Classical Authors and My Humble Opinion of Them

Oct 2016
18
Boston, Ma
#41
I wanted to put Appian on the list too. I love his account of the Civil Wars and especially the lead-up with the Gracchi.

Also, I just started reading Polybius and I had heard he was dry before starting, but while his style is straight forward, I haven't found him dry at all.

As far as these guys lying, it might be the case with some occasions, but they are not always working off of the most reliable sources in the world either. Some of this stuff might be true as far as they know.
 
#42
I'm coming to this party a little late, but a couple of things:

XENOPHON (The Anabasis, Hellenica)
Self serving, Sparta-phillic and at times dubious in terms of both truth and judgment of what to include and leave out, but also excellent as telling history as a compelling story. THE ANABASIS is an amazing read, you just have to take it, and his other works, with a large grain of salt.
Which parts of Anabasis specifically do you find 'dubious'? I thought we had next to no historical evidence of this time and place in history except Xenophon's testimony: which sources contradict him?

CICERO (Books of selected speeches)
Cicero is Cicero...no better window into the Republic and its values exists. I was a bit surprised at how much time he spends in his speeches condemning other people's sex lives. Truly different times.
No so sure about that. Attacking the sex lives of political figures is pretty commonplace in many modern countries, even before the revelations about Trump last week. Perhaps not so much during court cases on charges not related to sexual crimes, I suppose.

Generally speaking, your conclusions about all of the historical works is that they are unreliable but good reads. Fair enough. Have you read any Sallust or historians of the Republic other than Livy? I also found Ammianus to be a great read.
 
Apr 2011
3,075
New Jersey
#43
As far as these guys lying, it might be the case with some occasions, but they are not always working off of the most reliable sources in the world either. Some of this stuff might be true as far as they know.
Some, but also obviously agenda driven.

Also, I just started reading Polybius and I had heard he was dry before starting, but while his style is straight forward, I haven't found him dry at all.
I enjoy him as well.
 
Nov 2011
972
The Bluff
#44
Which parts of Anabasis specifically do you find 'dubious'? I thought we had next to no historical evidence of this time and place in history except Xenophon's testimony: which sources contradict him?
Not to answer for cachibatches; more an observation. Xenophon, like all of our sources, has to treated with caution. He is an unabashed admirer of Sparta, its constitution, society and, more so, its fourth century king Agesilaos (with whom he served). The Spartans, it should be remembered, set Xenophon up in his "country esquire" idyll in Skillos. Xenophon is not a truly independent witness when it comes to Sparta, her policies and actions. He, like his patron Agesilaos, held a strong hatred for Thebes because it was that city which brought Sparta low. Just one example of Xenophon's (in)famous omissions would be that city's top soldier, Pelopidas who makes not a single appearance in his Hellenika. Indeed Thebes' famed statesman, Epaeminondas, makes no appearance either until he simply must do at Mantinea where he coincidentally dies.One might also look to his account of Leuktra where the defeat is anything but Sparta's fault: the "divinity" sought and got its revenge; it was Kleombrotos' fault because he and his officers were drunk; the Spartans were winning because they could carry their dying king from the field. The rude facts are that 1,000 Lakedaimonians were killed and 400 of 700 homoioi as well. It was a "belting" and even Xenophon lets slip that the Spartans slunk away at night and made for home "in fear and by a hard road" rather than the usual routes. Xenophon excuses this by claiming that the Spartans did not trust the Thebans ("trusting to secrecy rather than the truce" - Hell.6.4.26).

There is more but perhaps a read of David Thomas' excellent discussion in his introduction to the Landmark Xenophon's Helleika would do a better job should you have it. As to other sources which tell somewhat different versins, Diodorus, Plutarch and the Oxyrhynchus Historian come to mind.
 
Jan 2010
4,364
Atlanta, Georgia USA
#45
I wouldn't include the Greek tragedians on this list. And I rate Aeschylus "Oresteia" trilogy the best of any Greek tragedies and possibly the best of any tragedies other than Shakespeare. Have only read in English, however.
 

Frank81

Ad Honorem
Feb 2010
4,985
Canary Islands-Spain
#46
I miss one great author in the list:

Amminaus Marcellinus, sometimes flamboyant, he can be very poetic when describing events. For example, in the battle of Adrianople, the way he describes hard pressed Roman lines like waves in the sea.


Agree that "Anabasis" of Xenophon is one the masterpiece of the ancient age.
 
Nov 2011
972
The Bluff
#47
Suite yourself. Would you like to name some specific examples to further the thread along?
An easily accessible example is Livy's handling of the politics and lead up to the Roman-Seleukid war leading to Magnesia. Livy's Antiochos is, from start to finish, an aggressive, ambitious clear and present danger to Rome. Rome is simply reacting to this omnipotent threat. Livy's descriptions of the diplomatic exchanges between Antiochos and Rome (via Flamininus and the legations Rome sends) are coloured by this. Antiochos is always presented as being short or arrogant with the result that the exchanges come across as more sharp and testy than they appear in other sources (when they can be compared). This is Roman colour as Livy would seem to expend great energy presenting Rome's war as just reaction to an overweening eastern invader. In fact, Rome and Antiochos shared amicitia throughout this period and right dowm to 191. Antiochos, from about 196, sought - and continued to seek - a proper alliance with Rome.

Appian, who owed much the principate, is worse. For this writer, Antiochos is full of his own self importance and acts in rash and "light headed" ways such as his headlong rush to Greece in 191 with only those troops he had at hand after hearing that Demetrias had fallen to the Aitolians. One would never know, reading Appian, that Antiochos was campaingning in Thrace at this time (late spring 191) and didn't sail to Greece until late in the autumn of that year!
 
Oct 2017
79
South Australia
#48
PLATO (The Last Days of Socrates)
A touching story of a wise and gentle man defying the government to the end, combined with some absolutely dated and incomprehensible philosophy.
The lecturer in a course on tragedy Im doing at the moment made the interesting point that Plato was formerly a tragedian before becoming a philosopher and burned his plays, yet his writing on the death of Socrates is highly poetic - it's like philosophy as tragic drama.
 

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