Dionysius of Halicarnassus

Dionysius of Halicarnassus

Dionysius of Halicarnassus, fl. late 1st cent. B.C., Greek rhetorician and historian. He taught at Rome and was one of the most celebrated of ancient critics. Among his extant works are On the Arrangement of Words, On Imitation, On the Early Orators, On Thucydides, and On the Eloquence of Demosthenes. The Art of Rhetoric attributed to him is probably of later date. Of his longest work, Antiquities of Rome, in 20 books, approximately the first half is extant. In it the history of Rome to the 3d cent. B.C. is covered.
Dionysius of Halicarnassus (Halicarnassus c. 60 BC–after 7 BC) was a Greek historian and teacher of rhetoric, who flourished during the reign of Caesar Augustus.


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.


His great work, entitled Ῥωμαικὴ 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. 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 (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 Peri suntheseōs onomatōn), treating of the combination of words according to the different styles of oratory; On Imitation (Περὶ μιμήσεως Peri 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, Peri tōn Attikōn rhētorōn), which, however, only deal with Lysias, Isaeus, Isocrates and (by way of supplement) Dinarchus; On the Admirable Style of Demosthenes (Περὶ λεκτικῆς Δημοσθένους δεινότητος Peri lektikēs Dēmosthenous deinotētos); and On the Character of Thucydides (Περὶ Θουκιδίδου χαρακτῆρος, Peri Thoukudidēs charaktēros), a detailed but on the whole an unfair estimate. These two treatises are supplemented by letters to Gn. Pompeius and Ammaeus (two).

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



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.).

See also M. Egger, Denys d'Halicarnasse (1902), a very useful treatise. On the sources of Dionysius see O. Bocksch, "De fontibus Dion. Halicarnassensis" in Leipziger Studien, xvii. (1895). Cf. also J. E. Sandys, Hist. of Class. Schol. i. (1906).

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