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Bill Thayer

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This webpage reproduces a Book of
The Histories


published in Vol. VI
of the Loeb Classical Library edition,

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!

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(Vol. VI) Polybius
The Histories

 p441  Fragments of Book XXXIX

I. Affairs of Greece

1 1 Aulus Postumius was a man deserving of mention for the following reason. 2 He was a member of one of the first families, but naturally wordy, loquacious, and vainglorious to excess. 3 From childhood he had set his heart on acquiring Greek culture and the Greek tongue, and in both he was too much of an adept, so much so that it was partly his fault that admiration for Greece became offensive in the eyes of the older and more distinguished Romans. 4 He even went so far as to attempt to write in Greek a poem and a serious history, in the preface to which he begs his readers to excuse him, if, as a Roman, he has not a complete mastery of the Greek language and their method of treating the subject. 5 Marcus Porcius Cato answered him, as I think, very properly on the subject. For he said he wondered what reason he had for making this apology. 6 Had he indeed been ordered by the Amphictyonic Council to write a history, possibly he would have been justified in speaking thus and offering excuses; 7 but to undertake of his own accord and under no compulsion to write a history, and then to beg to be pardoned for his barbarisms, was obviously ludicrous,  p443 and served just as little purpose, as if a man who had entered his name at the games for the boxing-contest or the pancration, upon appearing in the stadium, when the time came for the fight, were to beg the spectators to pardon him if he could not support the labour of the tussle or the blows. 9 For it is evident that such a man would certainly be ridiculed and receive summary punishment; and so should such historians have been treated, to prevent them from such audacious disregard of the proprieties. 10 This man in the rest of his behaviour likewise had adopted the worst vices of the Greeks. For he was both fond of pleasure and averse to toil, 11 as will be evident from the actual facts. On his very first appearance, indeed, in Greek parts, when the battle in Phocis took place, he feigned indisposition and retired to Thebes so as not to have to take part in the fight, 12 and when it was over he was the first to write to the senate about the victory, adding abundance of detail as if he had himself taken part in the engagement.

The Capture of Corinth

(From Strabo VIII.6.28)

2 1 Polybius, appealing to our sentiments of pity in his account of the capture of Corinth, mentions among other things the contempt of the soldiers for works of art and votive offerings. 2 He says he was present himself and saw pictures thrown on the ground with the soldiers playing draughts on them. 3 Among them he names the picture of Dionysus by Aristeides which some say gave origin to the phrase, "Nothing like Dionysus," and the Heracles tortured by the tunic of Deianeira.

 p445  3 1 Owing to the long-standing affection of the people for Philopoemen, the statues of him which existed in some towns were left standing. So it seems to me that all that is done in a spirit of truth creates in those who benefit by it an undying affection.

2 Therefore we may justly cite the current saying that he had been foiled not at the door but in the street.

(From Plutarch, Philopoemen 21)

3 There were many statues and many decrees in his honour in the different cities, and a certain Roman at the time so disastrous to Greece, when Corinth was destroyed, attempted to destroy them all, and, as it were, to expel him from the country, accusing him as if he were still alive of being hostile and ill-disposed to the Romans. But on the matter being discussed and on Polybius refuting the false accusation, neither Mummius nor the legates would suffer the honours of the celebrated man to be destroyed.

4 Polybius set himself to give full information to the legates about Philopoemen, corresponding to what I originally stated about this statesman. 5 And that was, that he often was opposed to the orders of the Romans, but that his opposition was confined to giving information and advice about disputed points, and this always with due consideration. 6 A real proof of his attitude, he said, was that in the wars with Antiochus and Philip he did, as the saying  p447 is, save them from the fire. 7 For then, being the most influential man in Greece owing to his personal power and that of the Achaean League, he in the truest sense maintained his friendship for Rome, helping to carry the decree of the league, in which four months before the Romans crossed to Greece the Achaeans decided to make war from Achaea on Antiochus and the Aetolians, nearly all the other Greeks being at the time ill-disposed to Rome. 9 The ten legates therefore, giving ear to this and approving the attitude of the speaker, permitted the tokens of honour Philopoemen had received in all the towns to remain undisturbed. 10 Polybius, availing himself of this concession, begged the general to return the portraits, although they had been already carried away from the Peloponnesus to Acarnania — I refer to the portraits of Achaeus, of Aratus, and of Philopoemen. 11 The people so much admired Polybius's conduct in the matter that they erected a marble statue of him.

4 1 After the appointment of the ten commissioners which took place in Achaea, these commissioners ordered the quaestor who was about to sell the property of Diaeus to set aside and present to Polybius whatever objects he chose to select for himself and then sell the rest to bidders. 2 Polybius was so far from accepting any gift of the kind that he even begged his friends not to desire to acquire any of the things sold by the quaestor, who was now visiting the cities, and selling the property of all who had sided with Diaeus and had been condemned, except those who had children or parents. 4 Some of his friends did not pay attention to his advice,  p449 but those who followed it earned the high approval of their fellow-citizens.

5 1 The ten commissioners, having settled these matters in six months, left for Italy in the spring, leaving behind them a good example to the whole of Greece of the policy of Rome. 2 On quitting Polybius, they enjoined him to visit the cities, and clear up any matters about which people were doubtful, until they grew accustomed to the constitution and laws; 3 and after a certain time he succeeded in making people accept the constitution granted to them, and saw to it that no difficulty on any subject arose either in public or in private due to the laws. 4 So that while they had from the first generally approved and honoured Polybius, in this latter period, and in their satisfaction with what he advised as I above narrated, each city now took every means to confer the highest honours on him during his life and after his death. 5 And this was universally thought to be fully justified; for had he not perfected and drawn up the laws on the subject of common jurisdiction, all would have remained undecided and in the utmost confusion. 6 So we should consider this to be the most brilliant achievement of Polybius among all those I mentioned.

6 1 The Roman general, after the general assembly had left Achaea, repaired the Isthmian course and adorned the temples at Delphi and Olympia, and on the following days visited the different cities, honoured in each of them and receiving testimonies of the gratitude due to him. 2 It was only natural indeed that he should be treated with honour both in public and in private. 3 For his conduct had been  p451 unexacting and unsullied and he had dealt leniently with the whole situation, though he had such great opportunities and such absolute power in Greece. 4 If, indeed, he was thought to be guilty of any deflection from his duty I at least put it down not to his own initiative, but to the friends who lived with him. 5 The most notable instance was that of the cavalry­men of Chalcis whom he slew.

II. Affairs of Egypt

7 1 Ptolemy, King of Syria, died of his wounds in the war. In the opinion of some he deserved high praise and a place in history, 2 but others think contrariwise. 3 It was true that he was gentle and good, more so than any previous king. 4 The strongest proof of this is, that in the first place he did not put to death any of his own friends on any of the charges brought against them; and I do not believe that any other Alexandrian suffered death owing to him. 5 Again, although his dethronement was thought to be due to his brother, firstly, when in Alexandria he had, as was admitted, a chance of being revenged on him he treated his fault as one to be condoned, 6 and next when his brother again conspired to deprive him of Cyprus, and he was master at Lapethus of his person and his life, he was so far from punishing him as an enemy that he loaded him with gifts in addition to what he already possessed under treaty, and promised him his daughter in marriage. 7 However, in seasons of good fortune and success his mind grew relaxed and weakened, and he suffered from a sort of Egyptian waste of energy and indolence. And it  p453 was when he was in this condition that reverses used to befall him.

III. From the Epilogue

8 1 Polybius says at the end of his work: "Accordingly, having achieved this I returned home from Rome. I had, as it were, been enabled to capitalize the results of my previous political action, a favour which my devotion to Rome well merited. 2 Therefore, I pray to all the gods, that during the rest of my life all may remain in the same condition and on the same terms, seeing as I do how apt Fortune is to envy men, and how she especially puts forth her power in cases where we think that our life has been most blessed and most successful.

3 "So it happened to fall out; and I, now I have reached the end of my whole work, wish, after recalling to my readers the initial scheme that I laid before them as the foundation of the work, to give a summary of the whole subject matter, establishing both in general and in particular the connexion between the beginning and the end. 4 I explained therefore at the beginning that I would commence my introductory books from the point where Timaeus left off, 5 and after a cursory view of events in Italy, Sicily, and Africa — this author having dealt only with these parts in his history — upon reaching the time when Hannibal was entrusted with the Carthaginian forces, when Philip, son of Demetrius, succeeded to the throne of Macedon, when Cleomenes of Sparta was exiled from Greece  p455 and when Antiochus inherited the throne of Syria and Ptolemy Philopator that of Egypt, 6 I undertook to make a fresh beginning from this date, i.e. the 139th Olympiad, and henceforth to deal with the general history of the whole world, classing it under Olympiads, dividing those into years and taking a comparative view of the succession of events until the capture of Carthage, the battle of the Achaeans and Romans at the Isthmus and the consequent settlement of Greece. 7 As I said, students by this treatment will attain the best and most salutary result, which is to know how and by what system of polity the whole world was subjected to the single rule of Rome — an event without any parallel in the past. 8 Now that I have actually accomplished all this, nothing remains for me but to indicate the dates included in the history, to give a list of the number of books and an index of the whole work."

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Page updated: 29 Mar 22