Method and Theory in Classics
Session 14: History 2
One major problem for historians, and everyone interested in the
past: how similar to, or different from, us were people in the past?
The writing of narrative history is an invention of classical Greece: the
texts of Herodotus and Thucydides stand very early in (though not
quite at the beginning of) the tradition.
o Both Herodotus and Thucydides write in the late fifth century
o Herodotus‟ subject is the conflict between some Greek cities
and the Persian empire at the start of the fifth century (the
main conflict taking place in 480-479 BCE); Thucydides‟ is the
conflict between Athens and Sparta which starts in 431 BCE
and ends in 404 – though his account is unfinished and
breaks off in 411.
o What makes the new genre most obviously different from
what the Greeks have done before is that it is a prose genre.
o Epic poetry, especially that of Homer (though see also the
passage of Hesiod‟s Works and Days in the previous
handout), remains for the Greeks an important source of
stories about a more distant past; Herodotus and Thucydides
write about much more recent events. Both (though in
different ways) take a self-consciously critical attitude to the
stories told about the heroic past of epic and myth, however
(see Herodotus 1.1-5, and contrast with Thucydides 1.3-11).
o It is Herodotus who uses the word historie to describe his
project though for him it means something like „inquiry‟ with
no necessary implication of talking about past time (compare
the passage from Iliad 18). Thucydides does not use the
term: he describes what he is doing as sungraphe – „writing
o Take particular note of what the textbook say