‘In historical composition’, said Samuel Johnson, ‘all the greatest powers of the human mind are quiescent’. Perhaps so, but even if the historian must appear dull and plodding next to his more profound and shimmering brethren, the philologists and – of course – the literary critics, still he must be granted at least one virtue in plenty and that virtue is scepticism. Especially nowadays. While not quite yet ready to surrender his province to the meta-historians (who, not much believing in facts, have no real use for scepticism anyway), the historian continues diligently to scrutinize his sources with such wary Pyrrhonism as he can muster. He is especially suspicious of those ancients whose intelligence and whose literary gifts he most admires, hence the unrelenting distrust of authors such as Cicero and Caesar – and recently even such paragons of accuracy as Polybius. Still, a few authors have earned our unconscious credence, it would seem, merely by dint of their artlessness; we simply do not respect them enough to doubt them. A case in point: Varro's De Re Rustica, a remarkable ensemble of three dialogues, a highly literary work, yet one whose obvious inadequacies have distracted readers from its attempts at literariness and consequently have led them to take its veracity for granted – even when it relates to items having little or nothing to do with agriculture. A brief passage in the third book of R.R. informs us, or rather seems to inform us, that what was perhaps republican Rome's most illustrious family, the Claudii Pulchri, was reduced to poverty in the seventies B.C. in the aftermath of the death of the consul of 79 – evidence that has been accepted widely by modern scholars. In this paper I hope to show that there is no good reason for believing Varro's Appius when he claims to have been pauperized by his father's death and, furthermore, that to do so is to fail to appreciate the artistry and wry humour with which Varro has composed Book Three.