Boob 3 and 4 (Amsterdam 1980) 341-3Google Scholar.

44 Above, n.38.

45 See Heckel's discussion (above, n.38); cf. Seel, O., Eine römische Weltgeschichte (Nuremberg 1972) 181 fGoogle Scholar. Tragus' father served Julius Caesar (cf. Just. 43.11); Curtius (9.5.21) depreciates Timagenes as a source.

46 Ada of Caria, see Arrian 1.23.7-8. She adopted Alexander as her son and was given the satrapy of Caria, although the king left a substantial force with a Macedonian general in charge. Cf. Plut, . Alex. 22.8 f.Google Scholar, who records the anecdote that Ada sent the king cakes and delicacies ‘out of kindness’. On the political significance of Alexander's organisation, see Bosworth (above, n.21) 230, Hornblower, Simon, Mausolus (Oxford 1982) 4551Google Scholar. Alexander's courteous treatment of Darius' family was famous and Alexander accorded the title of ‘mother’ (as with Ada) to Sisygambis (so Curt. 5.2.22); see Bosworth, ibid., 63-64, Atkinson (above, n.28) 68. Barsine, cf. Plut, . Alex. 21.7Google Scholar; according to Just. 11.10.3, Alexander had a son by her called Hercules; see Heckel (above, n.38) ad loc.

47 Cf. Curt. 6.5.25-32, Diod. 17.77.1-3, Just. 12.3.5-7, cf. 2.4.33, 42.3.7, Plut, . Alex. 46Google Scholar, Strabo 11.5.4. On the tradition, see Hamilton (above, n.32) 123 f.

48 Cf. Polyaen. 4.3.20: .

49 See Tarn, W.W., Alexander the Great 2 (Cambridge 1948) 363Google Scholar.

50 The child's existence is accepted by Heckel (above, n.38) ad 12.15.9; cf. Berve (above, n.39) no. 688 (347).

51 Cf. Diod. 17.107.5, Curt. 10.3.11, Arrian, , Anab. 7.4.6Google Scholar.

52 Cf. Bosworth, A.B., ‘Alexander and the Iranians’, JHS 100 (1980) 121CrossRefGoogle Scholar, Conquest (above, n.21) 156.

53 See Berve (above, n.39) no. 115 who sees the defender of the Persian Gates as the son of Artabazus. But see Bosworth, Arrian 1.325Google Scholar, who argues that the satrap of Persis was from a different family.

54 In fact, Goukowsky (above, n.25) 246 prefers to emend agros to ad Drangas. Drangiana (or Zarangaia: on the terminology of the area, see Bosworth, , Arrian 1.358Google Scholar) was immediately south of Areia.

55 Cf. Goukowsky, ibid., n. 12.

56 The authenticity of the letters is problematic. Many of them are cited in Plutarch without corroboration by other sources. Some correspondence is thought genuine, some letters—for example in the Alexander Romances—are pure fantasy, whilst others, like the epistles between Alexander and Darius are probably literary embellishments by the later traditions on earlier sources. See Bosworth (above, n.21) 299, Pearson, L., ‘The Diary and Letters of Alexander the Great’, Historia 3 (1955) 419455Google Scholar, Hamilton, J., ‘The Letters in Plutarch's Alexander’, PACA 4 (1961) 920Google Scholar. On the authenticity of Darius' correspondence with Alexander and other issues, see Bosworth, , Arrian 1.227Google Scholar for bibliographical references, but especially Griffith, G.T., ‘The Letter of Darius at Arrian 2.14’, PCPS 14 (1968) 3348Google Scholar.

57 See Geissendörfer (above, n.l5) 264; cf. Pap. Hamb. 129 in Merkelbach, R. (ed.). Griechische Papyri der Hamburger Staats und Universitätsbibliothek 2 (Hamburg 1954) 79105Google Scholar; cf. Merkelbach (above, n.14 [1977]) 249-250.

58 So Brunt's Suggestion, Loeb, Arrian 2.61 n.5Google Scholar and apparently the consensus view: see Bosworth, , Arrian 2.311 ff.Google Scholar; cf. Arrian, , Anab. 5.19.4Google Scholar, Curt. 9.1.6, Strabo 15.1.29 (C 698), Diod. 17.89.6. Stephanus of Byzantium, s.v. Βοός Κεϕαλαί says the king founded Bucephala ‘where his horse had died after he had crossed and fought’. Tarn (above, n.49) 2.236-7 cited the evidence of Ptolemy the geographer in support and his views were accepted by Geissendörfer (above, n.15) 262 n.2 but more cautious is Bosworth, , Arrian 2.312Google Scholar.

59 Geissendörfer (above, n.15) 264.

60 See Bosworth, A.B., ‘The Historical Setting of Megasthenes' Indica’, CP 91 (1996) 113-27Google Scholar.

61 The text is corrupt and it is difficult to establish exactly what Porus is saying, but the essence appears to be that while he would desire to see Alexander's country, he would not do so as a captive: ‘si me exempli causa deportare vis, habes potestatem deportandi mortuum.’ Cf. the refusal of Dandamis in Arrian, , Anab. 7.2.3Google Scholar.

62 For details on Pfister and Ruggini see above, nn.20 and 23 respectively.

63 This was pointed out to me by Professor J.C. Yardley. The same phrase occurs nowhere else in Latin literature; for ubi silentium cf. Sallust, , Bell. lug. 33.3.6Google Scholar, Pliny, , Ep. Scholar, Livy 27.42.11. For silentium sensit, cf. Tac, . Ann. 2.38.20Google Scholar—but the phraseology is different. A parallel usage of dilucescere (not a very common word) occurs at ME 16 et cum diluxisset and Liber de morte 103 at ubi diluxit.

64 See Goukowsky, P., Essai sur les origines du mythe d'Alexandre 2 (Nancy 1981) 31Google Scholar, who suggests elaboration on the part of the Vulgate; but see Bosworth, A.B., ‘The Creation of Belief’, chapter 4 in Alexander and the East (Oxford, forthcoming 1996) n.115Google Scholar.

65 The Argead house traced its descent from Temenus, the Heraclid conqueror of Argos; cf. Hdt. 8.137, Thuc. 2.99, 5.80. Alexander's imitatio of his ancestor is notable and may have been genuine, rather than simply the propaganda of his successors; cf. Arrian, , Anab. 3.3.23Google Scholar (Siwah, see Bosworth, , Arrian 1.269–70Google Scholar), Arrian, , Anab. 4.28.1Google Scholar cf. 30.4, Diod. 17.85.2, Curt. 8.11.2 (Aornus, see Bosworth, , Arrian 2.180Google Scholar). On Alexander's identification with Heracles in iconography see Stewart, Andrew, Faces of Power (Berkeley 1993)Google Scholar. For a thought-provoking analysis of Alexander's divine aspirations in relation to his exploitation and emulation of Dionysus, see Bosworth, A.B., ‘Alexander, Euripides and Dionysos: the motivation for apotheosis’ in Wallace, Robert W. and Harris, Edward M. (eds.), Transitions to World Power 360-146 B.C. (Norman, Oklahoma, forthcoming 1996)Google Scholar.

66 Cf. Verg, . Ecl. 4.63 etcGoogle Scholar. ‘nec deus hunc mensa, dea nec dignata cubili est.’ Clausen, W., A Commentary on Virgil Eclogues (Oxford 1994) 145Google Scholar mentions the parallel offered by Nonnus' (also Late Antique) Dionys. 8.416-18Google Scholar when Semele is translated to heaven and sits at the table of the gods. The detail of the table could be Hellenistic as Clausen suggests, but it is also possible that a Vergilian echo may have influenced the epitomator. (I am indebted to Dr N. O'Sullivan for the reference.)

67 Cf. Wolohojian, A.M., The Romance of Alexander the Great by Pseudo-Callisthenes (New York 1969) 260 (149)Google Scholar.

68 Jul. Val. 30: ‘His dictis, interpres ierat aversus scilicet si qua posset et exusturus religiosius portenti illius minas. Alexander vero animo constematus cum gemitu sic ait: “Pro bone Juppiter, quam bona res est ignoratio metuendorum!” Sed hactenus ilia animi commotio fuit.’

69 On the existence of σ see Cary, G., The Medieval Alexander (Cambridge 1956) 11Google Scholar.

70 Cf. Steffens, Karl (ed.). Die Historia de preliis Alexandri Magni, Rezension J3, (Meisenheim am Glan 1975) 190Google Scholar. Cf. the Syriac version in The History of Alexander the Great, trans. Budge, E.A. Wallis (Cambridge 1889, repr. Amsterdam 1976) 135Google Scholar: ‘This speech he said for this reason: Dionysus was a man and because of the name and fame and power that he made for himself, he was reckoned when dead among the number of the gods; and in a like manner Herakles; therefore Alexander spake of himself as “the third dead” because these had not gained such name and fame and might as Alexander.’

71 Cary (above, n. 69) 9 f.

72 Kroll, W., Historia Alexandri Magni (Berlin 1926) xvGoogle Scholar dates the A MS to about the 3rd century A.D.—in which case it would probably precede the Liber de morte, but the chronology is not certain.

73 Cf. the diagram in Merkelbach (above, n. 14): (1954) 120, (1977) 226.

74 Cf. Schachermeyr, F., Alexander der Grosse: das Problem seiner Persönlichkeit und seines Wirkens (Vienna 1973) 312 n.358Google Scholar.

75 See Engels, D.W., Alexander the Great and the Logistics of the Macedonian Army (Berkeley 1978) 9395Google Scholar. On the problematic nature of the Metz Epitome's evidence in this section, see the discussion of Bernard (above, n.1); contra. Goukowsky (above, n.25).

76 Ruggini (above, n. 18) 323.

77 J.A. Willis (U.W.A.) described the style as ‘sub-literary’ in relation to other Late Antique writers, Symmachus, Macrobius and Boethius; for some exempla, cf. 5 insinuandi for insuans, 20 magnificabat for magni faciebat, 29 omnibus formosissima for omnium formosissima, with some confusion between omnium formosissima and omnibus formosior. I am grateful to Professor Willis for his observations.

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