Polybius’ Historical Proof for Learning Foreign Languages

Polybius, Histories 1.80.8

“Then many speakers from each nation stood forth at the same time wishing to ask that the captured men be spared torture at least, because of Gesco’s benevolence towards them. But no one understood a thing of what they said, because so many spoke at once and each gave his advice in his own language. But when it was laid bare that they were pleading against the punishment—and someone of those gathered yelled “stone them”—they at once killed all the speakers.

πολλῶν δὲ προπορευομένων ἀφ’ ἑκάστου γένους ἅμα καὶ βουλομένων αὐτὴν παραιτεῖσθαι τὴν αἰκίαν διὰ τὰς γεγενημένας ἐκ τοῦ Γέσκωνος εἰς αὐτοὺς εὐεργεσίας, οὔτε μὴν τῶν λεγομένων οὐθὲν ἦν συνετόν, ὡς ἂν ἅμα πολλῶν, ἑκάστου δὲ κατὰ τὴν ἰδίαν διάλεκτον συμβουλεύοντος• ἐπεὶ δὲ καὶ παρεγυμνώθη διότι τὴν τιμωρίαν παραιτοῦνται, καί τις ἐκ τῶν καθημένων εἶπεν βάλλε, πάντας ἅμα κατέλευσαν τοὺς προπορευθέντας.

The scene: During the Mercenary War, an interlude between the first two Punic Wars, the Carthaginians fought against a rebellion of their Libyan troops. Gesco was a Carthangian commander. The leaders of the mercenaries, according to Polybius, executed and disfigured the bulk of their prisoners.

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