An everlasting possession.

The composition and publication of books in the ancient world.

Ταυτον δε και οι λογοι· δοξαις μεν αν ως τι φρονουντας αυτους λεγειν, εαν δε τι ερη των λεγομενων βουλομενος μαθειν, εν τι σημαινει μονον ταυτον αει.
And [written] words are also like this. You might think that they spoke as if sentient. But, if you ask them anything, wishing to learn of what they are saying, they always repeat for you the very same thing.
—Plato, Phaedrus 275d.
Κτημα τε ες αιει μαλλον η αγωνισμα ες το παραχρημα ακουειν ξυγκειται.
It is composed, not as a feat for the applause of the moment, but as an everlasting possession.
—Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War 1.22.


The patristic passages dealing with the origins of the canonical gospels are full of terms that belong firmly in the realm of ancient book composition and publication. On this page I lay out a few classical texts that may elucidate some of those terms.

The epigraphs above ought to underscore for us the ancient sensibilities on what books are all about. On the one hand, there seems to have been a broad agreement on how the written word of a tome related to the spoken or performed word of oratory. On the one hand, opinion could differ as to the merits of the written word as set over and against the spoken word.

Socrates himself is speaking in that first epigraph. The written word, he says, sounds sentient or intelligent only on the first reading. But read it again and it will not have changed for you. Ask it a question so as to actually learn (μαθειν) from it and it will spit back the same answer over and over again. He goes on immediately after this saying to compare the written word to the defenseless child of its father, the author. The child is subject to ongoing abuse once it leaves its parent, that is, once it is circulated as a text, and only the father can properly protect it from such mistreatment. The philosopher, recognizing that a text gone from the authorial hand is likely to be misattributed or misquoted, prefers to teach orally and thus retain some measure of control over his own teachings.

That second epigraph, from Thucydides, paints a rather different picture. It is no accident that the phrase which Richard Crawley translated as the applause of the moment actually means immediate hearing (παραχρημα ακουειν). For texts were originally meant to be heard, not merely read; they were meant to facilitate recitals to an audience. The historian, however, recognizing the acute limitations of the lecture hall, prefers to leave a monument in writing for future generations, an everlasting possession (κτημα ες αιει).

Our philosopher and our historian, then, disagree on the merits of the case for or against books. But they agree on what is at stake. The oral performance is transitory and flexible, a communication from teacher straight to student, whose task is to then remember what he has learned. Orality allows for direct liason between teacher and student, and the teacher can always modify his instruction ad hoc. The written tome, however, is permanent and fixed, a communication from teacher to anyone who fancies himself a student at any place or indeed at any time. The liason between teacher and student is now indirect at best, and, once published, the instruction cannot be modified.

(When I call the written text permanent and fixed, I do not at all mean that the text could never be changed. Indeed, we shall soon see the exasperation of at least one ancient author at his works being improperly handled. What I mean by this permanence and fixity is that the author cannot address himself to the specific needs of his audience; he must imagine a generalized readership and write more universally. Also, once the text leaves the hands of the writer, it is well nigh impossible to call it back to make changes.)

Socrates emphasized the flexibility of the lecture and the fixity of the text. Thucydides emphasized the transitoriness of the lecture and the permanence of the text. (And I will not presume at this point to give my own opinion as to which was right and which was wrong.)

The passages that I have assembled here bear on the delicate interface between the oral performance and the written tome. It is my current understanding that this balance turns on memory, which strikes at the heart of the very purpose of writing, its most ancient rationale. If humans all had photographic memories, there would be little need for writing. One hearing of the prose or poem is all that it would take. Writing was originally developed as a substitute for an imperfect memory. So, as a transitional category between the oral performance and the written tome, I will cite a few passage bearing on the contingencies of memory, and how memory relates to the transition from spoken to written word.

I present the texts as they stand, with few comments of my own between them. What I perceive as the most important terms for understanding the patristic texts on the origins of the canonical gospels I present in a glossary after the texts.

The oral performance.

The oral performance is not, in our case, an instance of an oral tradition. It is important, since the ground-breaking work of Milman Parry and Alfred Lord, to distinguish between an illiterate bard singing an epic and a literate teacher giving a lecture. Parry and Lord studied Slavic peasants who sang and resang traditional epics from memory. They did not study Slavic scribes who gave and regave lectures from a text that they themselves had authored. The former sing from memory to the rhythm of the gusle, and with a stock of rhythmic formulae to fill in the metered lines. The latter teach from notes scrawled out with the express purpose of keeping the lecturer on track.

So, when we speak of the oral performance in our present context, we ought to be thinking of Socrates, not Homer. I begin with the fuller text of the line that I gave in my first epigraph. Plato, Phaedrus 275de, Socrates speaking:

Δεινον γαρ που, ω Φαιδρε, τουτ εχει γραφη, και ως αληθως ομοιον ζωγραφια. και γαρ τα εκεινης εκγονα εστηκε μεν ως ζωντα, εαν δ ανερη τι, σεμνως πανυ σιγα. ταυτον δε και οι λογοι· δοξαις μεν αν ως τι φρονουντας αυτους λεγειν, εαν δε τι ερη των λεγομενων βουλομενος μαθειν, εν τι σημαινει μονον ταυτον αει. οταν δε απαξ γραφη, κυλινδειται μεν πανταχου πας λογος ομοιως παρα τοις επαιουσιν, ως δ αυτως παρ οις ουδεν προσηκει, και ουκ επισταται λεγειν οις δει γε και μη. πλημμελουμενος δε και ουκ εν δικη λοιδορηθεις του πατρος αει δειται βοηθου, αυτος γαρ ουτ αμυνασθαι ουτε βοηθησαι δυνατος αυτω.

For writing, O Phaedrus, has this terrible thing somehow, and is truly very similar to painting. For the things that are born from it stand as if living, but, if one should ask anything, they are solemnly and utterly silent. And words are also like this. You might think that they spoke as if sentient. But, if you ask them anything, wishing to learn of what they are saying, they always repeat for you the very same thing. And each word, when once it is written, is rolled about everywhere, similarly among those in the know as likewise among those for whom it amounts to nothing, and it does not know to whom it must indeed speak and to whom not. And when it is missounded and unjustly abused it always has need of its father to help it, for it is able neither to defend nor to help itself.

For Socrates, apparently, one is not as able to learn (μαθειν) from written matter (γραφη) as from a teacher who can answer questions.

Tacitus, Dialogue 9.3-5:

Hi enim Basso domi nascuntur, pulchri quidem et iucundi, quorum tamen hic exitus est, ut cum toto anno, per omnes dies, magna noctium parte unum librum excudit et elucubravit, rogare ultro et ambire cogatur, ut sint qui dignentur audire, et ne id quidem gratis. nam et domum mutuatur et auditorium exstruit et subsellia conducit et libellos dispergit. et ut beatissimus recitationem eius eventus prosequatur, omnis illa laus intra unum aut alterum diem, velut in herba vel flore praecerpta, ad nullam certam et solidam pervenit frugem, nec aut amicitiam inde refert aut clientelam aut mansurum in animo cuiusquam beneficium, sed clamorem vagum et voces inanis et gaudium volucre.

For these [verses] are born to Bassus at home, pretty and delightful indeed, whose result, however, is this, that when for an entire year, through whole days and the greater part of the nights, he toils and hammers out one book, he is forced at last to beg and walk about so that there might be those deemed worthy to hear him, and not even this is free. For he borrows a house and makeshifts an auditorium in it and draws together seats and passes out booklets. And even when the most beautiful result attends his recital, all that praise within one day or another, like an herb or prematurely cut flower, comes to no certain and solid fruit, nor does he bear away from there any friendship or clientele or abiding benefit in the soul of anyone, but only a vagrant clamor, empty voices, and fleeting joy.

It appears to me that the booklets (libelli) that Bassus the poet passes out for his makeshift recitals are printed versions of the poems that he is reciting. It further appears to me that the book (liber) that Bassus has spent a year writing is a larger collection.

At any rate, the composition of the book of poetry is not the goal for Bassus. He must draw an audience, not merely a readership.

The contingencies of memory.

It very much seems to me that many of the New Testament texts balance delicately on the fence between orality and literacy. They cite the oral sayings of Jesus himself, but are passed on to us by literate authors of texts. And they frequently appeal to the memory of the hearer or reader.

Galen, Concerning His Own Books, prologue:

The following is my own translation based on the online scan of a handwritten version from the collection of medical manuscripts at the Bibliothèque Interuniversitaire de Médecine, Paris. I am no expert in archaic handwritten Greek (especially when I encounter a spelling error!), but have struggled with this text to the point that I am fairly confident of its accurate translation. Loveday Alexander also translates this passage (and more) in Ancient Book Production and the Gospels, on pages 96-97 of Bauckham, The Gospels for All Christians. Alexander transliterates two of the Greek phrases for the reader, but I wanted to see the Greek behind quite a few more, and I offer them here. My translation takes up right at the very first word of line 29 on page 361 of Galen, Opera Omnia, volume 4.

Why the many read my [books] as their own, you yourself know the reason, most excellent [κρατιστε] Bassus. For they were given to friends and disciples without inscription [χωρις επιγραφης], as nothing was for publication [ουδεν προς εκδοσιν], but were made for those who requested [δεηθεισιν] to have notes [υπομνηματα] of what they heard. So, when some of them died, those with them who had them and were pleased [αρεσθεντες] with them began to read [αναγινωσκον] them as their own. [....] ...having shared [κοινωνησαντων] them travelled to their own fatherland and, after passing some time, some here and others there began to make them into lectures [επιδειξεις]. In time, after they were all exposed, many inscribed [επεγραψαντο] my name on the repossessed [text]. And, having found that they differed from all the others, they carried them to me, encouraging me to rectify them. So since, as I said, they were not for publication [ου προς εκδοσιν], but were according to the habit and the need [εξιν τε και χρειαν] of those who requested [των δεηθεντων] them, it was likely at any rate that some be stretched out and others pressed together, and the interpretation [ερμευνειαν] and teaching [διδασκαλιαν] of the theorems should be either complete [τελειαν] or lacking [ελλιπη]. It was clear, at any rate, that those written from the things that were spoken [τοις ειρημενοις] would not have the completion of the teaching, nor would have been examined accurately [διηκριβωμενον], as they neither requested [δεομενων] nor were able to learn [μανθανειν] all things accurately [ακριβως] before having some habit [εξιν] in the essentials. These kinds of books [βιβλια] some who came before me wrote up as outlines [υποτυπωσεις], just as some wrote sketches [υπογραφας]. And others wrote introductions [εισαγωγας] or synopses [συνοψεις] or guides [υφηγησεις].

The two bracketed English words, books and text, are not in the Greek, but must be supplied from context. The brackets enclosing the ellipsis mark a lacuna in the manuscript itself.

This Galenic passage is a trove of parallels to the canonical gospels and the patristic texts on their origins.

Suetonius, Life of Julius Caesar 56:

Reliquit et rerum suarum commentarios Gallici civilisque belli Pompeiani. nam Alexandrini Africique et Hispaniensis incertus auctor est: alii Oppium putant, alii Hirtium, qui etiam Gallici belli novissimum imperfectumque librum suppleverit. de commentariis Caesaris Cicero in eodem Bruto sic refert:

He left memoirs too of his accomplishments in the Gallic and in the Pompeian civil war, for the author of the Alexandrian, African, and Spanish wars is uncertain. Some suppose that it was Oppius, others Hirtius, who also supplied the most recent and unfinished book of the Gallic war. To the memoirs of Caesar in the Brutus itself Cicero refers thus:

Commentarios scripsit valde quidem probandos: nudi sunt, recti et venusti, omni ornatu orationis tamquam veste detracta; sed dum voluit alios habere parata, unde sumerent qui vellent scribere historiam, ineptis gratum fortasse fecit, qui illa volent calamistris inurere. sanos quidem homines a scribendo deterruit.

He wrote memoirs to be strongly commended indeed. They are naked, straightforward and lovely, stripped of the vesture of every adornment of oration; but while he wished others to have these things prepared, whence those who wished to write a history might assume, he ended up gratifying the inept, who wish to use the curling-irons on them. Sane men, in fact, he deters from writing.

De isdem commentariis Hirtius ita praedicat:

Of these same memoirs Hirtius thus proclaims:

Adeo probantur omnium iudicio ut praerepta, non praebita facultas scriptoribus videatur. Cuius tamen rei maior nostra quam reliquorum est admiratio; ceteri enim quam bene atque emendate, nos etiam quam facile atque celeriter eos perscripserit scimus.

They are so approved in the judgment of all men as to have taken opportunity away from writers, rather than to have offered them one. Our admiration for his accomplishment, nevertheless, is greater than that of the rest; for they know how well and faultlessly, and we also how easily and quickly he wrote them out.

Pollio Asinius parum diligenter parumque integra veritate compositos putat, cum Caesar pleraque et quae per alios erant gesta temere crediderit et quae per se, vel consulto vel etiam memoria lapsus perperam ediderit; existimatque rescripturum et correcturum fuisse.

Asinius Pollio supposes that they were composed with too little diligence and integrating too little truth; since Caesar for the most part both believed the things related through others and improperly published things related through him, either deliberately or perhaps from memory lapse; and he thinks that he was going to rewrite and correct them.

Tertullian, in On Fasting 10.3, uses the term commentarius of the Acts:

Porro cum in eodem commentario Lucae et tertia hora orationis demonstretur....

Further, since in the same memoir of Luke the third hour is also demonstrated to be an hour of prayer....

This memoir, of course, is the second treatise of Luke, called the Acts of the Apostles, and the reference is to Acts 2.15 (confer 2.4, 13; 1 Corinthians 14.14).

Quintilian, Oratory Institution 1, preface 7-8:

...duo iam sub nomine meo libri ferebantur artis rhetoricae neque editi a me neque in hoc comparati. namque alterum sermonem per biduum habitum pueri quibus id praestabatur exceperant, alterum pluribus sane diebus, quantum notando consequi potuerant, interceptum boni iuvenes, sed nimium amantes mei temerario editionis honore vulgaverant. quare in his quoque libris erunt eadem aliqua, multa mutata, plurima adiecta, omnia vero compositiora et quantum nos poterimus elaborata.

...two books are now circulating under my name on the art of rhetoric which were neither published by me nor agreed to for this purpose. For the one is a lecture held over two days that the boys to whom it was presented took down, the other a lecture captured [in print] for many days, as much as the good youths were able to follow in notation, but it was with too much love that they rashly made them available by doing me the honor of publication. Wherefore in these books some things will also be the same, many things changed, many more added, all things more truly composed and elaborated as much as we are able.

The written tome.

Lucian, How to Write History 47-48 (translation slightly modified from K. Kilburn in the Loeb edition, Lucian VI):

Τα δε πραγματα αυτα ουχ ως ετυχε συνακτεον [ο συγγραφευς], αλλα φιλοπονως και ταλαιπωρως πολλακις περι των αυτων ανακριναντα, και μαλιστα μεν παροντα και εφορωντα, ει δε μη, τοις αδεκαστοτερον εξηγουμενοις προσεχοντα και ους εικασειεν αν τις ηκιστα προς χαριν η απεχθειαν αφαιρησειν η προσθησειν τοις γεγονοσιν. κανταυθα ηδη και στοχαστικος τις και συνθετικος του πιθανωτερου εστω. και επειδαν αθροιση απαντα η τα πλειστα, πρωτα μεν υπομνημα τι συνυφαινετω αυτων και σωμα ποιειτω ακαλλες ετι και αδιαρθρωτον· ειτα επιθεις την ταξιν επαγετω το καλλος και χρωννυτω τη λεξει και χρηματιζετω* και ρυθμιζετω.

* The reading of the manuscripts, but restored as σχηματιζετω in the text that Kilburn prints for Loeb.

As to the facts themselves, [the historian] should not assemble them at random, but only after much laborious and painstaking investigation. He should for preference be an eyewitness, but, if not, listen to those who tell the more impartial story, those whom one would suppose least likely to subtract from the facts or add to them out of favor or malice. When this happens let him show shrewdness and skill in putting together the more credible story. When he has collected all or most of the facts, let him first make them into a series of notes, a body of material as yet with no beauty or continuity. Then, after arranging them into order, let him give it beauty and enhance it with the charms of expression, figure, and rhythm.

A συγγραφευς is a writer (γραφευς) who gathers facts together (συν-), or an historian (or, more broadly, a writer of prose as opposed to poetry or drama).

Lucian, How to Write History 52 (translation slightly modified from K. Kilburn in the Loeb edition, Lucian VI):

Παντων δε ηδη παρεσκευασμενων και απροοιμιαστον μεν ποτε ποιησεται την αρχην [ο συγγραφευς], οποταν μη πανυ κατεπειγη το πραγμα προδιοικησασθαι τι εν τω προοιμιω· δυναμει δε και τοτε φροιμιω χρησεται τω αποσαφουντι περι των λεκτεων.

But after all his preparations are made [the historian] will sometimes begin without a preface, whenever the subject matter requires no preliminary exposition in such as a preface. But even then he will use a virtual preface to clarify what he is going to say.

Speaking of prefaces, what follows is the preface to 2 Maccabees, immediately after the introductory letters of 1.1-9 and 1.10-2.18. 2 Maccabees 2.19-32 (English translation modified from the Revised Standard Version for the sake of terminological consistency):

Τα δε κατα τον Ιουδαν τον Μακκαβαιον και τους τουτου αδελφους, και τον του ιερου του μεγιστου καθαρισμον, και τον του βωμου εγκαινισμον, ετι τε τους προς Αντιοχον τον Επιφανη και τον τουτου υιον Ευπατορα πολεμους, και τας εξ ουρανου γενομενας επιφανειας τοις υπερ του Ιουδαισμου φιλοτιμως ανδραγαθησασιν, ωστε την ολην χωραν ολιγους οντας λεηλατειν, και τα βαρβαρα πληθη διωκειν, και το περιβοητον καθ ολην την οικουμενην ιερον ανακομισασθαι, και την πολιν ελευθερωσαι, και τους μελλοντας καταλυεσθαι νομους επανορθωσαι, του κυριου μετα πασης επιεικειας ιλεω γενομενου αυτοις, υπο Ιασωνος του Κυρηναιου δεδηλωμενα δια πεντε βιβλιων πειρασομεθα δι ενος συνταγματος επιτεμειν. συνορωντες γαρ το χυμα των αριθμων και την ουσαν δυσχερειαν τοις θελουσιν εισκυκλεισθαι τοις της ιστοριας διηγημασιν δια το πληθος της υλης, εφροντισαμεν τοις μεν βουλομενοις αναγινωσκειν ψυχαγωγιαν, τοις δε φιλοφρονουσιν εις το δια μνημης αναλαβειν ευκοπιαν, πασιν δε τοις εντυγχανουσιν ωφελειαν· και ημιν μεν τοις την κακοπαθειαν επιδεδεγμενοις της επιτομης ου ραδιον, ιδρωτος δε και αγρυπνιας το πραγμα, καθαπερ τω παρασκευαζοντι συμποσιον και ζητουντι την ετερων λυσιτελειαν ουκ ευχερες. ομως δια την των πολλων ευχαριστιαν ηδεως την κακοπαθειαν υποισομεν, το μεν διακριβουν περι εκαστων τω συγγραφει παραχωρησαντες, το δε επιπορευεσθαι τοις υπογραμμοις της επιτομης διαπονουντες· καθαπερ γαρ της καινης οικιας αρχιτεκτονι της ολης καταβολης φροντιστεον, τω δε εγκαιειν και ζωγραφειν επιχειρουντι τα επιτηδεια προς διακοσμησιν εξεταστεον, ουτως δοκω και επι ημων. το μεν εμβατευειν και περιπατον ποιεισθαι λογων και πολυπραγμονειν εν τοις κατα μερος τω της ιστοριας αρχηγετη καθηκει, το δε συντομον της λεξεως μεταδιωκειν και το εξεργαστικον της πραγματειας παραιτεισθαι τω την μεταφρασιν ποιουμενω συγχωρητεον. εντευθεν ουν αρξωμεθα της διηγησεως τοις προειρημενοις τοσουτον επιζευξαντες· ευηθες γαρ το μεν προ της ιστοριας πλεοναζειν, την δε ιστοριαν επιτεμειν.

The story of Judas Maccabeus and his brothers, and the purification of the great temple, and the dedication of the altar, and further the wars against Antiochus Epiphanes and his son Eupator, and the appearances which came from heaven to those who strove zealously on behalf of Judaism, so that though few in number they seized the whole land and pursued the barbarian hordes, and recovered the temple famous throughout the world and freed the city and restored the laws that were about to be abolished, while the Lord with great kindness became gracious to them, all this, which has been set forth by Jason of Cyrene in five books, we shall attempt to cut down into one. For considering the flood of numbers involved and the difficulty there is for those who wish to enter upon the narratives of history because of the mass of material, we have aimed to please those who wish to read, to make it easy for those who are inclined to memorize, and to profit all readers. For us who have undertaken the toil of epitomizing, it is no light matter but calls for sweat and loss of sleep, just as it is not easy for one who prepares a symposium and seeks the benefit of others. However, to secure the gratitude of many we will gladly endure the uncomfortable toil, leaving the responsibility for exactly accurate details to the compiler, while devoting our effort to arriving at the outlines of the epitome. For as the master builder of a new house must be concerned with the whole construction, while the one who undertakes its painting and decoration has to consider only what is suitable for its adornment, so I think it is with us. It is the duty of the original historian to occupy the ground and to discuss matters from every side and to take trouble with details, but to the one who is making the paraphrase it should be allowed to strive for brevity of expression and to forego exhaustive treatment. Thence therefore let us begin our narrative, adding only so much to what has already been said; for it is foolish to lengthen the part before the history, but cut the history short.

To turn a history of five volumes (those of Jason of Cyrene) into the single volume of 2 Maccabees is to abbreviate in the extreme, id est, to epitomize (to make an epitome).

Lucian, How to Write History 58 (translation slightly modified from K. Kilburn in the Loeb edition, Lucian VI):

Ην δε ποτε και λογους ερουντα τινα δεηση εισαγειν, μαλιστα μεν εοικοτα τω προσωπω και τω πραγματι οικεια λεγεσθω, επειτα ως σαφεστατα και ταυτα. πλην εφειται σοι τοτε και ρητορευσαι και επιδειξαι την των λογων δεινοτητα.

If a person has to be introduced to make a speech, above all let his language suit his person and his subject, and next let these also be as clear as possible. It is then, however, that you can play the rhetoritician and show your eloquence.

Lucian, How to Write History 60-61a (translation slightly modified from K. Kilburn in the Loeb edition, Lucian VI):

Και μην και μυθος ει τις παρεμπεσοι, λεκτεος μεν, ου μην πιστωτεος παντως, αλλ εν μεσω θετεος τοις οπως αν εθελωσιν εικασουσι περι αυτου· συ δ ακινδυνος και προς ουδετερον επιρρεπεστερος.

Again, if a myth comes along you must tell it but not believe it entirely. No, make it known for your audience to make of it what they will; you run no risk, and lean to neither side.

Το δ ολον εκεινου μοι μεμνησο, πολλακις γαρ τουτο ερω, και μη προς το παρον μονον ορων γραφε ως οι νυν επαινεσονται σε και τιμησουσιν, αλλα του συμπαντος αιωνος εστοχασμενος προς τους επειτα μαλλον συγγραφε και παρ εκεινων απαιτει τον μισθον της γραφης.

In general please remember this, for I shall repeat it time and again, and do not write with your eye just on the present, to win praise and honor from your contemporaries; aim at eternity and prefer to write for those who will come after, and from them take your wages for writing.

This talk of writing for eternity owes its very existence to Thucydides, whom I quote below.

Josephus, Wars of the Jews 1, preface 5 §13-16 (translation modified slightly from William Whiston):

Καιτοι γε επιτιμησαιμ αν αυτος δικαιως τοις Ελληνων λογιοις, οι τηλικουτων κατ αυτους πραγματων γεγενημενων, α κατα συγκρισιν ελαχιστους αποδεικνυσι τους παλαι πολεμους, τουτων μεν καθηνται κριται τοις φιλοτιμουμενοις επηρεαζοντες, ων ει και τω λογω πλεονεκτουσι, λειπονται τη προαιρεσει αυτοι δε τα Ασσυριων και Μηδων συγγραφουσιν ωσπερ ηττον καλως υπο των αρχαιων συγγραφεων απηγγελμενα. καιτοι τοσουτω της εκεινων ηττωνται δυναμεως εν τω γραφειν, οσω και της γνωμης τα γαρ κατ αυτους εσπουδαζον εκαστοι γραφειν, οπου και το παρατυχειν τοις πραγμασιν εποιει την απαγγελιαν εναργη και το ψευδεσθαι παρ ειδοσιν αισχρον ην. το γε μην μνημη τα προιστορηθεντα διδοναι και τα των ιδιων χρονων τοις μετ αυτον συνιστανειν επαινου και μαρτυριας αξιον. φιλοπονος δε ουχ ο μεταποιων οικονομιαν και ταξιν αλλοτριαν, αλλ ο μετα του καινα λεγειν και το σωμα της ιστοριας κατασκευαζων ιδιον. καγω μεν αναλωμασι και πονοις μεγιστοις αλλοφυλος ων Ελλησι τε και Ρωμαιοις την μνημην των κατορθωματων ανατιθημι τοις δε γνησιοις προς μεν τα λημματα και τας δικας κεχηνεν ευθεως το στομα και γλωσσα λελυται, προς δε την ιστοριαν, ενθα χρη ταληθη λεγειν και μετα πολλου πονου τα πραγματα συλλεγειν, πεφιμωνται παρεντες τοις ασθενεστεροις και μηδε γινωσκουσι τας πραξεις των ηγεμονων γραφειν. τιμασθω δη παρ ημιν το της ιστοριας αληθες, επει παρ Ελλησιν ημεληται.

However, I may justly blame the learned men among the Greeks, who, when such great actions have been done in their own times, actions which, upon the comparison, quite eclipse the old wars, do yet sit as judges of those affairs, and pass bitter censures upon the labors of the best writers of antiquity, which moderns, although they may be superior to the old writers in eloquence, yet are inferior to them in the execution of what they intended to do, while these also write new histories about the Assyrians and Medes, as if the ancient writers had not described their affairs as they ought to have done, although these be as far inferior to them in abilities as they are different in their notions from them. For of old all took upon themselves to write what happened in their own time, where their immediate concern in the actions made their promises of value, and where it must be reproachful to write lies when they must be known by the readers to be such. But then an undertaking to preserve the memory of what has not been before recorded, and to represent the affairs of that time to those that come afterwards, is really worthy of praise and commendation. Now he is not to be esteemed to have taken good pains in earnest who does no more than change the disposition and order of the works of other men, but rather he who not only relates what had not been related before but composes an entire body of history of his own. Accordingly, I have been at great charges, and have taken very great pains, though I be a foreigner, and I do dedicate this work, as a memorial of great actions, both to the Greeks and to the barbarians. But as for some of our own principal men, their mouths are wide open and their tongues loosed presently for gain and lawsuits, but quite muzzled up when they are to write history, where they must speak truth and gather facts together with a great deal of pains. And so they leave the writing of such histories to weaker people, and to such as are not acquainted with the actions of princes. Yet shall the real truth of historical facts be preferred by us, however much it be neglected among the Greek historians.

Josephus, like Lucian, echoes Thucydides. Accordingly, I end with the fuller text of the line that I gave in my second epigraph. Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War 1.22.1-4 (translation modified slightly from Richard Crawley):

Και οσα μεν λογω ειπον εκαστοι η μελλοντες πολεμησειν η εν αυτω ηδη οντες, χαλεπον την ακριβειαν αυτην των λεχθεντων διαμνημονευσαι ην εμοι τε ων αυτος ηκουσα και τοις αλλοθεν ποθεν εμοι απαγγελλουσιν, ως δ αν εδοκουν εμοι εκαστοι περι των αιει παροντων τα δεοντα μαλιστ ειπειν, εχομενω οτι εγγυτατα της ξυμπασης γνωμης των αληθως λεχθεντων, ουτως ειρηται. τα δ εργα των πραχθεντων εν τω πολεμω ουκ εκ του παρατυχοντος πυνθανομενος ηξιωσα γραφειν, ουδ ως εμοι εδοκει, αλλ οις τε αυτος παρην και παρα των αλλων οσον δυνατον ακριβεια περι εκαστου επεξελθων. επιπονως δε ηυρισκετο, διοτι οι παροντες τοις εργοις εκαστοις ου ταυτα περι των αυτων ελεγον, αλλ ως εκατερων τις ευνοιας η μνημης εχοι. και ες μεν ακροασιν ισως το μη μυθωδες αυτων ατερπεστερον φανειται οσοι δε βουλησονται των τε γενομενων το σαφες σκοπειν και των μελλοντων ποτε αυθις κατα το ανθρωπινον τοιουτων και παραπλησιων εσεσθαι, ωφελιμα κρινειν αυτα αρκουντως εξει. κτημα τε ες αιει μαλλον η αγωνισμα ες το παραχρημα ακουειν ξυγκειται.

With reference to the speeches in this history, some were delivered before the war began, others while it was going on; some I heard myself, others I got from various quarters; it was in all cases difficult to carry them word for word in memory, so my habit has been to make the speakers say what was in my opinion demanded of them by the various occasions, of course adhering as closely as possible to the general sense of what they really said. And, with reference to the narrative of events, far from permitting myself to derive it from the first source that came to hand, I did not even trust my own impressions, but it rests partly on what I saw myself, partly on what others saw for me, the accuracy of the report being always tried by the most severe and detailed tests possible. My conclusions have cost me some labor from the want of coincidence between accounts of the same occurrences by different eyewitnesses, arising sometimes from imperfect memory, sometimes from undue partiality for one side or the other. The absence of romance in my history will, I fear, detract somewhat from its interest; but, if it be judged useful by those inquirers who desire an exact knowledge of the past as an aid to the interpretation of the future, which in the course of human things it must resemble if it does not reflect it, I shall be content. In fine, I have written my work, not as an essay which is to win the applause of the moment, but as an everlasting possession.



Terms related to the composition and publication of books. The list is alphabetical, but mixes Greek and Latin terms indiscriminately:

accurately, the adverbial form of ακριβεια
to read
a book; diminutive of βιβλος, a scroll
literally, a commentary, but meaning a personal commentary, or memoir
literally, to put together; of books, to compose, from the participial form compositus
to request of a lecturer notes on what he has taught
teaching, whether oral or written
literally, to give out, but meaning to officially publish
introductions, books or notes written for the needs of particular individuals, not for widespread circulation; plural of εισαγωγη
literally, a giving out, but with the meaning of official publication
εξις και χρεια
habit and need, a recognition of audience relevance
the inscription, or name of the author on a written work
an epitome, or abbreviation of a longer work
the interpretation of a written work
literally, to bear; of books, to circulate, be extant
writing, script, written matter
most excellent; a proper address for a patron, the vocative of κρατος
a booklet, leaflet, pamphlet
a book
to learn, whether from oral or from written sources
a preface, an optional element of a published book
synopses, books or notes written for the needs of particular individuals, not for widespread circulation; plural of συνοψις
compositional order, hypothetically what notes lack and published books are supposed to have
sketches, books or notes written for the needs of particular individuals, not for widespread circulation; plural of υπογραφη
notes or memoranda, plural of υπομνημα, a manuscript in unfinished form
outlines, books or notes written for the needs of particular individuals, not for widespread circulation; plural of υποτυπωσις
guides, books or notes written for the needs of particular individuals, not for widespread circulation; plural of υφηγησις