The Edinburgh Companion to Ancient Greece and Rome

By Edward Bispham; Thomas Harrison et al. | Go to book overview

49.
Greek Historiography

Thomas Harrison

The story of Greek historiography is easily told as a succession of ‘great historians’: Herodotus, the historian of the Greek–Persian Wars and their background, dubbed the ‘father of history’; Thucydides, the first great ‘scientific’ historian, whose topic was the Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta and their respective allies; and finally Polybius, the archetypal soldier-historian representing (ambivalently) Roman conquest to his fellow Greeks. Such a narrative has something to be said for it. These three figures stand out, not only for the scale and magnificence of their surviving works, but also for their self-conscious reflection – most explicit in the case of Polybius – on the nature of ‘history-writing’ itself. Undoubtedly also, as Thucydides responded to (and tacitly corrected) the work of Herodotus, Polybius saw himself as the inheritor of a tradition of serious history-writing.


Writing the history of historiography

Inevitably, however, the development of Greek history-writing is a much more complex story. First, there are difficulties – especially at the start of the story – in distinguishing any clear genre of historiography. Herodotus recorded his historiae, literally his ‘inquiries’. Though the term is suggestive of a critical attitude essential to history-writing, Herodotus’ canvas includes much material – mythical traditions, for example, or accounts of the customs of foreign peoples recorded as if in a timeless present – that is not evidently historical to a modern audience. Though subsequent historians develop an increasingly self-conscious attitude to their tasks, the boundaries of history remain permeable: are we to classify the moralising biographies of Plutarch as history, to take just one example? Any attempt to trace the history of Greek historiography is bedevilled, then, by the problem of defining what we are looking at: whether to focus on the major works of military-political history, the so-called tradition of ‘great historiography’ (Marincola, Authority and Tradition), or to take a more catholic approach that also embraces biography, ethnography, and local history (the approach of Felix Jacoby).

Second, and as a consequence of this lack of any clear disciplinary borderline, ancient historians were influenced by and reacted against a great number of writers, not all historians. (A full story of Greek historiography, then, would need to take in much, much more.) Herodotus did not create history in a vacuum, but was influenced by and reacted to not only previous ethnographic or geographical work, but Homeric epic, or other poetic sources such as Simonides’ narrative elegy on the battle of Plataea (see also chapter 41). Thucydides’ famous description of his own work as a ‘possession for all time’ rather than a ‘competition piece for the immediate moment’ fails to mention Herodotus by name, and surely refers to a broader number of writers; modern scholarship has emphasised his familiarity (and indeed Herodotus’) with Hippocratic medical writings, and (more recently) with the poet Pindar (S. Hornblower, Thucydides and Pindar, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004). By the time that we reach Polybius (200–118), the number of models for emulation and rejection – local historians, ethnographers, ‘universal historians’ – has

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The Edinburgh Companion to Ancient Greece and Rome
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Introduction ix
  • Acknowledgements xi
  • Part One- Classics and the Classical World - A. Classics in the Twenty-First Century 1
  • 1 - The History of the Discipline 3
  • 2 - History 9
  • 3 - Archaeology 15
  • 4 - Religion 21
  • 5 - Economy 24
  • 6 - Gender 27
  • 7 - Philology and Linguistics 30
  • 8 - Literature 35
  • 9 - Philosophy 41
  • 10 - Art History and Aesthetics 49
  • 11 - Classical Legacies 57
  • B - The Regions of the Ancient World 65
  • 12 - The Ancient near East 67
  • 13 - Iron Age Europe 72
  • 14 - Regions of Antiquity 78
  • C - Periods 85
  • 15 - The ‘Dark Age’ of Greece 87
  • 16 - Archaic and Classical Greece 92
  • 17 - The Hellenistic World 98
  • 18 - The Roman Republic 102
  • 19 - The Roman Empire 108
  • 20 - Late Antiquity 114
  • Part Two - Material Culture 121
  • 21 - Landscape 123
  • 22 - Marine Archaeology 135
  • 23 - Sites and Features 146
  • 24 - Buildings and Architecture 160
  • 25 - Coinage 173
  • 26 - Sculpture 183
  • 27 - Painting, Stucco and Mosaic 194
  • 28 - Pottery and Metalwork 206
  • 29 - Gems, Jewellery and Glass 217
  • 30 - Dress and Textiles 226
  • 31 - Arms and Armour 231
  • 32 - Papyri 238
  • 33 - Manuscripts 251
  • 34 - Inscriptions 262
  • Part Three- Texts and Genres 275
  • 35 - Greek Epic 277
  • 36 - Roman Epic 282
  • 37 - Greek Tragedy 288
  • 38 - Roman Tragedy 295
  • 39 - Greek Comedy 299
  • 40 - Roman Comedy 309
  • 41 - Greek Lyric Verse- Melic, Elegiac and Iambic 313
  • 42 - Latin Poetry Other Than Epic and Drama 323
  • 43 - The Novel 329
  • 44 - Letters 335
  • 45 - Rhetoric 339
  • 46 - Literary Criticism 351
  • 47 - Grammar and Linguistics 355
  • 48 - Philosophy 361
  • 49 - Greek Historiography 377
  • 50 - Roman Historiography 384
  • 51 - Geography and Ethnography 391
  • 52 - Mythology 396
  • 53 - Christian Literature 402
  • 54 - Science and Mathematics 407
  • 55 - Music 413
  • 56 - Medicine 423
  • 57 - Greek Legal Texts 428
  • 58 - Latin Legal Texts 433
  • 59 - Technical Writing 439
  • Part Four - Essential Information and Systems of Reference 445
  • 60 - Politics 447
  • 61 - Names and Naming Systems 465
  • 62 - Measures, Weights and Money 471
  • 63 - Writing Systems 477
  • 64 - The Ancient Calendar 485
  • 65- Metre 489
  • 66- Time-Charts 495
  • 67- Maps 520
  • 68. Glossary of Ancient and Modern Terms 530
  • 69 - Resources 545
  • 70 - Abbreviations 559
  • Contributors 582
  • Index 588
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