A Program for Historical Reading

Aeneas Silvius Piccolomini, de Liberorum Educatione:

“Boys should also read the historians such as Livy and Sallust, though they may need to be further advanced in order to understand them. Justin and Quintus Curtius and Arrian, whom Petrus Paulus translated are true, and not fantastic stories. They ought to run through the deeds of Alexander. Valerius, the historian and philosopher, is not unworthy to be joined with these. But Suetonius ought not to be entrusted to boys. History may also be received with no small profit from the books of Kings, Maccabees, Judith, Esdra, Esther, the evangelists, and the Acts of the Apostles. ‘For history’, as Cicero says, ‘is a witness to the times, the light of the truth, the instructor of life, the messenger of antiquity.’ It is most useful, therefore, to have read as many histories as possible and to exercise oneself in them, so that you might know from the example of others how to pursue what is useful and avoid what is harmful. I would not, however, have you occupied with excessive labor, but it is enough to have learned the histories related by famous authors.On no account, if it were up to me, would I let the histories of the Bohemians or the Hungarians be given to a boy. For they are written by the uneducated, they contain a number of imbecilities, many lies, no notable thoughts, and no ornamentation. For, as Pliny says, ‘no book is so bad that some good may not be taken from it’, and on that account appears willing to grant anything written a reading over, the thought really ought to apply to those who are already learned, and not to children. For, unless children are steeped from the beginning in the best examples, they will never be able to attain good sense.”

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