Dionysius of Halicarnassus

Dionysius of Halicarnassus

Dionysius of Halicarnassus (Greek: Διονύσιος Ἀλεξάνδρου Ἁλικαρνᾱσσεύς, Dionysios son of Aléxandros, of Halikarnassós, c. 60 BC–after 7 BC) was a Greek historian and teacher of rhetoric, who flourished during the reign of Caesar Augustus. His literary style was Attistic — imitating Classical Attic Greek in its prime.



He went to Rome after the termination of the civil wars, and spent twenty-two years in studying the Latin language and literature and preparing materials for his history. During this period he gave lessons in rhetoric, and enjoyed the society of many distinguished men. The date of his death is unknown. It is commonly supposed he is the ancestor of Aelius Dionysius of Halicarnassus.[1]


His great work, entitled Ῥωμαϊκὴ Ἀρχαιολογία (Rhōmaikē archaiologia, Roman Antiquities), embraced the history of Rome from the mythical period to the beginning of the First Punic War. It was divided into twenty books, of which the first nine remain entire, the tenth and eleventh are nearly complete, and the remaining books exist in fragments in the excerpts of Constantine Porphyrogenitus and an epitome discovered by Angelo Mai in a Milan manuscript. The first three books of Appian, and Plutarch's Life of Camillus also embody much of Dionysius.

His chief object was to reconcile the Greeks to the rule of Rome, by dilating upon the good qualities of their conquerors and also by arguing, using more ancient sources, that the Romans were genuine descendants [1](bοοκ 1,11) of the older Greeks.[2] According to him, history is philosophy teaching by examples, and this idea he has carried out from the point of view of the Greek rhetorician. But he has carefully consulted the best authorities, and his work and that of Livy are the only connected and detailed extant accounts of early Roman history.

Dionysius was also the author of several rhetorical treatises, in which he shows that he has thoroughly studied the best Attic models:

  • The Art of Rhetoric (Τέχνη ῥητορική, Téchne rhētorikē), which is rather a collection of essays on the theory of rhetoric, incomplete, and certainly not all his work;
  • The Arrangement of Words (Περὶ συνθέσεως ὀνομάτων, Perì synthéseōs onomátōn), treating of the combination of words according to the different styles of oratory;
  • On Imitation (Περὶ μιμήσεως, Perì mimēseōs), on the best models in the different kinds of literature and the way in which they are to be imitated—a fragmentary work;
  • Commentaries on the Attic Orators (Περὶ τῶν Ἀττικῶν ῥητόρων, Perì tôn Attikôn rhētórōn), which, however, only deal with Lysias, Isaeus, Isocrates and (by way of supplement) Dinarchus;
  • On the Admirable Style of Demosthenes (Περὶ λεκτικῆς Δημοσθένους δεινότητος, Perì lektikês Dēmosthénous deinótētos); and
  • On the Character of Thucydides (Περὶ Θουκυδίδου χαρακτῆρος, Perì Thoukydídou charaktêros).

The last two treatises are supplemented by letters to Gn. Pompeius and Ammaeus (two).

He is often cited as Dion. Halic. in print publications.

Dionysian imitatio

Dionysian imitatio is the literary method of imitation as formulated by Dionysius, who conceived it as the rhetorical practice of emulating, adaptating, reworking, and enriching a source text by an earlier author.[3][4]

Dionysius' concept marked ass significant departure from the concept of mimesis formulated by Aristotle in the 4th century BCE, which was only concerned with "imitation of nature" and not "imitation of other authors."[3] Latin orators and rhetoricians adopted Dionysius' method of imitatio and discarded Aristotle's mimesis.[3]


  • English translation by Edward Spelman (1758) available at Google Books
  • Trans. Earnest Cary, Harvard University Press, Loeb Classical Library:
    • Roman Antiquities, I, 1937.
    • Roman Antiquities, II, 1939.
    • Roman Antiquities, III, 1940.
    • Roman Antiquities, IV, 1943.
    • Roman Antiquities, V, 1945.
    • Roman Antiquities, VI, 1947.
    • Roman Antiquities, VII, 1950.
  • Trans. Stephen Usher, Critical Essays, I, Harvard University Press, 1974, ISBN 978-0-674-99512-3
  • Trans. Stephen Usher, Critical Essays, II, Harvard University Press, 1985, ISBN 978-0-674-99513-0


  1. ^ Schmitz, Leonhard (1867), "Dionysius, Aelius", in Smith, William, Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology, 1, Boston, pp. 1037, http://www.ancientlibrary.com/smith-bio/1043.html 
  2. ^ E. Gabba, Dionysius and the History of Archaic Rome (Berkeley 1991)
  3. ^ a b c Ruthven (1979) pp. 103–4
  4. ^ Jansen (2008)

Other sources

Further reading

A full bibliography of the rhetorical works is given in W. Rhys Roberts's edition of the Three Literary Letters (1901); the same author published an edition of the De compositione verborum (1910, with trans.).

  • M. Egger, Denys d'Halicarnasse (1902).
  • O. Bocksch, "De fontibus Dion. Halicarnassensis" in Leipziger Studien, xvii. (1895). Cf. also J. E. Sandys, History of Classical Scholarship i. (1906).
  • Casper Constantijn de Jonge, Between grammar and rhetoric: Dionysius of Halicarnassus on language, linguistics and literature Leiden: Brill (2008).

External links

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  • Dionysius of Halicarnassus — biographical name flourished circa 20 B.C. Greek scholar …   New Collegiate Dictionary

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  • DIONYSIUS OF HALICARNASSUS —    a Greek historian and rhetorician of the age of Augustus; came to Italy in 29 B.C., and spent 27 years in Rome, where he died; devoted himself to the study of the Roman republic, its history and its people, and recorded the result in his… …   The Nuttall Encyclopaedia

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  • Dionysius of Halicarnassus — /daɪəˌnɪsiəs əv hæləkaˈnæsəs/ (say duyuh.niseeuhs uhv haluhkah nasuhs) noun died 7? BC, Greek rhetorician and historian in Rome …   Australian English dictionary

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  • Dionysius — The Graeco Roman name Dionysius, deriving from the name of the Thracian god Dionysus, was exceedingly common, and many ancient people, famous and otherwise, bore it. It remains a common name today in the form Dennis (Denys, Denis, Denise). The… …   Wikipedia

  • Dionysius — /duy euh nish ee euhs, nis , nish euhs, nuy see euhs/, n. 1. ( the Elder ) 431? 367 B.C., Greek soldier: tyrant of Syracuse 405 367. 2. Saint, died A.D. 268, pope 259 268. * * * (as used in expressions) Dionysius Lardner Boursiquot Dionysius I… …   Universalium

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