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Dicaearchus of Messana (Greek: Δικαίαρχος, Dikaiarkhos; c.
350 – c. 285 BC; also written Dicearchus,
Dicearch, Diceärchus, or
Diceärch) was a Greek philosopher, cartographer, geographer, mathematician and
author. Dicaearchus was Aristotle's student in the
Lyceum. Very little of his
work remains extant. He wrote on the history and geography of Greece, of which his most important work was his
Life of Greece. He made important contributions to the
field of cartography, where he was among the first
to use geographical coordinates.
He also wrote books on philosophy and politics.
He was the son of one Pheidias, and born at Messana in Sicily, though he passed the greater part of his
life in Greece, and especially
in Peloponnesus. He was a disciple of Aristotle, and a
friend of Theophrastus, to whom he dedicated some of
his writings. He died about 285 BC.
Dicaearchus was highly esteemed by the ancients as a philosopher
and as a man of most extensive information upon a great variety of
work is known only from the many fragmentary quotations of later
writers. His works were geographical, political or historical,
philosophical, and mathematical; but it is difficult to draw up an
accurate list of them, since many which are quoted as distinct
works appear to have been only sections of greater ones. The
fragments extant, moreover, do not always enable us to form a clear
notion of the works to which they once belonged. The geographical
works of Dicaearchus were, according to Strabo,
criticised in many respects by Polybius; and Strabo himself is
dissatisfied with his descriptions of western and northern Europe, where Dicaearchus had
Among his geographical works may be mentioned:
- Life of Greece (Greek: Βίος Ἑλλάδος) - The Bios Hellados, in
three books is
Dicaearchus’ most famous work. In the mid 1st century BC it
inspired Jason of
Nysa’s Bios Hellados and Varro's De Vita Populi
Romani. It exists in only 24 fragments, but he
apparently attempted to write a biography of the Greek nation from
earliest times to the reign of Philip II. The most famous
passages are those cited by Varro and Porphyry which
suggest a dualistic view of progress. For example, the invention of
agriculture alleviates hunger through the creation of surplus, but
surplus in turn proves to be an incitement to greed which leads to
war. Every human advance solves one problem but also engenders
another. Passages which detailed human institutions and their
history suggest he thought these could arrest decline. For example,
his definition of country (Greek: πάτρα), family (Greek: φρατρία), and tribe (Greek: φυλή), is about the right ordering
of human relations within the polis.
Dicaearchus apparently explained the saying, "sharing stops
choking", as a reference to how humans learned to distribute
surplus fairly. Many
fragments are interested in the origins of the music and culture of
is in contrast to the debased symposiastic Greek culture of which
he complains in some of his other works. His
interest in defining Greek culture in its heyday is thus partly
polemical: he wishes to attack current fashions in music by
reminding his readership of their original forms. The link between
political decline and cultural debasement (as they saw it) was also
made by his fellow Peripatetic and friend Aristoxenus. In a
celebrated passage, he compared the introduction of the ‘New Music’
into Greek theatres to the barbarization of the Poseidoniates in the Bay of Naples.
- Circuit of the Earth (Greek: Γῆς περίοδος) -
This work was probably the text written in explanation of the
geographical maps which Dicaearchus had constructed and given to
Theophrastus, and which seem to have comprised the whole world, as
far as it was then known.
- Description of Greece (Greek: Ἀναγραφὴ τῆς Ἑλλάδος) - A work of
this title dedicated to Theophrastus, and consisting of 150 iambic
verses, is still extant under the name of Dicaearchus; but its form
and spirit are both unworthy of Dicaearchus, and it is in all
probability the production of a much later writer, who made a
metrical paraphrase of the portion of the Circuit of the
Earth which referred to Greece.
- On the heights of mountains - A
work which may have been part of his Circuit of the Earth.
It was the earliest known attempt to measure the heights of various
mountains by triangulation.
- Descent into (the Cave of) Trophonius (Greek: Ἡ εἰς Τροφωνίου κατάϐασις) - A work
which consisted of several books, and, as we may infer from the
fragments quoted from it, contained an account of the degenerate
and licentious proceedings of the priests in the cave of Trophonius.
- Some other works, such as Spartan Constitution
(Greek: Πολιτεία Σπαρτιατῶν),
Olympic Dialogue (Greek: Ὀλυμπικὸς ἀγών),
Panathenaic Dialogue (Greek: Παναθηναικός), and
several others, seem to have been merely chapters of the Life
Of a political nature was:
- Three-city Dialogue (Tripolitikos -
Greek: Τριπολιτικός) - A
work which has been the subject of much dispute. It was probably a
study of comparative government. Following Aristotle, Dicaearchus divided all
governments into three categories: the democratic, aristocratic, and monarchical, He
advocated a "mixed" government, echoing the Spartan system, in
which elements of all three categories play a part. This may have
been an inspiration for Cicero's De
Among his philosophical works may be mentioned:
- Lesbian Books (Greek: Λεσϐιακοί) - In three books, which derived its
name from the fact that the scene of the philosophical dialogue was
laid at Mytilene in Lesbos. In it Dicaearchus
endeavoured to prove that the soul was mortal.
speaking of a work On the Soul, probably means this
- Corinthian Dialogue (Greek: Κορινθιακοί) - In three books, was a sort of
supplement to the Lesbiakoi. It is
probably the same work as the one which Cicero, in another
On Human Destruction (Latin: de Interitu Hominum).
A work On the Sacrifice at Illium (Greek: περὶ τῆς ἐν Ἰλίῳ ϑυσίας) seems
to have referred to the sacrifice which Alexander
the Great performed at Illium.
There are lastly some other works which are of a grammatical
nature, and may be the productions of Dicaearchus, viz. On
Alcaeus (Greek: Περὶ Ἀλκαίου), and
Summaries of the plots of Euripides and Sophocles
(Greek: ὑποθέσεις τῶν Εὐριπίδου καὶ Σοφοκλέους
may have been the works of Dicaearchus, a grammarian of Lacedaemon, who, according to the Suda, was a disciple of Aristarchus, and seems to be
alluded to in Apollonius.
Cicero, de Legibus, iii. 6.
Cicero, Tusculanae Quaestiones, i. 18, de
Officiis, ii. 5; Varro, de Re Rust. i. 2.
e.g. Mirhady 72-74
e.g. Mirhady 91, 96, 105-108
Wehrli fr. 124
Lydus, de Mensibus.
Cicero, ad Atticum, vi. 2; comp. Diogenes Laërtius v.
Pliny, H. N. ii. 65; Geminus, Elem. Astron.
Cicero, ad Atticum, vi. 2, xiii. 31; Athenaeus, xiii.,
Scholion ad Aristophanis Vespis 564.
Athenenaeus, iv.; Cicero, ad Atticum, xiii. 32
Photius, Bibl. Cod. 37.
Cicero, Tusculanae Quaestiones, i. 31.
Cicero, ad Atticum, xiii. 12
Cicero, Tusculanae Quaestiones, i. 10.
Cicero, de Officiis, ii. 5.
Athenaeus, xi., xv.
Sextus Empiricus, adv. Geometr.
Apollonius Dyscolus, De Pronom..
- Fortenbaugh, W., Schütrumpf, E., (editors)
Dicaearchus of Messana: Text, Translation, and Discussion.
Transaction Publishers. (2001). ISBN 0-7658-0093-4
- Wehrli, F., Dikaiarchos. Die Schule des Aristoteles. Texte
und Kommentar, Hft. 1. Schwabe. 2nd edition (1967)
- Alonso-Núñez, J.M., 'Approaches to world history in the
Hellenistic period: Dicaearchus and Agatharchides'
Athenaeum 85 (1997) 53-67
- Bodei Giglioni, G., 'Dicearco e la riflessione sul passato'
Rivista Storica Italiana 98 (1986) 629-652
- Cooper, C., 'Aristoxenus, Περὶ Βίων and Peripatetic biography'
Mouseion 2(3) (2002) 307-339
- Purcell, N., 'The way we used to eat: diet, community, and
history at Rome' American Journal of Philology 124 (2003)