Thursday, May 20, 2021



Polybius 1.14 (tr. Ian Scott-Kilvert):
There was also another reason, no less influential than those I have already mentioned, which persuaded me to pay especial attention to this war, namely the fact that Philinus and Fabius, the historians who are reputed to be the most expert authorities on it, have failed, in my opinion, to report the truth as they should have done.

Now, if we may judge by the lives and principles of these men, I do not suggest that they deliberately set out to mislead their readers; on the other hand both seem to me to have behaved in the way that men do when they are in love.

Thus because of his partisan zeal and his persistent devotion to the one side Philinus insists that the Carthaginians acted with wisdom, virtue and courage on every occasion and that the Romans behaved in the contrary fashion, while Fabius gives us a diametrically opposite version.

Now in other spheres of human life we should perhaps not rule out such partiality. A good man ought to love his friends and his country, and should share both their hatreds and their loyalties.

But once a man takes up the role of the historian he must discard all considerations of this kind. He will often have to speak well of his enemies and even award them the highest praise should their actions demand this, and on the other hand criticize and find fault with his friends, however close they may be, if their errors of conduct show that this is his duty.

For just as a living creature, if it is deprived of its eyesight, is rendered completely helpless, so if history is deprived of the truth, we are left with nothing but an idle, unprofitable tale.

We must therefore not shrink from accusing our friends or praising our enemies, nor need we be afraid of praising or blaming the same people at different times, since it is impossible that men who are engaged in public affairs should always be in the right, and unlikely that they should always be in the wrong.

We must therefore detach ourselves from the actors in our story, and apply to them only such statements and judgements as their conduct deserves.

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