I Worked Hard on This! Aelian’s Preface.

Aelian, History of Animals Prologue

“How much toil others have contributed on these topics, I know well. But after I collected as many sources as possible and communicated them in understandable language, I am convinced that I have made a contribution with is not unworthy of this toil. So, if they seem useful to anyone, may they enjoy them.

To anyone to whom they may seem unprofitable, well, give them to your father to keep warm and work over. For all things are not fine to all people, nor do they seem worthy of enthusiasm to all people the same. Even though in this work I follow many wise authors before me, do not let the mere fact of time be a reason for depriving me of praise if I also have prepared something learned, worthy of praise thanks both to its deeper research and its language.”

 ὡς μὲν οὖν καὶ ἑτέροις ὑπὲρ τούτων ἐσπούδασται, καλῶς οἶδα · ἐγὼ δὲ [ἐμαυτῷ] ταῦτα ὅσα οἷόν τε ἦν ἀθροίσας καὶ περιβαλὼν αὐτοῖς τὴν συνήθη λέξιν, κειμήλιον οὐκ ἀσπούδαστον ἐκπονῆσαι πεπίστευκα. εἰ δέ τῳ καὶ ἄλλῳ φανεῖται ταῦτα λυσιτελῆ, χρήσθω αὐτοῖς· ὅτῳ δὲ οὐ φανεῖται, ἐάτω τῷ πατρὶ θάλπειν τε καὶ περιέπειν · οὐ γὰρ πάντα πᾶσι καλά, οὐδὲ ἄξια δοκεῖ σπουδάσαι πᾶσι πάντα. εἰ δὲ ἐπὶ πολλοῖς τοῖς πρώτοις καὶ σοφοῖς γεγόναμεν, μὴ ἔστω ζημίωμα ἐς ἔπαινον ἡ τοῦ χρόνου λῆξις, εἴ τι καὶ αὐτοὶ σπουδῆς ἄξιον μάθημα παρεχοίμεθα καὶ τῇ εὑρέσει τῇ περιττοτέρᾳ καὶ τῇ φωνῇ.

 British Library, Harley MS 4751, Folio 35r

The Solace of Studying History

Livy, Ab Urbe Condita, Praefatio 1


“If I am going to complete something worth its effort as I record the tale of the Roman people from the beginning I do not know clearly; if I knew, I would not dare to say—since I have observed that this subject is of some antiquity and well-worn thanks to every new generation of authors who believe that they can establish something more certain in the events themselves or that they can improve upon rough antiquity by their skill in writing. However this turns out, it will be sufficient for me to have used my strength to make a record of the deeds of the planet’s foremost people. If my repute fades into obscurity among such a crowd of writers, I will be consoled by the nobility and greatness of those whose names precede me.

The subject, furthermore, is a tremendous undertaking, one that must be traced back over seven hundred years and which, though based in rather modest beginnings, has increased to such a size that it strains under its own weight. I also doubt that, for most readers, the first periods and the times near them will offer much in the way of pleasure; instead readers will rush to recent affairs during which a people who have long been powerful are bringing themselves to ruin. In contrast, I seek out a somewhat different reward for my labor: whenever I can turn my mind to these ancient affairs, I distract it from all the troubles which our age has been witnessing for years for as long as I contemplate the bygone days. Even if I cannot hide from the truth, since the mind of the historian mulls over every concern, it nevertheless brings some solace.”


Facturusne operae pretium sim si a primordio urbis res populi Romani perscripserim nec satis scio nec, si sciam, dicere ausim, quippe qui cum veterem tum volgatam esse rem videam, dum novi semper scriptores aut in rebus certius aliquid allaturos se aut scribendi arte rudem vetustatem superaturos credunt. Utcumque erit, iuvabit tamen rerum gestarum memoriae principis terrarum populi pro virili parte et ipsum consuluisse; et si in tanta scriptorum turba mea fama in obscuro sit, nobilitate ac magnitudine eorum me qui nomini officient meo consoler. Res est praeterea et immensi operis, ut quae supra septingentesimum annum repetatur et quae ab exiguis profecta initiis eo creverit ut iam magnitudine laboret sua; et legentium plerisque haud dubito quin primae origines proximaque originibus minus praebitura voluptatis sint, festinantibus ad haec nova quibus iam pridem praevalentis populi vires se ipsae conficiunt: ego contra hoc quoque laboris praemium petam, ut me a conspectu malorum quae nostra tot per annos vidit aetas, tantisper certe dum prisca [tota] illa mente repeto, avertam, omnis expers curae quae scribentis animum, etsi non flectere a uero, sollicitum tamen efficere posset.

Polybius, Histories 1.14: On The Pointlessness of Biased History


“I am also compelled to understand this war by something no less important than anything else I have already said—the fact that those who seem most qualified to write about it…have not sufficiently reported the truth. I do not suspect that these men lie willingly (based on their manner of life and their choices), but they do seem to me to have suffered in the way that lovers do….It is certainly right for a good man to be loyal to his friends, to be patriotic, and to commiserate in his friend’s hatreds and take pleasure in his friends; but whenever someone takes up the historian’s post, he must banish all of these biases to the point of often gracing his enemies with the finest praise when their actions deserve it and also often rebuking and blaming those closest to him, whenever they reveal to him errors worthy of it. For, just as closed eyes make the rest of an animal useless, what is left from a history blind to the truth is just a pointless tale.”


Οὐχ ἧττον δὲ τῶν προειρημένων παρωξύνθην ἐπιστῆσαι τούτῳ τῷ πολέμῳ καὶ διὰ τὸ τοὺς ἐμπειρότατα δοκοῦντας γράφειν ὑπὲρ αὐτοῦ, Φιλῖνον καὶ Φάβιον, μὴ δεόντως ἡμῖν ἀπηγγελκέναι τὴν ἀλήθειαν. ἑκόντας μὲν οὖν ἐψεῦσθαι τοὺς ἄνδρας οὐχ ὑπολαμβάνω, στοχαζόμενος ἐκ τοῦ βίου καὶ τῆς αἱ-ρέσεως αὐτῶν· δοκοῦσι δέ μοι πεπονθέναι τι παραπλήσιον τοῖς ἐρῶσι… · καὶ γὰρ φιλόφιλον εἶναι δεῖ τὸν ἀγαθὸν ἄνδρα καὶ φιλόπατριν καὶ συμμισεῖν τοῖς φίλοις τοὺς ἐχθροὺς καὶ συναγαπᾶν τοὺς φίλους· ὅταν δὲ τὸ τῆς ἱστορίας ἦθος ἀναλαμ-βάνῃ τις, ἐπιλαθέσθαι χρὴ πάντων τῶν τοιούτων καὶ πολλάκις μὲν εὐλογεῖν καὶ κοσμεῖν τοῖς μεγίστοις ἐπαίνοις τοὺς ἐχθρούς, ὅταν αἱ πράξεις ἀπαιτῶσι τοῦτο, πολλάκις δ’ ἐλέγχειν καὶ ψέγειν ἐπονειδίστως τοὺς ἀναγκαιοτάτους, ὅταν αἱ τῶν ἐπιτηδευμάτων ἁμαρτίαι τοῦθ’ ὑποδεικνύωσιν. ὥσπερ γὰρ ζῴου τῶν ὄψεων ἀφαιρεθεισῶν ἀχρειοῦται τὸ ὅλον, οὕτως ἐξ ἱστορίας ἀναιρεθείσης τῆς ἀληθείαςτὸ καταλειπόμενον αὐτῆς ἀνωφελὲς γίνεται διήγημα.


F. W. Shipley’s Kind Introduction to Velleius Paterculus

“Velleius Paterculus does not rank among the great Olympians of classical literature either as stylist or as historian. But, as Pliny the elder says, no book is so poor that one cannot get some good out of it, and there is much in this comparatively neglected author that is worth reading once, at least in translation. In its aim to include all that is of value and interest in Greek and Latin literature from the days of Homer to the Fall of Constantinople the Loeb Library is performing what is perhaps its most valuable service in making more generally available the content of those comparatively unknown authors who, for stylistic or other reasons, are not to be reckoned among the great classics or do not deserve a careful study in the original.”

Dicere enim solebat nullum esse librum tam malum ut non aliqua parte prodesset. Pliny, Ep. III.5.10, quoting a saying of his uncle.

I copied this text from the inimitable Lacus Curtius who prints the Loeb from 1924.

The Usefulness of History: Livy, Ab Urbe Condita, Praefatio 10-12

“This is what is especially constructive and profitable in the contemplation of history: that you behold evidence of every kind of situation set out as a clear monument to the past. From these examples, you can choose some for you and for your state to imitate; from these you can identify what you should avoid as shameful in design or shameful in outcome. For what remains, either the love of the work I have assumed seduces me or it is true that no state was ever greater; no state was ever more righteous or abundant in good examples; there was no state where luxury and greed arrived on the scene so late; nor any state where respect for restraint and humble property lasted so long. The less there was to have, the less desire there was to have it. Recent riches have induced greed; endless pleasures have increased our need to pursue indulgence and desire approaching all-encompassing destruction.”

Hoc illud est praecipue in cognitione rerum salubre ac frugiferum, omnis te exempli documenta in inlustri posita monmento intueri; inde tibi tuaeque rei publicae quod imitere capias, inde foedum inceptu foedum exitu quod vites. Ceterum aut me amor negotii suscepti fallit, aut nulla unquam res publica nec maior nec sanctior nec bonis exemplis ditior fuit, nec in quam [civitatem] tam serae avaritia luxuriaque immigraverint, nec ubi tantus ac tam diu paupertati ac parsimoniae honos fuerit. Adeo quanto rerum minus, tanto minus cupiditatis erat: nuper divitiae avaritiam et abundantes voluptates desiderium per luxum atque libidinem pereundi perdendique omnia invexere.