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Lecture 5

CLA260H1 Lecture 5: Lecture 5 - History


Department
Classics
Course Code
CLA260H1
Professor
Ben Akrigg
Lecture
5

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CLA260 Lecture 5 – Ancient History
Ancient History
- what do we actually mean when we say history
- this is something particularly problematic – for defining, because of the different references
- history as the past, or making history (actions of significance), or simply stories of the past – in addition to
being an academic discipline
- identification of what makes the study of Greek or Roman history from the rest of the Classical discipline, or
from the rest of history (other places or times)
- the ways in which ancient historians approached the past, as well as the sources historians use, makes
classical history somewhat unique/odd
- our history of the Greek and Roman world is dominated by literary texts
- our starting points are in narrative accounts of things occurring in the past as continuous narratives
- either shortly after the event that has been described in the narrative, or quite some time after
- the study of epigraphic material is also a method of determining history
- epigraphy – starting with the 5th century Greece
- because of the durability of stone, there were many stone inscriptions (many of which has survived)
- we have thousands of public documents/inscriptions that are not narrative histories
- unlike papyrus, stone inscriptions survive in almost all archeological context where they were produced
- in the cases of literary material, with the exceptions of a few smaller scraps, the amount of material is
generally fixed
- in the case of inscriptions – many are constantly being discovered
- anyone interested in the past faces a “paradox” rarely confronted – we have interest in studying in the past
partly because people did things differently (comparison to the modern world but not reflection) yet there is a
small amount of continuity (because if people in the past were nothing like us, we would not even be able to
understand the past, let alone have any interest in it)
- quote by Neville Morley, Writing Ancient History (1999), p. 52
- “History is not myth; but that does not meant that it is automatically true. History is not fiction; but that does
not mean that the historian’s imagination plays no part in the reconstruction of the past. History is not
propaganda; but that does not mean that it is therefore invariably neutral and objective. The boundaries
between these different discourses are never clear-cut, and it is equally possible to argue that history is a
kind of fiction (although governed by certain generic conventions), and a kind of myth (a story that helps us
make sense of the world), and a kind of propaganda (for the historian’s personal point of view, if nothing
else). We know history when we see it: a particular way of telling a story about the past, which claims to
offer a trustworthy account of past events.”
- this is one of the more satisfying starts to the question of what is history, as well as opening up avenues of
exploration that are interesting/helpful
- history as a way of telling a story about the past
- quote by Keith Jenkins, Rethinking History (London 1991), 31-32
- quote Peter Rhodes Ancient Democracy and Modern Ideology (London 2003), 16-17
- this is somewhat a commentary on the first two quotes describing history
- the ways in which people talk about democracy, and recognizing the different ways people use/describe
ancient history
- example of how ancient democracy can provide guidelines for modern democracy – presentmindedness
(how to live in a modern world)
- if we choose to tell a story then we have choices about how we tell it – when to start or end, which
characters/how many characters to include, etc.
- right up until the 5th century BC (when people began to write prose), the typical way to tell history was to
write epic poems
- example of The Iliad – author claims to tell a story about a particular occasion when Achilles got angry and
what happened
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