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Ancient Historiography
HerodotusBefore Herodotus, no writer had ever made such a systematic, thorough study of the past or tried to explain the cause-and-effect of its events. After Herodotus, historical analysis became an indispensable part of intellectual andpolitical lifeHis WorkHerodotus spent his entire life working on just one project: an account of the origins and execution of the Greco-Persian Wars (499–479 B.C.) that he calledHistories. Inpart, TheHistorieswas a straightforward account of the wars.Itwas also an attempt to explain the conflict–“to show what caused them to fight one another,” Herodotus said–by explaining the Persians’ imperial worldview. The Histories also incorporated observations and stories, both factual and fictional, from Herodotus’ travels.
His Contribution to Historical works→Earlierwriters had produced what Herodotus called “logographies”: These were what we might call travelogues, disconnected tales about places and people that did not cohere into a narrative whole.→Bycontrast, Herodotus used all of his “autopsies” to build a complete story that explained the why and the how of the Persian Wars.→After Herodotus died, editors divided his Histories into nine books. (Each was named after one of the Muses.)→Thefirst five books look into the past to try to explain the rise and fall of the Persian Empire. They describe the geography of each state the Persians conquered and tell about their people and customs.→Thenext four books tell the story of the war itself, from the invasions of Greece by Persian emperors Darius and Xerxes to the Greek triumphs at Salamis, Plataea and Mycale in 480 and 479 B.C.→Hetreats every piece of his narrative, from the main themes to the digressions and from the facts to the fictions, with equal importance.
Herodotus'sSourcesIn compiling the materials for hisHistoriesHerodotus depended mainly on his own observations, the accounts of eyewitnesses on both sides, and, for earlier events, oral tradition. There was very little in the way of official records available to him, and few written accounts. The results of modern archeological investigations show that he was a remarkably accurate reporter of what he saw himself. But when he depended on others for information,he was not always critical enough in deciding what was reliable and what was not and in making due allowances for the bias of his informants.Herodotus'schief weakness, however, lies in his often naive analysis of causes, which frequently ascribes events to the personal ambitions or weaknesses of leading men when, as his own narrative makes clear, there were wider political or economic factors at work.Herodotus wrote,in,a fascinating narrative in anattractively simple and easy-flowing style, and he hada remarkablegift for telling a story clearly and dramatically,thebest of his stories have delighted, and will continue to delight, generations of readers.
An EvaluationHerodotuswas much more than a mere storyteller. He was the first writer successfully to put together a long and involved historical narrative in which the main thread is never completely lost, however far and often he may wander from it. Moreover, he did this with a remarkable degree of detachment, showing hardly any of the Greeks' usual bias against the hereditary enemy, Persia, or of their contemptforbarbarianpeoples.Thebest short account ofHerodotus'slife is the one in the "Introduction" to vol. 1 ofW. W. How and J. Wells,A Commentary on Herodotus(2 vols., 1912; rev. ed. 1928).TerrotR. Glover,Herodotus (1924),JohnLintonMyres,Herodotus: Father of History(1953).HenryR.Immerwahr,Form and Thought in Herodotus (1967).JamesA. K. Thomson,The Art of the Logos(1935). There are a number of works that deal with the developing art of historiography.LionelPearson,Early Ionian Historians(1939).Chester G. Starr,The Awakening of the Greek Historical Spirit(1968), gives an interesting account of the early development of Greek historiography. There are useful comments inArnold W.Gomme,The Greek Attitude to Poetry and History(1954).StephenUsher,The Historians of Greece and Rome(1969),Michael Grant,The Ancient Historians(1970).AubreydeSelincourt,The World of Herodotus(1962)
Thucydides
Oneof the greatest ancient historians, Thucydides (c.460 B.C.–c.400 B.C.) chronicled nearly 30 years of war and tension between Athens and Sparta. His “History of the Peloponnesian War” set a standard for scope, concision and accuracy that makes it a defining text of the historical genre. Unlike his near-contemporary Herodotus (author of the other great ancient Greek history),Thucydides’ topic was his own time. He relied on thetestimony of eyewitnesses and his own experiencesas a general during the war. Though specific in detail, the questions he addressed were timeless: What makes nations go to war? How can politics elevate or poison a society? What is the measure of a great leader or a great democracy?
Thucydides and the History of the Peloponnesian WarThucydides says he wrote about the war between Athens andSparta, “beginning at the moment that it broke out, and believing that it would be a great war and more worthy of relation than any that had preceded it.”Atthe time, Athens was a great sea power with a democratic political system and innovative leadership that made it a formidable force.Sparta, located in the Peloponnese (the southern peninsula of mainland Greece), was most powerful as a land force.Its system of government favored austere militarism and adherence to tradition.It was the Spartans’ fear of Athens, Thucydides argues, that led them to make their first, preemptive attack in 430.
His WorkThe only extant work by Thucydides is the incompleteHistory of the Peloponnesian Warin eight books. TheHistorypractically covers the major portion of the Peloponnesian War: the First Phase (431-420 B.C.)—theArchidamianWar; the Second Phase (415-413)—the Sicilian Expedition; and the Third Phase (413-404)—thelonian, orDecelean, War. He apparently did not live to complete the final section. The text of Thucydides has come down emended by editors, and it is difficult and oftentimes obscure. It is important to note that no Attic prose was taught prior to Thucydides, so he had to create a prose style of his own.Thucydides is the first historian in the modern sense— that is, he strives for accuracy and impartiality.His accounts of military campaigns and battles show this and point up the fact that he himself was an experienced military man.He reveals a reluctance to accept unsupported statements, and he carefully weighs and sifts the statements of others. He consulted actual documents and even inserted them into his text. This scholarship and meticulousness were obviously a result of Sophistic influence and training.
His Contribution to Historical ResearchThucydides is responsible for making historymuch more comprehensivethan it had ever been.The chain of cause and effect was elaborately worked out. Thucydides is no mere writer of history;he is a philosopher of history.There are no divine or supernatural forces at work in his History. All phenomena are explained inhuman terms, in terms of cold political power.Power politics and the inhumanity of man to man are devastatingly observed by Thucydides as the real factors of history. Real issues and causes are never avoided.Though recent scholarship has looked at Thucydides with a good deal of critical acumen and has delighted in being able to correct him in some details, he still ranks as one of the greatest historians of all time. He introduced tohistory the objective, critical approachwhich generations of historians followed. He was ahead of his time not only in methodology but also in his interest and emphasis on the development and exposition of a philosophy of history.
Further ReadingModern works on Thucydides are plentiful and of high quality. The following should be consulted:F. M.Cornford,ThucydidesMythistoricus(1907);J. B. Bury,The Ancient Historians(1909);G. B. Grundy,Thucydides and the History of His Age(1911); W. R. M. Lamb,Clio Enthroned(1914);C.F. Abbott,Thucydides: A Study in Historical Reality(1925);B.W. Henderson,The Great War between Athens and Sparta(1927);C. N. Cochrane,Thucydides and the Science of History(1929);A. W.Gomme,Essays in Greek History and Literature(1937); andJohn H. Finley, Jr.,Thucydides(1942).Finley'sThree Essays on Thucydides(1967) is important for seeing the unity of the History and the fact that Thucydides wrote from personal knowledge of the full 27 years of the Peloponnesian War.H.D. Westlake,Individuals in Thucydides(1968), is an outstanding study of the leading individuals in theHistory,andA. GeoffreyWoodhead,Thucydides on the Nature of Power(1970). It demonstrates thatThucydides'sinterpretation of power is relevant to modern discussions of power politics.

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Ancient Historiography - sjctni.edu