“Antiquitates” not by Varro?

This post is a little research parergon. I became interested in the question of the title “Antiquitates” for ancient works. As far as I can tell, there are three ancient books that are given this title: the most famous one by Varro (verified by contemporary references) and two less famous, by Diophantus of Sparta and the Latin work on biblical history transmitted along with the works of Philo (and so, conventionally, Pseudo-Philo). But are these latter two books really called Antiquitates?

For Diophantus, we are dependent on a single citation by Fulgentius the Mythographer (North African, probably 6th century CE). At the start of his Mythologiae (1.1), Fulgentius claims to cite Diophantus’ “fourteen books of Antiquitates” for a story about a certain Egyptian Syrophanes, who mistakenly created the first idol in his grief for a deceased son. In another of his works, the Explanation of Obsolete Words, Fulgentius refers to the same author’s de sacris deorum (fragments in FHG here. Jacoby did not include him in his FrGH). So, we are dependent on Fulgentius for our knowledge of these Antiquitates, which puts us in a difficult position. He is notorious for forging authorities and works – the most famous is the Facetiae (The Joke Book) of Tacitus – but he also gives good or plausible citations of a wide range of ancient texts. Which is the case for Diophantus? Without any external verification, we are in a tricky position. I suggest, though, that the name and the story might give us pause. Is the name – a compound of dios (Zeus) and phantos (visible) – rather too convenient to an author who relates a story about origins of idolatry? And is a story about a first idol that presents the setting up of the idol as a terrible mistake perhaps rather Christian?

The situation of Ps.-Philo, which is a Jewish Latin text of uncertain provenance that renarrates biblical history, is a little more confused. The ancient title of this work is not attested internally to the work and so we are dependent on manuscript evidence – a 14th century library catalogue from Fulda gives the title of Liber Antiquitatum (followed by the editio princeps). Elsewhere, however, many different titles are used for this book: de initio mundi, de successione generationis veteris testamenti (hardly the original), Genesis apocrifa (full list in Jacobson’s translation and commentary, p. 197-199). Jacobson suggests – with good reason – that the most likely ancient title was Historiae or Chronicon, but that the safest position is that we do not know what this text was called in antiquity.

In other words, there should be extreme doubts about the two non-Varronian ancient texts that are given the title Antiquitates. In fact, we should assume, I think, that the title was mostly likely exclusively Varronian. This has some small consequences for the history of ancient and late antique antiquarianism: if this title is only used of one work, it may not signal that work’s genre (or have even been taken to signal that work’s genre in later periods) as, say, Annales or Historiae seem to have done for ancient readers.

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