1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Polyaenus

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POLYAENUS, a Macedonian, who lived at Rome as a rhetorician and pleader in the 2nd century A.D. When the Parthian War (162-5) broke out, Polyaenus, too old to share in the campaign, dedicated to the emperors Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus a work, still extant, called Strategica or Strategemata, a historical collection of stratagems and maxims of strategy written in Greek and strung together in the form of anecdotes. It is not strictly confined to warlike stratagems, but includes also examples of wisdom, courage and cunning drawn from civil and political life. The work is uncritically written, but is nevertheless important on account of the extracts it has preserved from histories now lost. It is divided into eight books (parts of the sixth and seventh are lost), and originally contained nine hundred anecdotes, of which eight hundred and thirty-three are extant. Polyaenus intended to write a history of the Parthian War, but there is no evidence that he did so. His works on Macedonia, on Thebes, and on tactics (perhaps identical with the Strategica) are lost.

His Strategica seems to have been highly esteemed by the Roman emperors, and to have been handed down by them as a sort of heirloom. From Rome it passed to Constantinople; at the end of the 9th century it was diligently studied by Leo VI., who himself wrote a work on tactics; and in the middle of the 10th century Constantine Porphyrogenitus mentioned it as one of the most valuable books in the imperial library. It was used by Stobaeus, Suidas, and the anonymous author of the work Περὶ ἀπίστων (see Palaephatus). It is arranged as follows: bks. i., ii., iii., stratagems occurring in Greek history; bk. iv., stratagems of the Macedonian kings and successors of Alexander the Great; bk. v., stratagems occurring in the history of Sicily and the Greek islands and colonies; bk. vi., stratagems of a whole people (Carthaginians, Lacedaemonians, Argives), together with some individuals (Philopoemen, Pyrrhus, Hannibal); bk. vii., stratagems of the barbarians (Medes, Persians, Egyptians, Thracians, Scythians, Celts); bk. viii., stratagems of Romans and women. This distribution is not, however, observed very strictly. Of the negligence or haste with which the work was written there are many instances: e.g. he confounds Dionysius the elder and Dionysius the younger, Mithradates satrap of Artaxerxes and Mithradates the Great, Scipio the elder and Scipio the younger, Perseus, king of Macedonia and Perseus the companion of Alexander; he mixes up the stratagems of Caesar and Pompey; he brings into immediate connexion events which were totally distinct; he narrates some events twice over, with variations according to the different authors from whom he draws. Though he usually abridges, he occasionally amplifies arbitrarily the narratives of his authorities. He never mentions his authorities, but amongst authors still extant he used Herodotus, Thucydides, Xenophon, Polybius, Diodorus, Plutarch, Frontinus and Suetonius; amongst authors cf whom only fragments now remain he drew upon Ctesias, Ephorus, Timaeus, Phylarchus and Nicolaus Damascenus. His style is clear, but monotonous and inelegant. In the forms of his words he generally follows Attic usage.

The best edition of the text is Wölfflin and Melber (Teubner Series, 1887, with bibliography and editio princeps of the Strategemata of the emperor Leo); annotated editions by Isaac Casaubon (1589) and A. Coraës (1809); I. Melber, Ueber die Quellen und Werth der Strategemensammlung Polyäns (1885); Knott, De fide et fontibus Polyaeni (1883), who largely reduces the number of the authorities consulted by Polyaenus. Eng. trans. by R. Shepherd (1793).