A Post from a Year Ago: Polybius and Plato on Government Cycles

A year ago this Tuesday I found myself contemplating a bottle of bourbon and Polybius.

Polybius, Histories 6.4

“The proof that what I have said is true comes from the following. It must not be asserted that every well-made government is a principality, but only the government which is assented to voluntarily and which is governed by reason rather than fear and force. Nor should we consider every oligarchy to be an aristocracy: the latter emerges only when men rule because they are the most just and the most prudent. In a similar way, a true democracy is not that in which the majority has the power to do whatever it wants, but what counts is if the will of the majority enforces observance of its traditional laws, honor to the customary laws, duty to parents, respect to elders, obedience to the laws—then it is right to call a state a democracy.

From this, we can isolate six types of government: the three I have just mentioned and three additional, related forms, monarchy, oligarchy, and mob rule. The first of these, monarchy, arises naturally, and without machination. The second follows it and develops from it with preparation and adjustment. Once this has transformed into the evil form akin to it, tyranny, and aristocracy develops from the dissolution of both. When aristocracy devolves into oligarchy as is natural, and the people turn into rage over the injustice of their leaders, democracy emerges. Over time, mob-rule develops from outrage and illegality. Anyone can understand clearly from this pattern that the things I am saying now are true, based on the nature of each government in its origins and its evolution.”

polybius

ὅτι δ᾽ ἀληθές ἐστι τὸ λεγόμενον ἐκ τούτων συμφανές. [2] οὔτε γὰρ πᾶσαν δήπου μοναρχίαν εὐθέως βασιλείαν ῥητέον, ἀλλὰ μόνην τὴν ἐξ ἑκόντων συγχωρουμένην καὶ τῇ γνώμῃ τὸ πλεῖον ἢ φόβῳ καὶ βίᾳ κυβερνωμένην: [3] οὐδὲ μὴν πᾶσαν ὀλιγαρχίαν ἀριστοκρατίαν νομιστέον, ἀλλὰ ταύτην, ἥτις ἂν κατ᾽ ἐκλογὴν ὑπὸ τῶν δικαιοτάτων καὶ φρονιμωτάτων ἀνδρῶν βραβεύηται. [4] παραπλησίως οὐδὲ δημοκρατίαν, ἐν ᾗ πᾶν πλῆθος κύριόν ἐστι ποιεῖν ὅ, [5] τι ποτ᾽ ἂν αὐτὸ βουληθῇ καὶ πρόθηται παρὰ δ᾽ ᾧ πάτριόν ἐστι καὶ σύνηθες θεοὺς σέβεσθαι, γονεῖς θεραπεύειν, πρεσβυτέρους αἰδεῖσθαι, νόμοις πείθεσθαι, παρὰ τοῖς τοιούτοις συστήμασιν ὅταν τὸ τοῖς πλείοσι δόξαν νικᾷ, τοῦτο καλεῖν δεῖ δημοκρατίαν. διὸ καὶ γένη μὲν ἓξ εἶναι ῥητέον πολιτειῶν, [6] τρία μὲν ἃ πάντες θρυλοῦσι καὶ νῦν προείρηται, τρία δὲ τὰ τούτοις συμφυῆ, λέγω δὲ μοναρχίαν, ὀλιγαρχίαν, ὀχλοκρατίαν. [7] πρώτη μὲν οὖν ἀκατασκεύως καὶ φυσικῶς συνίσταται μοναρχία, ταύτῃ δ᾽ ἕπεται καὶ ἐκ ταύτης γεννᾶται μετὰ κατασκευῆς καὶ διορθώσεως βασιλεία. [8] μεταβαλλούσης δὲ ταύτης εἰς τὰ συμφυῆ κακά, λέγω δ᾽ εἰς τυραννίδ᾽, αὖθις ἐκ τῆς τούτων καταλύσεως ἀριστοκρατία φύεται. [9] καὶ μὴν ταύτης εἰς ὀλιγαρχίαν ἐκτραπείσης κατὰ φύσιν, τοῦ δὲ πλήθους ὀργῇ μετελθόντος τὰς τῶν προεστώτων ἀδικίας, γεννᾶται δῆμος. [10] ἐκ δὲ τῆς τούτου πάλιν ὕβρεως καὶ παρανομίας ἀποπληροῦται σὺν χρόνοις ὀχλοκρατία. [11] γνοίη δ᾽ ἄν τις σαφέστατα περὶ τούτων ὡς ἀληθῶς ἐστιν οἷα δὴ νῦν εἶπον, ἐπὶ τὰς ἑκάστων κατὰ φύσιν ἀρχὰς καὶ γενέσεις καὶ μεταβολὰς ἐπιστήσας.

anaklosis

Later in the year, I read a slightly disturbing piece comparing the views of Steve Bannon and Plato concerning movements in governments. Without comment on this, a friend asked me about the same basic passage from Plato, because it was discussed on the BBC:

The passage at the center of this appears to be as follows:

Plato, Republic  564a

“It is likely, I said, that tyranny emerges out of no other state except for democracy—the greatest and most savage servitude emerges, I suppose, from the greatest freedom.”

Εἰκότως τοίνυν, εἶπον, οὐκ ἐξ ἄλλης πολιτείας τυραννὶς καθίσταται ἢ ἐκ δημοκρατίας, ἐξ οἶμαι τῆς ἀκροτάτης ἐλευθερίας δουλεία πλείστη τε καὶ ἀγριωτάτη.

The problem with the discussions, however, is that Plato’s interlocutors take a very long time to get to this point: the discussion about the four types of government starts at 544a  So picking out this single passage is kind of like watching one series of the Superbowl and thinking you know the whole game.

(And, as an aside, plucking any bit out of its context in a Platonic dialogue is a little dodgy. [And I say this with authority as someone whose hobby is taking quotations out of context.] I am not a Platonist, but I have read enough to know that each dialogue presents its own development of arguments, essentially a self-contained universe of ideas. The dialogues do interrelate, but an idea projected in one is not a universal assertion. This is especially true in the Republic.]

Much earlier in the piece, Plato starts to discuss democracy. His issue has to do with the importance of money:

Rep. 555b

“Therefore, I said, this sort of manner facilitates the change from oligarchy into democracy, through the insatiable pursuit for its proposed good, that there be as much wealth as possible?”

How’s that?

I guess I mean that when those who rule in a state rule because they possess much, they are not willing to restrain by law however many of the youth are unhindered, to prevent them from spending and wasting their own wealth, because they hope that by acquiring and lending money on their possessions, they might become even wealthier still and more honored.

Ah, alright.

Therefore it is clear in this city that it is impossible to honor wealth and obtain sufficient wisdom among the citizens at the same time, but, rather, it is necessary to care for one or the other?

Ok, he said, that seems right.”

Οὐκοῦν, ἦν δ’ ἐγώ, μεταβάλλει μὲν τρόπον τινὰ τοιόνδε ἐξ ὀλιγαρχίας εἰς δημοκρατίαν, δι’ ἀπληστίαν τοῦ προκειμένου ἀγαθοῦ, τοῦ ὡς πλουσιώτατον δεῖν γίγνεσθαι;

Πῶς δή;

῞Ατε οἶμαι ἄρχοντες ἐν αὐτῇ οἱ ἄρχοντες διὰ τὸ πολλὰ κεκτῆσθαι, οὐκ ἐθέλουσιν εἴργειν νόμῳ τῶν νέων ὅσοι ἂν ἀκόλαστοι γίγνωνται, μὴ ἐξεῖναι αὐτοῖς ἀναλίσκειν τε καὶ ἀπολλύναι τὰ αὑτῶν, ἵνα ὠνούμενοι τὰ τῶν τοιούτων καὶ εἰσδανείζοντες ἔτι πλουσιώτεροι καὶ ἐντιμότεροι γίγνωνται.

Παντός γε μᾶλλον.

Οὐκοῦν δῆλον ἤδη τοῦτο ἐν πόλει, ὅτι πλοῦτον τιμᾶν καὶ σωφροσύνην ἅμα ἱκανῶς κτᾶσθαι ἐν τοῖς πολίταις ἀδύνατον, ἀλλ’ ἀνάγκη ἢ τοῦ ἑτέρου ἀμελεῖν ἢ τοῦ ἑτέρου;

᾿Επιεικῶς, ἔφη, δῆλον.

Παραμελοῦντες δὴ ἐν ταῖς ὀλιγαρχίαις καὶ ἐφιέντες ἀκολασταίνειν οὐκ ἀγεννεῖς ἐνίοτε ἀνθρώπους πένητας ἠνάγκασαν γενέσθαι.

(It is interesting that the anti-financial aspect of this dialogue is praised by few…) Plato’s vision of political change is not merely shaped by an aristocratic prejudice against new money, but it is also conditioned by Athenian and local Greek histories. His sample sizes are not large enough! The political cycles envisioned by the later historian Polybius seem a lot more realistic and pertinent, to my taste.

Why Democracies Vote for Tyrants

Plutarch, Precepts of Statecraft 802 E

“Public leadership comes from persuading people through argument. But manipulating a mob in this way differs little from the capture and herding of stupid animals.”

δημαγωγία γὰρ ἡ διὰ λόγου πειθομένων ἐστίν, αἱ δὲ τοιαῦται τιθασεύσεις τῶν ὄχλων οὐδὲν ἀλόγων ζῴων ἄγρας καὶ βουκολήσεως διαφέρουσιν.

I was reading through some passages about leadership in preparation for a virtual conference beginning tomorrow,  “Teaching Leaders and Leadership Through Classics” is going live. (You can participate by registering). The passage above made me think of Peisistratus and how he subverted a democratic state.

Aristophanes gets in on this game with his presentation of the advantages of the Unjust Argument over the just, see a friend’s post on this topic.

Herodotus, 1.59

Peisistratos becomes a tyrant through histrionic lies

“After that, [Hippokrates] had a son named Peisistratos. Then the Athenians on the coasts were in strife with those who lived inland and Megakles, the son of Almeôn, was the leader of the first group, and Lykourgos the son of Aristolaidos was the leader of the inlanders. Peisistratos, because he had designs on a tyranny, led a third faction; after he gathered his partisans and claimed to be a defender of the heartland-Greeks, he enacted the following plans. He wounded himself and his mules and then drove his wagon into the marketplace as if he had fled enemies who wished to kill him as he was traveling to the country. Because of this, he asked the people for a bodyguard under his power, since he had previously earned good repute as a general against the Megarians when he took Nisaia and displayed many other great accomplishments. The Athenian people, utterly deceived, permitted him to choose from the citizens men three hundred men who were not spear-bearers under Peisistratus but club-carriers: for they followed behind him, carrying clubs. Once these men rebelled with Peisistratos, they occupied the acropolis.”

γενέσθαι οἱ μετὰ ταῦτα τὸν Πεισίστρατον τοῦτον, ὃς στασιαζόντων τῶν παράλων καὶ τῶν ἐκ τοῦ πεδίου ᾿Αθηναίων, καὶ τῶν μὲν προεστεῶτος  Μεγακλέος τοῦ ᾿Αλκμέωνος, τῶν δὲ ἐκ τοῦ πεδίου Λυκούργου <τοῦ> ᾿Αριστολαΐδεω, καταφρονήσας τὴν τυραννίδα ἤγειρε τρίτην στάσιν, συλλέξας δὲ στασιώτας καὶ τῷ λόγῳ τῶν ὑπερακρίων προστὰς μηχανᾶται τοιάδε· τρωματίσας ἑωυτόν τε καὶ ἡμιόνους ἤλασε ἐς τὴν ἀγορὴν τὸ ζεῦγος ὡς ἐκπεφευγὼς τοὺς ἐχθρούς, οἵ μιν ἐλαύνοντα ἐς ἀγρὸν ἠθέλησαν ἀπολέσαι δῆθεν, ἐδέετό τε τοῦ δήμου φυλακῆς τινος πρὸς αὐτοῦ κυρῆσαι, πρότερον εὐδοκιμήσας ἐν τῇ πρὸς Μεγαρέας γενομένῃ στρατηγίῃ, Νίσαιάν τε ἑλὼν καὶ ἄλλα ἀποδεξάμενος μεγάλα ἔργα. ῾Ο δὲ δῆμος ὁ τῶν ᾿Αθηναίων ἐξαπατηθεὶς ἔδωκέ οἱ τῶν ἀστῶν καταλέξασθαι ἄνδρας τριηκοσίους οἳ δορυφόροι μὲν οὐκ ἐγένοντο Πεισιστράτου, κορυνηφόροι δέ· ξύλων γὰρ κορύνας ἔχοντες εἵποντό οἱ ὄπισθε. Συνεπαναστάντες δὲ οὗτοι ἅμα Πεισιστράτῳ ἔσχον τὴν ἀκρόπολιν. ῎Ενθα δὴ ὁ Πεισίστρατος

Peisistratos is exiled after ruling for a short time. But, with the help of a foreign tyrant, regains the tyranny through more deceit and stupidity

Image result for Pisistratus

Herodotus, 1.60

“Once Peisistratos accepted this argument and agreed to these proposals, they devised the dumbest plan for his return that I can find, by far, if, even then, those in Athens, said to be among the first of the Greeks in wisdom, devised these things. (From antiquity, the Greek people have been set apart from barbarians by being more clever and freer from silly stupidity). In the country there was a Paianiean woman—her name was Phuê—and she was three inches short of six feet and altogether fine looking. After they dressed her up in a panoply, they put her in a chariot, and adorned her with the kind of scene which would make her a completely conspicuous sight to be seen. Then they drove her into the city, sending heralds out in front of her, who were announcing after they entered the city the words they had been assigned, saying something like “O Athenians, receive Peisistratos with a good thought, a man Athena herself honored beyond all men as she leads him to her own acropolis.” They went everywhere saying these things. And as soon as the rumor circulated among the people, they believed that the woman was Athena herself: then they were praying to the woman and were welcoming Peisistratos!

After he regained the tyranny in the way I have narrated, Peisistratos married the daughter of Megakles in accordance with the agreement they made. But because he already had young sons and since the family of the Alkmeaonids were said to be cursed, he did not wish to have children with his newly wedded wife, and he was not having sex with her according to custom…”

᾿Ενδεξαμένου δὲ τὸν λόγον καὶ ὁμολογήσαντος ἐπὶ τούτοισι Πεισιστράτου, μηχανῶνται δὴ ἐπὶ τῇ κατόδῳ πρῆγμα εὐηθέστατον, ὡς ἐγὼ εὑρίσκω, μακρῷ  (ἐπεί γε ἀπεκρίθη ἐκ παλαιτέρου τοῦ βαρβάρου ἔθνεος τὸ ῾Ελληνικὸν ἐὸν καὶ δεξιώτερον καὶ εὐηθείης ἠλιθίου ἀπηλλαγμένον μᾶλλον), εἰ καὶ τότε γε οὗτοι ἐν ᾿Αθηναίοισι τοῖσι πρώτοισι λεγομένοισι εἶναι ῾Ελλήνων σοφίην μηχανῶνται τοιάδε. ᾿Εν τῷ δήμῳ τῷ Παιανιέϊ ἦν γυνή, τῇ οὔνομα ἦν Φύη, μέγαθος ἀπὸ τεσσέρων πήχεων ἀπολείπουσα τρεῖς δακτύλους καὶ ἄλλως εὐειδής. Ταύτην τὴν γυναῖκα σκευάσαντες πανοπλίῃ, ἐς ἅρμα ἐσβιβάσαντες καὶ προδέξαντες σχῆμα οἷόν τι ἔμελλε εὐπρεπέστατον φανέεσθαι ἔχουσα, ἤλαυνον ἐς τὸ ἄστυ, προδρόμους κήρυκας προπέμψαντες, οἳ τὰ ἐντεταλμένα ἠγόρευον ἀπικόμενοι ἐς τὸ ἄστυ, λέγοντες τοιάδε· «῏Ω ᾿Αθηναῖοι, δέκεσθε ἀγαθῷ νόῳ Πεισίστρατον, τὸν αὐτὴ ἡ ᾿Αθηναίη τιμήσασα ἀνθρώπων μάλιστα κατάγει ἐς τὴν ἑωυτῆς ἀκρόπολιν.» Οἱ μὲν δὴ ταῦτα διαφοιτῶντες ἔλεγον, αὐτίκα δὲ ἔς τε τοὺς δήμους φάτις ἀπίκετο ὡς ᾿Αθηναίη Πεισίστρατον κατάγει, καὶ <οἱ> ἐν τῷ ἄστεϊ πειθόμενοι τὴν γυναῖκα εἶναι αὐτὴν τὴν θεὸν προσεύχοντό τε τὴν ἄνθρωπον καὶ ἐδέκοντο Πεισίστρατον. ᾿Απολαβὼν δὲ τὴν τυραννίδα τρόπῳ τῷ εἰρημένῳ ὁ Πεισίστρατος κατὰ τὴν ὁμολογίην τὴν πρὸς Μεγακλέα γενομένην γαμέει τοῦ Μεγακλέος τὴν θυγατέρα. Οἷα δὲ παίδων τέ οἱ ὑπαρχόντων νεηνιέων καὶ λεγομένων ἐναγέων εἶναι τῶν᾿Αλκμεωνιδέων, οὐ βουλόμενός οἱ γενέσθαι ἐκ τῆς νεογάμου γυναικὸς τέκνα ἐμίσγετό οἱ οὐ κατὰ νόμον.

Post-fact is pre-fascism?  Seems like an understatement…

Polybius has an explanation for this:

Read More

On Election Night: Polybius’ Cycle of Governments

[I stopped listening to the news and started reading Polybius.]

Polybius, Histories 6.4

“The proof that what I have said is true comes from the following. It must not be asserted that every well-made government is a principality, but only the government which is assented to voluntarily and which is governed by reason rather than fear and force. Nor should we consider every oligarchy to be an aristocracy: the latter emerges only when men rule because they are the most just and the most prudent. In a similar way, a true democracy is not that in which the majority has the power to do whatever it wants, but what counts is if the will of the majority enforces observance of its traditional laws, honor to the customary laws, duty to parents, respect to elders, obedience to the laws—then it is right to call a state a democracy.

From this, we can isolate six types of government: the three I have just mentioned and three additional, related forms, monarchy, oligarchy, and mob rule. The first of these, monarchy, arises naturally, and without machination. The second follows it and develops from it with preparation and adjustment. Once this has transformed into the evil form akin to it, tyranny, and aristocracy develops from the dissolution of both. When aristocracy devolves into oligarchy as is natural, and the people turn into rage over the injustice of their leaders, democracy emerges. Over time, mob-rule develops from outrage and illegality. Anyone can understand clearly from this pattern that the things I am saying now are true, based on the nature of each government in its origins and its evolution.”

polybius

ὅτι δ᾽ ἀληθές ἐστι τὸ λεγόμενον ἐκ τούτων συμφανές. [2] οὔτε γὰρ πᾶσαν δήπου μοναρχίαν εὐθέως βασιλείαν ῥητέον, ἀλλὰ μόνην τὴν ἐξ ἑκόντων συγχωρουμένην καὶ τῇ γνώμῃ τὸ πλεῖον ἢ φόβῳ καὶ βίᾳ κυβερνωμένην: [3] οὐδὲ μὴν πᾶσαν ὀλιγαρχίαν ἀριστοκρατίαν νομιστέον, ἀλλὰ ταύτην, ἥτις ἂν κατ᾽ ἐκλογὴν ὑπὸ τῶν δικαιοτάτων καὶ φρονιμωτάτων ἀνδρῶν βραβεύηται. [4] παραπλησίως οὐδὲ δημοκρατίαν, ἐν ᾗ πᾶν πλῆθος κύριόν ἐστι ποιεῖν ὅ, [5] τι ποτ᾽ ἂν αὐτὸ βουληθῇ καὶ πρόθηται παρὰ δ᾽ ᾧ πάτριόν ἐστι καὶ σύνηθες θεοὺς σέβεσθαι, γονεῖς θεραπεύειν, πρεσβυτέρους αἰδεῖσθαι, νόμοις πείθεσθαι, παρὰ τοῖς τοιούτοις συστήμασιν ὅταν τὸ τοῖς πλείοσι δόξαν νικᾷ, τοῦτο καλεῖν δεῖ δημοκρατίαν. διὸ καὶ γένη μὲν ἓξ εἶναι ῥητέον πολιτειῶν, [6] τρία μὲν ἃ πάντες θρυλοῦσι καὶ νῦν προείρηται, τρία δὲ τὰ τούτοις συμφυῆ, λέγω δὲ μοναρχίαν, ὀλιγαρχίαν, ὀχλοκρατίαν. [7] πρώτη μὲν οὖν ἀκατασκεύως καὶ φυσικῶς συνίσταται μοναρχία, ταύτῃ δ᾽ ἕπεται καὶ ἐκ ταύτης γεννᾶται μετὰ κατασκευῆς καὶ διορθώσεως βασιλεία. [8] μεταβαλλούσης δὲ ταύτης εἰς τὰ συμφυῆ κακά, λέγω δ᾽ εἰς τυραννίδ᾽, αὖθις ἐκ τῆς τούτων καταλύσεως ἀριστοκρατία φύεται. [9] καὶ μὴν ταύτης εἰς ὀλιγαρχίαν ἐκτραπείσης κατὰ φύσιν, τοῦ δὲ πλήθους ὀργῇ μετελθόντος τὰς τῶν προεστώτων ἀδικίας, γεννᾶται δῆμος. [10] ἐκ δὲ τῆς τούτου πάλιν ὕβρεως καὶ παρανομίας ἀποπληροῦται σὺν χρόνοις ὀχλοκρατία. [11] γνοίη δ᾽ ἄν τις σαφέστατα περὶ τούτων ὡς ἀληθῶς ἐστιν οἷα δὴ νῦν εἶπον, ἐπὶ τὰς ἑκάστων κατὰ φύσιν ἀρχὰς καὶ γενέσεις καὶ μεταβολὰς ἐπιστήσας.

anaklosis

On Reading Ancient Ethnography Generously, Polybius 3. 58

“In earlier times, truly, one might find rather few Greeks who were troubled to make much about the farthest parts of the world due to the impossibility of attempting it. For there were then many dangers at sea and they were hard to count, and there were many more than these on land. But even if someone by necessity or by choice had come to the edge of the inhabited would, he would not have then completed the task. For it was hard to be a witness of many of these things because of the complete barbarism of some places and the desolation of others; it was even more difficult to inquire by speech and learn anything about the places that were seen because of differences in language. And even then, if someone did learn, it was still challenging to use a measured approach in describing what was seen, to avoid  miracles and monsters in preference to the truth for its own sake and to report to us nothing beyond that.

Since, then, it was practically impossible in earlier generations to provide an accurate account of the regions we have mentioned, it is right to praise the writers and wonder at their work for what they did learn and for advancing our knowledge about these things even in those circumstances rather than criticizing what they left out or got wrong.”

ἐν μὲν γὰρ τῷ προγεγονότι χρόνῳ σπανίους ἂν εὕροι τις τῶν ῾Ελλήνων τοὺς ἐπιβεβλημένους πολυπραγμονεῖν τὰ κατὰ τὰς ἐσχατιὰς διὰ τὸ τῆς ἐπιβολῆς ἀδύνατον. πολλοὶ μὲν γὰρ ἦσαν οἱ κατὰ θάλατταν τότε κίνδυνοι καὶ δυσεξαρίθμητοι, πολλαπλάσιοι δὲ τούτων οἱ κατὰ γῆν. ἀλλ’ εἰ καί τις ἢ κατ’ ἀνάγκην ἢ κατὰ προαίρεσιν ἐξίκοιτο πρὸς τὰ πέρατα τῆς οἰκουμένης, οὐδ’ οὕτως ἤνυεν τὸ προκείμενον. δυσχερὲς μὲν γὰρ ἐπὶ πλέον τινῶν αὐτόπτην γενέσθαι

διὰ τὸ τοὺς μὲν ἐκβεβαρβαρῶσθαι τοὺς δ’ ἐρήμους εἶναι τόπους, ἔτι δὲ χαλεπώτερον τὸ περὶ τῶν ὁραθέντων διὰ λόγου τι γνῶναι καὶ μαθεῖν διὰ τὸ τῆς

φωνῆς ἐξηλλαγμένον. ἐὰν δὲ καὶ γνῷ τις, ἔτι τῶν πρὸ τοῦ δυσχερέστερον τὸ τῶν ἑωρακότων τινὰ μετρίῳ χρῆσθαι τρόπῳ καὶ καταφρονήσαντα τῆς παραδοξολογίας καὶ τερατείας ἑαυτοῦ χάριν προτιμῆσαι τὴν ἀλήθειαν καὶ μηδὲν τῶν πάρεξ ὄντων ἡμῖν ἀναγγεῖλαι. διόπερ οὐ δυσχεροῦς ἀλλ’ ἀδυνάτου σχεδὸν ὑπαρχούσης κατά γε τοὺς προγεγονότας καιροὺς τῆς ἀληθοῦς ἱστορίας ὑπὲρ τῶν προειρημένων, οὐκ εἴ τι παρέλιπον οἱ συγγραφεῖς ἢ διήμαρτον, ἐπιτιμᾶν αὐτοῖς ἄξιον, ἀλλ’ ἐφ’ ὅσον ἔγνωσάν τι ἐπιτιμᾶν αὐτοῖς ἄξιον, καὶ προεβίβασαν τὴν ἐμπειρίαν τὴν περὶ τούτων ἐν τοιούτοις καιροῖς, ἐπαινεῖν καὶ θαυμάζειν αὐτοὺς δίκαιον.

How Far Should Historical Analysis Go? Polybius on Rome

Polybius, Histories 3.4

“If it were possible to develop a sufficient analysis of whether or not men and states should be praised or criticized from only their victories and defeats, then I think I could stop here and end my investigation, and end the work at these most immediately narrated events, according to my original plan. For the fifty-three years end here which brought about the expansion and advance of Roman power. In later years, it seems it was agreed that it was necessary for everyone to heed the Romans and obey what they commanded.

But since evaluations of rulers and the conquered, if based merely on the contests themselves, are not at all complete—this is because what seems to many to be the greatest successes, if they are not used correctly, may bring the greatest disasters; and, in turn, the most shocking disasters at times can turn into the advantage of those who suffer them if they handle them well—we must add to the events that have been described the policy of the conquerors, what it was like after this and how they ruled in general, the various beliefs and evaluations of those who were ruled by them, and in addition to these things, I must investigate the actions and passions which overpowered and dominated men in their private lives and in their shared governments. It is obvious that it will be clear from these things whether the Roman rule should be avoided or instead should be sought and for future generations whether the Roman rule should be praised and envied or criticized. And this indeed will be the most useful contribution of my work both for the present day and years to come.”

Εἰ μὲν οὖν ἐξ αὐτῶν τῶν κατορθωμάτων ἢ καὶ τῶν ἐλαττωμάτων ἱκανὴν ἐνεδέχετο ποιήσασθαι τὴν διάληψιν ὑπὲρ τῶν ψεκτῶν ἢ τοὐναντίον ἐπαινετῶν
ἀνδρῶν καὶ πολιτευμάτων, ἐνθάδε που λήγειν ἂν ἡμᾶς ἔδει καὶ καταστρέφειν ἅμα τὴν διήγησιν καὶ τὴν πραγματείαν ἐπὶ τὰς τελευταίας ῥηθείσας πράξεις κατὰ τὴν ἐξ ἀρχῆς πρόθεσιν. ὅ τε γὰρ χρόνος ὁ πεντηκοντακαιτριετὴς εἰς ταῦτ’ ἔληγεν, ἥ τ’ αὔξησις καὶ προκοπὴ τῆς ῾Ρωμαίων δυναστείας ἐτετελείωτο· πρὸς δὲ τούτοις ὁμολογούμενον ἐδόκει τοῦτ’ εἶναι καὶ κατηναγκασμένον ἅπασιν ὅτι λοιπόν ἐστι ῾Ρωμαίων ἀκούειν καὶ τούτοις πειθαρχεῖν ὑπὲρ τῶν παραγγελλομένων.

ἐπεὶ δ’ οὐκ αὐτοτελεῖς εἰσιν οὔτε περὶ τῶν κρατησάντων (οὔτε περὶ τῶν) ἐλαττωθέντων αἱ ψιλῶς ἐξ αὐτῶν τῶν ἀγωνισμάτων διαλήψεις, διὰ τὸ πολλοῖς μὲν τὰ μέγιστα δοκοῦντ’ εἶναι τῶν κατορθωμάτων, ὅταν μὴ δεόντως αὐτοῖς χρήσωνται, τὰς μεγίστας ἐπενηνοχέναι συμφοράς, οὐκ ὀλίγοις δὲ τὰς ἐκπληκτικωτάτας περιπετείας, ὅταν εὐγενῶς αὐτὰς ἀναδέξωνται, πολλάκις εἰς τὴν τοῦ συμφέροντος περιπεπτωκέναι μερίδα, προσθετέον ἂν εἴη ταῖς προειρημέναις πράξεσι τήν τε τῶν κρατούντων αἵρεσιν, ποία τις ἦν μετὰ ταῦτα καὶ πῶς προεστάτει τῶν ὅλων, τάς τε τῶν ἄλλων ἀποδοχὰς καὶ διαλήψεις, πόσαι καὶ τίνες ὑπῆρχον περὶ τῶν ἡγουμένων, πρὸς δὲ τούτοις τὰς ὁρμὰς καὶ τοὺς ζήλους ἐξηγητέον, τίνες παρ’ ἑκάστοις ἐπεκράτουν καὶ κατίσχυον περί τε τοὺς κατ’ ἰδίαν βίους καὶ τὰς κοινὰς πολιτείας. δῆλον γὰρ ὡς ἐκ τούτων φανερὸν ἔσται τοῖς μὲν νῦν οὖσιν πότερα φευκτὴν ἢ τοὐναντίον αἱρετὴν εἶναι συμβαίνει τὴν ῾Ρωμαίων δυναστείαν, τοῖς δ’ ἐπιγενομένοις πότερον ἐπαινετὴν καὶ ζηλωτὴν ἢ ψεκτὴν γεγονέναι νομιστέον τὴν ἀρχὴν αὐτῶν. ἀρχὴν αὐτῶν. τὸ γὰρ ὠφέλιμον τῆς ἡμετέρας ἱστορίας πρός τε τὸ παρὸν καὶ πρὸς τὸ μέλλον ἐν τούτῳ πλεῖστον κείσεται τῷ μέρει.

Polybius, Histories: On the Folly of Relying on a Part to Understand the Whole (4.1-4.11)

“For, those who have faith that examining a part of history judiciously explains the whole of it seem to me to suffer the same thing as men who, once they have seen the dislocated limbs of a previously living and beautiful creature, believe that they can suffice as a witness of that same animal alive and well. If anyone else could put the thing back together and make the animal whole again in its appearance and possession of its life, then he would be able to show to these men—and I think that all of them would quickly agree—that they were themselves dislocated far from the truth, as if men lost in dreams. Indeed, it is possible to gather some notion of the whole from its parts, but it is impossible to derive knowledge and an unchanging opinion. For this reason, we must recognize that a specialized history can contribute only something small toward a confident understanding of the whole. From the overlapping influence of everything in relation to everything else, and still from carefully examining their differences and similarities, a man is able to approach and empowered to derive both the usefulness and pleasure of history.”

καθόλου μὲν γὰρ ἔμοιγε δοκοῦσιν οἱ πεπεισμένοι διὰ τῆς κατὰ μέρος ἱστορίας μετρίως συνόψεσθαι τὰ ὅλα παραπλήσιόν τι πάσχειν, ὡς ἂν εἴ τινες ἐμψύχου καὶ καλοῦ σώματος γεγονότος διερριμμένα τὰ μέρη θεώμενοι νομίζοιεν ἱκανῶς αὐτόπται γίνεσθαι τῆς ἐνεργείας αὐτοῦ τοῦ ζῴου καὶ καλλονῆς. εἰ γάρ τις αὐτίκα μάλα συνθεὶς καὶ τέλειον αὖθις ἀπεργασάμενος τὸ ζῷον τῷ τ’ εἴδει καὶ τῇ τῆς ψυχῆς εὐπρεπείᾳ κἄπειτα πάλιν ἐπιδεικνύοι τοῖς αὐτοῖς ἐκείνοις, ταχέως ἂν οἶμαι πάντας αὐτοὺς ὁμολογήσειν διότι καὶ λίαν πολύ τι τῆς ἀληθείας ἀπελείποντο πρόσθεν καὶ παραπλήσιοι τοῖς ὀνειρώττουσιν ἦσαν. ἔννοιαν μὲν γὰρ λαβεῖν ἀπὸ μέρους τῶν ὅλων δυνατόν, ἐπιστήμην δὲ καὶ γνώμην ἀτρεκῆ σχεῖν ἀδύνατον. διὸ παντελῶς βραχύ τι νομιστέον συμβάλλεσθαι τὴν κατὰ μέρος ἱστορίαν πρὸς τὴν τῶν ὅλων ἐμπειρίαν καὶ πίστιν. ἐκ μέντοι γε τῆς ἁπάντων πρὸς ἄλληλα συμπλοκῆς καὶ παραθέσεως, ἔτι δ’ ὁμοιότητος καὶ διαφορᾶς, μόνως ἄν τις ἐφίκοιτο καὶ δυνηθείη κατοπτεύσας ἅμα καὶ τὸ χρήσιμον καὶ τὸ τερπνὸν ἐκ τῆς ἱστορίας ἀναλαβεῖν.

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.