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2.56 The Credibility of Phylarchus

For the history of the same period, with which we are [Note] [Note] now engaged, there are two authorities, Aratus and Phylarchus, [Note] whose opinions are opposed in many points and their statements contradictory. I think, therefore, it will be advantageous, or rather necessary, since I follow Aratus in my account of the Cleomenic war, to go into the question; and not by any neglect on my part to suffer mis-statements in historical

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writings to enjoy an authority equal to that of truth. The fact is that the latter of these two writers has, throughout the whole of his history, made statements at random and without discrimination. It is not, however, necessary for me to criticise him on other points on the present occasion, or to call him to strict account concerning them; but such of his statements as relate to the period which I have now in hand, that is the Cleomenic war, these I must thoroughly sift. They will be quite sufficient to enable us to form a judgment on the general spirit and ability with which he approaches historical writing. [Note] It was his object to bring into prominence the cruelty of Antigonus and the Macedonians, as well as that of Aratus and the Achaeans; and he accordingly asserts that, when Mantinea fell into their hands, it was cruelly treated; and that the most ancient and important of all the Arcadian towns was involved in calamities so terrible as to move all Greece to horror and tears. And being eager to stir the hearts of his readers to pity, and to enlist their sympathies by his story, he talks of women embracing, tearing their hair, and exposing their breasts; and again of the tears and lamentations of men and women, led off into captivity along with their children and aged parents. And this he does again and again throughout his whole history, by way of bringing the terrible scene vividly before his readers. I say nothing of the unworthiness and unmanliness of the course he has adopted: let us only inquire what is essential and to the purpose in history. Surely an historian's object should not be to amaze his readers by a series of thrilling anecdotes; nor should he aim at producing speeches which might have been delivered, nor study dramatic propriety in details like a writer of tragedy: but his function is above all to record with fidelity what was actually said or done, however commonplace it may be. For the purposes of history and of the drama are not the same, but widely opposed to each other. In the former the object is to strike and delight by words as true to nature as possible; in the latter to instruct and convince by genuine words and deeds; in the former the effect is meant to be temporary, in the latter permanent. [Note] In the former, again, the power of carrying an audience is the chief excellence. because the object

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is to create illusion; but in the latter the thing of primary importance is truth, because the object is to benefit the learner. And apart from these considerations, Phylarchus, in most of the catastrophes which he relates, omits to suggest the causes which gave rise to them, or the course of events which led up to them: and without knowing these, it is impossible to feel the due indignation or pity at anything which occurs. For instance, everybody looks upon it as an outrage that the free should be struck: still, if a man provokes it by an act of violence, he is considered to have got no more than he deserved; and, where it is done for correction and discipline, those who strike free men are deemed worthy of honour and gratitude. Again, the killing of a fellow-citizen is regarded as a heinous crime, deserving the severest penalties: and yet it is notorious that the man who kills a thief, or his wife's paramour, is held guiltless; while he who kills a traitor or tyrant in every country receives honours and pre-eminence. And so in everything our final judgment does not depend upon the mere things done, but upon their causes and the views of the actors, according as these differ.



Polybius, Histories (English) (XML Header) [genre: prose] [word count] [Polyb.].
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