Aristophanes of Byzantium

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Aristophanes of Byzantium
Bornc. 257 BC
Diedc. 185/180 BC
(modern-day Egypt)

Aristophanes of Byzantium (Greek: Ἀριστοφάνης ὁ Βυζάντιος Aristophánēs ho Buzántios; c. 257 – c. 185/180 BC) was a Hellenistic Greek scholar, critic and grammarian, particularly renowned for his work in Homeric scholarship, but also for work on other classical authors such as Pindar and Hesiod. Born in Byzantium c. 257 BC, he soon moved to Alexandria and studied under Zenodotus, Callimachus, and Dionysius Iambus. He succeeded Eratosthenes as head librarian of the Library of Alexandria at the age of sixty. He died in Alexandria c. 185–180 BC. His students included Callistratus, Aristarchus of Samothrace, and perhaps Agallis. He would be succeeded by Apollonius "The Classifier"; not to be confused with Apollonius of Rhodes, a previous head librarian of Alexandria.[1] Aristophanes' pupil, Aristarchus of Samothrace, would be the sixth head librarian at the Library of Alexandria.[2]


Aristophanes was the first to deny that the "Precepts of Chiron" was the work of Hesiod.[3]


Accent system[edit]

Aristophanes is credited with reducing the accents used in Greek to designate pronunciation to a definite accent system,[4] as the tonal, pitched system of archaic and Classical Greek was giving way (or had given way) to the stress-based system of Koine. This was also a period when Greek, in the wake of Alexander's conquests, was beginning to act as a lingua franca for the Eastern Mediterranean (replacing various Semitic languages). The accents were designed to assist in the pronunciation of Greek in older literary works.


He also invented one of the first forms of punctuation in c. 200 BC; single dots (théseis, Latin distinctiones) that separated verses (colometry), and indicated the amount of breath needed to complete each fragment of text when reading aloud (not to comply with rules of grammar, which were not applied to punctuation marks until centuries later). For a short passage (a komma), a stigmḕ mésē dot was placed mid-level (·). This is the origin of the modern comma punctuation mark, and its name. For a longer passage (a kolon), a hypostigmḗ dot was placed level with the bottom of the text (.), similar to a modern colon or semicolon, and for very long pauses (periodos), a stigmḕ teleía point near the top of the line of text (·).[5][6][7] He used a symbol resembling a for an obelus.


As a lexicographer he compiled collections of archaic and unusual words. Aristophanes chiefly devoted himself to the poets (especially Homer) who had already been edited by his master Zenodotus. He also edited Hesiod, the chief lyric, tragic and comic poets, arranged Plato's dialogues in trilogies, and abridged Aristotle's Nature of Animals. His arguments to the plays of Aristophanes and the tragedians are in great part preserved. As a lexicographer, Aristophanes compiled collections of foreign and unusual words and expressions, and special lists (words denoting relationship, modes of address).[8] He also wrote a whole book on the proverbial moaning stick of Archilochus, but the one surviving fragment from this pertains to shellfish.[9]

Surviving works[edit]

All that has survived of Aristophanes of Byzantium's voluminous writings are a few fragments preserved through quotation in the literary commentaries, or scholia, of later writers, several argumenta to works of Greek drama, and part of a glossary.[10] The most recent edition of the extant fragments was edited by William J. Slater.[11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Montanari, Franco; Matthaios, Stefanos; Rengakos, Antonios (2015). Brill's Companion to Ancient Greek Scholarship (2 Vols.). BRILL. pp. 100–101. ISBN 9789004281929.
  2. ^ Probert, Philomen (2006). "Evidence for the Greek Accent". Ancient Greek Accentuation: Synchronic Patterns, Frequency Effects, and Prehistory. Oxford University Press. pp. 15–52. doi:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199279609.003.0002. ISBN 0199279608.
  3. ^ H. G. Evelyn-White, tr. Hesiod II: The Homeric Hymns and Homerica (Loeb Classical Library 503), 2nd ed. 1936 fr. 4.
  4. ^ Sandys, John Edwin (1903). A history of classical scholarship: From the sixth century B. C. to the end of the middle ages. London: C. J. Clay and Sons.
  5. ^ Reading Before Punctuation Archived September 2, 2006, at the Wayback MachineIntroduction to Latin Literature handout, Haverford College
  6. ^ "A History Of Punctuation". Archived from the original on March 8, 2005. Retrieved Mar 26, 2023.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  7. ^ Bliss, Robert. "Points to Ponder". Software Technology Support Center. Archived from the original on 28 November 2002. Retrieved 18 April 2013.
  8. ^ Chisholm 1911, p. 501.
  9. ^ Slater, William J. (1982). "Aristophanes of Byzantium and Problem-Solving in the Museum". The Classical Quarterly. 32 (2): 336–349. doi:10.1017/S0009838800026525. JSTOR 638574. S2CID 170427105.
  10. ^ Beach, Frederick Converse (1912). The Americana: A Universal Reference Library. Vol. 2. New York City, New York: Scientific American Compiling Department. Retrieved 21 July 2017.
  11. ^ Aristophanis Byzantii fragmenta, Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1986.

General sources[edit]

External links[edit]

Preceded by Head of the Library of Alexandria Succeeded by