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The Historical Method of Herodotus

The Historical Method of Herodotus

  • Book Info
    The Historical Method of Herodotus
    Book Description:

    The Historical Method of Herodotusilluminates the idiosyncrasies and ambitious nature of a major text in classics and the Western tradition and touches on aspects of historiography, ancient history, rhetoric, and the history of ideas.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7577-3
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-2)
    (pp. 3-10)

    This book is about the present form of Herodotus’Historiesand the intellectual habits of the author. A reconstruction of Herodotus’ thought can come only from looking at his actual literary product. What categories of things did he choose to write about and why? What principles organize the telling of his stories, and why those particular ones? Wha patterns of literary structure enabled him to be the first prose author to create order and meaning from the confusion and partiality of memory and from the tangible memorials of past events? Herodotus broke new ground for literature and knew it, as...

  6. PART ONE Rhetoric:: How Herodotus Recreates the Past

    • 1 A New Genre, a New Rhetoric
      (pp. 13-52)

      Before our century, Herodotus was often considered a charming but inaccurate and gullible historian.¹ In the last seventy-five years, however, scholars have more profitably attempted to comprehend what Herodotus has done, not what the later Thucydides thought a historian ought to do, and have vindicated Herodotus’ paradoxical position as the childless ‘father of history.’² The maverick genius had created a subject and a method, but the later practitioners of the art immediately disowned their progenitor. No matter which clever structure and divisions are attributed to his unique mode of organization - and no two scholars’ schematic summaries are even encouragingly...

  7. PART TWO The Presentation of His Research:: The Historian’s Power

      (pp. 55-58)

      Historical truth remains an elusive abstraction for working historians, except as an intellectual standard to which all allege fealty. The historical-critical method, not to mention current philosophical and literary movements such as phenomenology, hermeneutics, and deconstructionism, realizes that different generations need, or will recognize, different accounts of the past as well as different interpretations. The invention of historical consciousness may justify our according to Herodotus the epithet ‘genius,’ but students of Greek historiography and Western thought may reasonably desire a detailed analysis of his method, an explanation of the epistemological sophistication that can be alleged for a work that others...

    • 2 Selection: Explicit Omission
      (pp. 59-75)

      The previous chapter sketched Herodotus’ conception of the nature of both his investigations and of the writing of history. Every historian defines a field of inquiry, and Herodotus observes an economy of scope for the sake of his thesis. Studies have discussed what he thinks deserving of inclusion,¹ but none has yet explored what Herodotus doesnotreport, where and why he is reticent, or why he consciously obliterates the memory of certain actions. There are two main categories. On the one hand, the historian’s powers ofapodexisare limited by evidence and ignorance; on the other, sometimes he chooses...

    • 3 Alternative Versions: The Reader’s Autonomy
      (pp. 76-90)

      Thucydides established the rule that ancient historians endorsed when dealing with the events of the very recent past: the historian must not accept the random informant’s version or what merely seems plausible to him, but must base his published account on eye-witness reports which are meticulously compared, since memory and allegiance (not to mention limited perspective on the battlefield) produce conflicting versions (1.22.2-3). These enunciated principles met no objection or refutation, whatever later historians practised. An unnecessary corollary of this ancient method impedes the modern critic. Thucydides generally eschews reporting the name, position, or ethnic identity of those who had...

    • 4 Disputation: Herodotus’ Use of Written Sources
      (pp. 91-108)

      Historians are always revisionists. They contest accepted views of the past. Even Herodotus, the inventor of history, disagrees with predecessors and contemporaries. He often disputes learned opinion, common belief, and the poets, despite his emphasis on ‘preservation and respect as opposed to criticism.’¹

      Herodotus recognizes the need to apply critical tests where possible to the salvageable evidence (2.21, 45.1, 44.1: σαΦές Tι είδέναι έξ ών oίóν Tε ήν). He stresses the limits and fallible nature of his method of collecting second-hand sources, later documents, and various versions. He transmits many of them faithfully, along with his best judgment as to...

  8. PART THREE Poiesis:: How Herodotus Makes Sense of Historical Facts

      (pp. 111-113)

      The past contains more discrete facts than anyone has use for. Every report selects and organizes according to its author’s concerns, beliefs, and limitations. To invent history requires Herodotus to craft a shape for the past and to provide an internal structure to support that constructed reality.Poiesisis the Greek word for something created and it applies to written histories as well as to dramas, epics, statues, and vases.¹ This part of the essay considers four systems that articulate and support the image of the past owed to Herodotus. They are not the only four that can be found,...

    • 5 The Place of Chronology
      (pp. 114-125)

      Chronological order provides the obvious principle of organization for most historians, but not for Herodotus. Chronological research is as necessary for him as for any other historian, but not for the structure of his historical study. This chapter discusses types of dates, the purposes that relative and absolute chronologies serve in theHistories,and how they are subordinae to other more significant and signifying principles of structure. It then considers the pace of the narrative, certain gaps in his chronologically arranged accounts of men and nations, a division of past history into periods determined by their differing availability to research,...

    • 6 Limit, Property, and Transgression: A Structuring Concept in the Histories
      (pp. 126-144)

      TheHistoriesexhibit the usual problems of experimental literature; they lack obvious consistency, intelligibility, and coherence. The elucidation of Herodotus’ ideas and attitudes has been hindered by the unparalleled bulk of hishistoriesand by the absence of an explicit program of method and purpose. Herodotus’ report on distant places and bygone times was constructed both to combat his Hellenic contemporaries’ ethnic prejudices and conceptual limitations, and to create a lasting record of Greek and barbarian achievements. This dual, and somewhat conflicting, purpose obscures the progress of his account and his leading ideas. The text contains discernible patterns of thought,...

    • 7 Ethnography as Access to History
      (pp. 145-162)

      Herodotus’ ethnological research assisted him in defining the virtues and deficiencies of the Greeks themselves. The first four books define Greekness negatively by pointing out how others are different, while the story of their conduct during the war and the summation of Hellenism found in the Athenian speech at 8.144.2* establish this essence positively. Similarly, on an Attic vase the establishment of the outline of a figure precedes the inner articulation and the colouring of the individual. Herodotus’ ethnographic comprehensiveness adds weight to his historical judgments. Among his Hellenic contemporaries, confident in the superiority of their civilization, he shows a...

    • 8 Historiographical Patterning: ‘The Constitutional Debate’
      (pp. 163-186)

      History, from the beginning, has been a peculiar mode of thought, a science or an art peculiarly distinguished for its mixture of methodologies. Unlike lyric poetry or technical writing that explains how to do something, it has no self-evident pleasure or utility.¹ The facts of human life are untidy and are tangled in a web of experience; particular events can only find meaning in context. Any historical account requires ruthless selection of data, and selection presupposes a conception, that is, an interpretation. Any coherent vision of the past requires a literary organization, a unity of parts, actions that display an...

  9. PART FOUR Meaning and Method:: How Herodotus Makes Particulars Resonate

    • 9 Event and Explanation: Herodotean Interpretations
      (pp. 189-210)

      Any historical study is simpler and more coherent, in order to be more intelligible, than the reality it describes. A mere assemblage of random facts or an annalistic chronicle of events has neither a directing argument nor a clear meaning. The limited richness of the historian with an event to explain produces clearer meaning than a heap of unsifted facts.¹ Herodotus’ inspired borrowings from various literary genres - tragic, comic, epigrammatic, epic, and novelistic moments - take the reader beyond the bare report of unrelated happenings, yet Herodotus still falls short of modern concepts of causation, in part because he...

    • 10 The Failure and Success of Herodotus
      (pp. 211-228)

      TheHistories,twice as extensive as theIliad,were widely known and read at least by the educated élite, but no one pursued Herodotus’ method. It seemed inadequate to many critics in antiquity and later. ‘The father of history was never, or almost never, recognized as a model historian, because he was not considered trustworthy, even by his admirers.’¹ The innovation, in the form that Herodotus gave it, did not survive its creator. Reasons of style played a greater role than ideology or credibility in the devaluation of Herodotus, as a cursory reading of Aristotle, Dionysius, or Cicero on historiography...

  10. NOTES
    (pp. 229-292)
    (pp. 293-304)
    (pp. 305-307)
    (pp. 308-320)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 321-321)