Zeno Acknowledges His Error
These and similar blunders appear to me to reflect
very great discredit upon writers. It is necessary, therefore,
to endeavour to make one's self master of all departments of
history alike. That is the ideal; but if that is impossible, one
ought at least to be excessively careful on the most essential
and important points in it. I have been induced to say this
because I have observed that in history, as in other arts and
sciences, there is a tendency to neglect the true and essential,
while the ostentatious and the showy secure praise and emulation as something great and admirable. The fact being that
in history, as in other departments of literature, these latter
qualities require less trouble and gain a cheaper reputation.
As to his ignorance of the topography of
Laconia, considering that his error was an important one, I did not hesitate to write to Zeno
Polybius wrote to Zeno on his geographical mistakes.
For I thought it a point of honour
not to look upon the mistakes of others as personal triumphs,
as is the way with some writers; but to do the best I could to
secure correctness, not only of my own historical writings, but
of those of others also, for the benefit of the world at large.
When Zeno received my letter and found that it was impossible
to make the correction, because his history was already published,
he was much vexed, but could do nothing. He, however, put the
most friendly interpretation on my proceeding; and, in regard
to this point, I would beg my own readers, whether of my
own or future generations, if I am ever detected in making a
deliberate misstatement, and disregarding truth in any part of
my history, to criticise me unmercifully; but if I do so from
lack of information, to make allowances: and I ask it for
myself more than others, owing to the size of my history and
the extent of ground covered by its transactions. . . .