ANCIENT HISTORY: Evidence and Models by M.I. Finley

ANCIENT HISTORY: Evidence and Models

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KIRKUS REVIEW

This collection of lectures given by historian Finley in 1983 and 1984 is a plea for sanity, clear thought and truth (particularly in admitting what is not known and cannot be known about the problems of accuracy and truth in the retelling of history) in dealing with the very murky world of the ancient Greeks and Romans. Some of his ideas may be termed ""old-fashioned,"" but this exactly what makes them radical. Finley's first concern is that we dispense with the idea of history as a science. This does not mean, in his view, ignoring the supreme importance of ""honesty in reporting and consistency in the analysis."" Rather, it means an acceptance of the skimpiness of the archaeological evidence and the questionable motives behind most ancient written sources. Most of all it means that ""the historian himself must ask the right questions and provide the right conceptual context. He must do that consciously and systematically, abandoning the stultifying fiction that it is the duty of the historian to be self-effacing, to permit 'things' to 'speak for themselves.'"" Finley's answer to the seemingly impossible task of interpreting ancient history is the use of models or ""essential simplifying assumptions"" based on what is known as the foundation for new interpretation. But true to his essential flexibility of thought, he cautions that ""the deployment of models can become too abstract, too schematic."" A historian, he argues, ""must deploy different strategies according to the nature of the evidence available to him and the questions he is posing. ""Though academic in tone and in subject matter, the ideas expressed in Ancient History are of universal interest. And though the terrain may often be unfamiliar to the layman, Finley is always a literate and encouraging guide.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1985
ISBN: 1597405345
Publisher: Viking