A Kingly Negotiator Buying Books

Aulus Gellius, Attic Nights 1.19

19. The account of the Sibylline Books and King Tarquin the Proud

This story is preserved in the ancient accounts concerning the Sibylline books. An old woman, unknown, approached king Tarquin the Proud with new books which she was claiming were divine oracles (and she wished to see them). Tarquin asked the price.  The woman asked for an enormous, excessive amount. The King, as if he believed she was senile, laughed. Then she placed a brazier already lit before him, burned three of the nine books and asked whether the King wished to buy the remaining six for the same amount. But Tarquin laughed even more and said that he’d lost all doubt that the woman was insane. The woman then burned up three more books immediately and calmly asked him the same thing again, to buy the three remaining books for that price. Tarquin then became more serious and attentive, believing that this insistence and confidence ought not to be ignored: he bought the remaining books for no less than the price which had been sought for all of them!

But it is agreed that after the woman departed from Tarquin, she was never seen again.  The Three books, which were placed in a shrine, are called “The Sibylline Books”. The Fifteen [priests] turn to them for oracles whenever the gods must be consulted for the public good.”

XIX. Historia super libris Sibyllinis ac de Tarquinio Superbo rege.

1 In antiquis annalibus memoria super libris Sibyllinis haec prodita est: 2 Anus hospita atque incognita ad Tarquinium Superbum regem adiit novem libros ferens, quos esse dicebat divina oracula; eos velle venundare. 3 Tarquinius pretium percontatus est. Mulier nimium atque inmensum poposcit; 4 rex, quasi anus aetate desiperet, derisit. 5 Tum illa foculum coram cum igni apponit, tris libros ex novem deurit et, ecquid reliquos sex eodem pretio emere vellet, regem interrogavit. 6 Sed enim Tarquinius id multo risit magis dixitque anum iam procul dubio delirare. 7 Mulier ibidem statim tris alios libros exussit atque id ipsum denuo placide rogat, ut tris reliquos eodem illo pretio emat. 8 Tarquinius ore iam serio atque attentiore animo fit, eam constantiam confidentiamque non insuper habendam intellegit, libros tris reliquos mercatur nihilo minore pretio, quam quod erat petitum pro omnibus. 9 Sed eam mulierem tunc a Tarquinio digressam postea nusquam loci visam constitit. 10 Libri tres in sacrarium conditi “Sibyllini” appellati; 11 ad eos quasi ad oraculum quindecimviri adeunt, cum di immortales publice consulendi sunt.

The Sibylline books had 15 priestly interpreters by the time of Cicero.  Why? Maybe because they were in Greek!

Image result for medieval manuscript sibylline books

Plato Paid too Much for Books, Then Ripped Them Off (Gellius on Timon and the Timaios)

Aulus Gellius, Attic Nights 3.16

  1. This too has been entrusted to history by the most trustworthy men: Plato bought three books of Philolaus the Pythagorean and Aristotle acquired a few volumes of the philosopher Speusippus at inconceivable prices.

It has been said that the philosopher Plato was a man without great financial resources; yet he nevertheless purchased three books of the Pythagorean Philolaus for ten thousand denarii. That amount, some write, Dio of Syracuse, his friend, gave to him.  Aristotle too is said to have bought a few books of the philosopher Speusippus after his death for three Attic talents. That is as much as seventy-two thousand sesterces!

The acerbic Timon wrote a very libelous book which is called the Sillos [i.e. “Lampoon”]. In that book, he takes on Plato insultingly for the fact that he bought the book of Pythagorean philosophy for so high a price and that he cobbled together that noble dialogue the Timaeus from it. Here are Timon’s lines on the matter:

And You, Plato: the desire of education seized you
And you bought a small book for a vast sum,
This book is where you learned to write a Timaios.”

 

XVII. Id quoque esse a gravissimis viris memoriae mandatum, quod tris libros Plato Philolai Pythagorici et Aristoteles pauculos Speusippi philosophi mercati sunt pretiis fidem non capientibus. 

1Memoriae mandatum est Platonem philosophum tenui admodum pecunia familiari fuisse atque eum tamen tris Philolai Pythagorici libros decem milibus denarium mercatum. 2 Id ei pretium donasse quidam scripserunt amicum eius Dionem Syracosium. 3 Aristotelem quoque traditum libros pauculos Speusippi philosophi post mortem eius emisse talentis Atticis tribus; ea summa fit nummi nostri sestertia duo et septuaginta milia. 4 Timon amarulentus librum maledicentissimum conscripsit, qui sillos inscribitur. 5 In eo libro Platonem philosophum contumeliose appellat, quod inpenso pretio librum Pythagoricae disciplinae emisset exque eo Timaeum, nobilem illum dialogum, concinnasset. Versus super ea re Timonos hi sunt (fr. 828):

καὶ σύ, Πλάτων· καὶ γάρ σε μαθητείης πόθος ἔσχεν,
πολλῶν δ’ ἀργυρίων ὀλίγην ἠλλάξαο βίβλον,
ἔνθεν ἀπαρχόμενος τιμαιογραφεῖν ἐδιδάχθης.