Conrad’s latest post at VUnEx is his usual exhilarating excursion through byways of history that one might have thought dusty until he poured champagne over them; he begins with a delightful passage from Borrow‘s Lavengro (“‘He—he—he! you must know that in Lasan akhades wine is janin.’ ‘In Armenian, kini,’ said I; ‘in Welsh, gwin; Latin, vinum. But do you think that Janus and Janin are one?'”) and continues, via Abravanel, to Annius of Viterbo’s Commentaria super opera diversorum auctorum de antiquitatibus loquentium.

Now Annius’ big idea was to get lots of fragments from ancient historians—Berosus of Chaldaea, Myrsilos of Methymna, Fabius Pictor, and so on—draw them all up, and weave them into a holistic history of the ancient world… The same basic idea had been done before by writers like Josephus and Eusebius; the only problem with Annius was that all of his fragments had been entirely fabricated, and by him.

Now that’s what I call breathtaking chutzpah, and his Wikipedia entry points out that not only his citations were sham: “His expertise in Semitic philology, once celebrated even by otherwise sober ecclesiastical historians, was entirely fictive.”


  1. Sinologists have done well in the hoax area during the last century. We need not hang our heads before Renaissance classicists.
    Not everyone agrees that Menzies book is a hoax.
    1421: Menzies

  2. I think the recent scholarly interest in Annius is possibly due to Anthony Grafton, who has written about him on numerous occasions. Grafton makes the interesting point that a number of the rules for handling historiographical sources that were formulated in the sixteenth century (e.g. the emphasis on public over private records, distinction of primary and secondary sources, use of historical artefacts) come from Annius himself. Another important article on Annius was written by one of my elder colleagues, Christopher Ligota, in 1987 (JSTOR).

  3. I wonder how many people could confidently distinguish Annius, Ennius, and Arrian?

  4. Not many, to be sure; but Annius is certainly the most interesting of the three.

  5. Annius appears as a character in Book Four of Pope’s “Dunciad”. Pope’s note reads: “The name taken from Annius the Monk of Viterbo, famous for many Impositions and Forgeries of ancient manuscripts and inscriptions, which he was prompted to by mere Vanity, but our Annius had a more substantial motive.”
    But Annius, crafty Seer, with ebon wand,
    And well dissembled em’rald on his hand,
    False as his Gems, and canker’d as his Coins,
    Came, cramm’d with capon, from where Pollio dines.
    Soft, as the wily Fox is seen to creep,
    Where bask on sunny banks the simple sheep,
    Walk round and round, now prying here, now there;
    So he; but pious, whisper’d first his pray’r.
    Grant, gracious Goddess! grant me still to cheat,
    O may thy cloud still cover the deceit!
    Thy choicer mists on this assembly shed,
    But pour them thickest on the noble head.
    So shall each youth, assisted by our eyes,
    See other Cæsars, other Homers rise;
    Thro’ twilight ages hunt th’Athenian fowl,
    Which Chalcis Gods, and mortals call an Owl,
    Now see an Attys, now a Cecrops clear,
    Nay, Mahomet! the Pigeon at thine ear;
    Be rich in ancient brass, tho’ not in gold,
    And keep his Lares, tho’ his house be sold;
    To headless Phoebe his fair bride postpone,
    Honour a Syrian Prince above his own;
    Lord of an Otho, if I vouch it true;
    Blest in one Niger, till he knows of two.

  6. God I love Pope. It’s almost impossible for me to read his verse without reading it aloud. Too bad his brilliant mix of sonority and syntax is long out of fashion. “False as his Gems, and canker’d as his Coins” … “Which Chalcis Gods, and mortals call an Owl” … he tossed lines like that off the way Mozart tossed off tunes.

  7. I heard some poet interviewed on Fresh Air last night—he seemed to be a fine fellow, but his poetry did not sound like poetry at all. It sounded like a guy talking about his life in vaguely literary language. If you can’t tell it’s poetry without seeing the line breaks, it ain’t poetry.

  8. komfo,amonan says

    I wonder how many people could confidently distinguish Annius, Ennius, and Arrian?
    I can’t, but I bet Appian could.
    It sounded like a guy talking about his life in vaguely literary language.
    Oh thank you for saying that. I heard two such poets on NPR in the last four days. Hmph. Of course it’s been like that for some years.

  9. John Emerson says

    Hmph. Fuddy-duddies!

  10. John Emerson says

    Hmph. Fuddy-duddies!

  11. David Marjanović says

    he tossed lines like that off the way Mozart tossed off tunes.

    Long, then, live the Digital Cuttlefish. Complete poems flow out of his fingers within 15 minutes…

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