The Consolation of Ancient 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.