Persia, Macedon, Rome

November 10 2012

[…] the successive overthrows of the Achaemenian Empire by Macedon and of Macedon by Rome, [footnote: See Polybius: Oecumenical History, Book XXIX, chap. 21, in which the historian of Macedon’s overthrow by Rome comments on a passage, commenting on Macedon’s triumph over Persia, which he quotes from the work of his predecessor Demetrius of Phalêrum.] […].

Here is the passage in Polybius. WR Paton, translator, Loeb, 1922-27, online here:

“So then often and bitterly did Perseus [the last king of Macedon, defeated at Pydna] call to mind the words of Demetrius of Phalerum. For he, in his treatise on Fortune, wishing to give men a striking instance of her mutability asks them to remember the times when Alexander overthrew the Persian empire, and speaks as follows: ‘For if you consider not countless years or many generations, but merely these last fifty years, you will read in them the cruelty of Fortune. I ask you, do you think that fifty years ago either the Persians and the Persian king or the Macedonians and the king of Macedon, if some god had foretold the future to them, would ever have believed that at the time when we live, the very name of the Persians would have perished utterly – the Persians who were masters of almost the whole world – and that the Macedonians, whose name was formerly almost unknown, would now be the lords of it all? But nevertheless this Fortune, who never compacts with life, who always defeats our reckoning by some novel stroke; she who ever demonstrates her power by foiling our expectations, now also, as it seems to me, makes it clear to all men, by endowing the Macedonians with the whole wealth of Persia, that she has but lent them these blessings until she decides to deal differently with them.’ And this now happened in the time of Perseus. Surely Demetrius, as if by the mouth of some god, uttered these prophetic words. And I, as I wrote and reflected on the time when the Macedonian monarchy perished, did not think it right to pass over the event without comment, as it was one I witnessed with my own eyes; but I considered it was for me also to say something befitting such an occasion, and recall the words of Demetrius. This utterance of his seems to me to have been more divine than that of a mere man. For nearly a hundred and fifty years ago he uttered the truth about what was to happen afterwards.”

What would a British reader of 1897 have thought of this?

A Study of History, Vol X, OUP, 1954

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