Zenodotus (Ancient Greek: Ζηνόδοτος) was a Greek grammarian, literary critic, and Homeric scholar. A native of Ephesus and a pupil of Philitas of Cos, he was the first librarian of the Library of Alexandria. He lived during the reigns of the first two Ptolemies, and was at the height of his reputation about 280 BC.
Zenodotus was the first superintendent of the Library of Alexandria and the first critical editor (διορθωτής diorthōtes) of Homer. His colleagues in the librarianship were Alexander of Aetolia and Lycophron of Chalcis, to whom were allotted the tragic and comic writers respectively, Homer and other epic poets being assigned to Zenodotus.
Although he has been reproached with arbitrariness and an insufficient knowledge of Greek, his recension undoubtedly laid a sound foundation for future criticism. Having collated the different manuscripts in the library, he expunged or obelized doubtful verses, transposed or altered lines, and introduced new readings. It is probable that he was responsible for the division of the Homeric poems into twenty-four books each (using capital Greek letters for the Iliad, and lower-case for the Odyssey), and possibly was the author of the calculation of the days of the Iliad in the Tabula Iliaca.
He does not appear to have written any regular commentary on Homer, but his Homeric γλῶσσαι (glōssai, "lists of unusual words, glosses") probably formed the source of the explanations of Homer attributed by the grammarians to Zenodotus. He also lectured upon Hesiod, Anacreon and Pindar, if he did not publish editions of them. He is further called an epic poet by the Suda, and three epigrams in the Greek Anthology are assigned to him.
In addition to his other scholarly work, Zenodotus introduced an organization system on the materials in the Library of Alexandria whereby texts were assigned to different rooms based on their subject matter. Within their subjects, Zenodotus organized the works alphabetically by the first letter of the name of their author. The principle of alphabetic organization, so unremarkable in modern days, was introduced by Zenodotus. In addition, library staff attached a small tag to the end of each scroll which contained information on each work’s author, title, and subject so that materials could be easily returned to the area in which they had been classified, but also so that library users did not have to unroll each scroll in order to see what it contained. Obvious and unimpressive though it may seem to those accustomed to modern libraries, this was the first recorded use of metadata, a landmark in library history.
There appear to have been at least two other grammarians of the same name:
- Zenodotus of Alexandria, surnamed ὁ ἐν ἄστει (ho en astei, "the one from the city", i.e. Alexandria)
- Zenodotus of Mallus, the disciple of Crates, who like his master attacked Aristarchus of Samothrace
- Phillips, Heather A., "The Great Library of Alexandria?". Library Philosophy and Practice, August 2010
- R. Pfeiffer (1968), History of Classical Scholarship (Oxford), pp. 105–22
- L.D. Reynolds and N.G. Wilson (1991), Scribes and Scholars (3rd edition, Oxford), pp. 8–12
|New title||Head of the Library of Alexandria||Succeeded by
Apollonius of Rhodes