Posts Tagged ‘Herodotus’

Tight Fit

If I ever want to write a distillation of the political wisdom and insights of Thucydides that will get noticed by serious newspapers and sold in proper bookshops, it’s clear that I’m going to have to develop an eye-catching binary distinction with which to make sense of the entire world, the equivalent of the Nowheres and the Somewheres, or the Tight and Loose cultures distinguished by a social psychology study that claims to “provide a consistent way of understanding differences observed from antiquity to the present day, in everything from international relations to relations in our homes.” Hmm. The Thucydides and the Thucydidose? The Thucydiscerning and the Thucydiots? The people who believe in reductionist binary distinctions with universal validity, and everybody else? (more…)

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There’s a very peculiar article in today’s Observer, picking up on the predictably gormless comments earlier this week from Robert Halfon, chair of the Commons Select Committee on Education, about medieval history being fine for those who want to pay for such a luxury but undeserving of public support. To be precise, most of the article is great, as it’s based around eminently sensible comments from medieval historians like Miri Rubin and John Arnold, but the opening paragraphs are really odd.

Historians have been ridiculed since Herodotus, the “father of history”, was mocked by his Athenian contemporary, Thucydides, as a mere storyteller. So it was with some weariness that medieval historians took to their keyboards last week to respond to the latest slur against their discipline.

Robert Halfon, who chairs the Commons select committee on education, is no Thucydides, but he echoed complaints down the ages when he singled out medieval historians as undeserving of public funding.

Okay… (more…)

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One of the crucial insight of Greek historiography was that different accounts of a past event might be truthful and sincere, and yet untrue and misleading. Herodotus clearly recognised this, as seen in the way that he often offers several different versions of an event (different not only in their interpretations but even in their selection of key information) and then goes on to offer his own judgement of where the truth lies, or the real story that none of these partial perspectives has been able to grasp. Thucydides went further, not only noting the inconsistency of his informants and the fallibility of human memory, but also listing the various factors that might also lead would-be chroniclers of the past astray (failure to be critical, wish to please audience etc.).

Both these writers present this as one of the great challenges they faced – and thus bolster the authority of their accounts, as they have recognised the problem and sought to address it, unlike their rivals. This insight informs their underlying historical methods, as it does the methods of all subsequent versions of critical historiography, but it also raises questions about the appropriate means of representing such divergence and disagreement – if it is to be mentioned at all. (more…)

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