History As a Good or Bad Medicine

“In the same way political history is also made up of three parts.  The first consists of the industrious study and collation of documents; the second is topographical and includes the survey of cities, places, rivers, harbours, and in general the special features of land and sea and the distances of one place from another; while the third is concerned with political activity. And just as in the case of medicine, many people aspire to write history because of the high opinion in which political history has been held; but most of them bring to the undertaking nothing to justify their claim to write it except irresponsibility, recklessness and roguery.  They court favours like vendors of drugs and will always say whatever the occasion may require for the sake of scraping together a living by this means.  I need say no more about authors of this kind.” Polybius, The Histories XII. 25e, trans. Ian Scott-Kilvert (London: Penguin, 1979), p. 442-43.

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