Apollodorus of Athens was the last in the great tradition of scholars connected with the Library of Alexandria, Egypt. Born around 180 BCE, he studied under the Stoic Diogenes, moved to Alexandria where he collaborated with Aristarchus, extended Eratosthenes’ Chronicles (Χρονικά) to his death in 120 or 110 BCE, wrote a commentary on Homer’s Catalogue of Ships (Περὶ τοῦ τῶν νεῶν καταλόγου) that offered a geographical account of the Homeric age, and authored an extensive account on Homeric religion called On the Gods (Περὶ θεῶν). In deference to his immense learning, a number of works were later attributed to Apollodorus, most famously the mythological handbook known as the Library (Βιβλιοθήκη). Organized around extended family relationships of the gods and heroes, the Library utilizes these genealogical links to clarify how the vast number of muthoi fit together in a coherent way and to connect various poleis through their divine and heroic family networks. The straightforward storytelling of the Library made it popular as a handbook to students learning Greek myths in antiquity, just as it does today. The last half of Book 3 breaks off after the first two Labors of Theseus and an Epitome provides a shorter account of the last four labors.
The Bibliotheca is an example of a larger genre known as mythography, the collection and organization of mythical stories, often geographically or chronologically. By definition, mythography encompasses a wide range of material, beginning with the Homeric Catalogue of Ships and Hesiod’s Theogony. Mythography is often organized through the use of catalogues, genealogies, theogonies, cosmogonies, and chronological “cycles.” The earliest examples of mythography can be found in the scholia (notes on canonical texts by ancient scholars), the hypotheses (summaries) of tragic drama, or as digressions in geographical or astronomical works, but by the first century BCE, the most common form becomes manuals or handbooks for the reading public, such as the Library. The Library is organized both chronologically and genealogically, beginning with the creation of the cosmos and then by various family trees.