Writing Biography is Like Being In Love

Eunapius, Live of the Philosophers 2.2.4

“Even though I have recorded these things faithfully, I do recognize that some things have probably escaped me. And if, although I have applied great thought and effort trying to compose a continuous and clear history of the lives of the best philosophers and rhetoricians, I did not obtain my goal, I have suffered much the same kind of thing as those who love madly and obsessively. For they, when they see the one they love and witness her overwhelming beauty in real life, they look down, too weak and dazed to gaze upon the one they desire.”

Καὶ ταῦτά γε εἰς μνήμην ἐγὼ τίθεμαι, τοῦτο συνορῶν, ὅτι τὰ μὲν ἔλαθεν ἴσως ἡμᾶς, τὰ δὲ οὐκ ἔλαθεν. ἐκείνου δὲ καίπερ πολλὴν ποιούμενος φροντίδα καὶ σπουδήν, τοῦ συνεχῆ καὶ περιγεγραμμένην εἰς ἀκρίβειαν ἱστορίαν τινὰ λαβεῖν τοῦ φιλοσόφου καὶ ῥητορικοῦ βίου τῶν ἀρίστων ἀνδρῶν, εἶτα οὐ τυγχάνων τῆς ἐπιθυμίας, ταὐτόν τι τοῖς ἐρῶσιν ἐμμανῶς καὶ περιφλέκτως ἔπαθον. καὶ γὰρ ἐκεῖνοι, τὴν μὲν ἐρωμένην αὐτὴν ὁρῶντες καὶ τὸ περίψυκτον ἐν τῷ φαινομένῳ κάλλος, κάτω νεύουσιν, ὃ ζητοῦσιν ἰδεῖν ἐξασθενοῦντες, καὶ περιλαμπόμενοι•

Eunapius? A 5th century (CE) intellectual who wrote about sophists, picking up from Philostratus.

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Don’t Worry, I Read it For You

Macrobius, Saturnalia (Preface) 1-4

“My child Eustathius: nature has imbued our life with many different instincts, but none is greater than the force which binds us to our own children. She has made our need to educate you and raise you so powerful that parents can gain no greater pleasure–if everything goes according to plan–and feel no more savage sorrow, than when they fail. For this reason I have valued nothing more than your education and, because I believe that focused work should be preferred to prolonged diversion–I am intolerant of delays: I cannot wait for you to advance through only the studies you make tirelessly on your own, so I have also made an effort to read for you and to put together whatever I have read spread out among various volumes of Greek and Latin, before and since you were born as a total supplement of knowledge. And, just as if from your own pantry of culture, whenever you need some fact from history which evades other men by hiding in books, or you need to remember some famous deed or saying, it will be easy and efficient for you to find it.”

Multas variasque res in hac vita nobis, Eustachi fili, natura conciliavit: sed nulla nos magis quam eorum qui e nobis essent procreati caritate devinxit, eamque nostram in his educandis atque erudiendis curam esse voluit, ut parentes neque, si id quod cuperent ex sententia cederet, tantum ulla alia ex re voluptatis, neque, si contra eveniret, tantum maeroris capere possent.Hinc est quod mihi quoque institutione tua nihil antiquius aestimatur, ad cuius perfectionem compendia longis amfractibus anteponenda ducens moraeque omnis inpatiens non opperior ut per haec sola promoveas quibus ediscendis naviter ipse invigilas, sed ago ut ego quoque tibi legerim, et quicquid mihi, vel te iam in lucem edito vel antequam nascereris, in diversis seu Graecae seu Romanae linguae voluminibus elaboratum est, id totum sit tibi scientiae supellex, et quasi de quodam litterarum peno, si quando usus venerit aut historiae quae in librorum strue latens clam vulgo est aut dicti factive memorabilis reminiscendi, facile id tibi inventu atque depromptu sit.

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Writing Biography is Like Being In Love

Eunapius, Live of the Philosophers 2.2.4

“Even though I have recorded these things faithfully, I do recognize that some things have probably escaped me. And if, although I have applied great thought and effort trying to compose a continuous and clear history of the lives of the best philosophers and rhetoricians, I did not obtain my goal, I have suffered much the same kind of thing as those who love madly and obsessively. For they, when they see the one they love and witness her overwhelming beauty in real life, they look down, too weak and dazed to gaze upon the one they desire.”

Καὶ ταῦτά γε εἰς μνήμην ἐγὼ τίθεμαι, τοῦτο συνορῶν, ὅτι τὰ μὲν ἔλαθεν ἴσως ἡμᾶς, τὰ δὲ οὐκ ἔλαθεν. ἐκείνου δὲ καίπερ πολλὴν ποιούμενος φροντίδα καὶ σπουδήν, τοῦ συνεχῆ καὶ περιγεγραμμένην εἰς ἀκρίβειαν ἱστορίαν τινὰ λαβεῖν τοῦ φιλοσόφου καὶ ῥητορικοῦ βίου τῶν ἀρίστων ἀνδρῶν, εἶτα οὐ τυγχάνων τῆς ἐπιθυμίας, ταὐτόν τι τοῖς ἐρῶσιν ἐμμανῶς καὶ περιφλέκτως ἔπαθον. καὶ γὰρ ἐκεῖνοι, τὴν μὲν ἐρωμένην αὐτὴν ὁρῶντες καὶ τὸ περίψυκτον ἐν τῷ φαινομένῳ κάλλος, κάτω νεύουσιν, ὃ ζητοῦσιν ἰδεῖν ἐξασθενοῦντες, καὶ περιλαμπόμενοι•

Eunapius? A 5th century (CE) intellectual who wrote about sophists, picking up from Philostratus.

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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.

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.