Acquisitions (16): Loeb Classics

[Acquired: Tuesday, 3 April, 2018]:

Bronwyn and I visited the Hard-to-Find Bookshop in Onehunga on Tuesday, and I made a bit of a beast of myself among the Loeb Classics. In fact, the bookshop staff applauded as I left with my cardboard box of tattered treasures. ONe of them remarked: "Looks like we'll get paid this week."

The bookshop may well be moving soon: possibly to St. Benedict's Street off Upper Symonds Street. Let's hope it doesn't, but it's one more reason for not feeling too guilty about my excesses. The fact is, you don't often see complete sets of Loeb classics, since they're just so useful to anyone who's at all classically inclined.

These, then, are the books I bought:

Diodorus Siculus

Diodorus of Sicily (fl. 1st century BC):
Diodorus Siculus. The Library of History. 12 vols. Loeb Classics. London: William Heinemann / Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1960, 1961, 1962, 1963, 1967, 1976, 1977, 1989.
  • Books I-II: 1-34, Trans. C. H. Oldfather (1936)
  • Books II: 35-end, III, IV: 1-58, Trans. C. H. Oldfather (1935)
  • Books IV: 59-VIII, Trans. C. H. Oldfather (1939)
  • Books IX-XII: 40, Trans. C. H. Oldfather (1946)
  • Books XII: 41-XIII, Trans. C. H. Oldfather (1950)
  • Books XIV-XV:19, Trans. C. H. Oldfather (1954)
  • Books XV: 20-XVI: 65, Trans. Charles L. Sherman (1952)
  • Books XVI: 66-95, XVII, Trans. C. Bradford Welles (1963)
  • Books XVIII-XIX: 1-65, Trans. Russel M. Geer (1947)
  • Books XIX: 66-110, XX, Trans. Russel M. Geer (1954)
  • Books XXI-XXXII, Trans. Francis R. Walton (1967)
  • Books XXXIII-XL / Index, Trans. Francis R. Walton & Russel M. Geer (1967)


Yosef Ben Matityahu / Titus Flavius Josephus (37–c.100 AD):
Josephus. Works. 9 vols. Loeb Classics. London: William Heinemann / Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1961, 1966.
  • The Life / Against Apion, Trans. H. St. J. Thackeray (1926)
  • The Jewish War, Books I-III, Trans. H. St. J. Thackeray (1927)
  • The Jewish War, Books IV-VII, Trans. H. St. J. Thackeray (1928)
  • Jewish Antiquities, Books I-IV, Trans. H. St. J. Thackeray (1930)
  • Jewish Antiquities, Books V-VIII, Trans. H. St. J. Thackeray & Ralph Marcus (1934)
  • Jewish Antiquities, Books IX-XI, Trans. Ralph Marcus (1937)
  • Jewish Antiquities, Books XII-XIV, Trans. Ralph Marcus (1943)
  • Jewish Antiquities, Books XV-XVII, Trans. Ralph Marcus & Allen Wikgren (1963)
  • Jewish Antiquities, Books XVIII-XX / General Index, Trans. Louis H. Feldman (1965)


Polybius (c.200 – c.118 BCE):
Polybius. The Histories. Trans. W. R. Paton. Introduction by Col. H. J. Edwards. 6 vols. 1922, 1922, 1923, 1925, 1926, 1927. Loeb Classics. London: William Heinemann / Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1967, 1968, 1972.

Why? Why did I want to own these books? In the case of Diodorus, it's because his Library of History was an early attempt at a universal chronicle - extracted from many now-lost sources - of world events from the Egyptians and Mesopotamians up to his own times.

It's not that his book is particularly accurate, or even that brilliantly written in itself, but rather the traditions it hints at: the lost knowledge of classical writers about the cultures that had preceded them.

Only parts of it survive, but even those parts are surprisingly voluminous.

Josephus was not a particularly likeable or admirable character. He was a turncoat in the Jewish wars which led to the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus, and an active collaborator thereafter with the Romans.

His work gives amazing insights into the Middle East around the time of Christ, but from a completely non-Christian viewpoint. Can you trust him implicitly? No. He always has an axe to grind. But then, what historian doesn't? At least with Josephus his biases and assumptions are all there on the surface. And his knowledge of the past and present of the Roman province of Palestine is profound.

True, I already own a copy of the more recent Penguin Classics translation of The Jewish War:

Josephus. The Jewish War. Trans. G. A. Williamson. 1959. Penguin Classics. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1960.

Not to mention Whiston's 1737 translation of Josephus's complete works:

Josephus. The Works. Trans. William Whiston. London: Ward, Lock & Co., n.d.

I still feel the Loeb one has an indispensable place beside them, though.

And what of Polybius? It's not as if he's really up there with Herodotus, Thucydides, Plutarch and Xenophon - the Greek historians everyone's heard of any who we all know we should read at some point.

That doesn't make him uninteresting, though. His account of the wars between Rome and Carthage, as well as those between Rome and Greece, are designed to give a picture of how the Romans achieved domination over this entire region.

Whatever subsequent commentators may have said, there was nothing inevitable about this process. There was a lot of luck involved, as well as good management (and a fair share of ruthlessness). Polybius was there, and he gives a fascinating account not just of what he himself witnessed but of what he could find out in the research libraries of classical antiquity.

Like Josephus, he was to some extent an apologist for Roman expansionism. He first went there as a hostage, but left as a kind of colonial official. His work must be read with a grain of salt, but his respect for objective reporting makes him one of the few classical historians who can be compared to Thucydides.

Do any of these volumes overlap? Well, of course. Some poems are included in more than one of them (somewhat unpredictably at times). Probably one could get away with just the two above - but it would be a shame to miss out on this wonderful piece of book design (for that matter, the true purist will want a copy of Hughes's Selected Translations also: some of his best work was done in this genre).

Am I crazy? No doubt. But they do look very handsome there on my classical studies bookshelf. And it's not as if there are going to be any more eye-witness descriptions of the destruction of Carthage anytime soon ...

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