Livy, the Preface to Ab urbe condita

That I am to create a work worthy of its labor by authoring the affairs of the Roman people from the city’s origin in writing, I do not for sure know; and if I were certain, I would dare not say since I see it certainly is a matter of tradition as (such a common one, at that) innovating writers are forever proclaiming their belief they will either contribute something more accurate in their facts, or surpass common tradition in the authorial art. However that will be must still aid the memory of events accomplished—that of the earth’s foremost people—to what extent is possible, and to consider it to decision; and if my reputation’s name might be inaudible amidst so great a writing crowd, on account of their excellence or number’s size, let me take comfort in their obscuring of my fame. The matter is, in addition, of quite the effort as would seek to revisit beyond some seventh century which has ended from the humble beginnings where the state was born that now labors so doggedly; and I do not doubt that, for many readers, the earliest origins and subsequent events revealing them would be less enjoyable for those eager to skip ahead to recent parts where the very strength of so dominant a people prepares its wearing out: Against this, a reward for effort I shall seek that I may turn away from the sight of evils which our time has looked upon so many years, through such times and acts as these I do truly seek as now the past entire with my mind, so free from worry which might, if not quite ply an author’s intention from truth, could still leave one troubled.

Matters before the founding of the city or its development are related more as the embellishments of poetic tales than handed down the untainted memorials of events achieved; there is no intention willing either to confirm or disprove these things. This, the indulgence granted to the distant past so that it, in intermingling human affairs with matters divine first at the origin of settlements, might make them all the more majestic; and if permitting a people is fit to deify their their own ancestry’s beginnings, the batte-won reknown of the Roman people is such that, since it is said their own father, and that of the founder himself, is a most potent God of War, so also do humankind’s peoples support this race with patience much as they suffer sovereignty. But however it is these facts and matters like them have been observed in judgment, let me not (for my own part) frame them with a great degree of difference: Towards these of my concerns, each person should consider for onself what their life and habits were, through what men and the arts by which—domestic and in war—their dominion both was created and did grow; then bit by bit, with their habit of knowledge falling off, discipline followed behind deteriorating character next as they went farther, further wrong then began to topple down unto these times there arrive neither the capacity to permit our faults nor endure their remedy.

This is that aspect—in acquiring knowledge of events—well-known as beneficial and productive. For you to look upon the documented evidence of every instance set down in an illustrious monument; from there might you take for yourself and own country something to imitate, then some example equally destructive, in the inception as its execution, which you should avoid. Still, either a passion for the occupation already undertaken betrays me, or no people’s state has ever been greater or more venerable, even richer for its instructive examples—but neither have greed and wastefulness relocated so lately to a state, nor has there been a place where such dignity has been so long-standing respect for modest self-control: To such extent, the less there were of possessions, by that much less desired.

Of late, greed for wealth and pleasures too excessively desirous, through their mollifying lust of wasteful ruin and loss, have assailed everything. But charges should be absent from the outset of so assuredly weighty a matter at its inception so that criticisms which will certainly be less than pleasing, though these might perhaps be necessary: With more propitious signs and offerings, prayers to the gods and goddesses—if the custom for poets become also ours,—would we set out a bit more as I will so that my words might deliver fortunate advances to labor freely with such magnitude begun.