The History of Rome (Mommsen)/Prefatory Note by the Translator


In requesting English scholars to receive with indulgence this first portion of a translation of Dr. Mommsen's "Römische Geschichte," I am somewhat in the position of Albinus; who, when appealing to his readers to pardon the imperfections of the Roman History which he had written in indifferent Greek, was met by Cato with the rejoinder that he was not compelled to write at all—that, if the Amphictyonic Council had laid their commands on him, the case would have been different—but that it was quite out of place to ask the indulgence of his readers when his task had been self-imposed. I may state, however, that I did not undertake this task, until I had sought to ascertain whether it was likely to be taken up by any one more qualified to do justice to it. When Dr. Mommsen's work accidentally came into my hands some years after its first appearance, and revived my interest in studies which I had long laid aside for others more strictly professional, I had little doubt that its merits would have already attracted sufficient attention amidst the learned leisure of Oxford to induce some of her great scholars to clothe it in an English dress. But it appeared on inquiry that, while there was a great desire to see it translated, and the purpose of translating it had been entertained in more quarters than one, the projects had from various causes miscarried. Mr. George Robertson published an excellent translation (to which, so far as it goes, I desire to acknowledge my obligations) of the introductory chapters on the early inhabitants of Italy; but other studies and engagements did not permit him to proceed with it. I accordingly requested and obtained Dr. Mommsen's permission to translate his work.

The translation has been prepared from the third edition of the original, published in the spring of the present year at Berlin. The sheets have been transmitted to Dr. Mommsen, who has kindly communicated to me such suggestions as occurred to him. I have thus been enabled, more especially in the first volume, to correct those passages where I had misapprehended or failed to express the author's meaning, and to incorporate in the English work various additions and corrections which do not appear in the original. The author has also furnished me with some interesting notes, such as that on the Servian census at page 95, that on the word vates at page 240, and that on Appius Claudius at page 292. With reference to the latter I have inserted in an appendix Dr. Mommsen's more matured views as embodied by him in a paper on the Patrician Claudii recently read before the Prussian Academy. The note at page 442, on the treaties with Carthage, has been extracted from the author's work on Roman Chronology—a book which, in addition to its intrinsic merits, derives a peculiar interest from the fact, that it is written in friendly controversy with the author's own brother.

In executing the translation I have endeavoured to follow the original as closely as is consistent with a due regard to the difference of idiom. Many of our translations from the German are so literal as to reproduce the very order of the German sentence, so that they are, if not altogether unintelligible to the English reader, at least far from readable, while others deviate so entirely from the form of the original as to be no longer translations in the proper sense of the term. I have sought to pursue a middle course between a mere literal translation, which would be repulsive, and a loose paraphrase, which would be in the case of such a work peculiarly unsatisfactory. Those who are most conversant with the difficulties of such a task will probably be the most willing to show forbearance towards the shortcomings of my performance, and in particular towards the too numerous traces of the German idiom, which, on glancing over the sheets, I find it still to retain.

The reader may perhaps be startled by the occurrence now and then of modes of expression more familiar and colloquial than is usually the case in historical works. This, however, is a characteristic feature of the original, to which in fact it owes not a little of its charm. Dr. Mommsen often uses expressions that are not to be found in the dictionary, and he freely takes advantage of the unlimited facilities afforded by the German language for the coinage or the combination of words. I have not unfrequently, in deference to his wishes, used such combinations as "Carthagino-Sicilian, Romano-Hellenic," &c, although less congenial to our English idiom, for the sake of avoiding longer periphrases.

In Dr. Mommsen's book, as in every other German work that has occasion to touch on abstract matters, there occur sentences couched in a peculiar terminology and not very susceptible of translation. There are one or two sentences of this sort, more especially in the chapter on Religion in the 1st volume, and in the critique of Euripides in the last chapter of the 2nd volume, as to which I am not very confident that I have seized or succeeded in expressing the meaning. In these cases I have translated literally.

In the spelling of proper names I have generally adopted the Latin orthography as more familiar to scholars in this country, except in cases where the spelling adopted by Dr. Mommsen is marked by any special peculiarity. At the same time entire uniformity in this respect has not been aimed at.

I have ventured in various instances to break up the paragraphs of the original and to furnish them with additional marginal headings, and have carried out more fully the notation of the years b.c. on the margin.

Two more volumes of still deeper interest bring down the history to the fall of the Republic. Dr. Mommsen has expressed his intention of resuming the work and narrating the History of the Empire, but the execution of this plan has been suspended owing to his other engagements. He is at present occupied, under the auspices of the Prussian Academy of Sciences, in editing a great collection of Latin Inscriptions—a field of labour which he has made peculiarly his own.

It is due to Dr. Schmitz, who has kindly encouraged me in this undertaking, that I should state that I alone am responsible for the execution of the translation. Whatever may be thought of it in other respects, I venture to hope that it may convey to the English reader a tolerably accurate impression of the contents and general spirit of the book.


Manse of Cameron,
St. Andrews,
December, 1861.