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Stephanus of Byzantium


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Was a Greek grammarian, probably a contemporary of Justinian, and a publicly appointed teacher in Constantinople. Nothing is known in detail of his life except that he was a Christian. He is the author of Ethnica, in sixty books, an alphabetical list of place-names together with the adjectives derived from them. The original work, which contained information on foundation-legends, etymologies, changes of name, oracles, historical anecdotes, proverbs, etc., is lost. The surviving epitome, consisting mainly of jejune entries, was compiled some time between the 6th and 10th cents. ad. It may be the work of one Hermolaus, mentioned in the Suda, but some scholars believe that it is actually a conflation of at least two epitomes (abridgements), made on slightly different principles. There are fragments of the original extensive text embedded in the De Administrando Imperio and De Thematibus of Constantine Porphyrogenitus.

Stephanus was neither a geographer—he makes no direct use of Ptolemy (Claudius Ptolemaeus)—nor a historian—he puts down side by side information dating from different epochs—but a grammarian. His prime interest is the correct formation of ethnic adjectives, for which he has two criteria, morphological regularity and regional usage. His direct sources, which he sometimes mentions, include Herodian, Oros of Miletus, Philo of Byblos On Cities, Dionysius Periegetes, Strabo, historians from Hecataeus to Polybius, and lost grammarians and antiquarians. He is not entirely uncritical in his handling of his sources, but his main value is as a compilation of material from writers whose works are lost. The surviving epitome was used by the Etymologicum Magnum, Eustathius, and probably the Suda. The last writer to use the original version was Constantine Porphyrogenitus. The Ethnica are preserved in a large number of manuscripts, mainly dating from the Renaissance. There is no satisfactory critical edition.

Robert Browning

Subjects: Classical Studies.


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