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Aulus Gellius: Introduction (Neil W. Bernstein)

Plain accuracy has all too often eluded the interpreters of the Nights, not only in difficult places. Put not your trust in translations! No doubt Gellius is read in the main by those who do not need them... (1)

In the middle of the second century AD, Aulus Gellius wrote a twenty-book compendium of miscellaneous learning that he entitled Attic Nights (Noctes Atticae). Gellius describes the purpose of his research in the work's preface; he has read widely and recorded information:

that might lead active and ready minds along a swift and easy short-cut to the desire for independent learning and to the study of the practical arts; that might save men employed in other professions from a shamefully uneducated ignorance of customs and the usage of words. (Gell. praef. 12)

The work survives today in mostly complete form (the eighth book and the end of the twentieth are missing), unlike many of the lost sources to which Gellius refers. The dates of Gellius' birth and death remain quite uncertain; the author was born sometime between 125 and 128 and died perhaps after 170. (2)


  1. Holford-Strevens 1988: 251.
  2. For a detailed discussion of Gellius' career, cf. Holford-Strevens 1998: ch. 1.

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