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The Evolution of Historiography in Greek Society

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| The Evolution of Historiography in Greek Society |

American Public University
August 3, 2014
Rena Reynolds
HIST501
Summer 2014

Although at first Greek historians had difficulties grasping the concepts of time and that ideas of the past could influence those of the present, through trial and error the development of Greek chronology help achieve the documentation of the Greek experience. Greek historians grew from works of fiction with some historical significance to the systematic study of people and culture as their society progressed through wars and cultural change. War is a universal experience which has occurred since the birth of the human race. It is also the muse of historians around the world. In early Greek society war provided a gateway to heroes, glory, and gods. The famous Trojan War described in Homer’s Iliad epic gave descriptions of Achilles, Hector, Paris and Helen of Troy which were intertwined with the gods Athena, Apollo and Hephaestus. Homer entertained the populace with the “actions of gods and the deed, passions, glories, and defeats of a few heroes,” but also cataloged a few historical significant items. Subsequent the Great Persian War (in 490 and 480/79 BC) inspired Herodotus in writing his Histories migrating from heroes and gods to a more common cultural history. His descriptions still held a dramatic flair which was pleasing to the populace but held a more chronological account of events. Following the Great Persian War was the Peloponnesian War (430-404 BC) and brought forth Thucydides. His accounts of the war provided an analytical view on events and identified sources to actions and political structure. Nevertheless historiography developed over the growth of Greek society and to better understand this each war and historian should be discussed further. Let us begin with the Trojan War. The area between the Black Sea and the Aegean Sea is known as Dardanelles located in Turkey and this small sea passage is about a mile wide. This passage is the only canal between the two seas. This was a major trade route for the Greeks and whoever controlled this passage had the power. This area is where historians believe Homer’s Troy was located. Also it is believed that the trade passage was the means to the war unlike Homer’s epic where is believed to begin over Helen of Troy. Nonetheless, Homer’s Iliad provided a little information about the Achaeans ships and military structure which delighted historians. The majority of the story was the tale of humans and gods intertwined with heroic dramas that entertained the general population. It is important to note that in Homeric times that these stories were told in bards that the documentation of these would not be written until an estimated 200 years after Homer’s death. Homer led way to heroic history well into the eighth century with no concept of time only great events worth the tables of aristocrats and inspired those at festivals and public gatherings. It wasn’t until the Hesiod of Ascra that precept of a continuing interval of history was attempted with a “collective human fate”. Hesiod wrote his Theogony with a different look into the past than Homer and divided the past into five ages: the Golden Age, the Silver Age, the Age of Bronze, the Age of Heroes, and the Iron Age. These ages encompassed the relationship between gods and men and the distance between the two as timed passed. His writing developed from Homer’s in that he tried to account the beginning of time to the present to include all events big and small. Also, during this time many historians documented geography and genealogies to account for the beginning of time. Hecataeus of Miletus was one of these historians and he tried to “rationally organize” the known areas of the Greek world. Furthermore, he tried to identify generations for the populace that linked the present to the past. These were steps in the right direction but failed ultimately due to the lack of pin pointing a certain event and building from it either backwards or forwards in time. As milestones were made after Homer’s Iliad through Hesiod and Hecataeus, true development in Greek historiography was achieved with Herodotus and the Great Persian War. Herodotus was originally from Asia Minor and was driven from his home after civil war broke out. His home was now under Persian control and he sought refuge in Athens where he wrote his Histories. In his work he documented the rise of the Persian Empire and the Persian Wars themselves. His writing still held aspects of the Homer bards and entertained as it documented the events of the War but developed into prose with the use of speeches without the embellishments often seen in poetry. Herodotus still spoke of gods and oracles but did not do so in the embellishments of Homer. For example, in Homer’s Iliad he stated, “Goddess, sing the rage of Peleus’ son Achilles, murderous, doomed, that cost the Achaeans countless losses…feasts for the dogs and birds, and the will of Zeus was moving toward its end”. Herodotus descriptions did not call the gods by their names but merely mention the presence of their existence. For example in his Histories he wrote, “Such was the prophecy uttered under a divine inspiration. Pisistratus, apprehending its meaning, declared that he accepted the oracle, and instantly led on his army”. It is clear that the works are evolving away from the heroic history. Herodotus has moved in the direction of cultural history. He has “recognized that significant human individuals are the forces that create history…so he devotes to peoples personal ambitions, relations and frictions [with] the careful treatment that they deserve”.
In addition to the change in writing Herodotus provided a more “chronological structure” between events and cultures. As he developed his works he depended on the stories to mature their own suggestion of time. It wasn’t until Thucydides History of the Peloponnesian War did a systematic account for time occur. He did so by dating the beginning of the war “For Fourteen year, the thirty years’ peace…” In doing so he was able to maintain a consistent dating system throughout his histories. This was an achievement that those before him tried but never fully grasped and would lay the foundation of historiography for future historians. Like Homer and Herodotus war inspired Thucydides but progressed into analytical history without the need for romantic dialogue. His approach brought the “why” into the event. He pursued the underlayment of an event to search for the truth and gave an analytical theory of his thoughts. For example he accounts the recorded reasons for events and then questions alternative routes,
The reason why Archidamus remained in order of battle at Acharnae during this incursion, instead of descending into the plain, is said to have been this. He hoped that the Athenians might possibly be tempted by the multitude of their youth and the unprecedented efficiency of their service to come out to battle and attempt to stop the devastation of their lands… On the other hand, should the Athenians not take the field during this incursion, he could then fearlessly ravage the plain in future invasions, and extend his advance up to the very walls of Athens.
This change of cause and effect included in histories was a critical milestone that is still used today. Another breakthrough perceived by some historians is the absence of dramatics and the supernatural elements. Thucydides was very objective in his writing and although previous historians had used speeches Thucydides recorded information about the source labeling them “unreliable” or “rejecting the type of history they produced”. Furthermore, he even discredited himself in the recollection of the speeches and stated that most were “his own opinions” of what was said. The Trojan, Persian, and Peloponnesian Wars inspired countless changes in Greek historiography and established principles in historical writings. Homer set the stage in his narrative and stimulated curiosity in the past. The establishment of consisted systematic accounts of the past were pursued through Hesiod, Hecataeus and Herodotus. Eventually Thucydides constructed a system in his works that allowed for efficient documentation of events. The migration from paranormal dealings to normal day to day happenings was achieved thru Herodotus cultural history and seen in Thucydides histories. Finally, Thucydides included an analytical process to his account to include cause and effect accounts that are still the norm today. All of these writers and historians helped the evolution of historiography in Greek society.

Selected Bibliography
Asimov, Isaac. The Greeks A Great Adventure. Boston: The Riverside Press Cambridge, 1965.
Breisach, Ernest. Historiography: Anceient, Medieval, and Modern. Third. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2007.
Grant, Micheal. The founders of the Western World: A history of Greece and Rome. New York: Charles Scribner's Son, 1991.
Herodotus. Histories : Book 1 - CLIO. n.d. http://edge.apus.edu/portal/site/243904/page/b0e351c8-a6fc-4ade-b55a-d7f0b74415be (accessed August 1, 2014).
Homer. The Iliad. 800 B. C. E. http://classics.mit.edu/Homer/iliad.1.i.html (accessed August 1, 2014).
Thucydides. The History of the Peloponnesian War Book 2, Chapter VI. 400 B.C.E. http://edge.apus.edu/portal/site/243904/page/b0e351c8-a6fc-4ade-b55a-d7f0b74415be (accessed August 1, 2014).

--------------------------------------------
[ 1 ]. Breisach, Ernest. Historiography: Anceient, Medieval, and Modern. Third. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2007.6.
[ 2 ]. Ibid.6.
[ 3 ]. Ibid.13.
[ 4 ]. Asimov, Isaac. The Greeks A Great Adventure. Boston: The Riverside Press Cambridge, 1965. 8.
[ 5 ]. Breisach, Ernest. Historiography: Anceient, Medieval, and Modern. Third. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2007.6.
[ 6 ]. Ibid.
[ 7 ]. Ibid. 7.
[ 8 ]. Ibid. 8.
[ 9 ]. Breisach, Ernest. Historiography: Anceient, Medieval, and Modern. Third. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2007. 13.
[ 10 ]. Grant, Micheal. The founders of the Western World: A history of Greece and Rome. New York: Charles Scribner's Son, 1991. 69.
[ 11 ]. Homer. The Iliad. 800 B. C. E. http://classics.mit.edu/Homer/iliad.1.i.html (accessed August 1, 2014).
[ 12 ]. Herodotus. Histories : Book 1 - CLIO. n.d. http://edge.apus.edu/portal/site/243904/page/b0e351c8-a6fc-4ade-b55a-d7f0b74415be (accessed August 1, 2014).1.63.
[ 13 ]. Grant, Micheal. The founders of the Western World: A history of Greece and Rome. New York: Charles Scribner's Son, 1991. 70.
[ 14 ]. Breisach, Ernest. Historiography: Anceient, Medieval, and Modern. Third. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2007. 11.
[ 15 ]. Ibid.
[ 16 ]. Thucydides. The History of the Peloponnesian War Book 2, Chapter VI. 400 B.C.E. http://edge.apus.edu/portal/site/243904/page/b0e351c8-a6fc-4ade-b55a-d7f0b74415be (accessed May 20, 2015).
[ 17 ]. Breisach, Ernest. Historiography: Anceient, Medieval, and Modern. Third. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2007. 17.…...

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