Dionysius, Halicarnassensis

, a historian and critic of antiquity, was born at Halicarnassus, a town in Caria; which is also memorable for having before produced Herodotus. He came to Rome soon after Augustus had put an end to the civil wars, which was about 30 years before Christ; and continued there, as he himself relates, twentytwo years, learning the Latin tongue, and making all necessary provision for the design he had conceived of writing the Roman history. To this purpose he read over, as | he tells us, all the commentaries and annals of those Romans who had written with any reputation about the antiquities and transactions of their state; of such as old Cato, Fabius Maximus, Valerius Antias, Licinius Macer, and others; but owns, after all, that the conferences he had with the great and learned men at Rome upon this subject, were almost as serviceable to him as any thing he had read. His history is entitled “Of the Roman antiquities,” and was comprised in twenty books, of which only the first eleven are now extant. They conclude with the time when the consuls resumed the chief authority of the republic, after the government of the decemviri; which happened 312 years after the foundation of Rome. The entire work extended to the beginning of the first Punic war, ending where Polybius begins his history, which is about 200 years later. Some have imagined that Dionysius never ended his work, but was prevented by death from composing any more than eleven books out of the twenty which he had promised the public; but this is contrary to the express testimony of Stepbanus, a Greek author, who quotes the 16th and 17th books of Dionysius’ s Roman antiquities; and Photius, in his Bibliotheca, says, that he had read all the twenty, and had seen the compendium or abridgment which Dionysius made of his own history into five books, but which is now lost. The reputation of this historian stands very high on many accounts, notwithstanding the severe attacks made on him by Mr. Hooke, in his “Observations, &c.” on Middleton and Chapman, &c. 1750, 4to. As to what relates to chronology, all the critics have been apt to prefer him even to Livy himself: and Scaliger declares, in his animadversions upon Eusebius, that we have no author remaining, who has so well observed the order of years. He is no less preferable to the Latins on account of the matter of his history; for his being a stranger was so far from being prejudicial to him, that on this single consideration he made it his business to preserve an infinite number of particulars, most curious to us, which their own authors neglected to write, either because, by reason of their familiarity, they thought them below notice, or that all the world knew them as well as themselves. His style and diction, however, although pure, insomuch that many have thought him the best author to be studied by those who would attain a perfect knowledge of the Greek tongue, is not so elegant or lively as | that of Livy, to whom he has been compared in historic merit.

Besides the Roman Antiquities, there are other writings of his extant, critical and rhetorical. His most admired piece in this way is “De structura Orationis,” first printed by Aldus at Venice in 1508, which has undergone several impressions since, with a Latin version joined to it; the last and best by Upton, printed at London in 1702. Several other compositions of the same kind, as his “Vita Isa^i et Dinarchi” “Judicium de Lysia” “Homeri vita;” “De Priscis Scriptoribus” “De antiquis Oratoribus,” of which Rowe Mores published an edition in 1749, reprinted in 1781, after his death, with additional notes taken from his copy of Hudson’s edition of Dionysius. All these shew Dionysius to have been a man of taste in the belles lettres, and of great critical exactness; and nothing can more clearly convince us of the vast reputation and high authority he possessed at Rome among the learned, than Pompey’s singling him out to give a judgment of the first Greek historians, and especially of Herodotus and Xenophon. There is extant a letter of his upon this subject, written to Pompey, at Pompey’s own request; and if there be any thing exceptionable in that letter, or in the other critical and rhetorical pieces of Dionysius, it is, that he was too rigorous in his criticisms, and contended too obstinately for perfection in an historian or orator. His finding fault with Plato upon his rigid principles, was one of the occasions of the letter which Pompey wrote to him: and we see by his answer^ that though, to gratify Pompey, he professes himself an admirer of Plato, he does not forbear to prefer Demosthenes to him; protesting, that it was only to give the whole advantage to the latter, that he exercised his censure against the former. Nevertheless it appears, that at another season he spared Demosthenes no more than the rest; so prone was his inclination to find fault, merely because writers did not, in their works, come up to that ideal perfection which he had conceived in his mind. The best edition of all Dionysius’s works is that by Hudson, at Oxford, 1704, in 2 vols. fol. His Roman History was translated into English by Edward Spelman, esq. 1757, 4 vols. 4to, with considerable fidelity and elegance, and illustrated with some dissertations, by which it appears that Mr. Spelman had devoted much time and study to his favourite author, as well | tis to his subject; but he has likewise bestowed very unnecessary pains in exhibiting the defects of the French translators. 1


Fabric. Bibl. Grasc. —Vossius <le Hist. Grxc. Dibdin’s Classics and Clarke’s Bibliographical Dictionary. —Saxii Onomast.