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Monday, September 17, 2012

Lost History

Aristotle and his students collected extensive (book length) data on the history and structure of the constitutions of 158 Greek city-states. Do you know how many of those we have available today?

One.

The amount of material from the ancient world that we no longer have with us is staggering.

4 comments:

  1. "So perished that marvelous monument of the literary activity of our ancestors, who had gathered together so many great works of brilliant geniuses." -Orosius on the Destruction of the Great Library of Alexandria

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  2. Worse, survival does not seem to have been closely correlated with merit. Tacitus is by consensus the greatest of the Roman historians, but his greatest masterpiece, the Annals, survives only in two non-overlapping manuscripts, with a massive lacuna in the middle. Meanwhile, the Historia Augusta—aptly described by Livius.org as "something like an ancient mockumentary"—survives nearly entire.

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  3. Do you think that calls into question our abilities to really understand the ancient past considering the amount of history lost?

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    Replies
    1. There's certainly a lot we don't know, but so long as we remember that, we're ok.

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