Term Paper: Ancient Historians Influential

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[. . .] " Indeed, the difference between "facts and impressions," often appears "indistinguishable."

Meantime, Grant (pp. 43-44) also discusses decisions historians had to make when faced with two contradictory sources. Herodotus, who offered "alternative versions of a story," was quoted as saying, "I don't necessarily believe it" while admitting, in Grant's words, that he "suspends his own belief" and "feels no firm obligation to tell the truth."

The recording of social history - in particular by Roman historian Tacitus - sometimes came down to his own preferences as to what he liked to write about, and what he didn't (p. 59). For example, Tacitus sometimes omitted "social details" simply because, Grant explains, "he supposed that his readers were already aware of them." That, in anyone's estimation, is not objectivity by modern standards. Tacitus "felt contempt for slaves and freedmen and the lower classes generally," according to Grant - and like other "dignified classical historians," he eschewed a sense of objectivity and fairness with reference to the above-named sub-cultures.

And while Grant carefully attempts to distinguish between truth and fiction - and even that task from modern perspectives is monumental - he also reminds readers that "ancient history was understood not as history, according to our meaning of the word, but as literature" (p. 99). Besides revealing facts and events of ancient times, historians writing about the distant past have provided the modern researcher with "a great deal of misinformation."

Grant notes that a historian "had to entertain, and for that purpose he did not need truth as much as wit...and in the end the demands of artistry gained precedence over those of science" (p. 99).

Literary Texts and the Greek Historian - by Christopher Pelling

Immediately setting the ground rules for understanding his book, author Pelling spells out the meaning of "rhetoric" in the second paragraph of Chapter 1 (p. 1): "Rhetoric is not limited to 'oratory', the literary genre of speech-making," he points out. "Rhetoric is the craft of persuasion." An example of a style of rhetoric is narrative, "Where an author selects and presents material in such a way as to persuade the audience that these were the facts..." It's a key clarifying point for Pelling to discuss "rhetoric," because in the modern world of politics and journalism, the word "rhetoric" has come to mean "hot air," or "B.S." - a politician giving his or her partisan spin on an issue or event. "Oh, that was just rhetoric," one hears so often.

Meanwhile, Pelling goes to great lengths to explain how Greek historian Thucydides "shapes his narrative selection, emphasis, articulation" (p. 44) to "impose a particular reading of events." Pelling states that the ancients had abilities to "invent" and a "capacity to believe" their recorded stories, which are "persistently underestimated" today. One method Pelling employs to try to reach an accurate reading of the material is to "start late and work back." His writing of Green historian Plutarch is interesting, as Plutarch is discussing Thucydides' text account of various Athenian decrees. "He [Plutarch] will not, he says...compete artistically against Thucydides...for there the historian 'was at his most emotional, vivid, and varied'" (p. 45). Rather, Plutarch, in his own words, talks about what information he will reveal: "[I will] try to collect material that is not well-known but scattered among other authors, or found on ancient dedications and decrees," he wrote. He defended the "ancient" material as not "an accumulation of useless erudition: I am conveying material which is helpful for grasping [Thucydides'] nature and character."

In another example of a historian attaching his personal opinions on an account from the past, Plutarch "adds his verdict on Nicais' generalship" (p. 47) thusly: "It was one thing to oppose [Nicias'] expedition in Athens," Pelling writes in a paraphrase of Plutarch. "...But he should not have wrecked it by his apathy, always gazing wistfully home from his ship." Again, this account of Plutarch plainly shows a total lack of objectivity - by modern standards - in recording vital historical accounts. But again, it's easy for 21st Century scholars and students to pass judgment on what happened so long ago. The important issue for those in today's generation is to understand how history was written, and transcribed over the years, and to keep historical accounts in that perspective.

The Ancient Historians - by Michael Grant

Author Michael Grant (p. 18) discusses the "decisive turn" in the recording of history using "quasi-scientific studies" - a turn taken in the works of prose called Journey round the World and Genealogies, written by Greek Hecatacus of Miletus. Hecatacus, who had reportedly played a leading part in the Ionian revolt against the Persians (500-494), wrote his prose through itineraries and notes, and described Europe and Asia, where his travels had taken him. Grant asserts that this watershed moment in the science of historical documentation contained exact descriptions of "flora and fauna, people, local religious and historical peculiarities." As to the objectivity of Hecatacus' historical writing - in contrast with "modern standards of objectivity" - there is no comparison, nor would any reasonable researcher expect there to be similarities. However, Grant's quotes from Hecatacus' personal inspection of Egyptian wonders shows why Grant believed these prose works bordered on science. "What I write here" (p. 19) Hecatacus wrote, "is the account I believe to be true. For the stories that the Greeks tell are many, and in my opinion ridiculous." Here is the evidence of objective science coming into the picture, as Hecatacus clearly is rejecting Greek Myths, at least some of them. And so, Grant alludes to Hecatacus as "history's grandfather," since Herodotus was history's "father."

On the subject of Herodotus, Grant gives him praise (p. 65) when Herodotus is presented with incomplete information about Persian War battles and about a possible ocean beyond Europe. Herodotus, wisely, showing a sense of objective science, refuses to make up stories about Europe handed down word of mouth. "About the far west of Europe I have no definite information...In spite of my efforts to do so, I have never found anyone who could give me first hand information about the existence of a sea beyond Europe to the north and west."

The Roman Historians - by Ronald Mellor

In Mellor's interesting book, he discusses the earliest surviving complete histories from ancient Rome: a pair of monographs (p. 30), written by retired general C. Sallustius Crispus in the decade immediately after Julius Caesar's death (44 BCE). The writings examined the "political pathology of the final death throes of the Roman Republic," and, Sallust' work was full of a "fierce moral vision," according to Mellor - and probably not very objective, given the tenor of the times. However, in later life, Sallust turned fully to work as an historian, and took free rein to critique the Roman power structure which had led the state to its demise, particularly in The Jugurthine War.

For one to rule one's country or subjects by force" (p. 34), he wrote, "although you both have the power to correct abuses, and do correct them, is nevertheless tyrannical; especially since all attempts at change foreshadow bloodshed, exile, and other horrors of war." And while this kind of writing is vitally important for today's researchers and for posterity, and it is clearly overflowing with passion, it is not "objective history." But before passing judgment on Sallust, one must keep in mind that - albeit he now claimed to be an historian, and indeed was one - he had been through wars, brutal power plays, death, corruption in the Senate, and felt it was now his intellectual duty to record those events from his own life's experience. He wrote of his country's bloody and tempestuous times, notwithstanding possible peer criticism; or, as he put it: "...in order that no one may suppose that I am led by vanity to eulogize my own favorite occupation.

Another politician turned historian was Livy, mentioned earlier in this paper.

The author refers to Livy as the first "professional historian" in Rome. Livy talks about his writing, and his career (p. 50), in this passage, which shows attention to detail and insightfulness; moreover, he is saying, hey, those reading this might not like what they hear (the undoing of Rome), but it must be said:

doubt that to most readers the earliest origins and the period immediately succeeding them will give little pleasure, for they will be in haste to reach these modern times, in which the might of a people which has long been very powerful is working its own undoing." This is subjective, but true material. It could easily be compared with a typical newspaper column in the op-ed page of the Sunday New York Times, for example - but it wouldn't make the front page.

Another Roman historian mentioned previously in this paper, Tacitus, combined, according to Mellor, literary artistry, intellectual coherence, and research. "Tacitus' primary goal was to… [END OF PREVIEW]

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