A literary cabinet of curiosities.
Aelian’s Historical Miscellany is a pleasurable example of light reading for Romans of the early third century. Offering engaging anecdotes about historical figures, retellings of legendary events, and enjoyable descriptive pieces—in sum: amusement, information, and variety—Aelian’s collection of nuggets and narratives could be enjoyed by a wide reading public. A rather similar book had been published in Latin in the previous century by Aulus Gellius; Aelian is a late, perhaps the last, representative of what had been a very popular genre.
Here then are anecdotes about the famous Greek philosophers, poets, historians, and playwrights; myths instructively retold; moralizing tales about heroes and rulers, athletes and wise men; reports about styles in dress, food and drink, lovers, gift-giving practices, entertainments, religious beliefs and death customs; and comments on Greek painting. Some of the information is not preserved in any other source. Underlying it all are Aelian’s Stoic ideals as well as this Roman’s great admiration for the culture of the Greeks (whose language he borrowed for his writings).
The Historical Miscellany is now added to the Loeb Classical Library, the Greek text facing a skillful and helpfully annotated new translation by Nigel Wilson. In his trenchant Introduction he discusses the literary genre of Aelian’s miscellany, its style and historical setting.
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.’
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.
- 528 pages
- 4-1/4 x 6-3/8 inches
- Harvard University Press
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