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Dicaearchus of Messana (c. 350 – c. 285 BC) was a Greek
The Greeks, also known as the Hellenes , are a nation and ethnic group native to Greece, Cyprus and neighboring regions. They also form a significant diaspora, with Greek communities established around the world....

 philosopher, cartographer, geographer
A geographer is a scholar whose area of study is geography, the study of Earth's natural environment and human society.Although geographers are historically known as people who make maps, map making is actually the field of study of cartography, a subset of geography...

, mathematician
A mathematician is a person whose primary area of study is the field of mathematics. Mathematicians are concerned with quantity, structure, space, and change....

 and author
An author is broadly defined as "the person who originates or gives existence to anything" and that authorship determines responsibility for what is created. Narrowly defined, an author is the originator of any written work.-Legal significance:...

. Dicaearchus was Aristotle
Aristotle was a Greek philosopher and polymath, a student of Plato and teacher of Alexander the Great. His writings cover many subjects, including physics, metaphysics, poetry, theater, music, logic, rhetoric, linguistics, politics, government, ethics, biology, and zoology...

's student in the Lyceum
The lyceum is a category of educational institution defined within the education system of many countries, mainly in Europe. The definition varies between countries; usually it is a type of secondary school.-History:...

. Very little of his work remains extant. He wrote on the history
History is the discovery, collection, organization, and presentation of information about past events. History can also mean the period of time after writing was invented. Scholars who write about history are called historians...

 and geography
Geography is the science that studies the lands, features, inhabitants, and phenomena of Earth. A literal translation would be "to describe or write about the Earth". The first person to use the word "geography" was Eratosthenes...

 of Greece
Greece , officially the Hellenic Republic , and historically Hellas or the Republic of Greece in English, is a country in southeastern Europe....

, of which his most important work was his Life of Greece. He made important contributions to the field of cartography
Cartography is the study and practice of making maps. Combining science, aesthetics, and technique, cartography builds on the premise that reality can be modeled in ways that communicate spatial information effectively.The fundamental problems of traditional cartography are to:*Set the map's...

, where he was among the first to use geographical coordinates
Geographic coordinate system
A geographic coordinate system is a coordinate system that enables every location on the Earth to be specified by a set of numbers. The coordinates are often chosen such that one of the numbers represent vertical position, and two or three of the numbers represent horizontal position...

. He also wrote books on philosophy
Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental problems, such as those connected with existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. Philosophy is distinguished from other ways of addressing such problems by its critical, generally systematic approach and its reliance on rational...

 and politics
Politics is a process by which groups of people make collective decisions. The term is generally applied to the art or science of running governmental or state affairs, including behavior within civil governments, but also applies to institutions, fields, and special interest groups such as the...



He was the son of one Pheidias, and born at Messana
Messina, Italy
Messina is the third largest city on the island of Sicily, Italy and the capital of the province of Messina. It has a population of about 250,000 inhabitants in the city proper and about 650,000 in the province...

 in Sicily
Sicily is a region of Italy, and is the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea. Along with the surrounding minor islands, it constitutes an autonomous region of Italy, the Regione Autonoma Siciliana Sicily has a rich and unique culture, especially with regard to the arts, music, literature,...

, though he passed the greater part of his life in Greece
Greece , officially the Hellenic Republic , and historically Hellas or the Republic of Greece in English, is a country in southeastern Europe....

, and especially in Peloponnesus. He was a disciple of Aristotle
Aristotle was a Greek philosopher and polymath, a student of Plato and teacher of Alexander the Great. His writings cover many subjects, including physics, metaphysics, poetry, theater, music, logic, rhetoric, linguistics, politics, government, ethics, biology, and zoology...

, and a friend of Theophrastus
Theophrastus , a Greek native of Eresos in Lesbos, was the successor to Aristotle in the Peripatetic school. He came to Athens at a young age, and initially studied in Plato's school. After Plato's death he attached himself to Aristotle. Aristotle bequeathed to Theophrastus his writings, and...

, 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 things. His 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
Strabo, also written Strabon was a Greek historian, geographer and philosopher.-Life:Strabo was born to an affluent family from Amaseia in Pontus , a city which he said was situated the approximate equivalent of 75 km from the Black Sea...

, criticised in many respects by Polybius
Polybius , Greek ) was a Greek historian of the Hellenistic Period noted for his work, The Histories, which covered the period of 220–146 BC in detail. The work describes in part the rise of the Roman Republic and its gradual domination over Greece...

; and Strabo himself is dissatisfied with his descriptions of western and northern Europe
Europe is, by convention, one of the world's seven continents. Comprising the westernmost peninsula of Eurasia, Europe is generally 'divided' from Asia to its east by the watershed divides of the Ural and Caucasus Mountains, the Ural River, the Caspian and Black Seas, and the waterways connecting...

, where Dicaearchus had never visited.

Among his geographical works may be mentioned:
  • Life of Greece - The Bios Hellados, in three books is Dicaearchus’ most famous work. In the mid 1st century BC it inspired Jason of Nysa
    Jason of Nysa
    Jason of Nysa, a Stoic philosopher, son of Menecrates, and, on his mother's side, grandson of Posidonius, of whom also he was the disciple and successor at the Stoic school at Rhodes. He therefore flourished after the middle of the 1st century BC...

    ’s Bios Hellados and Varro
    Varro was a Roman cognomen carried by:*Marcus Terentius Varro, sometimes known as Varro Reatinus, the scholar*Publius Terentius Varro or Varro Atacinus, the poet*Gaius Terentius Varro, the consul defeated at the battle of Cannae...

    '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
    Philip II of Macedon
    Philip II of Macedon "friend" + ἵππος "horse" — transliterated ; 382 – 336 BC), was a king of Macedon from 359 BC until his assassination in 336 BC. He was the father of Alexander the Great and Philip III.-Biography:...

    . The most famous passages are those cited by Varro and Porphyry
    Porphyry (philosopher)
    Porphyry of Tyre , Porphyrios, AD 234–c. 305) was a Neoplatonic philosopher who was born in Tyre. He edited and published the Enneads, the only collection of the work of his teacher Plotinus. He also wrote many works himself on a wide variety of topics...

     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 , family , and tribe , 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 Greece. This 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
    Aristoxenus of Tarentum was a Greek Peripatetic philosopher, and a pupil of Aristotle. Most of his writings, which dealt with philosophy, ethics and music, have been lost, but one musical treatise, Elements of Harmony, survives incomplete, as well as some fragments concerning rhythm and...

    . In a celebrated passage, he compared the introduction of the ‘New Music’ into Greek theatres to the barbarization of the Poseidoniates
    Paestum is the classical Roman name of a major Graeco-Roman city in the Campania region of Italy. It is located in the north of Cilento, near the coast about 85 km SE of Naples in the province of Salerno, and belongs to the commune of Capaccio, officially also named...

     in the Bay of Naples.
  • Circuit of the Earth - 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 - This is a fragment of a work dedicated to "Theophrastus", and consisting of 150 iambic
    Iambus (genre)
    Iambus was a genre of ancient Greek poetry that included but was not restricted to the iambic meter and whose origins modern scholars have traced to the cults of Demeter and Dionysus. The genre featured insulting and obscene language...

     lines. It was formerly attributed to Dicaearchus, but the initial letters of the first twenty-three lines show that it was really the work of one "Dionysius, son of Calliphon".
  • 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
    In trigonometry and geometry, triangulation is the process of determining the location of a point by measuring angles to it from known points at either end of a fixed baseline, rather than measuring distances to the point directly...

  • Descent into (the Cave of) Trophonius - 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
    Trophonius or Trophonios was a Greek hero or daimon or god - it was never certain which one - with a rich mythological tradition and an oracular cult at Lebadaea in Boeotia....

  • Some other works, such as Spartan Constitution , Olympic Dialogue , Panathenaic Dialogue , and several others, seem to have been merely chapters of the Life of Greece.

Of a political nature was:
  • Three-city Dialogue (Tripolitikos - ) - A work which has been the subject of much dispute. It was probably a study of comparative government. Following Aristotle
    Aristotle was a Greek philosopher and polymath, a student of Plato and teacher of Alexander the Great. His writings cover many subjects, including physics, metaphysics, poetry, theater, music, logic, rhetoric, linguistics, politics, government, ethics, biology, and zoology...

    , 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
    Marcus Tullius Cicero , was a Roman philosopher, statesman, lawyer, political theorist, and Roman constitutionalist. He came from a wealthy municipal family of the equestrian order, and is widely considered one of Rome's greatest orators and prose stylists.He introduced the Romans to the chief...

    's De Republica.

Among his philosophical works may be mentioned:
  • Lesbian Books - In three books, which derived its name from the fact that the scene of the philosophical dialogue was laid at Mytilene
    Mytilene is a town and a former municipality on the island of Lesbos, North Aegean, Greece. Since the 2011 local government reform it is part of the municipality Lesbos, of which it is a municipal unit. It is the capital of the island of Lesbos. Mytilene, whose name is pre-Greek, is built on the...

     in Lesbos. In it Dicaearchus endeavoured to prove that the soul was mortal. Cicero when speaking of a work On the Soul, probably means this work.
  • Corinthian Dialogue - In three books, was a sort of supplement to the Lesbiakoi. It is probably the same work as the one which Cicero, in another passage, calls On Human Destruction .

A work On the Sacrifice at Illium seems to have referred to the sacrifice which Alexander the Great performed at Illium
Troy was a city, both factual and legendary, located in northwest Anatolia in what is now Turkey, southeast of the Dardanelles and beside Mount Ida...


There are lastly some other works which are of a grammatical nature, and may be the productions of Dicaearchus, viz. On Alcaeus , and Summaries of the plots of Euripides and Sophocles , but may have been the works of Dicaearchus, a grammarian of Lacedaemon, who, according to the Suda
The Suda or Souda is a massive 10th century Byzantine encyclopedia of the ancient Mediterranean world, formerly attributed to an author called Suidas. It is an encyclopedic lexicon, written in Greek, with 30,000 entries, many drawing from ancient sources that have since been lost, and often...

, was a disciple of Aristarchus
Aristarchus of Samothrace
Aristarchus of Samothrace was a grammarian noted as the most influential of all scholars of Homeric poetry. He was the librarian of the library of Alexandria and seems to have succeeded his teacher Aristophanes of Byzantium in that role.He established the most historically important critical...

, and seems to be alluded to in Apollonius
Apollonius Dyscolus
Apollonius Dyscolus is considered one of the greatest of the Greek grammarians. He was born at Alexandria, son of Mnesitheus. The dates for his life are not known...



  • David C. Mirhady, "Dicaearchus of Messana: The Sources, Texts and Translations," in Fortenbaugh, W., Schütrumpf, E., (editors) Dicaearchus of Messana: Text, Translation, and Discussion. Transaction Publishers. (2001). ISBN 0-7658-0093-4

Further reading

  • Fortenbaugh, W., Schütrumpf, E.
    Eckart Schütrumpf
    Eckart Schütrumpf is a professor of classics at the University of Colorado at Boulder known for his work on political, ethical, rhetorical and poetic issues in Aristotle, Plato, Cicero, and other ancient writers. In 2005 he won a prestigious research prize from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation...

    , (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) 329-358