The Varia Historia is a miscellaneous collection of anecdotes and historical material, with the addition of a few slightly longer pieces of narrative or description in very elegant prose. It is the work of an educated Roman of whom very little is known, and was put together in the early third century. It belongs therefore to a period of antiquity which was one of the least productive of first-class literature either in Greek or in Latin. Other authors who were approximate contemporaries of Aelian and wrote works that have come down to us—such as the gastronome Athenaeus, the philosophy professor Alexander of Aphrodisias, the historians Dio Cassius and Herodian, and the sophist Flavius Philostratus—are of interest to professional scholars but have little claim on the attention of a wider public today. Though it cannot be claimed that Aelian wrote a great masterpiece, his book has a certain attraction and tells us something about the tastes of the reading public in the later Roman Empire.
By the time that Aelian wrote there was already a quantity of literature of the type represented by his Historical Miscellany. The best known example is in Latin, the Attic Nights of Aulus Gellius, published about a.d.180. These books served the needs of cultivated readers in search of literary and historical facts. Since the mass of Greek, and