Cultural Politics in Polybius's Histories

By Craige B. Champion | Go to book overview

Chapter 5
Metabole Politeion
Roman and Achaean Degeneration
in the Fragmentary Books

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold.

WILLIAM B. YEATS, “The Second Coming”

This chapter studies Polybius's collective representations in the fragmentary text following book 6. Enough remains of these books to give a fair idea of the contours of Polybius's narrative with regard to the historian's representations of Roman and Achaean collective group characters.1 Fortunately, the predilections of Polybius's excerptors are an aid to this enterprise. Among the fifty-three titles into which the excerpts were divided, only six survive. Yet these include fragments on virtues and vices, on gnomic reffections, and on treachery.2 Consequently, the fragmentary books are rich in material relevant to questions of the historian's moral outlook in general and his depiction of Roman and Achaean collective group characters in particular. Rather than attempt to discuss every fragment, many of which are simply too brief to provide much of a context and do not permit insights into Polybius's collective representations, while others treat of subjects that are of little use for the objectives of this study, I have selected passages for analysis that highlight the course of Roman and Achaean collective behaviors.

In terms of textual transmission, books 7–18 comprise a unit of Polybius's historical narrative, as we possess these fragments through the Excerpta Antiqua, as well as through the so-called Constantinian excerpts.3 Beyond book 18 we rely for the most part upon the Constantinian fragments alone. The second volume of Walbank's Commentary, therefore, treats books 7–18 as a unit. Regarding the theme of Roman decline, however, Polybius provides a rationale for studying the fragmentary books according to a different structure. The historian unequivocally states that the Roman politeia one day will

____________________
1
For the arrangement of the fragments, see Walbank HC 2.1–28 and 3.1–62.
2
See Moore 1965: 125–67.
3
Moore 1965: 53–124.

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