Our last project for Livy was to translate the preface unaided by any commentary or another English translation. I had read the preface in English two or three times prior, so I wasn’t going in completely blind. Even so, a couple of spots threw me.
What I would judge to be the value of the work if I were to write in full the matter of the Roman people from the very beginning of the city, I do not sufficiently know, nor if I knew would I dare to say, for surely I would seem to be one who is publishing a thing already long-standing, while new writers always think that they will report something more certain in the matters or that they will excel the rustic elders in the art of writing. Howsoever it will be, it was nevertheless helpful to have reflected on the memory of deeds done and on the part of the chief people of the world with respect to bravery; and if my report were to be in obscurity in the midst of a great crowd of writers, with the nobility and greatness of those who obstruct my name, I would console myself. Moreover, this is also a matter of immense work, as of that which revisits beyond the 700th year, and what–having set out from scant beginnings–has increased to this such that it now toils due to its own great size; and for many of those reading, doubtless, that the origins and nearness of the very first could not proffer less desire for their beginnings, but they hasten instead to new matters in which the long-standing strengths of a distinguished people now consumes itself; I, to the contrary, will also seek the reward for my labour, since I will turn away from my consideration of the evils which our age sees through the many years, in the meantime certainly I recollect with my [whole] mind ancient things, that freedom from every worry which writing is able to produce for the troubled mind, albeit not turned away from the truth.
The city founding and those things prior to the founding are passed down by tales more befitting poetics than by unspoiled monuments of history, and it is not in my mind to confirm or disprove these things. This favour is granted to antiquity since by mingling human affairs with divine the earliest beginnings of cities would be made more august; and if it is befitting for any people to be permitted to consecrate their beginnings and to refer to the gods as their patrons, that glory of war is to the Roman people such that their own parent and that of their founding would most likely be Mars, let the human tribes submit to this with a mind as equal as they submit to her power. But howsoever these things and things similar are reckoned and regarded, I would scarce indeed consider a great difference: for me, to that thing each man fiercely reaches his mind on his own behalf, what their life was or what their character, by what men and by what arts was the imperium born and increased; with discipline slipping bit by bit thereafter just as degenerating morals follow from the first spirit, thereafter as they would slip away more and more, when they would begin to rush headlong, until the present time is reached in which we are able to bear neither our crimes nor their remedy. There is here especially, in consideration of matters, something wholesome and fruitful, all the lessons of example for you to see, placed in a clear monument; whence for you and your nation may you seize upon to imitate, or from which by foul undertaking and foul departure, which you should shun. As to the rest, either the love of a task undertaken fools me, or no nation at any time has been so rich in examples, none greater, or more virtuous, or to the good; nor into which [state] greed and decadence have entered so late, nor where there was for so long honour in small means and frugality. There was to such a degree how much less of desire; riches soon brought avarice and an abundance of pleasures, through luxury and lust, (brought) a desire for wasting and squandering all things. But complaints, since they would not be pleasing in the least, although they are perhaps necessary, let them certainly be absent from the start of such a great undertaking: it is preferable and more agreeable that we begin with all the good and with vows and prayers to the gods and goddesses, if, as with poets, the custom befits us, so that they would give success and good fortune to the commencement of such a work.