Classics Apollodorus
Stephen M. Trzaskoma
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 November 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 November 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0290


Apollodorus’s Bibliotheca is the most important extant mythographical work from antiquity, because of both its comprehensive organizational structure and high quality. Its value is demonstrated in modern times by its use as a source for modern scholarship and handbooks as well by the frequency with which it has been translated into English and other languages. Its date is unclear, though it is certainly early imperial (most likely late 1st to 2nd century). The author, otherwise unknown to us, is often called Ps.-Apollodorus to distinguish him from the 2nd-century BCE Apollodorus of Athens, author of a lengthy work of mythography and theology that does not survive called On the Gods, to whom our work was earlier attributed. Rather than representing a cultural consensus, the Bibliotheca presents one particular attempt to present a unified and coherent account of Greek mythology from the primeval reign of Uranus and Gaea to the death of Odysseus. Interpretation of myth is essentially absent from the narrative. The organizing principles of the account are, above all, genealogy, followed by chronology and geography. Lineages are, wherever possible, traced from main junctures directly downward, with the narrative moving back to those junctures to follow other branches forward through time. Geography becomes increasingly prominent as genealogical connections become difficult to manage and also in order to conclude with the events of the Trojan War and its immediate aftermath. Differing mythological variants are mentioned in several places in the Bibliotheca, sometimes with source citations, but the narrative generally follows one main line or possibility and usually avoids incompatible accounts where possible or ignores those that do arise. The text is transmitted mostly intact but the last portion (from the middle of the account of Theseus onward) is preserved only in two overlapping but not coextensive Byzantine epitomes. In the 19th and 20th centuries the Bibliotheca was seen primarily as a source for mythological data and as a result an intense amount of interest was devoted to the question of Apollodorus’s sources—their age, quality, and nature—and his method of working with them—whether directly with literary sources or with mythographical intermediaries or both. Such analyses continue but have been joined by studies that seek to treat the work as an interesting example of organization of knowledge during the imperial period, as a book with an intended purpose to stake out ground in the process of identity formation and in other ways.

General Overviews

Since there are no recent monographs or other extensive treatments of Apollodorus, for overviews we generally have recourse to broad discussions of mythography that happen to give some attention to Apollodorus (Alganza Roldán 2006, Cameron 2004, Esteban Santos 2003, Higbie 2007, Pellizer 1993). Two older studies (Schwartz 1894 and van der Valk 1958) thus retain their status as valuable starting points. However, many of the best and most up-to-date introductions to the Bibliotheca are actually to be found prefacing the translations in Translations into English and Translations into Other Languages.

  • Alganza Roldán, Minerva. 2006. La mitografía como género de la prosa helenística: Cuestiones previas. Florentia Iliberritana 17:9–37.

    Surveys evolving scholarly conceptions of mythography and major developments. While Apollodorus is not a central topic of discussion, this article helps to contextualize the Bibliotheca.

  • Cameron, Alan. 2004. Greek mythography in the Roman world. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    The most wide-ranging monograph on mythography in the ancient world. Describes the intellectual milieu in which the Bibliotheca was produced.

  • Esteban Santos, Alicia. 2003. Erudición, Mito y Sentimiento. In Mitos en la literatura Griega Helenística e imperial. Edited by J. A. López Férez, 491–530. Madrid: Ediciones Clásicas.

    A very broad introduction to mythography with a section devoted to Apollodorus as a representative of the genre and a more detailed examination of the myth of Perseus in the Bibliotheca. On Apollodorus, pp. 500–506 and 513–514.

  • Higbie, Carolyn. 2007. Hellenistic mythographers. In The Cambridge companion to Greek mythology. Edited by Roger D. Woodard, 237–254. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1017/CCOL9780521845205.008

    An overview of Hellenistic and early Imperial mythographers with a section on Apollodorus, pp. 243–245.

  • Pellizer, Ezio. 1993. La mitografia. In Lo spazio letterario della Grecia antica. Vol. 1, La produzione e la circolazione del testo. Edited by G. Cambiano, L. Canfora, and D. Lanza, 283–303. Rome: Salerno.

    Usefully helps to contextualize the Bibliotheca in wider trends of mythographical writing, with interesting remarks on Apollodorus’s sources.

  • Schwartz, Eduard. 1894. Apollodorus, #61. In Paulys Realencyclopädie der classischen Altertumswissenschaft. Vol. 1.2. Edited by A. F. von Pauly and Georg Wissowa, cols. 2855–2886. Stuttgart: J. B. Metzler.

    Treatment of author, date, and sources. Dated but not entirely outdated.

  • van der Valk, Marchinus. 1958. On Apollodori Bibliotheca. Revue des études grecques 71:100–168.

    DOI: 10.3406/reg.1958.3538

    Even half a century later, still a fine general treatment of the Bibliotheca, giving an overview of a variety of important topics: authorship, sources, purpose, audience, and relation to other surviving mythographical works (especially the Homeric scholia).

  • Wendel, Carl. 1935. Mythographie. In Paulys Realencyclopädie der classischen Altertumswissenschaft. Vol. 16. Edited by A. F. von Pauly and Georg Wissowa, cols. 1352–1374. Stuttgart: J. B. Metzler.

    A good overview of mythography and the connections between mythographical writers who sought to present myth systematically. On Apollodorus, cols. 1365–1366.

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