History and Memory in Ancient Greece

History and Memory in Ancient Greece

History and Memory in Ancient Greece

History and Memory in Ancient Greece


"A study of the effects of memory and mnemonics on early Greek historical writing, History and Memory in Ancient Greece examines the methods used by ancient historians to give their narratives authenticity and raises questions about the nature of ancient historical knowledge by contrasting it with various types of modern knowledge, particularly scientific. Gordon Shrimpton assesses the early Greek historians - Herodotus, Thucydides, Xenophon, Ephorus, and Theopompus - in light of their views of history and the views of the ancient theorists, establishing the ancient approaches to historical verification and assessing how far they differ from contemporary investigative procedures. He argues that the ancient historians saw memories about public events as public possessions: they recorded public knowledge and were judged for their style. Ancient historians regarded travel, through which they came into contact with relevant regional traditions, as the best way to acquire and transmit knowledge about the past with due regard for truth. In the seventeenth century, however, historical narratives came to be viewed as the property of an individual investigator, and historical knowledge became a commodity to be bought and sold through publication. Shrimpton's study is a major reassessment of the role of group dynamics and individualism in the establishment of authority in ancient historical writing." Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved


On doit des égards aux vivants; on ne doit aux morts que la verité. (To the living we owe civility; truth is all that we owe to the dead.)


As Voltaire's dictum implies, to be civil we accustom ourselves to deceit. Death should relieve the living of the prevarications of civility, at least towards the deceased, but it brings new and different reasons for lying. Henry Fielding once pointed out that the surest way for an embattled husband to secure a full and complete reconciliation with his wife was to die and leave her in control of his fortune. Then, to judge from the eulogies at the wake and the glowing sentiments on the grave monument, the monster is transformed into a saint.

History is a study of power in human systems: how it is managed, seized, lost, used, and occasionally even shared. Today, historians investigate living subjects as well as dead ones, but nothing can be studied until it has become part of the past. Remorseless time claims us all, and neither history's heroes nor its villains escape; it also condemns contemporary systems eventually to become relics of a distant past. With the passage of time, some way of paying the dead the truth that is their due ought to be possible. Is there a magic moment, a window of opportunity, in which a historian would have the best chance of producing the perfect history? Arguably, this moment should be so distanced by time from its subject that the lies of civility cease to inhibit, because the subject has little or no bearing on the present. At the same time, the subject should be recent enough for ample documentation to survive and present no difficulty of interpretation--contextualization, to use a more contemporary expression. In theory, one would suppose, such a moment should exist, but I am unable to say whether anyone has ever found it.

Norman Davies recently observed that the critical moment has yet to come (if it has not already been lost forever) with reference to the . . .

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