- For other persons named Timaeus (including Timaeus of Locri, the character who appears in Plato's Socratic dialogues) see Timaeus.
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Timaeus (c. 345 BC – c. 250 BC, Ancient Greek: Τιμαῖος), ancient Greek historian, was born at Tauromenium in Sicily. Driven out of Sicily by Agathocles, he migrated to Athens, where he studied rhetoric under a pupil of Isocrates and lived for fifty years. During the reign of Hiero II he returned to Sicily (probably to Syracuse), where he died.
While at Athens he completed his great historical work, The Histories, probably some 40 books. This work was divided into unequal sections, containing the history of Greece from its earliest days till the first Punic war. The Histories treated the history of Italy and Sicily in early times, of Sicily alone, and of Sicily and Greece together.
Timaeus devoted much attention to chronology, and introduced the system of reckoning by Olympiads. In order to plot chronologies, he employed names of Archons of Athens, names of Ephors of Sparta, names of winners of the stadion race, etc. This system, although not adopted in everyday life, was afterwards generally used by the Greek historians.
Very few parts of the elaborate work of this historian were preserved after Antiquity:
- Some fragments of the 38th book of the Histories (the life of Agathocles);
- A reworking of the last part of his Histories, On Pyrrhus, treating the life of this king of Epirus until 264 BC;
- History of the cities and kings of Syria (unless the text of the Suda is corrupt);
- The chronological sketch (The victors at Olympia) perhaps formed an appendix to the larger work.
Timaeus' work was however well spread in antiquity, as many ancient historians and other writers refer to it, and/or based their work on his writings.
Timaeus was highly criticized by other historians, especially by Polybius, and indeed his unfairness towards his predecessors, which gained him the nickname of Epitimaeus (fault-finder), laid him open to retaliation. Polybius was well-versed in military matters and a statesman, Timaeus a bookworm without military experience or personal knowledge of the places he described. The most serious charge against Timaeus is that he wilfully distorted the truth, when influenced by personal considerations: thus, he was less than fair to Dionysius I of Syracuse and Agathocles, while loud in praise of his favourite Timoleon.
On the other hand, as even Polybius admits, Timaeus consulted all available authorities and records. His attitude towards the myths, which he claims to have preserved in their simple form (hence probably his nickname, Old Ragwoman, or "collector of old wives' tales", an allusion to his fondness for trivial details), is preferable to the rationalistic interpretation under which it had become the fashion to disguise them.
Cicero, who was a diligent reader of Timaeus, expresses a far more favourable opinion, specially commending his copiousness of matter and variety of expression. Timaeus was one of the chief authorities used by Gnaeus Pompeius Trogus, Diodorus Siculus, and Plutarch (in his life of Timoleon).
- F. W. Walbank. Polemic in Polybius, The Journal of Roman Studies, Vol. 52, Parts 1 and 2 (1962), p. 10
- Brown, Truesdell S. (1958). Timaeus of Tauromenium. Berkeley: University of California Press.