- Hardcover: 528 pages
- Publisher: Harvard University Press; Annotated edition edition (July 15, 1997)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 067499535X
- ISBN-13: 978-0674995352
- Product Dimensions: 4.4 x 0.9 x 6.6 inches
- Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 2 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #592,465 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Aelian: Historical Miscellany (Loeb Classical Library No. 486) Annotated edition Edition
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Classicists no longer have an excuse not to check a citation in Aelian, and a general reader who wants to find out what a bedside book from antiquity might have looked like has the means ready to hand...Aelian's Greek can be quite tricky and with his translation Wilson puts us further in his debt: besides being clear and accurate it is often sprightly and even eloquent. (A. J. Podlecki Scholia)
Aelian's Historical Miscellany (Varia Historia) is mainly a potpourri of historical, literary, and other information concerning the Greek past...which apparently entertained educated readers [of the 3rd century] as well as provided them with exempla. Wilson gives us a smooth and very readable translation, syntactically reflecting Aelian's 'studied simplicity.'" (Robert J. Penella Religious Studies Review)
Text: English, Greek (translation)
Original Language: Greek
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1) challenging texts from which we learn new grammar and new vocabulary, and, if it's within our ability and scope, sociolinguistic and literary knowledge,
2) easy texts which build confidence and pleasure in reading the language, and, as it were, solidify the knowledge we may have gained from texts in the (1) class.
Aelian's "Poikile Historia" is of the second class.
These are brief prose texts, mostly short paragraphs, but a few of as many as ten pages. They cover all sorts of subjects, from animals through historical commonplaces to mythological stuff. Their order is rather haphazard, merely by rough groups.
We hear, for example,
1) how octopuses catch their prey,
2) that the tyrant Gelon of Syracuse dreamed he was struck by lightning and was awakened from his terror by a faithful dog,
3) that the Athenians passed some very savage laws,
4) how long some philosophers thought human beings should live,
5) who the first woman to be admitted to the Olympics as a spectator was,
and other unclassifiable stuff. The only plausible classification would be "what was popular among those literate in Greek (in Rome? Aelian was a Roman, in some sense) in the early Third Century AD."
Most of us would spurn such a book (or TV program now), but since the selection reflects somebody's taste in this now remote time and place, it has its antiquarian interest. And it's surprising entertaining. Aelian is not the greatest anecdotalist I've run across, but he's good. And he projects a reasonable intelligence; I was surprised, for instance, by how plausible many of his snippets about animals were; most might possibly be true, and he even projected a certain skepticism:
"[swans'] love of song has long been notorious. But I have not heard a swan sing, nor perhaps has anyone else. There is a belief that it sings, and people say that its voice is best and most tuneful at the time when it is about to end its life."
(This is the translation provided by the editor N.G. Wilson in this Loeb edition.) I have generally had the impression that the Greeks and Romans knew nothing about the natural world, or at least the educated classes who presumed to be able to write about it did not.
It's in the nature of a book such as this that virtually all of it is second hand. But that's all right; most of us get most of our knowledge through several removes and, as I say, part of the interest here is getting some insight into the state of popular lore in Rome at the time. No one would ever have taken this as seriously as some would have taken Aristotle at one time, or worse, Pliny the Elder.
The Greek is surprisingly pleasant Atticizing for the most part. The best late writer in that respect is probably Lucian; Aelian is nowhere near that good. But once you have a good grip on 5th & 4th C Attic you'll have no problem with this (other than a bit of odd vocabulary now and then), nor will you have reason to fear that your Attic is being much corrupted.
The usual Loeb facing page translation is better than most, to may taste, and editor Wilson's introduction was no longer or shorter than it needs to be, and answered most of the questions I might have had. There is a limited textual apparatus (Latin of course) and well-considered notes (in English)
I recommend the book for everyone who is interested in the ancient Greek and Roman World.