Kleodemos Malchos and the Origins of Africa

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This paper sets out to explore what little remains from the now-lost work of the Hellenistic author Kleodemos Malchos (Joseph AJ 1.240–241; Euseb. Praep. evang. 9.20.2–4). The surviving fragment concerns the joint campaign of the Greek Hero Herakles and the sons of the Hebrew Patriarch Abraham against the Libyan giant Antaios, a struggle which resulted with a marriage alliance between the victors, the birth of a Libyan people, and the origin of the name “Africa”. The key point in the discussion is the etiological use by Kleodemos of the name Africa, which stands at the heart of the story. This use of Africa points to modern day Tunisia, to the popularization of the name following the second Punic War and to its official use in the new Roman province after the third Punic War. This final confrontation between Rome and Carthage is suggested as the historical context for Kleodemos’ story. It is further suggested that the myth of Herakles and Antaios is used as commentary on the third Punic War, with Herakles signifying Rome, Antaios Carthage, and the Libyan tribes spawned by Herakles standing for Masinissa’s nascent Numidian state. The role of Abraham is harder to ascertain, given the uncertainty about Kleodemos’ originality. It may be seen as a typical Hellenistic Jewish attempt to find a place for a Hero of Hebrew mythology within Greco-Roman culture, but may also represent a strong interest, possibly even some actual Jewish involvement, in the third Punic War.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)191-219
Number of pages29
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2011


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