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Dionysius of Halicarnassus

Dionysius of Halicarnassus (Greek: Διονύσιος Ἀλεξάνδρου Ἁλικαρνᾱσσεύς "Dionysios son of Alexandros of Halikarnassos"; c. 60 BC – after 7 BC) was a Greek historian and teacher of rhetoric, who flourished during the reign of Caesar Augustus. His literary style was Atticistic — imitating Classical Attic Greek in its prime.


He went to Rome after the termination of the civil wars, and spent twenty-two years studying Latin and literature and preparing materials for his history. During this period, he gave lessons in rhetoric, and enjoyed the society of many distinguished men. The date of his death is unknown. In the 19th century, it was commonly supposed that he was the ancestor of Aelius Dionysius of Halicarnassus.[1]


His great work, entitled Ῥωμαϊκὴ Ἀρχαιολογία (Rhōmaikē archaiologia, Roman Antiquities), embraced the history of Rome from the mythical period to the beginning of the First Punic War. It was divided into twenty books, of which the first nine remain entire, the tenth and eleventh are nearly complete, and the remaining books exist in fragments in the excerpts of Constantine Porphyrogenitus and an epitome discovered by Angelo Mai in a Milan manuscript. The first three books of Appian, Plutarch's Life of Camillus and Life of Coriolanus also embody much of Dionysius.

His chief object was to reconcile the Greeks to the rule of Rome, by dilating upon the good qualities of their conquerors and also by arguing, using more ancient sources, that the Romans were genuine descendants of the older Greeks.[2][3] According to him, history is philosophy teaching by examples, and this idea he has carried out from the point of view of the Greek rhetorician. But he carefully consulted the best authorities, and his work and that of Livy are the only connected and detailed extant accounts of early Roman history.

Dionysius was also the author of several rhetorical treatises, in which he shows that he has thoroughly studied the best Attic models:

  • The Art of Rhetoric (Τέχνη ῥητορική Téchne rhētorikē, De compositione verborum), which is rather a collection of essays on the theory of rhetoric, incomplete, and certainly not all his work;
  • The Arrangement of Words (Περὶ συνθέσεως ὀνομάτων Perì synthéseōs onomátōn), treating of the combination of words according to the different styles of oratory;
  • On Imitation (Περὶ μιμήσεως Perì mimēseōs), on the best models in the different kinds of literature and the way in which they are to be imitated—a fragmentary work;
  • Commentaries on the Attic Orators (Περὶ τῶν Ἀττικῶν ῥητόρων Perì tôn Attikôn rhētórōn), which, however, only deal with Lysias, Isaeus, Isocrates and (by way of supplement) Dinarchus;
  • On the Admirable Style of Demosthenes (Περὶ λεκτικῆς Δημοσθένους δεινότητος Perì lektikês Dēmosthénous deinótētos); and
  • On the Character of Thucydides (Περὶ Θουκυδίδου χαρακτῆρος Perì Thoukydídou charaktêros).

The last two treatises are supplemented by letters to Gn. Pompeius and Ammaeus (two).

Dionysian imitatio[edit]

Main article: Dionysian imitatio

Dionysian imitatio is the literary method of imitation as formulated by Dionysius, who conceived it as the rhetorical practice of emulating, adapting, reworking, and enriching a source text by an earlier author.[4][5]

Dionysius' concept marked a significant departure from the concept of mimesis formulated by Aristotle in the 4th century BC, which was only concerned with "imitation of nature" and not "imitation of other authors."[4] Latin orators and rhetoricians adopted Dionysius' method of imitatio and discarded Aristotle's mimesis.[4]



  1. ^ Schmitz, Leonhard (1867), "Dionysius, Aelius", in Smith, William, Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology 1, Boston, p. 1037 
  2. ^ Dionysius of Halicarnassus. "The Roman Antiquities (Loeb Classical Library edition, 1937), Book 1, 11". Penelope, University of Chicago. Retrieved January 12, 2013. 
  3. ^ E. Gabba, Dionysius and the History of Archaic Rome (Berkeley 1991)
  4. ^ a b c Ruthven (1979) pp. 103–4
  5. ^ Jansen (2008)


Further reading[edit]

A full bibliography of the rhetorical works is given in W. Rhys Roberts's edition of the Three Literary Letters (1901); the same author published an edition of the De compositione verborum (1910, with trans.).

  • Maximilien Egger, Denys d'Halicarnasse (1902).
  • Otto Bocksch, "De fontibus Dion. Halicarnassensis" in Leipziger Studien, xvii. (1895). Cf. also J. E. Sandys, History of Classical Scholarship i. (1906).
  • Casper Constantijn de Jonge, Between grammar and rhetoric: Dionysius of Halicarnassus on language, linguistics and literature Leiden: Brill (2008).

External links[edit]

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