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Dictys Cretensis, (Dictys of Crete), alleged to have been of Knossus in Crete, was the legendary companion of Idomeneus during the Trojan War, and the purported author of a diary of its events, that deployed some of the same materials worked up by Homer for the Iliad. With the rise in credulity in Late Antiquity, the story of his journal, an amusing fiction addressed to a knowledgeable and sophisticated Alexandrian audience, came to be taken literally.

In the 4th century AD a certain Q. Septimius brought out Dictys Cretensis Ephemeris belli Trojani, ("Dictys of Crete, chronicle of the Trojan War") in six books, a work that professed to be a Latin translation of the Greek version. Its chief interest lies in the fact that, as knowledge of Greek waned and disappeared in Western Europe, this and Dares of Phrygia's De excidio Trojae were the sources from which the Homeric legends were transmitted to the Romance literature of the Middle Ages.

An elaborate frame story presented in the prologue to the Latin text details how the manuscript of this work, written in Phoenician characters on tablets of limewood or tree bark, survived: it was said to have been enclosed in a leaden box and buried with its author, according to his wishes.

"There it remained undisturbed for ages, when in the thirteenth year of Nero's reign, the sepulchre was burst open by a terrible earthquake, the coffer was exposed to view, and observed by some shep­herds, who, having ascertained that it did not, as they had at first hoped, contain a treasure, con­veyed it to their master Eupraxis (or Eupraxides), who in his turn presented it to Rutilius Rtifus, the Roman governor of the province, by whom both Eupraxis and the casket were despatched to the emperor. Nero, upon learning that the letters were Phoenician, summoned to his presence men skilled in that language, by whom the contents were explained. The whole having been trans­lated into Greek, was deposited in one of the pub­lic libraries, and Eupraxis was dismissed loaded with rewards." (Smith, Dictionary)

The Greek "name" Eupraxis simply means "right actions", a familiar goal in discussions of ethics, and an amusingly apt name for the finder.

The prologue is followed by a letter as if written by a Q. Septimius, Romanus, to a Q. Arcadius Rufus, in which the writer, giving a condensed version of the discovery tale, informs his friend that the volume having fallen into his hands, he had been induced, for his own amusement and the instruction of others, to convert it into Latin.

Smith adds, "We may add to this account, that the writers of the Byzantine period, such as Joannes Malelas, Constantinus Porphyrogenitus, Georgius Cedrenus, Constantinus Manasses, Joannes and Isaac Tzetzes, with others, quote largely from this Dictys as an author of the highest and most unquestionable authority, and he certainly was known as early as the age of Aeli"n

Modern scholars were not agreed whether any Greek original really existed; but all doubt on the point was removed by the discovery of a fragment in Greek amongst the Oxyrhyncus papyri found by Bernard Grenfel and Arthur Hunt in 1905-1906.

Links

Jose Angel Garcia Landa, "Homer in the Renaissance: the Troy Stories"

References

  • Best edition by F Meister (1873), with short but useful introduction and index of Latinity
  • G Korting, Diktys und Dares (1874), with concise bibliography
  • H Dunger, Die Sage vom trojanischen Kriege In den Bearbeitungen des Mittelalters und lhren antiken Quellen (1869, with a literary genealogical table)
  • E Collilieux, Étude sur Dictys de Crete et Dares de Phrygie (1887), with bibliography
  • W Greif, Die mittelalterlichen Bearbeitungen der Trojanersage, in EM Stengel's Ausgaben und Abhandlungen aus dem Gebiete der romanischen Philologie, No. 61 (1886, esp. sections 82, 83, 168-172)
  • F Colagrosso, Ditte Cretese in Atti della r. Accademia di Archeologia (Naples, 1897, vol. i8, pt. ii. 2)
  • F Noack, Der griechische Dictys, in Philologus, supp. vi. 403 ff.
  • NE Griffin, Dares and Dictys, Introduction to the Study of the Medieval Versions of the Story of Troy (1907).
  • Smith, Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology vol.1, pp 1002f [1]

This article incorporates text from the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica, which is in the public domain.

Dictys Cretensis, Britannica 11


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