Classics Eratosthenes of Cyrene
P. J. Finglass
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 February 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 February 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0330


Eratosthenes was one of the great scholars of Antiquity. Born in Cyrene in c. 285, he studied in Athens before becoming the third librarian at the great research institute founded by King Ptolemy I at Alexandria in Egypt. Rather than specializing in any one field, he produced scholarship in philology, geography, mathematics, philosophy, and chronography, as well as composed poetry. This breadth of learning was (remarkably) the subject of criticism: he was called “Beta” and the “Pentathlete,” which referred to being the second-best in every field. But his versatility did not preclude considerable achievement: most notably, he calculated the circumference of the earth and made other great intellectual advances in geography (where his influence on the later geographer Strabo was considerable) and literary criticism (where, for instance, he refused to believe that the places of Homer’s Odyssey could be mapped onto the actual Mediterranean world), as well as receiving praise for his poetry (from pseudo-Longinus). His works have not survived in full; the process of gathering and assessing his fragments is still ongoing.

Editions, Commentaries, Translations

There are no complete editions of the fragments of Eratosthenes. The most recent attempt at such a collection, Bernhardy 1822, is nearly two centuries old and now of little more than antiquarian use. Rosokoki 1995 provides a modern edition of the fragments of one of his poems, Erigone, but for other poetic fragments we must still refer to Powell 1925, supplemented by Lloyd-Jones and Parsons 1983 and Lloyd-Jones 2005. Geographical fragments are found in Berger 1880, philological fragments in Strecker 1884 and Bagordo 1998, chronographical ones in Jacoby 1929, Jacoby 1930, and Pownall 2009. (For the Catasterisms, ascribed in Antiquity to Eratosthenes but probably not by him, see Catasterisms.)

  • Bagordo, A. 1998. Die antiken Traktaten über das Drama. Mit einer Sammlung der Fragmente. Beiträge zur Altertumskunde 111. Stuttgart and Leipzig, Germany: Teubner.

    Contains collection of the relevant fragments (pp. 127–136) with a discussion (pp. 37–40).

  • Berger, H. 1880. Die geographischen Fragmente des Eratosthenes. Leipzig, Germany: B. G. Teubner.

    Edition with commentary on the geographical fragments. Reprinted in 1964.

  • Bernhardy, G. 1822. Eratosthenica. Berlin: G. Reimer.

    The sole attempt to collect Eratosthenes’s fragments; inevitably out of date. Reprinted in 1968.

  • Jacoby, F. 1929. Die Fragmente der Griechischen Historiker. Zweiter Teil. Zeitgeschichte. B. Spezialgeschichten, Autobiographien und Memoiren. Zeittafeln. Berlin: Weidmannsche Buchhandlung.

    Contains collection of Eratosthenes’s chronographical fragments (pp. 1010–1021, under the number §241).

  • Jacoby, F. 1930. Die Fragmente der Griechischen Historiker. Zweiter Teil. Zeitgeschichte. D. Kommentar zu Nr. 106–261. Berlin: Weidmannsche Buchhandlung.

    Contains commentary on Eratosthenes’s chronographical fragments (pp. 704–715), under the number §241).

  • Lloyd-Jones, H. 2005. Supplementum Supplementi Hellenistici. Texte und Kommentare 26. Berlin and New York: Walter de Gruyter.

    DOI: 10.1515/9783110896466

    Contains (pp. 48–49) a supplement to Lloyd-Jones and Parsons 1983.

  • Lloyd-Jones, H., and P. J. Parsons. 1983. Supplementum Hellenisticum. Texte und Kommentare 11. Berlin and New York: Walter de Gruyter.

    DOI: 10.1515/9783110837766

    Supplements (at pp. 183–186) the collection of Eratosthenes’s poetical fragments found in Powell 1925 with fragments discovered subsequently, including on papyrus.

  • Powell, J. U. 1925. Collectanea Alexandrina. Reliquiae minores poetarum graecorum aetatis Ptolemaicae, 323–146 A.C., epicorum, elegiacorum, lyricorum, ethicorum. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

    Contains an edition of the poetical fragments of Eratosthenes then known (pp. 58–68).

  • Pownall, F. 2009. Eratosthenes of Cyrene. In Brill’s New Jacoby. Edited by I. Worthington, §241. Brill.

    Edition of the chronographical fragments: Greek text without apparatus, translation, commentary.

  • Rosokoki, A. 1995. Die Erigone des Eratosthenes. Eine kommentierte Ausgabe der Fragmente. Bibliothek der klassischen Altertumswissenschaften n.F. 2. Reihe Band 94. Heidelberg, Germany: Universitätsverlag C. Winter.

    Detailed modern edition with commentary on the fragments of Erigone.

  • Strecker, C. 1884. De Lycophrone Euphronio Eratosthene comicorum interpretibus. Diss. Greifswald. Alternberg, Germany: Pierer’sche Hofbuchdruckerei.

    The most recent edition of Eratosthenes’s scholarly work on ancient comedy.

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