Polybius on prefaces and summaries for his books

Let’s return to chapter titles, summaries at the start of books, and the question of chapter divisions.  In my last post I translated Bergk, but did not give the Greek of Polybius, book 11, nor an English translation.  He says that Polybius says he started his multi-book history by giving each book a summary or headings at the front, but abandoned the idea at book 11, in favour of a preface, because the copyists were not copying the summaries.

Now Polybius is online, and so are two translations of his remarks at the start of book 11.  So we can look for ourselves.  Here’s the Greek from Perseus:

Ἴσως δέ τινες ἐπιζητοῦσι πῶς ἡμεῖς οὐ προγραφὰς ἐν ταύτῃ τῇ βίβλῳ, καθάπερ οἱ πρὸ ἡμῶν, ἀλλὰ καὶ προεκθέσεις καθ᾽ ἑκάστην ὀλυμπιάδα πεποιήκαμεν τῶν πράξεων. [2] ἐγὼ δὲ κρίνω χρήσιμον μὲν εἶναι καὶ τὸ τῶν προγραφῶν γένος: καὶ γὰρ εἰς ἐπίστασιν ἄγει τοὺς ἀναγινώσκειν θέλοντας καὶ συνεκκαλεῖται καὶ παρορμᾷ πρὸς τὴν ἀνάγνωσιν τοὺς ἐντυγχάνοντας, πρὸς δὲ τούτοις πᾶν τὸ ζητούμενον ἑτοίμως ἔνεστιν εὑρεῖν διὰ τούτου: [3] θεωρῶν δὲ διὰ πολλὰς αἰτίας καὶ τὰς τυχούσας ὀλιγωρούμενον καὶ φθειρόμενον τὸ τῶν προγραφῶν γένος, οὕτως καὶ διὰ ταῦτα πρὸς τοῦτο τὸ μέρος κατηνέχθην: [4] τῆς γὰρ προεκθέσεως οὐ μόνον ἰσοδυναμούσης πρὸς τὴν προγραφήν, ἀλλὰ καὶ πλεῖόν τι δυναμένης, ἅμα δὲ καὶ χώραν ἐχούσης ἀσφαλεστέραν διὰ τὸ συμπεπλέχθαι τῇ πραγματείᾳ, [5] τούτῳ μᾶλλον ἐδοκιμάσαμεν χρῆσθαι τῷ μέρει παρ᾽ ὅλην τὴν σύνταξιν πλὴν ἓξ τῶν πρώτων βυβλίων: ἐν ἐκείνοις δὲ προγραφὰς ἐποιησάμεθα διὰ τὸ μὴ λίαν ἐναρμόζειν ἐν αὐτοῖς τὸ τῶν προεκθέσεων γένος.

Here is the translation from Perseus, by Evelyn S. Shuckburgh (1882).

My reason for prefixing a table of contents to each book, rather than a preface, is not because I do not recognise the usefulness of a preface in arresting attention and rousing interest, and also giving facilities for finding any passage that is wanted, but because I find prefaces viewed, though from many inadequate reasons, with contempt and neglect. I therefore had recourse to a table of contents throughout my history, except the first six books, arranged according to Olympiads, as being as effective, or even more so, than a preface, and at the same time as less subject to the objection of being out of place, for it is closely connected with the subject-matter. In the first six books I wrote prefaces, because I thought a mere table of contents less suitable. . . .

And here is the Loeb translation by W.R.Paton, thanks to the generosity of Bill Thayer:

Some will perhaps inquire why in this work I do not, like former authors, write prologues but give a summary of the events in each Olympiad. I indeed regard a prologue as a useful kind of thing, since it fixes the attention of those who wish to read the work and stimulates and encourages readers in their task, besides which by this means any matter that we are in search of can be easily found. But as I saw that for various fortuitous reasons prologues were now neglected and had degenerated in style, I was led to adopt the other alternative. For an introductory summary is not only of equal value to a prologue but even of somewhat greater, while at the same time it occupies a surer position, as it forms an integral part of the work.  I, therefore, decided to employ this method throughout except in the first six books to which I wrote prologues, because in their case previous summaries are not very suitable.

So.  What are the words being used for “preface”, “prologue”?  Well, prographe is it.  LSJ gives us:

προγραφή , h(,
A. public notice, advertisement, X.Eq.Mag.4.9, Plb.25.3.2, SIG976.37(Samos, ii B.C.), OGI515.38 (Mylasa, iii A.D.); edict, D.C.47.13; ἐκ προγραφῆς by edict, Id.56.25.
2. notice of sale, Thphr. Fr.97.2(pl.), Plu.2.205c; public sale of confiscated property, Str.5.4.11.
3. ἐπὶ θανάτῳ προγραφαίproscriptions, App.BC1.2; “σφαγαὶ καὶ π.” Plu.Brut.27; warrant for arrest, BGU372.8 (ii A.D., pl.).
II. table drawn up in advance, of an astronomical cycle, D.S.12.36.
III. heading, preliminary form, BGU780.2 (ii A.D.), Men.Prot. p.16D., etc.; title of a prescription, Gal.13.777:—Dim. προγον-γράφιον [α^], to/, Sammelb.5273.10(v A.D.).

Hum.  And for “summary”? proekthesis, which has the meaning in LSJ:

προέκ-θεσις , εως, h(,

A. [select] introduction, preface,τῆς πραγματείαςPlb. 3.1.7, 8.11.2; prefatory account, Scymn.13, D.H.Comp.23, Quint. Inst.9.2.106.

But surely both translators have inverted the meanings of the  two words?  Proekthesis would seem to  be “introduction”, “preface”; indeed Polybius is given as the reference in LSJ for this meaning. While prographai seems to mean the table of contents, table of headings, titles, and NOT “preface” — indeed the passage has no meaning if the two words mean the same.

The most immediate observation is how different the translations are.  Paton seems to think that Polybius is referring to previous authors, rather than what Polybius had done in preceding books, but the text does not say this.  Indeed I am not sure that Paton understood the Greek of the whole passage.

Neither aligns with what Bergk said, as I understand him.  Can anyone with better Greek and better German than I clear this up?  For it looks as if either Bergk did not understand Polybius, or the two translators did not.

UPDATE: I thought I would do a word search on prographai, and found the following note in de Jong, Time in ancient Greek literature, Brill (2007) p.167, an article by T. Rood on Polybius:

4.  The term for the initial summary is proekthesis: cf. Walbank 1957-59, I 297-298.  For the first six books Polybius included a prographai, lists of contents appearing either outside the scroll or inside, before the text; the only proekthesis was the general summary of the whole work at 3.2-6 (cf. 11.1a, with Walbank ad loc.)  At 14.a1.1 Polybius claims that the proekthesis “arrests the attention of the reader” by showing the interconnections between events.

“Walbank” is A historical commentary on Polybius, I-III (Oxford, 1957-9), as it says on p.537 (and aren’t these Google previews a blessing?)  This suggests that I am right — that both translators have tripped up.  The idea of lists is definitely what prographai is about, public-facing lists of things.  I wish I could access Walbank!

But … I then search for proekthesis.  And I get a preview of Kennedy, Invention and method: two rhetorical treatises from the Hermogenic corpus, SBL, 2005, p.225.  This is a translation of Hermogenes, On forceful speaking.


To state at the beginning headings for what one is going to prove or teach is called by technical writers proekthesis, and to give at the end a reminder of what has been demonstrated the technical writers call anakephalaiosis.[26]  The ancients however call proekthesis hyposkesis [27] and anakephalaiosis epanodos, as Demosthenes reveals when he says (23.18), “It is right for me, having promised (hypeskhemenon) three things, to demonstrate first, that it is contrary to the laws,” and in the other case “I go back [28] to the proofs that the crimes and corruption of these men is the cause of the present problems.”  And Plato (Phaedrus 266d-e) |[428] says that at the beginning (of a speech) there are proemia and narrations, followed by proofs…

26. “Preliminary exposition (of headings)” = “partition” and “recapitulation” respectively; for proekthesis  see Dionysius of Halicarnassus, On Composition 23 (vol. 2, p.117, 11 Usener-Radermacher); Quintilian 9.2.106, citing Rutilius; Anonymous Seguerianus #10; Fortunatianus 2.12 and 15; …

Which seems to make the opposite point.  Um! 

The Anonymous Seguerianus is also online here, Dilts, Two Greek rhetorical treatises from the Roman empire, Brill, 1997, p.5:

10. If the hearers know what the speeches are about, they will become more receptive.  Proekthesis, anaeosis, and merismos create receptivity.  11.  It is proekthesis whenever someone sets out, as in a heading (kephalaia), what he is going to say: for example, “I shall show both that the man is unworthy and  that the decree is illegal.”

But obviously if the proekthesis was of that form, it was a preface or summary of what he was about to say, not a list of contents.  Yet kephalaia is the word for “chapters”. 

The other link I found which is non-scholarly is this, but plainly well informed from some unspecified source.

It still seems to me that I am right; but clearly even the terminology is confusing people.


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