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On a spring full moon, observations on the date of death of Arsinoe II Philadelphus


  • Data ricezione: 03/01/2023
  • Data accettazione: 08/02/2023
  • Data pubblicazione: 15/03/2023


La possibile rilettura, con conseguente nuova interpretazione, di uno scholium alla ἐκθέωϲιϲ di Arsinoe di Callimaco (Fr. 228 Pfeiffer ad l.7) potrebbe consentire di formulare una nuova ipotesi sulla dibattuta data di morte della regina Arsinoe II Filadelfo, forse avvenuta durante il plenilunio fra 16 e 17 giugno del 268 a.C.

Thanks to a re-interpretation of a scholium to the ἐκθέωϲιϲ of Arsinoes by Callimachus (Fr. 228 Pfeiffer ad l.7) it could be possible to put forward a new hypothesis on the date of death of Queen Arsinoe II Philadelphus, which may have occurred during the full moon between the 16th and 17th June 268 BC.

Parole chiave

Scholars have been debating over the years on Arsinoe II’s date of death since we have different types of evidence leading to different results. In some cases, the date would fall in the summer of 270 BC while in others in that of 268 BC.

Initially, scholars considered certain the date of the sovereign’s death based on the testimony of the Mendes stele1 that dates the decease on the Ptolemy Philadelphus’ 15th year2 in the month of Pachon and therefore in July 270 BC.

Among other sources and evidence analysed by scholars, papyrus documentation was also added, more precisely, a scholium.

In fact, on the recto of a papyrus containing Callimachus’ poem on the Apotheosis of Arsinoe II, P. Berol. 13417 A3 (=Fr. 228 ed. Pfeiffer), there is a scholium that could give valuable hints on the date of the sovereign's death.

This work briefly reviews the lessons suggested for the scholium of the P. Berol. 13417 A and proposes a new reading hypothesis4.

The interpretation of the scholium, indeed, raised many questions and problems.

The marginal note, unfortunately mutilated, would explain the verses (vv. 5-7) that describe the abduction of Arsinoe II by the Dioscuri and her passage beyond the moon. The first interpretation of the scholium is given by Wilamowitz5.

He reports in his work:

νύμφα ϲὺ μὲν ἀϲτερίαν ὑ]π’ ἄμαξαν ἤδη

κλεπτομέν]ᾳ6 παρέθει ϲελάναι

] ἀτενεῖϲ ὀδυρμοί
Schol. (6-7) «ὡϲ ελιπᾶϲ ϲελήνηϲ ἡρπαϲμένηϲ» and defined it «verdorben, unverständlich»7.

In 19148 he suggested a new reading of the scholium according to the proposal provided by Diels, mentioned by Wilamowitz himself in a footnote. The reading suggested by Diels is: 

Schol. (6-7) ὡϲ ἐν9 παϲϲελήν(ῳ) ἡρπαϲμένηϲ

The scientific community immediately considered Diels' suggestion as valid and Pfeiffer referenced it as further evidence for dating the death of Arsinoe II10. In fact, following Diels' reading, Pfeiffer argues that the sovereign’s death occurred during a full moon. Thus, based on the evidence from the Mendes stele and the scholium, the death of Arsinoe II would have occurred on the 9th July 270 BC11.

However, the Pithom stele12 contradicts the Mendes stele’s data and reports that Arsinoe II was still alive during the 16th year of Ptolemy II and it dates her death back to 268 BC13.

In 1990, Grzybek put forward a new interpretation regarding the different dating provided by the two stelai14 and, at the same time, he also suggested a new reading of the scholium and thus provided a new date. Grzybek, therefore, proposed to read:

(v.6) κλεπτομέν]α παρέθει ϲελάνᾳ
Schol. «ὡϲ ἔτι15 πάϲ(ηϲ) ϲελήν(ηϲ) ἡρπαϲμένηϲ, c’est-à-dire: tute la lune était encore dérobée16».

However, scholars question Grzybek's reading due to paleographic, linguistic, and interpretative problems17.

He combines the evidence and places the death during a new moon, claiming that Arsinoe passed away on the 1st July or the 2nd July 268 BC18.

On the other hand, van Oppen de Ruiter19 meticulously reconstructs all the clues that lead us to the two different dates that scholars proposed, by examining the data provided by the two stelai, taking into account also numismatic evidence, and analysing other historical issues. Regarding the papyrus evidence, he accepts Diels's reading:

(v.6) κλεπτομέν]α παρέθει ϲελάνᾳ
Schol. ὡϲ ἐν παϲϲελήν(ῳ) ἡρπαϲμένηϲ, as «the only possible reading of the scholion»20.

In conclusion, van Oppen de Ruiter points to further evidence that could support the hypothesis of a later date of Arsinoe's death. He, indeed, refers to the Chremonides’ decree (IG II2 687 = Sylloge3 I 434-435), dated 269/26821, which mentions Arsinoe in concert with her brother and husband:

«[…] King Ptolemaios in accordance with the predilection both of his ancestors and of his sister is manifest in his concern for the common freedom of the Greeks […]»22.

Van Oppen de Ruiter, therefore, presents two possible interpretations of the above-mentioned clause: Arsinoe might have died two summers earlier and thus her mention within the decree could be a form of homage to Ptolemy, or if she had died just before the decree, the news might not have reached Athens yet and thus her mention would indicate her support for the alliance against Antigonus23.

Finally, he argues that « […] although the evidence is inconclusive»24, the death of Arsinoe II may have occurred on the 16th/17th July 268 BC.

Reconsidering the matter, it becomes evident that there is a disagreement about the date of Queen Lagid’s death in the three main sources, probably because the two inscriptions follow a different chronology of the years of Ptolemy II's reign, while the testimony of the aforementioned scholium remains vaguer. In this regard, without claiming to arrive at an unambiguous and definitive solution, it may be necessary to reconsider the ductus employed by the scribe in tracing the characters of the text and the scholium.       
Assuming that the one who reproduced the Callimachean verses is the same copyist as the one who made the marginal notes25, it seems, at first, that the sequence read by the first editors as ΕΝ, or ΕΤΙ according to Grzybek's interpretation, cannot be conclusively identified in this way. It is enough to observe the tracing of the letter Ν in the line preceding the scholium and throughout the papyri fragment to realise that it has little to do with the relevant traces in our initial pericope. Grzybek's supposed ΤΙ ligature poses just as many problems of interpretation.

The letter tau would have an unusual inclination to the right, in stark contrast to the usus scribendi of the copyist. Furthermore, the final iota would exhibit a strange bulge at the top, slanting to the right, which is never seen in such letters in the entire papyrus fragment. Otherwise, we emphasise the fact that the letter positioned after the first Ε of the sequence, would seem similar in ductus to a cursive alpha in connection with a vertical letter whose upper slightly round part could only belong to the loop of rho traced quickly, in a neglected manner as, for example, it is visible in the line above our scholium and passim on the verso. It has also been debated whether the extended upper stroke of the first alpha is a circumflex26. However, it appears to be only a curly stroke of the letter, which is also repeated in other parts of the text.

Therefore, as a pure working hypothesis open to subsequent verification, we propose to identify the term ΕΑΡ in the triliteral sequence, probably in abbreviation, and to reconstruct the entire commentary pericope to verse (6) as follows:

ὡϲ (ἔαρ)οϲ/(ἐαρ)ινῇ παϲϲελήν(ῳ) ἡρπαϲμένηϲ
“When, during a spring full moon, she was kidnapped (scil. Arsinoe II Philadelphus)”.

Briefly, we can assume that the author of the scholium did not know the exact date of the Queen's death, but merely recalled that the mourning occurred in spring, on a full moon night. Van Oppen de Ruiter pointed to the dates 27th June 270 BC, 16th/17th June 268 BC or 16th/17th July 268 BC as possible elements to identify the astronomical phenomenon, opting for the latter, the only one that would respond to the indication of the two stelai concerning the month of Pachon, the first summer month of the Egyptian calendar. However, it cannot be excluded that the author of the papyrus scholium was referring to the Macedonian calendar, which, as verified in many other cases by the sources, does not always faithfully reproduce the sequence of days of the Egyptian months. In conclusion, supposing that the date of Queen Lagid's disappearance was set between spring and early summer (ἐαρινῇ), according to the Macedonian calendar, we could only identify it with the 16th/17th June 268 BC27, which is the night of the full moon.

  • 1

    CG 2181; Urk. II 28-54; See Grzybek 1990; van Oppen de Ruiter 2010.

  • 2

    For further information on the dating of the regnal years of Ptolemy II Philadelphus see Samuel 1962 p. 26 ff. and Hazzard 1987.

  • 3

    Pfeiffer 1922; Austin 2006.

  • 4

    For a comprehensive overview of the commentators' observations on the issues surrounding the date of death of Arsinoe II see: Bennet, Arsinoe IIEgyptian Royal Genealogy, https://www.instonebrewer.com/TyndaleSites/Egypt/index.htm. (Here are collected all the contributions citing alternative documentation, yet inconclusive, including mainly numismatic data).

  • 5

    Wilamowitz 1912.

  • 6

    Ivi Wilamowitz chooses κλεπτομέν]ᾳ, Pfeiffer 1922 instead opts for κλεπτομέν]α pointing out in the apparatus «κλεπτομέν]ᾳ ad ϲελάνᾳ falso Wil. […]». This last reading is the one chosen by other scholars. For further details see Lehnus 2006.

  • 7

    Wilamowitz 1912, p. 528.

  • 8

    Wilamowitz 1914, p. 222; see also on other linguistic problems Wilamowitz 1924, pp. 194-195.

  • 9

    Van Oppen de Ruiter states that ἐν is « […] unnecessary with πανϲέληνοϲ»: Van Oppen de Ruiter 2010, p. 143 n. 37; see also LSJ (s.v.).

  • 10

    Pfeiffer 1922, see also Wilamowitz 1924 p. 29.

  • 11

    See Goldstine 1972.

  • 12

    CG 22183; Urk. II 81-105.

  • 13

    Van Oppen de Ruiter 2010, p. 145, summarises the possible solutions that emerge regarding the problem of the different dating of the two inscriptions, i.e. the Mendes stele and the Pithom stele: either the references to Arsinoe in the year 16th are merely spiritual, or the two stelai follow a different chronological order, related to the counting of the years of Ptolemy II's reign from the co-optation in 285 BC or from the beginning of the reign after the death of his father Ptolemy I Soter.

  • 14

    Grzybek 1990. On the issue and the conclusions drawn by Grzybek see further critical remarks by Criscuolo 1991, pp. 282-289 and Cadell 1998, pp. 1-3. Minas 1994, pp. 207-209, although accepting Grzybek’s interpretation of the scholium of the P.Berol. 13417 A, nevertheless criticises the dating to 268.

  • 15

    A possible reading of ΕΤΙ is not excluded by Francesca Maltomini (personal communication).

  • 16

    Grzybek 1990, p. 111.

  • 17

    On the linguistic problems of this reading of the scholium, see the accurate considerations provided by D'Alessio 1996, p. 661 n. 12: « […] Una nuova lettura è ora proposta da Grzybek, cit (n. all’argomento), 111: ὡϲ ἔτι πάϲ(ηϲ) ϲελήν(ηϲ) ἡρπαϲμένηϲ («in quanto tutta la luna era ancora rapita»), da intendere in riferimento al novilunio, in base al confronto con l’uso di ἁρπαγιμαία in sch. Arat. 735, p. 473 s. Maass. Non trovo però tale ricostruzione linguisticamente persuasiva: ci si aspetterebbe infatti piuttosto πάϲηϲ <τηϲ> ϲελήνηϲ. (Il participio era connesso alla luna in una diversa ricostruzione, basata su revisione del papiro di W. Schubart, da S. Witkowski, «BPhW» 36 [1916], 1990 s.)». Van Oppen de Ruiter 2010, p. 142 adds: « […] But grammar and paleography aside, the real problem with Grzybek’s interpretation is that it makes no sense in the context of Callimachus’ poem. For in the poem Arsinoe herself is snatched away (κλεπτομένα) by the Dioscuri».

  • 18

    Grzybek 1990, p. 112.

  • 19

    Van Oppen de Ruiter 2010.

  • 20

    Ivi, p. 143.

  • 21

    However, the date is still a matter of debate and controversy. See O’Neil 2008 passim; Carney 2013, p. 92.

  • 22

    Transl. by Sean Byrne.

  • 23

    See Van Oppen de Ruiter 2010, p. 149.

  • 24


  • 25

    See Wilamowitz 1912, p. 524 on the subject: « […] er ist allem Anscheine nach mit dem Diorthoten identisch, der noch meht Lesezeichen eingetragen und die Scholien geschrieben hat, wie seine Fehler zeigen, nach einer Vorlage».

  • 26

    For references to πανϲέληνοϲ used with reference to seasons e.g. «κατὰ τὴν πρώτην πανϲέληνον τοῦ ἔαροϲ» in Georgius Cedrenus Chronogr., 1838; «δὲ <β> ἑβδομὰϲ μέχρι πανϲελήνου θερινῇ παραπλήϲιοϲ·» in Aëtius Med., Iatricorum liber, III.  κατὰ τὴν πρώτην πανϲέληνον τοῦ ἔαροϲ

  • 27

    It has been pointed out (Cameron 1990, pp. 301-302) that Arsinoe II's death may have occurred a few months before the Olympic victory of the hetaera Bilistiche, the concubine of Ptolemy II Philadelphus, in the quadriga race of 268 BC (FGrHist 257a F6= P.Oxy. 2082 F6 ll. 6-8). Since Arsinoe II herself had won the first prize in the previous Olympiad in the same competition, according to the Macedonian tradition, it seems clear that in the summer of 268 BC Arsinoe must have passed away, thus allowing the hetaera to stand out in the competition. At the same time if, following Cameron, one opts for 268 BC, it seems to be ruled out that the death of the Queen/sister could have occurred in early July, a date too close to the start of the Olympic Games, while a date in mid-June would be more appropriate. See also Ogden 2008, 382 ff. On the subject see also Kosmetatou 2004a, pp. 225 ff.; Kosmetatou 2004b, pp. 18, 34 where, however, is still suggested a date around July 270 BC.

  • Austin 2006 = Austin Colin, L’apothéose d’Arsinoé (P.Berol. 13417 A = Callim. Fr. 228 Pf.), in Guido Bastianini, Angelo Casanova (a cura di), Callimaco cent’anni di papiri: Atti del convegno internazionale di studi, Firenze, pp. 57–68.

  • Cameron 1990 = Cameron Alan, Two Mistresses of Ptolemy Philadelphus, «GRBS» XXXI, pp. 287-311.

  • Carney 2013 = Carney Elizabeth D., Arsinoë of Egypt and Macedon: A Royal Life, [Women in antiquity], Oxford.

  • Criscuolo 1991 = Criscuolo Lucia, Review of Erhard Grzybek, “Du calendrier macédonien au calendrier ptolémaïque: problèmes de chronologie hellénistique”, «Aegyptus» LXXI, pp. 282–289.

  • D’Alessio 1996 = D’Alessio Giovan Battista (a cura di), Callimaco, I, Inni, Epigrammi, Ecale, Milano.

  • Goldstine 1973 = Goldstine Herman H., New and Full Moons, 1001 B.C. to A.D. 1651, Philadelphia.

  • Grzybek 1990 = Grzybek Erhard, Du calendrier macédonien au calendrier ptolémaïque: problèmes de chronologie hellénistique, Basel.

  • Hazzard 1987 = Hazzard Robert A., The Regnal Years of Ptolemy II Philadelphos, «Phoenix» XLI, pp. 140–158.

  • Kamal 1904 = Kamal Ahmed Bey, Stèles ptolémaïques, CG 22001–22208, vols. I–II, Cairo. [abbr. as CG.]

  • Kosmetatou 2004a = Kosmetatou Elizabeth, Constructing Legitimacy. The Ptolemaic Familiengruppe as a Means of Self-Definition in Posidippus’ Hyppika, in Benjamin Acosta-Hughes, Elizabeth Kosmetatou, Manuel Baumbach (eds.), Labored in Papyrus Leaves. Perspectives on an Epigram Collection attributed to Posidippus, Cambridge (MA), pp. 225-246.

  • Kosmetatou 2004b = Kosmetatou Elizabeth, Bilistiche and the Quasi-Institutional Status of Ptolemaic Royal Mistresses, «APF» L, pp. 18-36.

  • Lehnus 2006 = Lehnus Luigi, Hermann Diels studioso di Callimaco, in Antonio Martina, Adele Teresa Cozzoli (a cura di), Callimachea I, Roma, pp. 1-5 [= Lehnus Luigi, Maasiana e Callimachea, Milano 2016, pp. 247-254].

  • Minas 1994 = Minas Martina, Die Pithom-Stele, in Martina Minas, Jürgen Zeidler (Hrsgbb.) Aspekte spätägyptischer Kultur, Mainz, pp. 203-212.

  • Ogden 2008 = Ogden Daniel, Bilistiche and the Prominence of Courtesans in the Ptolemaic Tradition, in Paul McKechnie, Philippe Guillaume (eds.), Ptolemy II Philadelphus and his World, Leiden & Boston, pp. 353-385.

  • O’Neil 2008 = O’Neil James L., A Re-Examination of the Chremonidean War, in Paul McKechnie, Philippe Guillaume (eds.), Ptolemy II Philadelphus and his World, Leiden & Boston, pp. 65–89.

  • Pfeiffer 1922 = Pfeiffer Rudolf, Kallimachosstudien, München.

  • Samuel 1962 = Samuel Alan E., Ptolemaic Chronology, Münchener Beiträge zur Papyrusforschung und antiken Rechtsgeschichte 45, Munich.

  • Sethe 1904 = Sethe Kurt, Hieroglyphische Urkunden der griechisch-römischen Zeit, vols. I–II, Leipzig [abbr. as Urk.].

  • Van Oppen de Ruiter 2010 = van Oppen de Ruiter Branko F., The Death of Arsinoe II Philadelphus: The Evidence Reconsidered, «ZPE» CLXXIV, pp. 139-150.

  • Wilamowitz 1912 = von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff Ulrich, Neues von Kallimachos, «SPAW» band I, pp. 524-550.

  • Wilamowitz 1914 = von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff Ulrich, Neues von Kallimachos II, «SPAW» band I-II, pp. 222-244.

  • Wilamowitz 1924 = von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff Ulrich, Hellenistische Dichtung in der Zeit des Kallimachos, I-II, Berlin.

Vedi tutto
  • Bennet Chris, 2001-2013, Arsinoe II, Egyptian Royal Genealogy, https://www.instonebrewer.com/TyndaleSites/Egypt/index.htm

Vedi tutto
Cita come: Adalberto Magnelli e Giulia Senesi, On a spring full moon, observations on the date of death of Arsinoe II Philadelphus in DILEF. Rivista digitale del Dipartimento di Lettere e Filosofia - 2 (2023), pp. 28-35. 10.35948/DILEF/2023.4316
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