Pisistratus, the First Librarian? Gellius on Libraries Built, Pillaged and Burned

Aulus Gellius, Attic Nights 7.17


17: Who was the first of all to provide books for the public to read; and what quantity of books were in Athenian public libraries before the Persian invasions?

Pisistratus the tyrant is said to have been the first to make books of liberal disciplines available to be read publicly in Athens. Afterwards, the Athenians themselves increased the collection eagerly and carefully. But later when Xerxes became master of Athens and the city was burned except for the citadel, he stole the entire collection and took it to Persia. Many years later, King Seleucus, who was nicknamed Nicanor, made sure that all of these books were returned to Athens.

At a later date, a great number of books—nearly seven hundred thousand volumes, were either collected or published in Egypt under the Ptolemaic kings; but these books were all burned in our first Alexandrian War during the sack of the city—this wasn’t done on purpose or by any orders, but accidentally by the auxiliary regiment.”

 XVII. Quis omnium primus libros publice praebuerit legendos; quantusque numerus fuerit Athenis ante clades Persicas librorum in bibliothecis publicorum.

1 Libros Athenis disciplinarum liberalium publice ad legendum praebendos primus posuisse dicitur Pisistratus tyrannus. Deinceps studiosius accuratiusque ipsi Athenienses auxerunt; sed omnem illam postea librorum copiam Xerxes Athenarum potitus urbe ipsa praeter arcem incensa abstulit asportavitque in Persas. 2 Eos porro libros universos multis post tempestatibus Seleucus rex, qui Nicanor appellatus est, referendos Athenas curavit. 3 Ingens postea numerus librorum in Aegypto ab Ptolemaeis regibus vel conquisitus vel confectus est ad milia ferme voluminum septingenta; sed ea omnia bello priore Alexandrino, dum diripitur ea civitas, non sponte neque opera consulta, sed a militibus forte auxiliaris incensa sunt.


[the War mentioned here is likely 48 CBE; the Library at Alexandria was rebuilt by 41 BCE. It was burned again in 272 CE and abandoned by the end of the 4th century CE]

Werewolf Week, Fantastic Friday Edition: Herotodus’s Lycanthropic Tribe

This week we’ve mentioned therapeutic treatments for lycanthropy, the ritual origins of some Greek beliefs, and a Roman ghost story from Petronius.  But we have so far overlooked the earliest reference to werewolves from classical antiquity, Herodotus’ description of the Neuroi.

Histories, 4.105

The Neuroi are Skythian culturally, but one generation before Darius’ invasion they were driven from their country by snakes. It happens that their land produces many snakes; and even more descended upon them from the deserted regions to the point that they were overwhelmed and left their own country to live with the Boudinoi.

These men may actually be wizards. For the Skythians and even the Greeks who have settled in Skythia report that once each year the Neurian men turn into wolves for a few days and then transform back into themselves again. People who say these things don’t persuade me, but they tell the tale still and swear to it when they do.”

Some Skythians were less civilized...
Some Skythians were less civilized…

Νευροὶ δὲ νόμοισι μὲν χρέωνται Σκυθικοῖσι. Γενεῇ δὲ μιῇ πρότερόν σφεας τῆς Δαρείου στρατηλασίης κατέλαβε ἐκλιπεῖν τὴν χώρην πᾶσαν ὑπὸ ὀφίων· ὄφις γάρ σφι πολλοὺς μὲν ἡ χώρη ἀνέφαινε, οἱ δὲ πλέονες ἄνωθέν σφι ἐκ τῶν ἐρήμων ἐπέπεσον, ἐς ὃ πιεζόμενοι οἴκησαν μετὰ  Βουδίνων τὴν ἑωυτῶν ἐκλιπόντες.

Κινδυνεύουσι δὲ οἱ ἄνθρωποι οὗτοι γόητες εἶναι. Λέγονται γὰρ ὑπὸ Σκυθέων καὶ ῾Ελλήνων τῶν ἐν τῇ Σκυθικῇ κατοικημένων ὡς ἔτεος ἑκάστου ἅπαξ τῶν Νευρῶν ἕκαστος λύκος γίνεται ἡμέρας ὀλίγας καὶ αὖτις ὀπίσω ἐς τὠυτὸ κατίσταται· ἐμὲ μέν νυν ταῦτα λέγοντες οὐ πείθουσι, λέγουσι δὲ οὐδὲν ἧσσον, καὶ ὀμνύουσι δὲ λέγοντες.

How and Wells’ Comment as follows on this passage (available on Perseus):

λύκος γίνεται. This earliest reference to the widespread superstition as to werewolves (cf. Tylor, P. C. i. 308 seq., and Frazer, Paus. iv. 189, for Greek parallels) is interesting, as the evidence is so emphatic. Others (e. g. Müllenhoff iii. 17) see in this story a reference to some festival like the Lupercalia.

Politics and War, Little Change: Thucydides on the Speeches of Plataea and Thebes

Thucydides, 3.56.1-2: the Plataeans’ Complaint

“The Thebans wronged us in many other ways and you know the final thing yourselves, the very reason we are suffering now. For they took our city when there was a truce in place and, worse, during a holy month. We paid them back correctly according to the custom that is accepted by everyone—that it is sacred to defend yourself against an attacking enemy. Therefore we should not for any reason suffer at their hands now.”

‘Θηβαῖοι δὲ πολλὰ μὲν καὶ ἄλλα ἡμᾶς ἠδίκησαν, τὸ δὲ τελευταῖον αὐτοὶ ξύνιστε, δι’ ὅπερ καὶ τάδε πάσχομεν. πόλιν γὰρ αὐτοὺς τὴν ἡμετέραν καταλαμβάνοντας ἐν σπονδαῖς καὶ προσέτι ἱερομηνίᾳ ὀρθῶς τε ἐτιμωρησάμεθα κατὰ τὸν πᾶσι νόμον καθεστῶτα, τὸν ἐπιόντα πολέμιον ὅσιον εἶναι ἀμύνεσθαι, καὶ νῦν οὐκ ἂν εἰκότως δι’ αὐτοὺς βλαπτοίμεθα.

3.62.4: The Theban View on their Capitulation to Persia

“The whole city was not in control of itself when it did this: it is not right to blame it for what it did wrong when there were no laws”

καὶ ἡ ξύμπασα πόλις οὐκ αὐτοκράτωρ οὖσα ἑαυτῆς τοῦτ’ ἔπραξεν, οὐδ’ ἄξιον αὐτῇ ὀνειδίσαι ὧν μὴ μετὰ νόμων ἥμαρτεν.

Maybe It Was For the Best that Alexander Died (Arrian, History of Alexander 7.16.8)

“Perhaps it was also a better fate for him to die at the height of his reputation and when he would be missed by men before he could suffer that common human fate, which is the very thing Solon warned Kroisos about: that it is best to look to the end of even a long life and never to say openly that some man is fortunate before he is dead.”


καί που τυχὸν καὶ ἄμεινον αὐτῷ ἦν ἐν ἀκμῇ τῆς τε ἄλλης δόξης καὶ τοῦ πόθου τοῦ παρ’ ἀνθρώπων ἀπηλλάχθαι, πρίν τινα ξυμβῆναι αὐτῷ ξυμφορὰν ἀνθρωπίνην, ἧς ἕνεκα καὶ Σόλωνα Κροίσῳ παραινέσαι εἰκὸς τέλος ὁρᾶν μακροῦ βίου μηδὲ πρόσθεν τινὰ ἀνθρώπων ἀποφαίνειν εὐδαίμονα.