Cultural Politics in Polybius's Histories

By Craige B. Champion | Go to book overview

Chapter 1
Political Subordination
and Indirect Historiography

There is a…realm of subordinate group politics.… This is a politics of disguise and anonymity that takes place in public view but is designed to have a double meaning or to shield the identity of the actors.

JAMES C. SCOTT, Domination and the Arts of Resistance

Polybius of Megalopolis was an important force in Mediterranean international politics, and he ranks as one of the great figures in the ancient Greek historiographical tradition.1 In this chapter I consider Polybius from these perspectives in order to provide a foundation for studying his cultural politics in the Histories. First, I shall brieffy present the biographical tradition on Polybius, especially necessary since his history is unfamiliar even to many classicists. Second, the reader will find a discussion of Polybius's views on the nature and function of history writing and his place in the ancient Greek historiographical tradition. Finally, I shall offer three historiographical typologies that help to conceptualize Polybius's collective representations and to clarify my approach to his text in the chapters that follow.


Polybius of Megalopolis

Polybius was born near the end of the third century.2 He belonged to the aristocratic elite of Megalopolis, the most powerful member of the Achaean Confederation of Peloponnesian poleis. Lycortas, his father, was appointed

____________________
1
Throughout I have used the Greek text of Th. Büttner-Wobst's Teubner edition (hereafter B-W). Translations are from W. R. Paton's text in the Loeb Classical Library (reprint, 1979); I have noted instances where I have modified Paton's translation. All references to book, chapter, and section, unless otherwise noted, are to Polybius; in cases where confusion might arise, the reference is preceded by the abbreviation “Plb.” Unless otherwise indicated, all dates are B.C.E.
2
For concise accounts of Polybius's biography, Walbank HC 1.1–6; 1972: 1–31; Derow 1982; Momigliano 1987: 67–77; Eckstein 1995b: 1–16; Champion 1997b; Ziegler cols. 1527–31; for the chronology of Polybius's lifetime, see Walbank HC 1.1 and n. 1; 1972: 6 n. 26; Ziegler cols. 1445–46; Pédech 1961; Eckstein 1992.

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