Classical Authors and My Humble Opinion of Them

Jul 2013
940
Melbourne
A good example of Xenophon's bias is that in HELLENICA, he only mentions Epaminondas parenthetically, and not at all in the context of Leuctra.

Love Xenophon, but that really annoyed me.
Its hard to blame him, Xenophon effectively lost Athenian citizenship fighting for the Spartans. He owed his landed wealth and slave-holdings directly to the Agesilaus. Leuctra was nothing less than a world changing catastrophe for him; he pretty much lost everything under Theben hegemony. I know we expect objectivity from our historians, but given how personally connected he was with the Spartans, its understandable.
 
Jul 2013
940
Melbourne
For the record, I never said I found Tacitus or Polybius boring. Tacitus I find to have a very pleasing style in that he does have nicely written passages to keep things going, without sacrificing truth.
He is an excellent historian, really the best Latin culture even produced IMO, even better than Ammianus Marcelinus.

Polybius I just find damned confusing when he gets into his infinite digressions explaining why he is explaining things. It is the unnecessary posturing that makes him difficult.
Too true, personally I just skip them. The pieces of 'proper' history though, they are simply invaluable.

Thucydides...dear god.
To me, he is THE ideal ancient historian. The measure by which all other ancient sources are compared. The dryness, the faithful and critical collection and presentation of his material, his almost evangelical devotion to objectivity, and the lengths he went to to gather information. I WISH there was a Thucydides for every period of classical history.
 
Aug 2014
951
United States of America

HERODOTUS (The Histories)
No work of history is more pure fun. Lively, engaging, and probably 90% nonsense, Herodotus , the father of history, was also the father of history as entertainment. Not that there is anything wrong with that. I would venture to say that he becomes more truthful when discussing the actual war with Persia than during the general encyclopedia of the world.
I don't think that the stereotype that Herodotus is anti-factual, or "90% nonsense" is at all true. He has a very different idea of what "history" is. And he is part of a larger tradition of natural and philosophical inquiry extending to the pre-Socratics that we do not have. Unfortunately, Thucydides' slander that Herodotean historiography is inherently anti-factual has stuck through the ages.
 
Aug 2014
951
United States of America
To me, [Thucydides] is THE ideal ancient historian. The measure by which all other ancient sources are compared. The dryness, the faithful and critical collection and presentation of his material, his almost evangelical devotion to objectivity, and the lengths he went to to gather information. I WISH there was a Thucydides for every period of classical history.
I submit that all the hype about Thucydides' "objectivity" is somewhat mistaken. It's the product of his own carefully crafted image through his work. His work is no doubt a great piece of writing and of historiography. Yet he freely admits that he invented the dialogue according to what he believed to be necessary. Surely this must be considered subjective.
 

cachibatches

Ad Honorem
Mar 2012
2,351
I don't think that the stereotype that Herodotus is anti-factual, or "90% nonsense" is at all true. He has a very different idea of what "history" is. And he is part of a larger tradition of natural and philosophical inquiry extending to the pre-Socratics that we do not have. Unfortunately, Thucydides' slander that Herodotean historiography is inherently anti-factual has stuck through the ages.
Well, read his description of a hippopotamus and you will see he often pretends to knowledge that he does not have.

But good point. It is anachronistic to judge him by modern standards.
 
Mar 2013
1,566
Australia
It's obvious that many had some sort of bias, I don't think you're telling anyone anything by saying that. To what degree they let it impact their accounts is what is being discussed.
I don't think that it was bias so much as purposeful lying quite a lot of the time.
 
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Sep 2011
24,135
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I'm glad you mentioned Sophocles, definitely one of my favourites and you're sure right about Antigone and Oedipus.
 
Mar 2013
1,566
Australia
Just regarding bias, the ancient authors had it in spades along with quite a propensity for lies in the service of whatever emperor was paying them at the time.

What about translators, I find some of them to be fairly disreputable as well.
 
Mar 2015
48
Norway
As a complete newcomer to these fora, I hope no one minds my sticking my oar into this debate.

One thing which I think is pertinent is historical/cultural context. In the time we live in now stone cold facts and data are king. "Modern" history is dominated by exact numbers, absolute accurate dates and timings, blow by blow, minute by minute accounts. I think that it's symptomatic of the age we live in. I recently read a treatise on the Second Battle of Fallujah in November 2004 where many actions and happenings were given to the absolute minute.

The ancients did not have that luxury or attitude to historical recounting and especially the Greeks IMHO seemed to favour historical accounts as a means to emphasise in many cases the overall outcome of an historical event, in other words the overall "theme" of what happened and (in their eyes) its contextual moral and often social implications.

I think that perhaps the standards with which we judge or estimate an ancient historian is often viewed through the eyes of our particular time's obsession with absolute facts and figures - which isn't necessarily a bad thing - but which are different parameters to what was capable and deemed overwhelmingly important several thousand years ago.

Very interesting discussion BTW and very much enjoying it.
 

cachibatches

Ad Honorem
Mar 2012
2,351
As a complete newcomer to these fora, I hope no one minds my sticking my oar into this debate.

One thing which I think is pertinent is historical/cultural context. In the time we live in now stone cold facts and data are king. "Modern" history is dominated by exact numbers, absolute accurate dates and timings, blow by blow, minute by minute accounts. I think that it's symptomatic of the age we live in. I recently read a treatise on the Second Battle of Fallujah in November 2004 where many actions and happenings were given to the absolute minute.

The ancients did not have that luxury or attitude to historical recounting and especially the Greeks IMHO seemed to favour historical accounts as a means to emphasise in many cases the overall outcome of an historical event, in other words the overall "theme" of what happened and (in their eyes) its contextual moral and often social implications.

I think that perhaps the standards with which we judge or estimate an ancient historian is often viewed through the eyes of our particular time's obsession with absolute facts and figures - which isn't necessarily a bad thing - but which are different parameters to what was capable and deemed overwhelmingly important several thousand years ago.

Very interesting discussion BTW and very much enjoying it.
Don't mind at all and think it is a wonderful point. Livy has his theme of the luxury of victory sapping the strength of Hannibal's army, for example. Xenophon his relentless cheerleading of all things Spartan, and his contempt for Thebes.

One of my favorite things about both ancient and medieval histories is the way the supernatural is included as part of the narrative- the omens that foretell Roman disasters, or the idea that Egil's grandfather might have been a werewolf. You would certainly never see that in a modern history!