The 23 to 29 Apolloniuses of Classical Literature

By: | Post date: 2009-10-12 | Comments: 6 Comments
Posted in categories: Ancient Greek, Linguistics
Tags: , ,

I’m parking this posting here for lack of somewhere else to park it. (It’s not strictly language-related, but I’m realising philology posts are probably better pitched here than in The Other Place.)

In my day-job capacity, I’m posting on the fluidity of identity in repositories—how, particularly if you’re relying on computer deduplication of identity, there will always be some tentativeness about who is identified as the same person. Repositories have to deal with that tentativeness, rather than hardcoding identity. This is an issue Wikipedia often comes up against, having to split off one article subject from another.

And I was reminded of the morass of Apolloniuses in Classical literature, particularly among medical authors. There are no less than potentially 13 medical authors we know of called Apollonius, according to the TLG Canon of Greek Authors and Works (3rd ed.). Potentially 13, potentially just 9; f.i.q. “possibly the same person as”, appears several times in the listing:

(Note: links are to the Catalan Wikipedia.)

Our problem in working out who is who is that almost all of them are cited in passing in other medical authors, so we have very little to go on. The Online TLG Canon only represents works published under a distinct author’s name, even if only as Testimonia. So it only refers to two of them, Of Citium and Mys. The other 11 authors also have Testimonia, in Galen and Oribasius and Alexander of Tralles and Aëtius, but they haven’t been published independently.

So the 2009 Online Canon has more limited coverage of types of author than the 1990 Print Canon (though a longer time range). The Print Canon includes all ancient authors we know about. The Online Canon only includes those authors with texts represented in the corpus, and that is determined by an editor publishing text under that author’s name. So if an Apollonius has been cited in Galen, and an editor publishes that citation as a Fragment of Apollonius, Apollonius will have an entry in the Online Canon, and will link to the published text in the corpus. If we only have secondary source material on the Apollonius from Galen, and an editor publishes that material as Testimonia on Apollonius, the Online Canon will still have an entry, because the point of the author entry is to navigate the corpus.

If OTOH an editor has never combed Galen for Apollonius, the Print Canon will still mention the Apollonius as cited in Galen (as a cross-reference), but the Online Canon will not have an entry for him, because it doesn’t have a discrete text for him. That places the Online Canon notion of authors at the mercy of their editorial history; but the Online Canon is documenting edited texts.

The 9–13 medical Apolloniuses in the TLG Canon are joined there by 16 other Apolloniuses in Ancient literature:

The English Wikipedia knows of 16 non-medical Apolloniuses (but five of them are not in the list above), and no less than 21 physicians called Apollonius, since they’re not restricted to medical authors. And Wikipedia is just as aware of the f.i.q. issue. The German Wikipedia’s list has 24 Apolloniuses, and they don’t seem to overlap completely with the English list. The Catalan Wikipedia’s list wins, with 18 medical and 39 non-medical Apolloniuses. And its list is even less clean.

Even adding in places of birth, nicknames, and the genres they wrote in, there is difficulty in differentiating these Apolloniuses. If we had enough metadata on them, after all, instead of passing mentions in Galen, we wouldn’t be seeing all those f.i.q. For 0741 Apollonius and 0739 Apollonius, we’re reduced to distinguishing them by who else they might be confused with. And the medical Apolloniuses may all be obscure (only Of Citium gets his own English Wikipedia page); but the other Apolloniuses include a major Late Epic poet (0001), the founder of Western grammar (0082), a major figure in Roman religious history (0619), a primary source in Homeric scholarship (1168), and an important contributor to the development of 3D geometry (0550). If it wasn’t for places of birth and nicknames, we would not know who we were talking about.

Things are slightly better now with the invention of surnames, and recording years of birth in the Library of Congress record. But only slightly: confusion is certainly still possible. There is now a profusion of identities that people write under in cyberspace; if anything, that’s now making things even worse. But that’s a topic for my day-job blog


  • opoudjis says:

    The day job post; it was only ever going to be an incidental mention…

  • opoudjis says: is indeed forwarding to the wrong place, and I'm afraid I can't fix it. The current addresses to reach me at are available, however.

    Dunno if this is Anti-Greek or Un-Greek; it probably merits a glancing post here though…

  • John Cowan says:

    OT: Nick, is your opoudjis at opoudjis dot net mail address not working (forwarding to the wrong place er sumpn)?

    Also OT, but not quite so much (to be added someday to the discussion of Anti-Greek at your Greek Unicode pages):


    Θις κομπλιμεντ, γρεατ σιρ, ο τακε,
    Υρε α βρικ, ανδ νο μιστακε.
    Ενεμι το καντ ανδ φυδγε,
    Τιμε το θεε Ι νε’ερ βεγρυδγε.
    Ανδ Ι ωπε το σεε υρε ναμε
    Φωρεμοστ ιν θε λιστς οφ φαμε.

    – Τομ Σμιθ, Γρυβ Στρεετ

  • π2 says:

    My point on the banality of the name was that it affects our attitude in associating or dissociating references to one or more persons.

    When there are references to one or more authors with the same rare name, there is a natural tendency to merge these references into a single profile, provided that no source explicitly disallows the merge: thus, Kerkidas the law-giver, Kerkidas the statesman, Kerkidas the poet, and Kerkidas the philosopher are often considered to be one and the same Kerkidas (in fact, there is reason to believe that this is incorrect, but that's another story). When, on the other hand, there are references to "Apollonios the writer", the fact that Apollonios is such a common name usually dictates prudence: the natural tendency is to dissociate two Apolloniuses that would probably be associated if named Kerkidas.

  • opoudjis says:

    (Mpf, I thought I had posted a response…)

    No, it doesn't help. I'm curious: does the naming of doctors after Apollo mean doctors changed their names when they took on the profession—or even that the name was a kind of professional alias? Or that being a doctor was hereditary, so doctors could make a fair guess what their sons' profession would be?

    Thank you for checking at LGPN; had not even occurred me, because I was drawing a parallel with authors in a repository, rather than the more general problem of names in a phonebook. I have not posted that article on my day job blog yet. In fact, I didn't even get to finish it tonight; it'll be up some time next week.

  • π2 says:

    The fact that there are at least 3080 known Apolloniuses, and the fact that names deriving from the names of the gods of the trade (Asklepios and Apollo) are extremely common for ancient doctors do not help either, do they? 🙂

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