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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Agathias (c. 530–582)
By Critical and Biographical Introduction
 
AGATHIAS tells us, in his ‘Proœmium,’ that he was born at Myrina, Asia Minor, that his father’s name was Memnonius, and his own profession the law of the Romans and practice in courts of justice. He was born about A.D. 530, and was educated at Alexandria. In Constantinople he studied and practiced his profession, and won his surname of “Scholasticus,” a title then given to a lawyer. He died, it is believed, at the age of forty-four or forty-five. He was a Christian, as he testifies in his epigrams. In the sketch of his life prefixed to his works, Niebuhr collates the friendships he himself mentions, with his fellow-poet Paulus Silentiarius, with Theodorus the decemvir, and Macedonius the ex-consul. To these men he dedicated some of his writings.  1
  Of his works, he says in his ‘Proœmium’ that he wrote in his youth the ‘Daphniaca,’ a volume of short poems in hexameters, set off with love-tales. His ‘Anthology,’ or ‘Cyclus,’ was a collection of poems of early writers, and also compositions of his friend Paulus Silentiarius and others of his time. A number of his epigrams, preserved because they were written before or after his publication of the ‘Cyclus,’ have come down to us and are contained in the ‘Anthologia Græca.’ His principal work is his ‘Historia,’ which is an account of the conquest of Italy by Narses, of the first war between the Greeks and Franks, of the great earthquakes and plagues, of the war between the Greeks and Persians, and the deeds of Belisarius in his contest with the Huns,—of all that was happening in the world Agathias knew between 553 and 558 A.D., while he was a young man. He tells, for instance, of the rebuilding of the great Church of St. Sophia by Justinian, and he adds:—“If any one who happens to live in some place remote from the city wishes to get a clear notion of every part, as though he were there, let him read what Paulus [Silentiarius] has composed in hexameter verse.”  2
  The history of Agathias is valuable as a chronicle. It shows that the writer had little knowledge of geography, and was not enough of a philosopher to look behind events and trace the causes from which they proceeded. He is merely a simple and honest writer, and his history is a business-like entry of facts. He dwells upon himself and his wishes with a minuteness that might seem self-conscious, but is really naif; and goes so far in his outspokenness as to say that if for the sake of a livelihood he took up another profession, his taste would have led him to devote himself to the Muses and Graces.  3
  He wrote in the Ionic dialect of his time. The best edition of his ‘Historia’ is that of Niebuhr (1828). Those of his epigrams preserved in the Greek anthology have not infrequently been turned into English; the happiest translation of all is that of Dryden, in his ‘Life of Plutarch.’  4
 
 
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