4
The Historian as Homeric Hero

In explaining the sort of man of action a serious historian must be, Polybius cites as an exemplar Homer’s great hero, Odysseus (12.27.10–11), quoting from the early lines of the poem and from book 8: he was “a man of many wiles, who wandered far and wide”; “he saw the towns of many men and got to know their mind, and in his heart suffered many grievous things on the ocean” (Odyssey 1.1–4); “he experienced wars of men and woeful waves” (Odyssey 8.183). “It seems to me,” Polybius continues, “that the dignity of history demands just such a man” (12.28.1). Leaving aside the interesting and unusual admiration of an honest historian for such a crook as Odysseus, we might surmise from this passage alone that Polybius was thinking of himself as the Homeric champion of history writing; two other pieces of evidence support the notion and suggest that he made public this harmless conceit. In 150 BC the Achaean leaders who had been interned in Italy after the defeat of Philip V of Macedon in 167, Polybius among them, were finally allowed by the senate to return to Greece, Cato, so the story went, recommending that the senate had better things to do than sit around all day debating whether Italian or Greek undertakers would be organizing the funerals of a few old Greeks (35.6):

-129-

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Polybius' Histories
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Editors’ Foreword v
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Maps xi
  • Contents xv
  • Introduction 3
  • 1- Contents and Organization of the Work 17
  • 2- The Historian’s Task 51
  • 3- Art and History- The Narrative of Books 4 and 5 95
  • 4- The Historian as Homeric Hero 129
  • 5- The Political Theorizing of Book 6 169
  • Epilogue- into the Future 203
  • Appendix- Outline of the Work 223
  • Bibliography 241
  • Prominent Persons 247
  • Index 257
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