Kosmos Society Book Club | May 2020: Aulus Gellius Attic Nights Book 1

Other more entertaining writings may be found, in order that like recreation might be provided for my children, when they should have some respite from business affairs and could unbend and divert their minds. But in the arrangement of my material I have adopted the same haphazard order that I had previously followed in collecting it. For whenever I had taken in hand any Greek or Latin book, or had heard anything worth remembering, I used to jot down whatever took my fancy, of any and every kind, without any definite plan or order; and such notes I would lay away as an aid to my memory, like a kind of literary storehouse, so that when the need arose of a word or a subject which I chanced for the moment to have forgotten, and the books from which I had taken it were not at hand, I could readily find and produce it.

It therefore follows, that in these notes there is the same variety of subject that there was in those former brief jottings which I had made without order or arrangement, as the fruit of instruction or reading in various lines. And since, as I have said, I began to amuse myself by assembling these notes during the long winter nights which I spent on a country-place in the land of Attica, I have therefore given them the title of Attic Nights

… I myself … having at heart that well-known saying … “Much learning does not make a scholar,” did it is true busy and even weary myself in unrolling and running through many a scroll, working without cessation in all the intervals of business whenever I could steal the leisure; but I took few items from them, confining myself to those which, by furnishing a quick and easy short-cut, might lead active and alert minds to a desire for independent learning and to the study of the useful arts, or would save those who are already fully occupied with the other duties of life from an ignorance of words and things which is assuredly shameful and boorish.

Preface to Attic Nights[1]

Our Book Club selection this month is Aulus Gellius Attic Nights (or Noctes Atticae), Book 1. We will start and continue the discussion in the CHS Kosmos Society forum, and meet via web conferencing on Tuesday, May 26 at 11 a.m. EDT.

John Rolfe’s Introduction[2] provides some background and what little is known about this author: he estimates that Gellius lived from c 123–169 CE. Gellius initially studied grammar and rhetoric in Rome, then philosophy in Athens for a year or maybe longer where he “combined serious work with agreeable entertainment”. He had a legal career, and “continued his interest in philosophy and other learning,” becoming friends with poets and intellectuals.

You can read any translation you like, although there are not many available.

Translation by John C. Rolfe, 1927.
(Optional: you can also read the Preface:

Translation by John C. Rolfe (1927) alongside the Latin is also available at Perseus.
Navigation is a bit confusing. If you go to the Chapter heading/summaries you then click on the page number links at the end of the summary to navigate to the individual chapters.
Alternatively start at the first chapter, and click on the right arrow to move to the next page.
This is the link to the first chapter. (Gel. 47, p.3).

Translation by W. Beloe (1795)—which Rolfe says “contains numerous errors and omits many words and phrases”!

Happy readings!


[1] Rolfe, John C. 1927. The Attic Nights of Aulus Gellius. With An English Translation. John C. Rolfe. Cambridge. Cambridge, Mass., Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann, Ltd. Online at Perseus.

[2] “Introduction: The Life And Works Of Aulus Gellius”