About Paradoxography

A brief overview of the genre and the texts

"WHEN I was returning from Greece to Italy and had come to Brundisium, after disembarking I was strolling about in that famous port, ... There I saw some bundles of books exposed for sale, and I at once eagerly hurried to them. Now, all those books were in Greek, filled with marvellous tales, things unheard of, incredible; but the writers were ancient and of no mean authority: Aristeas of Proconnesus, Isigonus of Nicaea, Ctesias and Onesicritus, Philostephanus and Hegesias. The volumes themselves, however, were filthy from long neglect, in bad condition and unsightly. Nevertheless, I drew near and asked their price; then, attracted by their extraordinary and unexpected cheapness, 1 bought a large number of them for a small sum, and ran through all of them hastily in the course of the next two nights. ...

Those books, then, contained matter of the following sort: that the most remote of the Scythians, who pass their life in the far north, eat human flesh and subsist on the nourishment of that food, and are called ἀνθρωποφάγοι, or “cannibals.” Also that there are men in the same latitude having one eye in the middle of the forehead and called Arimaspi, who are of the appearance that the poets give the Cyclopes. That there are also in the same region other men, of marvellous swiftness, whose feet are turned backwards and do not point forward, as in the rest of mankind. Further, that it was handed down by tradition that in a distant land called Albania men are born whose hair turns white in childhood and who see better by night than in the daytime. That it was also a matter of assured belief that the Sauromatae, who dwell far away beyond the river Borysthenes, take food only every other day and fast on the intervening day. ..."

(Aulus Gellius Attic Nights IX, 4)

I. Introduction

Who were these writers "of no mean authority", and what sort of books had Gellius added to his library? Ctesias, Onesicritus and Hegesias may be counted (however grudgingly) among the historians; the shadowy Aristeas most comfortably among the mythographers. Isigonus and Philostephanus, however, are the authors of works entitled, respectively, Ἄπιστα (Incredible Things) and περὶ παραδόξων ποταμῶν (On Strange Rivers).

The umbrella term ‘paradoxography’, now used to describe such works, is not an ancient one: first coined by Tzetzes in the 12th century, it was used by Westermann for his 1839 edition of the Scriptores Rerum Mirabilium Graeci, most of which authors included either of the adjectives θαυμάσιος or παράδοξος in their titles. It is a genre that has its origins in the Hellenistic world; parasitic on historical, geographical, ethnographical and scientific writings, it dons the guise of Alexandrian scholarship in the careful citation of the sources on which are constructed its claims to truth. Indeed, at the fount of this genre stands no less a figure than Callimachus, who in a work of uncertain title – citations suggest παραδόξων ἐκλογή (Selection of Strange Things) or θαυμάσια (Marvels) – provided a catalogue of marvels from all the world using as sources, among others, Aristotle, Megasthenes, Theophrastus, Theopompus and Timaeus.

Like much ancient writing in the historiographical and related genres, paradoxography is produced by compilation and excerption, but unlike the former resolutely refuses to place its pillaged data in any theoretical – or, frequently, even formal – framework. Paradoxography, like its modern ‘believe-it-or-not’ descendants, depends for its effect on decontextualization; it constructs a conceptual space where, there being no given norm against which to measure them, the fantastic and unbelievable themselves become the norm, the external world reduced to a paratactic yet disjointed sequence of the bizarre and ‘unnatural.’ Yet these marvels are all ‘true’, all culled from ‘authorities.’

Paradoxographical literature could not exist without the prior and contemporaneous existence of a body of ‘real’ knowledge of the human and natural worlds, based on careful empirical observation and rational analysis, for it is on such knowledge that it depends for its validation. The proliferation of such writing is predicated on the burst of scientific activity which was a feature of the Hellenistic era. This activity in turn stemmed immediately from the work of Aristotle and his school in the field of the natural and physical sciences, and from the new data made available by the conquests of Alexander.

The Paradoxographical Texts

Few paradoxographical works survive in anything approaching their entirety; many are known to us only through a handful of later excerpts and notices, some so ambiguous as to render the very existence of the text – or, indeed, the author – a matter of dispute. Of those texts that can be securely identified as collections of παράδοχα, not all can be dated with any degree of certainty, particularly the anonymous works known to us from the manuscripts as the Paradoxographi Palatinus, Vaticanus and Florentinus.

Furthermore, some attributions are clearly erroneous or garbled – thus, both Ephorus and Theopompus are credited by later sources with books of marvels that are highly unlikely to have existed in the forms posited. Broadly speaking, paradoxographical writing falls into two different strands (though a single author may well deal with aspects of both). The first finds its subject-matter in “respectable” works of natural history and of human history in its broad, Herodotean sense, encompassing geography and ethnography.

Natural wonders, culled mainly from the likes of Aristotle and Theophrastus, are presented (at least by the earlier exponents of the genre) as a catalogue of the striking and anomalous, rather in the manner of the Guinness Book of Records, but are not – at any rate within the framework of ancient natural history – in themselves impossible or unnatural. Later works dealing with the natural world, and in particular the animal kingdom (such as Aelian’s περὶ ζῴων ἰδιότητος, On the Characteristics of Animals) tend far more towards an anthropomorphic and affective depiction of animal behaviour, a tendency which can also be discerned in generically non-paradoxographical works such as Pliny’s Naturalis Historia.

Human biology is treated largely in the same manner as the animal kingdom, supplying interesting nuggets of, for example, physiological or genetic knowledge, but tending to steer clear of the freakish or monstrous. The variety and oddity of human culture are demonstrated by ethnographic details of the customs of various Greek or more exotic peoples which, again, rarely stray beyond the bounds of what one might find in works of history proper. (The more scrupulous paradoxographers even eschewed the temptation of the exotic but unreliable – Antigonus, for example, refuses a germane citation of Ctesias on the grounds of that author’s mendacity.)

The paradoxa are almost always the fruits of excerption rather than observation; initially second- or at most third-hand, from the works of naturalists or historians who had themselves relied on autopsy, but as time went by, increasingly at yet greater removes as earlier compilations themselves became the sources for their successors. Thus, a passage from the 3rd-century Antigonus (whose main sources are Aristotle’s History of Animals and Callimachus’ lost book of paradoxa, which directly epitomizes Aristotle) becomes in turn the source for the later Paradoxographus Vaticanus.

The second strand of paradoxographical writing concerns itself with matter which is not so much striking as bizarre, where it is even credible, and having more in common with the genres of romance than of scientific knowledge. Monstrous or multiple births, hermaphrodites, oracle-spouting severed heads, spectral revenants take the place of the comparatively mundane curiosities of the natural and cultural spheres. Although this development may be somewhat later than the origins of paradoxography in the time of Callimachus, it soon found an ever-expanding niche in the constitution of the genre. The earliest substantial surviving text is that of Apollonius, who includes chapters on such figures as Aristeas of Proconnesus and Abaris the Hyperborean alongside snippets of natural history. Here, at least, we are still within the outer limits of history, since Apollonius’ sources include Herodotus and Theopompus. For a more thoroughgoing example of this ‘sensationalizing’ strand of paradoxography, we can turn to Phlegon of Tralles..

The brief outline of the principal paradoxographical texts which follows draws extensively on Ziegler’s 1938 entry in RE XVIII.3. The most complete survivals will be dealt with first, then the works which remain only in fragmentary form.

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II. Works Surviving in Complete or Extensive Form

Antigonus (of Carystus[?], 3rd Century BCE)

If the paradoxographer Antigonus is indeed one and the same as the Pergamene scholar Antigonus of Carystus, he was an extremely versatile figure, combining his collection of παράδοχα with the roles of biographer and practising sculptor. His work survives in 173, generally very short, chapters, though the end (and possibly the beginning) has been lost. Apart from a handful of the author’s own observations, the ἱστοριῶν παραδόξων συναγωγή (Compilation of Marvellous Accounts) is entirely the product of (albeit careful) compilation. The work, which deals primarily with natural-historical and topographical curiosities, but also includes a series of chapters on aspects of human biology, falls into five discernible sections, detailed as follows.

1 – mid 26

Excerpts on natural (overwhelmingly zoological) history, compiled from various sources, primarily historical or scientific, but occasionally amplified by quotations from poetry.

mid 26 – mid 60

Excerpts from Book IX of Aristotle’s History of Animals. Antigonus states that he is drawing this material ἐκ τῆς τοῦ Ἀριστοτέλους συναγωγῆς, which suggests that Antigonus was here using not the full HA but a copy of Book IX issued separately.

61 – 115

Excerpts from the complete version of the HA (although Antigonus’ copy seems to have excluded the spurious Book X). Chapters 109-114, on human biology, come from HA Book VII.

mid 115 – 128

Natural-historical and topographical excerpts from various sources (115-118, following from the citations of HA VII in the previous section, deals with human physiology).

129 – 173

Excerpts from the lost book of marvels by Callimachus, dealing largely with the curious attributes of various anomalous bodies of water.

Authors cited by name (citations via Callimachus in italics): Aeschylus, Alcman, Amelesagoras, Amometus, Archelaus, Aristotle, Eudoxus, Hellanicus, Heracleides, Herodotus, Hippys, [Homer], Callimachus, Ctesias, Lycus, Megasthenes, Myrsilus, Nicagoras, Phanias, Philetas, Philon, Philoxenus, Pindar, Polycritus, Theophrastus, Theopompus, Timaeus, Xenophilus.

It is also worth noting that Antigonus, in contrast to some later authors – not all of them mere paradoxographers – was careful and scrupulous in his compilation: where the original text exists, as do Aristotle’s zoological works, we can clearly see that he accurately summarized his source, only occasionally losing clarity through compression.

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Ps-Aristotle (3rd Century BCE+)

περὶ θαυμασίων ὰκουσμάτων (De mirabilius auscultationibus; On Marvellous Things Heard)

This collection of marvels, which has passed under the name of Aristotle since at least the 2nd century CE, represents a gradual accretion of material over the course of many centuries – it may have taken shape in its original form as early as the 3rd century BCE, and was still being added to in the 3rd century CE, perhaps even later. That the attribution is incorrect is evident not merely from a comparison with Aristotle’s systematic treatment of nature elsewhere, but also from more concrete external (it is not in Diogenes Laertius’ index of Aristotle’s works) and internal (the material of some of the excerpts makes so early a date impossible) indications.

The existence of the text in some form as far back as the 3rd century BC is suggested by the frequent overlap with Antigonus, which would appear to arise from the use of a common source rather than a copying from Antigonus himself. From the manuscript survivals and from citations in various post-classical authors, it is clear that the work as it now stands is an amalgamation of several different compilations, all attributed to Aristotle. Westermann posited the existence of three groups of excerpts, chapters 1–32, 33–151 and 152–178. The arrangement of the material is less orderly, and the accuracy of the compilation of poorer quality, than in Antigonus. Nonetheless, the contents can be roughly outlined as follows:

1 - 30 Primarily zoological material

31 - 32 Human curiosities

33 – 41 Marvels concerned with fire

42 – 62 Primarily to do with mountains and mining, though including (53–56) some excerpts on marvellous waters

63 – 77 Zoological excerpts

Chapter 78 begins a section where the material is arranged in a roughly geographical rather than topical order. Excerpts 78–114 and 130–136 stem mainly from Timaeus, 115–129 from Theopompus :

78 Circaeon

79 – 81 Adria and Umbria

82 Sicily

83 Crete

84 A “Fortunate Isle” beyond the Pillars of Heracles

85 – 89 The Celtic lands and Spain

90 – 92 Liguria

93 – 110 Primarily deal with the islands around Italy

111 – 114 Sicily

115 – 129 Marvels from northern and eastern Greece and its surrounds

130 – 136 Mostly returns to the west, including 134–136 on the western Phoenicians

137 – 138 Caria and Illyria

This geographical / periegetical plan is then abandoned, and the remainder of the text breaks down as follows:

139 – 151 Mainly zoological

152 – 178 Miscellaneous paradoxa, containing the occasional small cluster of related excerpts.

This portion of the text cannot date from earlier than the 3rd century CE since it draws on, inter alia, Ps-Plutarch De Fluviis, Philostratus and Herodian.

Authors cited by name: Hanno, Polycritus, Callisthenes, Xenophanes.

The paucity of direct attributions is striking in comparison with most of the other paradoxographical authors: the bulk of the excerpts are introduced merely by φάσι, λέγεται, λέγουσι etc. Whether this feature simply facilitated the text’s ascription to Aristotle, or whether it was a deliberate means of deception from the outset, we shall never know.

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Apollonius (2nd Century BCE)

Since he cites no authors later than the first half of the 2nd Century, Apollonius can safely be assigned, too, to this period. However, in the absence of any secure identification, we have no biographical information whatever on the author of the ἱστορίαι θαυμάσιαι (Inquiries into Marvels). Of the 51 extant chapters, the majority contain a miscellany of excerpts relating largely to zoology, botany and human biology. However, chapters 1–6 are comparatively long and consist of anecdotes concerning the Wundermänner Epimenides, Aristeas, Hermotimis, Abaris, Pherecydes and Pythagoras. In these six chapters, we see the emergence of the second strand of paradoxography mentioned earlier; the fantastic stories of decades-long sleep, wandering souls, amazing predictions and other marvels contrasting oddly with the more prosaic (if haphazardly presented) material of the remaining forty-five.

The excerpts in these remaining chapters almost always give the name of the author and work from which they are taken; most commonly cited are Aristotle (eighteen excerpts) and Theophrastus (thirteen). The first word in the manuscript is Βώλου, which led to suggestions that Chapters 1–6 were compiled from Bolus of Mende. However, this seems to be refuted on stylistic grounds, and it would appear that the manuscript containing our text is mutilated to some extent, so that the current Chapter 1 is not the original opening of the work.

Authors cited by name: Andron, Aristotle, Aristoxenus, Eudoxus of Cnidus, Eudoxus of Rhodes, Heracleides, Ctesias, Phylarchus, Skymnus, Sotacus, Theophrastus, Theopompus.

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Aelian (Claudius Aelianus, c.170–235 CE)

Aelian’s 17 books περὶ ζῴων ἰδιότητος (On the Characteristics of Animals) do not, strictly speaking, fall within the genre of paradoxography, intended as they are to improve the reader by showing how even animals are endowed with virtue and nobility. His ποικίλη ἱστορία, a miscellany of striking details from myth and history, also shares features of the genre without normally being considered an example of it. He is, however, included in this survey since his methods mirror those of the paradoxographers (compilation from scientific and historical authorities) and since the many parallel citations afford instructive comparisons and a view of how the same material could be put to different uses.

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Phlegon (of Tralles, 2nd Century CE)

Phlegon, a freedman of Hadrian, was primarily an antiquarian, whose products included a description of Sicily, books on Roman festivals and the topography of Rome, and a substantial and influential work on chronology. Presumably as a by-product of his more serious works, he also wrote a περὶ θαυμασὶων (On Marvels) and a περὶ μακροβίων (On Long-lived People). Although the beginning of the περὶ θαυμασὶων, including part of the first surviving chapter, is missing, what remains is quite extensive. Unlike the other works so far encountered, its style is consciously literary, at times mirroring contemporary fictional literature. The author and much of the material belong firmly in the Graeco-Roman world; the Sibylline oracles quoted are quite unlike anything in Hellenistic paradoxographical texts – even those, such as Apollonius’, which veer towards the fantastic.

The subject-matter of the περὶ θαυμασὶων falls into self-contained groups of chapters, much more neatly than the rather haphazard arrangement of excerpts in, for example, Antigonus or Ps-Aristotle:

1 – 3

Three ghost stories, the first two in epistolary form. The story of Philinnion, purporting to be the text of a letter to Arrhidaeus, the half-brother of Alexander the Great, formed the basis of Goethe’s The Bride of Corinth. The second and third stories, concerning Polycritus and Bouplagus, contain some of the Sibylline oracles mentioned previously.

4 – 10

Sex-changes and hermaphroditism, both mythical and historical; two of these are accompanied by long Sibylline oracles.

11 – 19 Findings of gigantic bones in various parts of the world.

20 – 27 Monstrous births.

28 – 31 Multiple births, both mythical and historical.

34 – 35 Hippocentaurs in Arabia.

Authors cited by name: Antigonus, Antisthenes, Apollonius ὁ γραμματικός, Dicaearchus, Dorotheus, Eumachus, Hesiod, Hieron, Hippostratus, Callimachus, Clearchus, Craterus, Megasthenes, Theopompus.

With the περὶ μακροβίων, we return to the first strand of paradoxographical writing, albeit one taken almost exclusively from one particular set of human statistics. Unlike the previous authors mentioned, Phlegon has gained most of his information in this work from official records, namely Vespasian’s census of the 8th Italian region, supplemented occasionally by extraneous sources. This use of official records was also a feature of the περὶ θαυμασὶων, where he used among other sources the consular fasti. As was so often the case in antiquity, we find what would now be considered basic historical practices, such as the consultation of archives, used by antiquarians and local historians rather than by the ‘literary’ historians, whose works tended to adhere more to stylistic and generic criteria than to embody a strict historical methodology. However, Phlegon’s antiquarian rigour did not preclude his using a Sibylline Oracle as “evidence” for his longest-lived subject, the 1,000-year-old Erythraean Sibyl. The περὶ μακροβίων is laid out simply in sections detailing long-lived persons in ascending order of longevity:

1 – 68 Persons who have lived 100 years.

69 – 90 Persons who have lived from 100 to 110 years.

91 – 95 Persons who have lived from 110 to 120 years.

96 - 97 Persons who have lived from 130 to 140 years.

98 Persons who have lived 150 years.

99 Persons who have lived 1,000 years.

Authors cited by name: Agatharchides, Anacreon, Apollodorus, Herodotus.

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Paradoxographus Florentinus (probably 2nd Century CE)

The forty-three chapters of this anonymous compilation deal with marvellous waters. There is very little order to be discerned in this text, apart from a preponderance of excerpts concerning springs in the first half and pools in the second. There is no attempt at any geographical framework. Although many authorities are cited, it is clear that the author has not read the original works referred to (with the exception of Isigonos), but has merely pillaged existing collections of paradoxa. He cites Aristotle five times, but four of these actually stem from the περὶ θαυμασίων ἀκουσμάτων.

The work is superficially similar to collections such as those of Antigonus and many earlier authors - the material relates to natural or cultural phenomena, and ultimately stems from the sources cited. However, that material is lazily extracted from existing compilations rather than arduously excerpted from real works of science or scholarship; authorities are cited not to provide the equivalent of footnotes but to provide a suitable validation of what is related.

Authors cited by name: Amometus, Ariston, Aristotle, Hellanicus, Heracleides, Herodotus, Hieronymus, Isigonus, Ctesias, Phaethon(?), [Ps]-Aristotle, Pythermus, Theopompus.

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Paradoxographus Vaticanus (Date Unknown)

This work, again anonymous, contains 62 chapters of various sorts of marvels. As with the Par. Flor., there is good reason to doubt that the writer has actually consulted all the authors whom he cites. He draws heavily on Antigonus and also, in the ethnographic excerpts, on Nicolaus of Damascus, whom he does not once name. The material is ordered as follows:

1 - 10 Zoological excerpts.

11 – 13 Water marvels.

14 – 15 Metamorphoses of Daphne and of the maidens pursued by Boreas.

16 – 22 Water marvels.

23 A singing statue of Memnon.

24 – 29 Ethnographic curiosities.

30 Pherecydes’ foretelling of an earthquake.

31 - 32 Metamorphoses of Teiresias and Proteus.

33 - 35 Water marvels.

36 A 'Charonian' cave

37 – 38 Water marvels.

39 Geology of Sicily.

40 – 42 Ethnographic curiosities.

43 Alexander the Great.

44 – 62 Ethnographic curiosities.

This work cannot be dated with any accuracy at all, apart from the fact that it must be later than Nicolaus (b. c.64 BCE).

Authors cited by name: Acilius, Antigonus, Ariston, Aristotle, Dalion, Hagesias of Megara, Hellanicus, Heracleides, Polites, Polycleitus, Theopompus.

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Paradoxographus Palatinus (3rd Century CE?)

Like the preceding two texts, this work tends to use compilations rather than the ultimate named sources. It is composed as follows :

1 - 4 Zoological wonders.

5 - 7 Water marvels.

8 Petralogical curiosities.

9 Water marvel.

10 – 11 Zoological wonders.

12 Petralogical curiosities.

13 Water marvel.

14 Medicinal plant.

15 – 17 Water marvels.

18 Botanical curiosity.

19 Water marvel.

20 – 21 Zoological wonders.

Although the text cannot be dated securely, the citation of Athenaeus in Chapt. 18 provides a terminus post quem.

Authors cited by name: Aglaosthenes, Andronicus, Antigonus, Aristotle, Artemidorus, Athenaeus, Cato, Callimachus, Polycleitus, Theopompus, Timaeus.

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III. Works Surviving in Fragmentary Form

Callimachus (3rd Century BCE)

Among the many achievements of the great Alexandrian scholar was the compilation of a book of marvels, as far as we know the first example of the paradoxographical genre. The title of this work is uncertain, but it appears to have dealt largely with geographical wonders. Apart from a handful of citations, all that remains of his collection are the excerpts quoted by Antigonus, which chiefly concern rivers, springs and other waters. We can gain a fair idea of the sources used by Callimachus since they are preserved in Antiogonus’ excerption.

Authors cited by name: Amometus, Aristotle, Eudoxus, Heracleides, Ctesias, Lycus of Rhegium, Megasthenes, Nicagoras, Phanias, Philon, Pindar, Polycritus, Theophrastus, Theopompus, Timaeus, Xenophilus.

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Philostephanus (of Cyrene, 3rd Century BCE)

This pupil of Callimachus, represented by a mere handful of fragments – and even of these, some doubtful – wrote a work περὶ παραδόξων ποταμῶν (On Strange Rivers), as cited by Athenaeus. Tzetzes’ quotation of a two verses of Philostephanus concerning a marvellous pool in Sicily may place this author, as Westermann suggested, alongside Archelaus as one of those who “interpreted paradoxa for Ptolemy in epigrams.”

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Archelaus (of Egypt or Chersonnesus, 3rd Century BCE)

The surviving fragments indicate that Archelaus wrote about zoological curiosities, some at least in epigrammatical form (see above). The citations suggest two quite different titles, περὶ θαυμασίων (On Marvels) and ἰδιοφυῆ (Things of a Peculiar Nature); whether these refer to one or two works is unclear, although it would seem likely that the former consisted of epigrams while the latter was in prose.

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Another ἰδιοφυῆ (Things of a Peculiar Nature), appearing under the name of Orpheus and written in verse, may be contemporary with that of Archelaus. From the few citations, it would appear to have dealt with the medicinal properties of plants and animals.

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Bolus (of Mende, 3rd Century BCE?)

Mentioned in the Suda as having written περὶ θαυμασίων (On Marvels); from a citation by Stephanus of Byzantium, he seems to have written on curiosities of the plant world.

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Philon (of Heracleia, 3rd Century BCE)

Surviving in only four citations, Philon wrote about animal curiosities in a work (possibly two, if the περὶ παραδόχου ἱστορίας (On Inquiry into Strange Things) mentioned in the Suda is a separate text by the same author) entitled περὶ θαυμασίων (On Marvels).

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Myrsilus (of Lesbos, 3rd Century BCE)

The author of a local history (Λεσβιακά, Matters Concerning Lesbos), Myrsilus was the first writer, to our knowledge, to have dealt with curiosities from the human as well as the natural world. Although the Λεσβιακά was also used as a source by later compilers of paradoxa, including Antigonus, Athenaeus quotes (XIII, 610a) from a separate ίστορικὰ παράδοξα.

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Polemon ('Periegetes', 3rd – 2nd Century BCE)

Polemon wrote at least two works dealing with marvels, one most probably titled περὶ θαυμασίων (On Marvels), the other concerning marvellous waters and of uncertain title – περὶ τῶν ἐν Σικελίᾴ θαυμαζομένων ποταμῶν (On the Marvellous Rivers in Sicily) or περὶ τῶν ἐν Σικελίᾴ ποταμῶν (On the Rivers in Sicily) or simply περὶ ποταμῶν (On Rivers). One fragment, transmitted by Macrobius (Sat. V 19,26), contains a fuller account of the curious Pallikoi, Siceliote daimones associated with some volcanic springs, which is treated less expansively by Ps-Aristotle (M.A. 57) and extremely briefly by Antigonus (121, 159).

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Nymphodorus (of Syracuse, 3rd – 2nd Century BCE)

This author, in a work possibly titled περὶ τῶν ἐν Σικελίᾴ θαυμαζομένων (On the Marvels in Sicily), dealt with human and zoological wonders in Sicily. Two fragments may belong to further texts: one, transmitted by Aelian (XVI.34) concerns goats in Sardinia; the other, cited by Pliny (VII.16), concerns sorcerers in Africa.

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Agatharchides (of Cnidus, 2nd Century BCE)

The historical and geographical works of this noted Alexandrian scholar have largely been lost, apart from quotations from his text On the Red Sea in Diodorus and Photius. Also lost are his compilations(s) of marvels which, judging from the three surviving citations, concerned ethnographic curiosities. Photius (Bibl. cod.213) tells us that Agatharchides “arranged an epitome of †writings about marvellous winds† and excerpts of histories”.

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Lysimachus (of Alexandria, 2nd Century BCE)

Despite the title of his Θηβαικὰ παράδοξα (Theban Oddities), Lysimachus is not to be considered a paradoxographer proper, since his excerpts seem to have belonged to the realm of the mythological rather than the factual.

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Isigonus (of Nicaea, 2nd Century BCE?)

This author wrote at least two books of Ἄπιστα (Incredible Things), which included ethnographic and aquatic wonders – fragments of the latter are preserved in Paradoxographus Florentinus. Isigonus cannot be dated with any certainty; the only secure terminus ante quem is Pliny, who cites him several times in Book VII.

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Cicero (M. Tullius Cicero, 106 – 43 BCE)

It is not entirely clear whether Cicero wrote a separate paradoxographical Admiranda (Marvellous Things) or whether such material formed part of other works, such as the Chorographia cited by Priscian. The Admiranda is explicitly cited twice by Pliny in connexion with aquatic curiosities; Cicero is drawn on a further three times by Pliny and also by Columella for zoological and human wonders without any mention of a title.

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Varro (M. Terentius Varro, 116 – 27 BCE)

Among the 600-odd volumes written by “the most learned of Romans” was a paradoxographical work which, along with the bulk of Varro’s books, has survived only in very fragmentary form. The title would appear to have been Gallus Fundanius de admirandis, and the book to have belonged in the series of Logistorici. Its contents comprised various marvels of the natural and human worlds; surviving fragments deal with zoology, botany/medicine, waters and human achievements. It is probable that Varro’s text was freely drawn on by later writers including Vitruvius, Ovid, Pliny and Solinus.

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Nicolaus (of Damascus, b. 64 BCE)

Herod’s court historian, in addition to his major historical works and his biography of Augustus, wrote various literary, philosophical and scientific texts. Among these, he dedicated to his patron an ἐθῶν συναγωγή (Collection of Customs) cited incorrectly in fact but accurately enough in spirit by Photius as παραδόξων ἐθῶν συναγωγή, Collection of Strange Customs). Forty-seven fragments are preserved by Stobaeus as well as thirteen in the Paradoxographus Vaticanus. From the former, it can be surmised that Nicolaus followed a roughly geographical order in his work. He does not appear to give sources; some of his material is likely to be drawn from Ephorus, whom he used extensively for his universal history, and some may come from Aristotle’s νόμιμα βαρβαρικά (Customs of the Barbarians), but it is impossible to say for certain where he derived his material from.

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Monimus (Date unknown – pre 3rd Century CE)

Of Monimus, we know nothing other than the brief notice provided by Clement of Alexandria (who provides the terminus ante quem) and repeated by Cyril that he “relates in his θαμασίων συναγωγή (Collection of Marvels) that in Pella in Thessaly a man called Achaeus offers sacrifices to Peleus and Cheiron.”

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Alexander (of Myndus? Polyhistor? – pre mid-3rd Century CE)

Eight fragments remain of an author or authors of this name – sometimes named specifically as Alexander of Myndus, Alexander Polyhistor or Alexander Cornelius, sometimes without any further identification. A terminus ante quem is provided by the citations (of Alexander of Myndus) in Aelian; the fragments record natural and ethnographical curiosities. The organization of the work is beyond reconstruction, but as Photius tells us that “[h]is speech is clear and concise,” one may assume that its material was not presented in a merely haphazard fashion.

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Protagoras (the Geographer, date unknown – pre 5th Century CE)

Book 6 of Protagoras’ geographical work comprised an overview of curiosities throughout the world and was presumably similar to Alexander’s text, inasmuch as Photius treated of the two works at the same time. Photius tells us that Protagoras combined a use of older sources with autopsy. The terminus ante quem is provided by the citation of Protagoras by the 5th-century Marcianus of Heracleia.

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Damascius (5th/6th Century CE)

Damascius was the last successor of Plato at Athens and, according to Photius, wrote a paradoxographical work in four books as follows:

Bk I (352 chapters) Poetical paradoxa.

Bk II (52 chapters) Paradoxa concerning supernatural narratives.

Bk III (63 chapters) Souls who had appeared after death.

Bk IV (105 chapters) Paradoxa from the natural world.

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Agathosthenes (Date unknown)

From the four fragments remaining in the form of citations in other paradoxographical texts, it would appear that Agathosthenes’ work dealt primarily with aquatic marvels.

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Aristocles (Date unknown)

This author is adduced by Stobaeus for the tale of a beautiful women, Onoskelis, born of a Aristonymus of Ephesus and a she-ass. Two remaining citations purvey mythographical material. The story of Onoskelis, however, also appears in Ps.-Plutarch and the fragment is thus rejected by Ziegler as yet another spurious citation by that author; it is therefore possible that the paradoxographer Aristocles existed in the imagination rather than in reality.

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Sotion (Date unknown)

The work of Sotion is attested twice, by Photius and Tzetzes. Photius gives as either title or description “strange accounts made here and there about rivers, springs and lakes” and describes it as similar to Protagoras and Alexander, which suggests that the work encompassed more than merely aquatic curiosities. The citation by Tzetzes concerns Aornus, which Sotion and Agathosthenes had claimed to be a cave rather than a lake or a rock.

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IV. Other Authors

Solinus (C. Iulius Solinus, 2nd – 3rd Century CE)

Solinus, though not a true paradoxographer, deserves a brief mention since his epitome of Pliny privileges the marvellous rather than the scientific aspects of the NH.

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Pliny (C. Plinius Secundus, 23/24 – 79 CE)

Although this catalogue concerns writers of paradoxa, it is not entirely out of place to mention Pliny the Elder who, though not in any primary sense a paradoxographer, nonetheless leavens his purportedly dry and scientific encyclopaedia with a considerable admixture of the marvellous and curious. He also consciously recognizes and designates paradoxographical sections as such, and provides as it were mini-thaumasia throughout the Naturalis historia, marking them out in his table of contents by designations such as miraculae terrae motus (II.86), mirae magnitudines serpentium (VIII.14) and de fabulosis avibus (X.70). Books VII dealing with human biology, VII – XI (zoology) and XXXI (numerous water marvels) are particularly replete with paradoxographical material.

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V. Bibliography

Bibliographies of primary and secondary literature about or of relevance to paradoxography are available on our Zotero account. See also the Bibliography page of this site.

The bibliography can be viewed as a whole or via folders grouped into primary and secondary sources, and into material focusing on paradoxography itself and that dealing with related texts and contexts. A tag will bring up 'core' items: critical editions and translations of the paradoxographical texts themselves, along with the key secondary literature.

Updates to the Zotero library will be noted via one or all of blog, Twitter, and Facebook.

Although the paradoxographical texts have been collected in scholarly editions in the original Greek or Latin, the secondary literature on the texts themselves remains relatively sparse. However, their nature as compilations from and sources for a much wider range of factual literature means that there remains a considerable body of modern work that is of relevance to their study. Also, a number of non-paradoxographical primary texts are used as sources by the paradoxographical authors or show parallels with or use of paradoxography proper. Aristotle's History of Animals, for example, was a major source of striking facts about animals, while Pliny's Natural History often shows a paradoxographical streak in dealing with natural marvels. Apart from the subject-matter of the texts themselves, there are wider and more diffuse issues such as the purpose of (and audiences for) paradoxography, and its relation to cultural, social and literary contexts.