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Text and bibliography updated to reflect current scholarship on Timagenes. Keywords added.

Updated on 22 August 2017. The previous version of this content can be found here.
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Timagenes, of Alexandria (1), Greek rhetor and historian

Timagenes of Alexandria (1), according to Suda the son of a royal banker (βασιλικοῦ ἀργυραμοιβοῦ υἱός‎), was a Greek rhetor and historian, who came to Rome as a captive in 55 bce with Gabinius(2) and was ransomed and subsequently set free by Sulla’s son Faustus Cornelius Sulla (FGrH 88 T1).1 He lived and worked in Rome, and is mentioned alongside Caecilius (1) of Caleacte and Craton as a distinguished rhetor (T 1 and 2). Initially a favourite of the Emperor Augustus, he later incurred the princeps’ displeasure by his “reckless wit” (temeraria urbanitas) and went to live at the house of C. Asinius Pollio, where he enjoyed continuing popularity (T 2 and 3). “He wrote many books” (T 1), but all that is extant is the title of On Kings (peri basileōn), an attempt at writing a universal history of foreign kings from the earliest times to Augustus. Two historical fragments on papyri of the Roman period, respectively, P.Oxy. 37.2820 on the handing of the fleet of Cleopatra, perhaps Cleopatra II, to an unnamed authority, perhaps King Ptolemy X Alexander, in preparation for a foreign campaign, and P.Oxy. 73.4940 on the negotiations between Cato and King Ptolemy XII Neos Dionysus (Auletes) in Rhodes in 58 bce, may derive from this work, but the question is open.2 He also wrote on the early deeds of Augustus, but apparently, burnt down his own books after his fall from favour because they praised the princeps (T 3). His disgrace must have taken place in the 20s bce, because, in a letter to Maecenas of 20 bce, Horace already states that the style of Timagenes was dangerous to emulate.3 While Seneca (2) “the Younger” describes him as hostile to Rome—felicitati urbis inimicus (T 8), Quintilian (Inst. Or. 10.1.75) praises him for having restored the Greek tradition of writing history, and Ammianus Marcellinus (15.9.2), calls Timagenes et diligentia graecus et lingua, probably alluding to the “free tongue” or parrhēsia of Greek historians. Sordi’s definition “hellenocentric and barbarophile” has been questioned, but her assumption that he praised foreign nations—e.g., Celts—to ridicule Roman customs and Augustus still stands.4 Less convincing is the widely accepted assumption that Timagenes must be the target of Livy’s famous invective against some Greek historians (levissimi ex Graecis) who dared to write that Alexander the Great had been better at subduing the Persians than Rome at fighting the Parthians.5 As Livy accused these historians of complete ignorance about Alexander, Timagenes, being from Alexandria, can hardly be one of them. As noted by Pelling, the sympathy for Cleopatra VII displayed in the last chapters of Plutarch’s Life of Antony may come from an Alexandrian source, possibly Timagenes, whom Plutarch cites as a source in the section on the death of the queen (Ant. 72), and elsewhere as a partisan of M. Antonius (2) and Cleopatra.6 Two puns that Plutarch attributes to Timagenes (De ad. et. am. 68b. Quaest. Conv. 2.634e), and that were rejected as spurious by Jacoby, have been rehabilitated by Muccioli, who shows that they portrayed Augustus as a tyrant.7 Timagenes’ sarcasm on the fact that (T 8), whenever at Rome buildings were destroyed by fire, better ones soon rose from their ashes, evokes his own (probably forced) bonfire of books and may celebrate the rise of a younger, equally outspoken colleague, with whom Timagenes wanted to establish an ideal tie; A. Cremutius Cordus, whose name contains a pun with the Latin verb cremare, “to burn,” seems the most likely.8 The tone of the extant jokes matches Seneca(1) “the Elder’s” definition of Timagenes as “a bitter tongue” (homo acidae linguae), which links in turn to the aforementioned remark by Ammianus (T 11). Seneca “the Younger” derived the anecdotes either from his father, or from Evagoras of Lindos, pupil and biographer of Timagenes.9

Leuven Database of Ancient Books (LDAB): P.Oxy. 37.2820; P.Oxy. 73.4940


Bowersock, Glen W. Augustus and the Greek World. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1965.Find this resource:

    Capponi, Livia. Il ritorno della Fenice. Intellettuali e potere nell’Egitto romano. Pisa: ETS, 2017.Find this resource:

      Fraser, Peter A. Ptolemaic Alexandria. Oxford: Clarendon, 1972.Find this resource:

        Jacoby, Felix. Fragmente der griechischen Historiker (1923–), 88.Find this resource:

          Laqueur, Richard. Real-Encyclopädie d. klassischen Altertumswissenschaft 6a (1936), 1063 ff.Find this resource:

            Marincola, John. Authority and Tradition in Ancient Historiography. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1997.Find this resource:

              McInerney, Jeremy and Duane W. Roller. “Timagenes of Alexandrea (88).” In Brill’s New Jacoby, Editor in Chief: Ian Worthington (University of Missouri). Consulted online on 12 June 2017.Find this resource:

                Meister, Klaus. Die griechische Geschichtsschreibung: Von den Anfängen bis zum Ende des Hellenismus. Stuttgart: W. Kohlhammer, 1990.Find this resource:

                  Muccioli, Federicomaria. “La rappresentazione dei Parti nelle fonti tra ii e i secolo a.C. e la polemica di Livio contro i Levissimi ex Graecis.” In Incontri tra culture nell’Oriente ellenistico e romano. Atti del convegno di studi, Ravenna 11–12 marzo 2005. Edited by Tommaso Gnoli and Federicomaria Muccioli. Milan: Mimesis, 2007.Find this resource:

                    Muccioli, Federicomaria. “Timagene. Un erudito tra Alessandria e Roma. Nuove Riflessioni.” In Tradizione e trasmissione degli storici greci frammentari II. Atti del Terzo Workshop Internazionale. Roma 24–26 febbraio 2011. Edited by Virgilio Costa. Tivoli: Tored, 2012.Find this resource:

                      Pelling, Christopher. Plutarch. Life of Antony. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988.Find this resource:

                        Sordi, Marta. “Timagene di Alessandria: uno storico ellenocentrico e filobarbaro.” ANRW 2.30.1 (1982): 775–797.Find this resource:

                          Whitmarsh, Tim S. “How to Write Anti-Roman History.” In How to Do Things with History. Edited by D. S. Allen, P. Christesen and P. Millett. Oxford: Oxford University Press, forthcoming.Find this resource:


                            (1.) Felix Jacoby, Fragmente der griechischen Historiker (1923–), 88, revised and republished by Jeremy McInerney and Duane W. Roller, “Timagenes of Alexandria,” Brill’s New Jacoby, ed. Ian Worthington (2014). T 1. See also Richard Laqueur, Real-Encyclopädie d. klassischen Altertumswissenschaft 6a (1936), 1063 ff.; Glen W. Bowersock, Augustus and the Greek World (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1965), 109–110. Peter A. Fraser, Ptolemaic Alexandria (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1972), 518–519, 746, n. 202, gives credit to the humble origin of Timagenes. More probably, it was a rhetorical trope. On Timagenes as a Greek historian comparable with Thuchydides, cf. John Marincola, Authority and Tradition in Ancient Historiography (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 255; Klaus Meister, Die griechische Geschichtsschreibung: Von den Anfängen bis zum Ende des Hellenismus. (Stuttgart: W. Kohlhammer, 1990), 171.

                            (2.) Cf. Livia Capponi, Il ritorno della Fenice. Intellettuali e potere nell’Egitto romano (Pisa: ETS, 2017), 54–57.

                            (3.) Hor. Ep. 1.19.15–16 rupit Iarbitam Timagenis aemula lingua, / dum studet urbanus tenditque disertus haberi.

                            (4.) Marta Sordi, “Timagene di Alessandria: uno storico ellenocentrico e filobarbaro,” ANRW 2.30.1 (1982): 775–797.

                            (5.) Liv. 9.18.6. Id vero periculum erat, quod levissimi ex Graecis qui Parthorum quoque contra nomen Romanum gloriae favent dictitare solent, ne maiestatem nominis Alexandri, quem ne fama quidem illis notum arbitror fuisse, sustinere non potuerit populus Romanus; et adversus quem Athenis, in civitate fracta Macedonum armis, cernentes tum maxime prope fumantes Thebarum ruinas, contionari libere ausi sunt homines—id quod ex monumentis orationum patet, adversus eum nemo ex tot proceribus Romanis vocem liberam missurus fuerit! Résumé of scholarly debate in John Atkinson, “Originality and Its Limits in Alexander Sources of the Early Empire,” in Alexander the Great in Fact and Fiction, ed. Alan B. Bosworth and Elizabeth Baynham (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), 307–324, and Federicomaria Muccioli, “La rappresentazione dei Parti nelle fonti tra ii e i secolo a.C. e la polemica di Livio contro i Levissimi ex Graecis,” in Incontri tra culture nell’Oriente ellenistico e romano. Atti del convegno di studi, Ravenna 11–12 marzo 2005, ed. Tommaso Gnoli and Federicomaria Muccioli (Milan: Mimesis, 2007), 87–116. Other candidates for identification are Memnon of Heraclea and Metrodorus of Scepsis: cf. Arthur Keaveney and John A. Madden, “Memnon (434),” in Brill’s New Jacoby, and Thomas Habinek, “Metrodoros (184),” in Brill’s New Jacoby. On Metrodorus and this passage, cf. Tim S. Whitmarsh, “How to Write Anti-Roman History,” in How to Do Things with History, ed. D. S. Allen, P. Christesen and P. Millett (Oxford: Oxford University Press, forthcoming).

                            (6.) Plut. Ant. 3–4. For the Alexandrian traditions on the death of Cleopatra, that formed the sources of Plut. Ant. 71–87, cf. Christopher Pelling, Plutarch. Life of Antony (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988), 27–29.

                            (7.) Federicomaria Muccioli, “Timagene. Un erudito tra Alessandria e Roma. Nuove Riflessioni,” in Tradizione e trasmissione degli storici greci frammentari II. Atti del Terzo Workshop Internazionale. Roma 24–26 febbraio 2011, ed. Virgilio Costa (Tivoli: Tored, 2012), 365–388.

                            (8.) Sen. Ep. Mor. 91.13 (T 8). Timagenes felicitati urbis inimicus aiebat Romae sibi incendia ob hoce unum dolori esse, quod sciret meliora surrectura quam arsissent. Cf. Capponi, Il ritorno della Fenice, 42–57.

                            (9.) Jan Radicke, “Euagoras of Lindus: Life of Timagenes (1055),” Die Fragmente der Griechischen Historiker Continued Part IV. Biography and Antiquarian Literature, ed. G. Schepens (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1999); Ian S. Moyer, “Euagoras of Lindos (619),” Brill’s New Jacoby.

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