Hellanicus of Mytilene

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A fragmenty of Atlantis by Hellanicus (Papyrus Oxyrhyncus 1084, early 2nd century).

Hellanicus of Lesbos (Greek: Ἑλλάνικος ὁ Λέσβιος) was an ancient Greek logographer who flourished during the latter half of the 5th century BC. He was born in Mytilene on the isle of Lesbos in 490 BC and is reputed to have lived to the age of 85. According to the Suda, he lived for some time at the court of one of the kings of Macedon, and died at Perperene, a city in Aeolis on the plateau of Kozak near Pergamon, opposite Lesbos.

His work includes the first mention of the legendary founding of Rome by the Trojans; he writes that the city was founded by Aeneas when accompanying Odysseus on his travels through Latium. However, he supported the idea that an incoming group of Pelasgians lay behind the origins of the Etruscans.

Some thirty works are attributed to him—chronological, historical and episodical. Mention may be made of:

  • The Priestesses of Hera at Argon: a chronological compilation, arranged according to the order of succession of these functionaries
  • The Carneonikae: a list of the victors in the Carnean games (the chief Spartan musical festival), including notices of literary events
  • An Atthis, giving the history of Attica from 683 BC to the end of the Peloponnesian War (404 BC), which is referred to by Thucydides (1.97), who says that he treated the events of the years 480 BC to 431 BC briefly and superficially, and with little regard to chronological sequence
  • Phoronis: chiefly genealogical, with short notices of events from the times of Phoroneus, primordial king in Peloponnesus.
  • Troica and Persica: histories of Troy and Persia.

Hellanicus authored works of chronology, geography, and history, particularly concerning Attica, in which he made a distinction between what he saw as Greek mythology from history. His influence on the historiography of Athens was considerable, lasting until the time of Eratosthenes (3rd century BC).

He transcended the narrow local limits of the older logographers, and was not content to merely repeat the traditions that had gained general acceptance through the poets. He tried to record the traditions as they were locally current, and availed himself of the few national or priestly registers that presented something like contemporary registration.

He endeavoured to lay the foundations of a scientific chronology, based primarily on the list of the Argive priestesses of Hera, and secondarily on genealogies, lists of magistrates (e.g. the archons at Athens), and Oriental dates, in place of the old reckoning by generations. But his materials were insufficient and he often had to seek recourse to the older methods.

On account of his deviations from common tradition, Hellanicus is often called an untrustworthy writer by the ancients themselves, and it is a curious fact that he appears to have made no systematic use of the many inscriptions which were ready to hand. Dionysius of Halicarnassus censures him for arranging his history, not according to the natural connection of events, but according to the locality or the nation he was describing; and undoubtedly he never, like his contemporary Herodotus, rose to the conception of a single current of events wider than the local distinction of race. His style, like that of the older logographers, was dry and bald.

He also wrote a work (mostly lost[1]) entitled Atlantis[2] (or Atlantias), about the daughter of the Titan Atlas.[3] Some of his text may have come from an epic poem which Carl Robert called Atlantis,[4] a fragment of which may be Oxyrhynchus Papyri 11, 1359.[5]


  1. ^ Mure, William. A Critical History of the Language and Literature of Ancient Greece. Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans, 1853, pp. 227-228.
  2. ^ "Atlantis" (Ἀτλαντίς) also means the daughter of Atlas in ancient Greek. See Ἀτλαντικός. Liddell, Henry George; Scott, Robert; A Greek–English Lexicon at the Perseus Project; also Hesiod, Theogony 938.
  3. ^ Three short fragments of that work have been assembled by Robert Louis Fowler (2000), Early Greek Mythography, Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 161-162.
  4. ^ "The following papyrus, 1359, which Grenfell and Hunt identified as also from the Catalogue, is regarded by C. ROBERT as part of a separate epic, which he calls Atlantis'." Bell, H. Idris "Bibliography: Graeco-Roman Egypt A. Papyri (1915-1919)", The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, Vol. 6, No. 2 (Apr., 1920), pp. 119-146.
  5. ^ P.Oxy. 1359. See Carl Robert (1917): "Eine epische Atlantias", Hermes, Vol. 52, No. 3 (Jul., 1917), pp. 477-79.

Further reading[edit]

  • G. Ottone, L'Attike xyngraphe di Ellanico di Lesbo. Una Lokalgeschichte in prospettiva eccentrica. In C. Bearzot - F. Landucci (a cura di), Storie di Atene, storia dei Greci. Studi e ricerche di attidografia, Milano 2010, pp. 53-111 ISBN 978-88-343-1950-5.