7. Ephorus in Context: The Return of the Heraclidae and Fourth-century Peloponnesian Politics [1]

Nino Luraghi
In a famous passage at the beginning of Book 4, Diodorus discusses the difficulties facing the historian who wants to include in his work what Diodorus himself calls “the ancient mythologiai,” i.e. the deeds of demigods, heroes, and great men of the most distant past. First of all, he says, there is no way of reconstructing a precise and reliable chronology. Second, the multitude of characters in action makes the narrative difficult to follow. Finally, there is the problem of inconsistencies among different mythic narratives. However, convinced that the deeds of these primordial figures are too important to be left aside, Diodorus decided to include them in his work, whatever the obstacles. His choice is all the bolder since, as he says, the most reputed among his predecessors had chosen to steer clear of the troubled waters of myth. [2] The first example of this omission that Diodorus brings up is his most important model, Ephorus of Cymae, who, according to Diodorus, left aside the old mythologiai and started his narrative with the return of the Heraclidae to the Peloponnesus. Ever since Jacoby, if not before, scholars have taken this passage as a reflection of Ephorus’ ideas about the difficulty of reconstructing the past in an accurate and reliable way. Accordingly, it is generally assumed that Ephorus took the return of the Heraclidae as the upper boundary of the spatium historicum, a position that is compared to Herodotus’ and Thucydides’ views and interpreted in the framework of the separation of myth and history in Greek historiography. [3] More rarely Ephorus’ choice of a starting point is seen as a skeptical reaction to the works of other fourth-century historians, such as Anaximenes of Lampsacus, who apparently went all the way back to the birth of the gods. [4]
The present paper will propose a different perspective on this passage. It will suggest that the exclusive emphasis on the return of the Heraclidae as a threshold of historical memory is not entirely justified by what we know about Ephorus’ work. Judging by the evidence of the fragments, Ephorus may not have drawn as solid a line between spatium mythicum and spatium historicum as scholars have sometimes thought. On the other hand, the insistence on the return of the Heraclidae as a purely chronological threshold has diverted scholarly attention from other possible ways of understanding this aspect of Ephorus’ work. Accordingly, it will be suggested that Ephorus’ decision to begin the first book of his Histories with the return of the Heraclidae to the Peloponnesus is probably best understood in relation to its historical context, in particular to the extraordinary relevance assumed by the return of the Heraclidae in fourth-century Peloponnesian politics. The first point will be addressed rather briefly, building mostly upon a famous article by Guido Schepens and a more recent one by Giovanni Parmeggiani. [5] As for the main point, viz. the significance of the return of the Heraclidae in Ephorus’ cultural and political world, a satisfactory discussion will require some more detail.
To begin with, however, it should be pointed out that the passage in which Diodorus refers to Ephorus’ starting point objectively lends itself to the traditional interpretation. [6] Diodorus is indeed discussing here what we would call the extension of the spatium historicum and construing the return of the Heraclidae as the temporal threshold of Ephorus’ Histories. However, we should be wary of taking for granted the fact that this passage accurately reflects Ephorus’ own discussion of the upper chronological limit of history. Scholars have often assumed, explicitly or not, that the difficulties facing the historian who wants to include the old mythologiai, as outlined by Diodorus, actually go back to a discussion to the same effect in the proem of Ephorus’ Book 1, with the difference that Diodorus shows himself undaunted by the obstacles that had convinced Ephorus to leave out of the scope of his work that most distant portion of the past. And yet, in the same passage, Diodorus’ off-hand reference to Callisthenes and Theopompus, two historians who are not known to have dealt with the distant past very much at all, should suggest caution. It should not be forgotten that what Diodorus is here really defining—and praising—is his own choice to include the tales of heroes and demigods in a work of history. In other words, the polemical tone of the passage recommends circumspection when drawing inferences. With his reference to Ephorus, Diodorus may well be pointing to a much simpler fact, namely, that the starting point of Ephorus’ Book 1 was the return of the Heraclidae, which is not the same as saying that for Ephorus the return represented the upper chronological limit of a reliable historical narrative—far from it. [7]
Here, comparison especially with Thucydides’ discussion of the possibility of reconstructing the past in a trustworthy way has impaired rather than aided interpretation of the passage, suggesting to scholars that the choice of the return of the Heraclidae as a starting point was the product of Ephorus’ engaging in the same sort of argument, albeit rather more crudely and with different conclusions. [8] Now, it is certainly the case that, not unlike his predecessors Herodotus and Thucydides, Ephorus was alert to the difficulties of gaining reliable knowledge of the past. In a famous passage quoted in the Lexicon of the Ten Orators, which goes under the name of Harpocration, he expressed skepticism for detailed reports of events that were very far back in time. However, like his predecessors he seems to have thought in terms of greater or lesser reliability of stories and pieces of information regarding the distant past, not in terms of a sharp distinction between a mythic and a historical space. [9]
This point may be reinforced e contrario by pointing to the fact that Ephorus did indeed on occasion venture beyond the supposed threshold represented by the return of the Heraclidae. Quite apart from the fact that Book 1 clearly also included the prehistory, as it were, of the return, Schepens pointed to a number of fragments that deal with the time of the gods and heroes, and more recently Parmeggiani has drawn attention to the fact that, even there, Ephorus does not seem to have surrendered his critical attitude and renounced the possibility of distinguishing fact from fiction. [10] As an example, he discusses the famous passage on Apollo and the origins of the Delphic oracle, for which Ephorus was severely chastised by Strabo. [11] Like Diodorus, Strabo takes for granted a rigid divide between myth and history, which he accuses Ephorus of blurring. One of the points Strabo criticizes is the transformation of mythic creatures into human beings, a rationalization of myth that reminds one very much of Hecataeus and is typical of early Greek historiography. Of course, we would like to be able to appreciate more fully Ephorus’ arguments and to understand how exactly he thought it possible to define in terms of truth or falsehood a narrative about the time of the gods: did he just get rid of the most obviously fantastic aspects? It would be particularly interesting to know what kind of evidence he accepted as reliable, when dealing with such early periods. [12]
The more we abandon the assumption that Diodorus’ discussion of the difficulties of dealing with ancient mythologiai derives from Ephorus, the more his references to the return of the Heraclidae as the starting point of Ephorus’ work [13] begin to resemble a kind of passage frequently met in Diodorus and in other authors, namely indications of the starting- and endpoints of previous historical works. In other words, these references to Ephorus may not be all that different from those devoted to Thucydides, whose work Diodorus says began with the year 432—not with the archaiologia, of course—or to Herodotus, whose Histories are said to start from the time before the Trojan War. [14] Similarly, Dionysius of Halicarnassus thought that Herodotus’ work started with the beginning of the Mermnad dynasty [15] —although from the vantage point of the full preservation of Herodotus’ Histories, most modern scholars would say that the really important historical threshold in Book 1 is Croesus, not Gyges. And of course, we all know that in Book 2, where Herodotus can rely on the solid base of Egyptian documentary tradition, both thresholds are gloriously trespassed upon. [16] The observable complexity of Herodotus’ own ideas on the possibility of having reliable knowledge of the past is one more reason to be wary of drawing conclusions about Ephorus’ definition of the spatium historicum from one sentence in Diodorus. [17] What would we think of Herodotus if all we had were these passages from Dionysius and Diodorus?
There is one further reason to be somewhat skeptical of the notion, based on Diodorus’ passage, that the return of the Heraclidae represented for Ephorus the general threshold of historical memory. Even though details often elude us, it is clear that the thirty books of Ephorus’ Histories were not arranged according to a strictly chronological sequence, but on the contrary, it appears that each book possessed some sort of thematic unity. [18] Books 4 and 5 appear to have constituted a sort of survey of political geography, with Book 4 dealing with Europe and, presumably, Book 5 with Asia, rounding off a first group of five books that seem to have functioned as an introduction of sorts to the whole work. [19] As for Books 1–3, things are less clear. Judging from the fragments, they may not have been arranged chronologically throughout, but rather according to a mixture of chronological and geographical criteria, with Book 2 dealing with Boeotia and Central Greece, and Book 3 with Attica and the Ionians of Asia Minor. It is unclear what their respective chronological starting points were. [20] Obviously, if this reconstruction of the contents of the three books is accepted, the role of the return of the Heraclidae as a chronological threshold ends up being strongly deemphasized.
In light of the considerations developed so far, there seems little to recommend the assumption that the return of the Heraclidae represented for Ephorus the farthest point in the past on which a historian could make confident statements based on reliable evidence. Quite apart from the fact that we have no idea how many qualifiers accompanied his narrative of this early age, the evidence does not support the conclusion that the return of the Heraclidae was seen by him as the threshold separating the spatium mythicum from the spatium historicum. Such a negative conclusion opens the way to the possibility of looking elsewhere for an explanation of the starting point of Ephorus’ Book 1. Considerations of a different order may explain how and why, in the course of the fourth century, the return came to be seen as a turning point in the history of the Peloponnesus, one that a historian could hardly afford to neglect.
The starting point of my discussion will be provided by an episode that took place probably in the spring of 337 BCE, and in any case soon after the battle of Chaeronea. [21] Various sources refer, separately, to Philip the Second granting portions of the territory of Sparta to Argos, Megalopolis, Tegea, and Messene, but there is only one reference that shows that we are actually looking at partial accounts of one and the same episode. Polybius relates a debate that took place at Sparta during the First Macedonian War, in the spring of 210 BCE, as ambassadors from Aetolia and Acarnania were trying to draw the Spartans into the Roman-Aetolian and Macedonian camp respectively. In order to convince the Spartans that the Macedonians were their traditional enemies, the Aetolian envoy Chlaeneas reminded them, among other things, that Philip the Second had curtailed their territory, turning parts of it over to their enemies, that is, to the Messenians, Argives, Tegeans, and Megalopolitans. The Acarnanian Lyciscus replied that Philip had really acted as a buffer in the conflict between Sparta and its enemies, restraining both parties and turning the judgment over to a common court formed by all the Greeks. [22] Needless to say, each party was depicting the episode in the way that best suited its argument, but both clearly viewed Philip’s intervention as a single episode. Piecing together the whole dossier, it appears that Philip had marched into the Peloponnesus immediately after Chaeronea, in the fall of 338 or the spring of 337 BCE. There, he must have been welcomed by his former allies, the Argives and Arcadians, but in detail his movements are not entirely clear. He may have invaded Laconia already at this point, or he may only have sent an ultimatum to King Agis III, fresh on the Eurypontid throne after the death of Archidamus II. In any case, a Panhellenic jury, probably in the framework of the newly founded League of Corinth, sanctioned Philip’s decisions, and possibly only at this point did Philip invade Laconia in order to compel the Spartans to comply. [23] The final result was that a number of territories located on the borders between Sparta and its neighbors changed hands. For most of them, it was not the first time that this had happened, and for none of them was it the last.
The punishment of Sparta may seem surprising, since the Spartans had not joined the Theban-Athenian alliance against Philip, but upon closer consideration, it is perfectly understandable. Ever since the forties of the fourth century, Philip had basically taken up the role of Thebes in Peloponnesian politics, offering alliance and support to the traditional enemies of Sparta, so his decision now was but the logical continuation of a well-established policy. [24] Furthermore, considering that the king of Macedon was about to embark on his expedition against the Persian Empire, it is easy to imagine that he wanted to make sure that no trouble would be stirred while he was away from Greece. The Spartan insurrection against Alexander in 331 BCE shows that Philip’ caution was justified. [25]
All the territories that changed hands at this point had been the objects of dispute before, some for a very long time, and the disputes would flare up again and again until the Roman conquest of the Peloponnesus and beyond. Needless to say, in all cases the rights of possession on the territories supposedly went back to the most ancient times. [26] In reference to the Thyreatis, disputed between Argives and Spartans, Pausanias says that Philip, by giving it to the Argives, compelled the Spartans to remain inside the borders of their territory that had been established in the beginning. [27] Precisely what this meant is probably revealed by the claim of the Messenians in front of the Roman Senate in 25 CE: the Dentheliatis, disputed between them and the Spartans, had been theirs since the time of the return of the Heraclidae. [28] That this is no mere literary motif is confirmed by an inscription from Olympia that refers to a judgment over the territories of Aigytis and Skiritis, in favor of Megalopolis and against Sparta, soon after 164 BCE. The inscription refers to one or more previous adjudications of the same controversy, where apparently the decisive criterion had been the fact that the two territories had belonged to the Arcadians ever since the Heraclidae had returned to the Peloponnesus. [29] In other words, the borders supposedly established at the time of the return of the Heraclidae were seen as an actual benchmark for territorial disputes from the late third century at the latest, and probably, as we will see, from well before that.
This observation should give us pause. It is one thing for envoys from a Greek city claiming portions of land of another city to say that that land had belonged to their city ever since mythical times; it is a rather different thing for a mythic episode to be acknowledged as a standard for actual political decision. For one thing, one wonders how the parties involved could figure out what had been the borders between Argos, Sparta, Arcadia and Messenia at the time of the return of the Heraclidae. Here, ancient evidence comes to the rescue of the puzzled historian. Sparse references document the existence of a work by Aristotle called something like “The Claims of the Greek Cities,” and according to a Life of Aristotle Philip made use of it in order to solve the disputes between the Greeks. Proud of his achievement, Philip supposedly boasted of having “given borders to the land of Pelops.” In other words, Aristotle’s work seems to have found immediate application precisely in the region from which come the references to the borders set at the time of the return of the Heraclidae. [30] Clearly, a work of erudition prepared by the Lyceum is exactly what was needed. Sure enough, Aristotle’s knowledge and authority would have weighed very little if Philip had not stood behind them. But a scenario in which “the borders of the return of the Heraclidae” had been worked out by way of erudite research and then used as alleged foundation for the curtailment of Sparta’s territory in 337 BCE would make the later history of these border disputes much less puzzling. The judgment of the Panhellenic court convened by Philip could have been construed, in the Hellenistic period and later, as the first intervention of a third party in the controversies between Sparta and its neighbors, and this could explain why the borders established and implemented then remained so authoritative [31] afterwards, and also why they were so surprisingly definite—myth does not normally tend to map onto territory in the precise and tidy way required by border disputes.
Whether or not we accept this fascinating scenario in all its details, Philip’s decision to (re)instate the ‘Heraclid’ borders in the Peloponnesus, with or without Aristotle’s advice, must have been a plausible act for the parties involved. It appears that the time of the return of the Heraclidae was seen as the most valid foundation for legitimate territorial claims. It clearly represented a pristine situation, carrying the powerful claim to legitimacy that belongs to the time of origins. The borders established then could be construed as based on hereditary rights in the cases of Messenia, Laconia, the Argolis, and Elis, and on autochthony in the case of Arcadia. [32] On top of this, Piérart rightly notes that the notion of reinstating the borders originally drawn by the descendants of Heracles must have been particularly appealing to Philip, since the Argeads were themselves considered descendants of Temenos, i.e. of the Argive branch of the Heraclid family. [33]
Earlier evidence, fragmentary though it is, gives the impression that Philip’s intervention was the culmination of a process that had started earlier and had turned the return of the Heraclidae into the potential touchstone of almost any territorial claim in the region. The roots of the process lay almost certainly in Argos, probably sometime in the first half of the fifth century, around the time of the Persian Wars or soon thereafter. [34] Myths narrating the return of various descendants of Heracles to various parts of the Peloponnesus do not seem to have been particularly popular during the archaic age, but sparse attestations allow us to trace them back to the seventh century BCE. [35] Most prominent is a famous elegy of Tyrtaeus, quoted by Strabo, which told of how the ancestors of the Spartans, clearly Dorians, had been led to Laconia by the Heraclidae, from whom their two kings descended. [36] What is missing from the record is any indication of the existence in archaic literature of a story of the return that involved more than one polis or region of the Peloponnesus, offering the kind of coordinated foundation myth that we are familiar with from the later tradition, a myth that, in its simplest form, included the division of the southern and eastern Peloponnesus into three parts and the creation of Dorian kingdoms in Messenia, Laconia, and the Argolid. The first attestation of the myth of the division of the Peloponnesus among the Heraclidae does not appear until 462 BCE, when Pindar attributes to Apollo the decision that in Argos, Lacedaemon, and Pylos, descendants of Heracles and Aegimius should rule. [37]
In political terms, a myth that depicted as an originally independent kingdom a region that was now part of Sparta was hardly neutral, and it is unlikely to be an accident that the first observable traces of sustained interest in this myth come from Athens, at a time when the Messenians, installed in Naupactus, were strategically precious allies of the Athenians. Euripides appears to have devoted at least three tragedies to the early stages of the return of the Heraclidae: Cresphontes, Temenus, and Temenidae. Cresphontes, generally dated no later than 425 BCE, is probably the earliest of the three and shows clear signs that the soon-to-become-canonical story of the division of the Peloponnesus among the Heraclidae was still in the process of coagulation. The eponymous character is a son of the Heraclid king of Messenia, also called Cresphontes, and the plot revolves around the vengeance he takes on his paternal uncle, Polyphontes, for the murder of his father. Like Cresphontes Junior, Polyphontes appears to have been introduced by Euripides, and shows up only very rarely in later sources. [38] Euripides’ other two Heraclid tragedies apparently dealt with the division of the Peloponnesus among the sons of Aristomachus, focusing especially on the Argive branch that sprang from Temenus. They are difficult to date, and a connection with the political scenario after the Peace of Nicias, when Argos and Athens became closely entangled, cannot be more than a very attractive and reasonable hypothesis. [39] In any case, and keeping in mind the complexities of the relationship between tragedy and politics, the return of the Heraclidae appears to have been singularly popular on the Athenian stage in years when both Argives and Messenians were playing an important role in Athenian foreign politics. Enduring interest in this myth on the side of the Argives is confirmed by Thucydides’ rendering of the speech of the Argive general before the battle of Mantinea in 418 BCE: the Argives should fight against the Spartans to reestablish the equal subdivision of the Peloponnesus. [40]
With the first half of the fourth century, the division of the Peloponnesus among the Heraclidae started to become facts on the ground. We cannot tell with any confidence what role, if any, the myth played in the conflicts between Elis and its former dependencies, who went on to constitute the Triphylians and the Pisatans, [41] but with Epaminondas’ invasion of Laconia in 369 BCE the lot of Cresphontes became an independent political entity, under the name of Messene. Unsurprisingly, the Argives were involved: the Theban victory suddenly made it seem as if the balance of power in the Peloponnesus that they had dreamt of at the time of the battle of Mantinea was now within reach. Equally unsurprisingly, a number of indices suggest that the return of the Heraclidae and the division of the Peloponnesus among them was repeatedly invoked on both sides as a precedent of sorts, for or against the new order established by the Thebans. [42] The most striking evidence of this is provided by the names of the five tribes into which the citizen body of the new Messenian polity was divided: Hyllis, Cresphontis, Aristomachis, Daiphontis, and Kleolaia. They took their names, that is, from the first Heraclid king of Messenia, and from his three direct ancestors, all the way back to Heracles’ son Hyllos, and finally from the Argive Heraclid Daiphontes, son-in-law of Temenos. [43] At the same time, the Argives erected at Delphi, in a prominent position close to the sanctuary entrance, a semicircular monument on which bronze statues of their mythical kings demonstrated a complete genealogical and dynastic line all the way from Danaus to Heracles, via Perseus—a most striking claim of their Heraclid heritage. According to Pausanias, the monument had been dedicated to celebrate their participation in the re-foundation of Messene by Epaminondas and the Thebans. [44]
Repercussions of this increase in the salience of the Heraclidae, and of the political developments that prompted and accompanied it, can be identified, with varying degrees of confidence, in the stories about other Peloponnesian states and their distant pasts. According to Euripides, Cresphontes’ son (in his account, Cresphontes Junior) had been sent by his mother Meropes to a guest-friend in Aetolia. However, later sources, which appear to go back to fourth-century authors, inform us that the child had been saved by King Cypselus of Arcadia, who turns out to be Meropes’ father and therefore the grandfather of the child, whose name has meanwhile become Aepytus. The connection with Arcadian support for the Messenians after 369 BCE is too obvious to require comment. [45] In the case of Elis, local foundation myths appear to have morphed under the influence of the return of the Heraclidae. The founding hero Oxylus, already responsible for the division of the land in Euripides’ drama, turns out to be of Elean descent, and his migration to Elis could accordingly be recast as in fact a return to the land that belonged to his ancestors. This development can be dated with reasonable confidence to the early fourth century, based on a comprehensive study of Elean myths of origins. [46] The story found monumental expression in the form of a statue of Oxylus, erected in the agora of Elis and accompanied by an epigram that outlined his genealogy, including the migration of his ancestor Aetolus from Elis to Aetolia and Oxylus’ return to the fatherland. [47]
The fact that the return of the Heraclidae had become a hot topic at this point is confirmed by its appearance in discussions of the legitimacy of the new political setup, such as Isocrates’ Archidamus, which is set in the context of the negotiations between Thebes and Sparta in 366 BCE. Here, Isocrates reaffirms Spartan rights over Messenia, claiming that, after Cresphontes had been assassinated by his subjects, his sons had sought refuge at Sparta and had transferred to the Laconian branch of the Heraclidae their own land. Much in the same way, Tyndareus, in the absence of heirs after his two sons, the Dioscuri, had vanished from among mortals, had granted Laconia itself to Heracles, who had restored to him his kingdom. In both cases, Apollo had, as it were, confirmed the transaction, first by encouraging the Heraclidae to recover their ancestral land, and then by telling the Spartans to accept the suppliants, i.e. Cresphontes’ sons, and their offer, i.e. possession of the lot of Cresphontes. [48] On other occasions, wearing his more usual Athenian hat, Isocrates could of course use the Heraclid myth against the Spartans. In the Panegyricus, around 380 BCE, he reproached them for being ungrateful to the Athenians who had saved the Heraclidae, the ancestors of their kings, while in the Panathenaicus, at the end of the 340s, he chastised their greed in not being content with the portion of the Peloponnesus that befell them at the time of the return of the Heraclidae and for having attacked and subjugated almost the entire region. [49]
By the mid-fourth century, the return of the Heraclidae appears to have become a convenient prism through which to observe contemporary Peloponnesian politics. This is shown most clearly by Plato’s Laws, dating back to these very same years, where the early history of the Peloponnesus is structured by the Athenian speaker of the dialogue as a parallel history of the three Heraclid kingdoms of Sparta, Messene, and Argos. Interestingly, the Laws offer the only example of a pro-Spartan use of the return of the Heraclidae. Here, the common origins of the three kingdoms serve to emphasize the superiority of the Spartan constitution, thanks to which the Spartan monarchy was the only one of the three Heraclid monarchies to have survived degeneration, and Sparta the only one of the three to have fought against the barbarians in the Persian Wars, while the Argives had not participated in the defense of Greece and the Messenians had gone so far as to attack the Spartans in the very hour of Panhellenic danger. [50]
The interplay of political developments and mythic narratives is complex and dynamic, and therefore difficult to disentangle. Did the return of the Heraclidae acquire such a relevance because it made it possible to articulate in the same context the origins of all the Peloponnesians, or should we rather think that additional stories explaining the origins and whereabouts of non-Heraclid Peloponnesians, such as the Eleans, Arcadians, and Achaeans, were tied to the main story of the Heraclidae in order to create a comprehensive mythic template? To what extent did the emergence of new political entities and new systems of alliances prompt reformulations of the myths of origins, and to what extent were these new political realities formulated in terms of (partly preexisting) myths? One thing is certain: the volatile situation in the Peloponnesus in the first decades of the fourth century explains perfectly well the surge of interest in foundation stories that could help to make sense of the present political situation.
It may not be possible to tell precisely where Ephorus’ Book 1 should be located in this historical context. The relatively abundant evidence, indirect and direct, for Ephorus’ own narratives of the return and conquest of the Peloponnesus show with unmistakable clarity the signs of this very same political climate. Like Plato, Ephorus appears to have drawn a parallel history of the three Heraclid monarchies, to the advantage of Sparta, although unlike Plato he seems to have identified the root of the decadence of Argos and Messene in the way the kings had dealt with their subjects, and not in their arrogating of excessive powers. [51] They may be responding to one another, and in any case, they are both to some extent reacting to the same political situation. Plato left the Laws unfinished at the time of his death in 347 BCE. As for Ephorus, scholars have assigned tentative dates of composition to single books based on extremely uncertain indications contained in the fragments themselves. Jacoby thought that the first three books had appeared before 338 BCE, but Momigliano proposed an even earlier date of composition, around 350 BCE. [52] In all likelihood, Ephorus was writing Book 1 before Philip’s intervention in the Peloponnesus came officially to confer on the return of the Heraclidae the status of ultimate touchstone of legitimate territorial claims in the region, although he certainly did not need Philip and Aristotle’s Δικαιώματα to see the crucial importance acquired by this complex of stories. The return had played a very prominent role in debates and conflicts throughout the century. It is fair to say that the political history of fourth-century Greece could hardly be written in a meaningful way without reference to the return and related events.
In conclusion, one is reminded of Charles Fornara’s witty remark that “no ancient writer could withstand the combined assaults of Wilamowitz, Schwartz, and Jacoby.” [53] This is more than just a bon mot: the situation observed by Fornara goes a long way to explain some curious blindspots in modern research on Ephorus. The stereotype of the shortsighted armchair historian, out of touch with the world around him, has stuck to him very tenaciously. That he could not possibly be reacting in an intelligent way to historical developments has often been a silent presupposition in modern interpretations of his work. Related to this view is the readiness to regard Diodorus’ discussion of the difficulties of dealing with the distant past as if it faithfully reflected Ephorus’ thought, and accordingly to conclude that starting with the return of the Heraclidae was Ephorus’ naïve response to better historians’ concern for the possibility of reconstructing the distant past.
There is, however, another, more sympathetic way of reading Ephorus, the way pioneered by Guido Schepens and developed in recent years by Giovanni Parmeggiani, an approach whose trademark is an uncompromising shift in focus from passages of other authors, especially Diodorus, who were supposedly copying Ephorus, to the fragments themselves. The resulting image of Ephorus is rather different. The most important incunabula of this approach are represented by two articles by Arnaldo Momigliano from the mid-thirties of the last century, which were part of a broad reexamination of fourth-century historiography, left unfinished as a result of various circumstances, including a world war and, probably, changes in Momigliano’s own research agenda. [54] For Momigliano, Ephorus had a specific vision of Greek history whose backbone was a succession of hegemonies and whose main focus was the causes and conditions that allowed one Greek city to become the leader of the Greek world. His reflections revolved around Sparta, Athens, and Thebes, whose respective strengths and weaknesses Ephorus analyzed, pointing to their historical development. [55] This way of seeing the history of the fourth century lies at the foundation of most modern conceptions thereof, and the historical concept of a Theban hegemony is ultimately a product of Ephorus’ historical thought. [56] His even-handed approach explains why scholars observing only a portion of the evidence could call Ephorus in turn pro-Theban, pro-Spartan, and pro-Athenian. Such a view of Greek history must have been one of the targets of Anaximenes’ (or Theopompus’?) Trikaranos or ‘the three-headed monster’, a polemical pamphlet that lampooned Athens, Sparta, and Thebes for having mishandled the Greeks and thereby paved the way for Macedonian hegemony. [57] Seen from this perspective, the first three books of his Histories acquire a deeper meaning. By presenting in succession the origins of the three hegemonic poleis in their respective historical contexts, [58] they formed a veritable prologue for Ephorus’ Histories.
As noted before, Ephorus was certainly interested in assessing the possibility of writing history of the distant past. He may well have chosen the return of the Heraclidae as the starting point of Book 1 for reasons that have to do with his views on how far back into the past a historian could go. Nevertheless, close consideration of the historical context in which Ephorus was writing suggests that in an important way his choice was dictated by historical circumstances that made it unthinkable, for whoever was going to write the history of Greece in the second half of the fourth century, to ignore the return of the Heraclidae.


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[ back ] 1. The present contribution was presented originally at the Harvard Workshop in 2006. The author wishes to thank warmly John Marincola for reading and commenting upon the final version (and for many years of scholarly friendship).
[ back ] 2. Diodorus 4.1.2–3. On this passage, and more generally on Diodorus’ inclusion of myth within the scope of his work, see Marincola 1997:119–121.
[ back ] 3. See e.g. Canfora 1999:26–41, Clarke 2008:99, and further bibliography in Parmeggiani 1999:109n7. According to the authoritative view of Jacoby 1926:25, Ephorus’ choice of starting point is “not a consequence of Thucydides’ criticism of the quality of older tradition but rather corresponds to the distinction, which was meanwhile generally accepted and had been already used in historiography by Herodotus, between a ‘human’ and a ‘heroic’ age of Greek history.” Cf. the criticism of Schepens 1977:107n69. On Herodotus 3.122 as the first definition of the spatium historicum, see also Jacoby 1956:37–38 and n63. For a classic discussion of this concept, see von Leyden 1950.
[ back ] 4. See Schepens and Bollansée 2004:62–63 and Anaximenes FGH 72 T 14.
[ back ] 5. Respectively, Schepens 1977 and Parmeggiani 1999.
[ back ] 6. Parmeggiani 1999:109–110.
[ back ] 7. In any case, to say that for Ephorus the return of the Heraclidae was “the earliest securely datable historical event after the Sack of Troy” (Schepens and Bollansée 2004:61) is probably imprudent, since after all, Diodorus (16.76.5 = Ephorus FGH 70 T 10) says almost 750 years. Note the caution of Jacoby (1926:61), who points out that the exact year, 1069/8 BCE, was in all likelihood (actually, Jacoby has no doubt about this) calculated by later authors, while Ephorus gave only a number of generations, or a round number of years based on a calculation of generations; along the same lines is Laqueur 1911:324.
[ back ] 8. Almost inevitably, the comparison leads to the conclusion that Ephorus misunderstood Thucydides’ methodological concerns; see Canfora 1999:28–29. Cf., however, Jacoby’s view, above n2. This is not to deny the deep impact of Thucydides’ archaiologia on later Greek historical thought, well outlined by Canfora 1999:30–38.
[ back ] 9. Ephorus FGH 70 F 9. See especially Schepens 1977:106–110; this is the main line of argument of Parmeggiani 1999.
[ back ] 10. Schepens 1977:106; Parmeggiani 1999:111–115; interesting observations on Ephorus’ apparent departing from his normal views on historical reliability in Mazzarino 1966:336.
[ back ] 11. Ephorus FGH 70 F 31b = Strabo 9.3.11–12. See the extensive discussion in Parmeggiani 2001, a contribution that repays a reader’s patience.
[ back ] 12. Parmeggiani 2001:183–188 points to Ephorus’ scrutiny of rituals as clues in order to elucidate the origins of the cult.
[ back ] 13. Besides Diodorus 4.1.3 (= Ephorus FGH 70 T 8), Diodorus 16.76.5 (= Ephorus FGH 70 T 10) should also be considered.
[ back ] 14. Diodorus 12.37.2 and 13.42.5 on Thucydides and 11.37.6 on Herodotus.
[ back ] 15. Dionysius of Halicarnassus De Thucydide 5.5, ad Pompeium Geminum 3.14.
[ back ] 16. Which is not to say that the generation of Croesus does not preserve the role of a qualitative threshold throughout the Histories (see especially Vannicelli 1993:13–18 and Rösler 2002:397–402). On Herodotus’ attitude to Egypt’s past and its relationship to his general views on the possibility of a reliable knowledge of the past, see Vannicelli 2001.
[ back ] 17. All the more so, since according to Suda s.v. ῎Εφιππος (Ε 3930 Adler = FGH 70 T 1), Ephorus started with the fall of Troy.
[ back ] 18. On the arrangement of the matter in Ephorus, see Jacoby 1926:25–30 and the comprehensive discussion of Vannicelli 1987:166–182, with further bibliography.
[ back ] 19. On the subject matter of Book 4, see FGH 70 F 42. For a recent discussion of the scope of Books 4 and 5 see Breglia 2001:147–162.
[ back ] 20. All we can say is that Ephorus’ version of the origin of the Thebageneis, FGH 70 F 21, from Book 2, appears to refer to a time before the return of the Heraclidae to the Peloponnesus (see Sordi 2002:275–279), but of course strictly speaking we cannot exclude the possibility that it came from a retrospective excursus of some sort; the same could in theory be true of Ephorus’ Boeotian archaiologia in FGH 70 F 119 (without book number). For the geographic arrangement of Books 1–3, see among others Andrewes 1951:42 and Breglia 2005:298. But cf. Jacoby 1926:47 “hat E buch I–III als einheit behandelt, wie doch sicher IV–V?” Vannicelli 1987:170, the first three books “dovevano costituire una compatta unità,” quoting Jacoby.
[ back ] 21. For what follows, see especially Piérart 2001 and Roebuck 1948:84–92.
[ back ] 22. Polybius 9.28.7 and 9.33.11 respectively (date according to Walbank 1967:163); for Polybius’ own views on the episode, see Polybius 18.14.7.
[ back ] 23. This reconstruction is suggested by Piérart 2001:28 and 33. On the role of the League of Corinth, see also Magnetto 1994 and already Roebuck 1948:91–92.
[ back ] 24. For the continuity between Philip’s and Epaminondas’ politics in the Peloponnesus, see Roebuck 1948:88. Hamilton 1982:69–79 offers a clear and perceptive reconstruction of the early stages of Philip’s relationship to Sparta and his involvement in Peloponnesian politics.
[ back ] 25. The preemptive nature of Philip’s action is underscored by Ellis 1976:204.
[ back ] 26. See the synopsis in Piérart 2001:33.
[ back ] 27. Pausanias 2.20.1.
[ back ] 28. Tacitus Annals 4.43.1-3. On the dispute over the Dentheliatis, see Luraghi 2008:16–27.
[ back ] 29. Syll.3 665; for the text of the inscription and the context of the arbitration, see Harter-Uibopuu 1998:80–97. The reference to the return of the Heraclidae comes in lines 34–36, within a long reference to one or more previous judgments (lines 22-38). It is not certain whether lines 34–36 refer to Philip’s judgment, as Harter-Uibopuu, following the traditional view, thinks, or to a later time, possibly 222 BCE after the defeat of Sparta at Sellasia by Antigonus Doson, as suggested by Piérart 2001:32–33.
[ back ] 30. Vita Aristotelis Marciana 28–32 Gigon, on which see Düring 1957:107-108 and Gigon 1962:39. On the Δικαιώματα τῶν ῾Ελληνίδων πόλεων and their use by Philip, see Jehne 1994:147–148 with references and Piérart 2001:33-34. On the Vita Marciana, dating back to the fifth century CE, and its sources, see Düring 1957:469–472, and Haake 2006:338–340 with further references.
[ back ] 31. Authoritative from the point of view of Sparta’s enemies, that is. It is striking that, from the fourth century onwards, the return of the Heraclidae appears never to have been used by the Spartans to support their territorial claims—striking, but not surprising: a cornerstone of the story of the return was the division of the Peloponnesus, which implied the original existence of a Messenian kingdom in a region that the Spartans continued to claim as their own for decades after losing it in 369 BCE (see Jehne 1994:84–90).
[ back ] 32. An excellent discussion of Heraclid rights over Messenia and Laconia, with attention to their legal aspects in the framework of classical Greek law, is found in Natoli 2004:68–73. The Argolid, of course, was Heracles’ own fatherland. Elis was attributed to Oxylus by the Heraclidae as a reward for his help, but at the same time, Oxylus also had ancestral claims over the region and his, too, was a return (see Ephorus FGH 70 F 115 and Prinz 1979:307). Arcadia was left alone because its king Cypselus had concluded an alliance with the Heraclidae before they invaded the Peloponnesus (Pausanias 8.5.6) or because he had outsmarted the Heraclidae (Polyaenus 1.7), but, in any case, the Arcadians’ right to their land was based on having always been there, as everybody admitted since the fifth century at the latest (see Herodotus 2.171.3). For reflections of fourth-century politics in these versions of Elean and Arcadian archaiologia, see below.
[ back ] 33. Piérart 2001:37. On the Heraclid pedigree of the Argeads and on Philip’s interest in it, see Huttner 1997:65-85. On the letter of Speusippus to Philip, where Heracles’ deeds provide multiple justifications for Philip’s expansionism, see now Natoli 2004 (favoring its authenticity).
[ back ] 34. On the development of the myth of the return of the Heraclidae, I recapitulate here the conclusions formulated in Luraghi 2008:48–61. The author should warn the reader that scholarly consensus places the origins of the myth of the division among the Heraclidae rather earlier, sometime between the second half of the seventh century and the sixth; but see Luraghi 2008:59–60 and below in the text.
[ back ] 35. For a comprehensive presentation of the evidence, see Prinz 1979:206–313, to be supplemented with the new evidence on Euripides’ Heraclid tragedies mentioned below. The extent to which any of these stories conveys any amount of reliable historical information is irrelevant here; for some orientation on the matter see Vanschoonwinkel 1991:331–366 and especially Eder 1998.
[ back ] 36. Tyrtaeus fr. 2 West2.
[ back ] 37. Pindar Pythian 5.69–72. For the equivalence of Nestor’s kingdom and Messenia, see also Pindar 6.35 (490 BCE).
[ back ] 38. On Euripides’ Cresphontes, see especially Harder 1985; further bibliography in Biagetti 2009:423. Note that Euripides’ Polyphontes, in spite of being Cresphontes Senior’s brother, is never mentioned as one of the sons of Aristomachus, Cresphontes’ father; see Luraghi 2008:61n50 and Biagetti 2009:439n93. On Polyphontes, see also Harder 1985:9–11.
[ back ] 39. On Temenus and Temenidai, see Harder 1991. Tentative dating not based on historical arguments points to the last two decades of the century. On the intricacies of Peloponnesian politics after the Peace of Nicias, Seager 1976 remains the best account.
[ back ] 40. Thucydides 5.69.1; see Luraghi 2008: 56n34.
[ back ] 41. See however below n42. On the origins of Pisatans and Triphylians, see Nafissi 2003:26–27 and respectively Giangiulio 2009 and Ruggeri 2009 with further references.
[ back ] 42. More precisely, the Spartans seem to have invoked a version of early Heraclid-Dorian history in the Peloponnesus that made their conquest of Messenia legitimate—if Isocrates’ Archidamus really reflects arguments used by the Spartans at this time; see below.
[ back ] 43. On the Messenian tribes, attested at Ithome/Messene, Thouria, and Korone, see Luraghi 2008:230–231 with references to the evidence.
[ back ] 44. Pausanias 10.10.5. Archaeological evidence and the political message of the monument are discussed in Salviat 1965.
[ back ] 45. On the fate of Cresphontes’ son in Euripides and in later sources, see now Biagetti 2009:439–450. Cypselus father of Meropes: Nicolaus of Damascus FGH 90 F 31 (generally taken to depend on Ephorus; Jacoby 1926:234–235 and 243) and Pausanias (8.5.6 et al.). Political meaning of the Arcadian connection: Luraghi 2008:62–63 with refs. (to which add now Biagetti 2009).
[ back ] 46. On Oxylus’ return to Elis see Ephorus FGH 70 F 115. On the development of Elean myth-history in the fourth century, see especially Sordi 1994 and Gehrke 2003:18-19. Oxylus in Euripides (Temenus or Temenidae): TGF (68)–(69) i = POxy 2455 fr. 9.
[ back ] 47. The epigram is quoted by Ephorus, FGH 70 F 122a; for a date in the late fifth or early fourth century, see Jacoby 1926:4–5 and Sordi 1994:140–141. The connection between Aetolia and Elis was probably revamped in connection with the alliance at the time of the war between Sparta and Elis, but earlier versions of it appear to have existed, see Gehrke 2003:12–13.
[ back ] 48. Isocrates Archidamus 22–25. On the use of Isocrates’ Archidamus as evidence, see Luraghi 2008:55n32.
[ back ] 49. See Isocrates Panegyricus 61–63 and Panathenaicus 42–46. It may be significant that in the earlier speech Isocrates basically used the portion of the story of the Heraclidae that was commonly referred to in eulogies of Athens, i.e. the protection they were offered against Eurystheus by the Athenians (cf. Herodotus 9.27; on the topicality of this episode of Athenian myth-history, the illuminating observations in Canfora 1999:32–38), while in the later one he is more specifically referring to the stories associated with the final return of the Heraclidae to the Peloponnesus.
[ back ] 50. Plato Leges 3.683c–693c; the supposed Messenian attack on Sparta is mentioned again in 3.698e. On the political message of Plato’s depiction of Peloponnesian history, see Dušanić 1997. On Plato’s Messenian war, see Luraghi 2008:177–180.
[ back ] 51. On this, see the perceptive observations of Andrewes 1951:41n3.
[ back ] 52. See Jacoby 1926:24, based especially on FGH 70 F 121, where Naupactus, which Philip assigned to the Aetolians in 338 BCE, is said to be Locrian. Momigliano (1975:694–696) thought that Ephorus’ remarks on Boeotia’s favorable position for a maritime hegemony (FGH 70 F 119) could not have been formulated much later than 350 BCE.
[ back ] 53. Fornara 1983:42n63. For Jacoby, Ephorus was “unworldly” (“weltfremd,” Jacoby 1956:96) and his mentality was “shallow and petty-bourgeois” (“platt und spießbürgerlich,” Jacoby 1926:23)
[ back ] 54. See Momigliano 1966:347–365 and 1975:683–706 (both originally published in 1935). Insight in the purpose and logic of this part of Momigliano’s research is provided by a letter of Momigliano to his teacher G. De Sanctis from 1930 published in Polverini 2006:15–16.
[ back ] 55. Momigliano 1975:697–702.
[ back ] 56. On Ephorus’ views on the Theban hegemony and on the reasons for its ultimate failure, see Momigliano 1966:361–365.
[ back ] 57. On the Trikaranos, see Anaximenes FGH 72 T 6 (= Pausanias 6.18.5) and 72 F 20–21. According to Pausanias, Anaximenes composed the Trikaranos in the style of Theopompus, so that everybody in Greece believed Theopompus to be the author and hated him for that. The attribution to Anaximenes has generally been accepted in modern scholarship, but see Mazzarino 1966:384–388 for very perceptive arguments in favor of Theopompus. In any case, the work remains an important historical witness of the cultural and political context in which Ephorus wrote.
[ back ] 58. It is only for Book 1 that this view be said to be really substantiated by the evidence; see the persuasive reconstruction of Andrewes 1951.