GREEK AND ROMAN HISTORIANS: Information and Misinformation by Michael Grant

GREEK AND ROMAN HISTORIANS: Information and Misinformation

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Revisiting ground covered in his Ancient Historians (1970), prolific and celebrated classical historian Grant (The Antonines, 1994, etc.) turns his attention to several of his greatest ancient counterparts. Although many ancient authors were superb writers, Grant argues, ""one must expect a good deal of inadequacy and misinformation from the ancient historians."" This is due, he contends, not only to the pervasive difficulty historians and journalists of any age encounter in finding out what is going on, but also to the close relationship between ancient historical works and other literary genres: ""Ancient history was understood not as history, according to our meaning of the word, but as literature."" In his survey of great Greek writers like Herodotus, Thucydides, Xenophon, and Polybius, and of Latins like Caesar, Sallust, Livy, Tacitus, and Suetonius, Grant examines qualities of these ancients that made them at once marvelous writers and unreliable historians. Ancient historical works, Grant points out, grew out of epic and tragic poetry and contained long, elaborately constructed digressions and speeches (which could not have been accurate constructions of what was actually said). Ancient writers were chauvinistic, moralized too much, and overemphasized religion, biographies of great men, and wars. Also, these historians' love of good though improbable stories sometimes triumphed over rigorous reporting of the truth, and they tended to condemn and praise persons, sometimes out of self-justification. Also, many, Grant contends, simply didn't get their facts right. Nonetheless, Grant concludes that because of the excellent literary quality of their works, and because they are the single best source of information about their world, the ancient historians are worth reading. A brief but intriguing look at a time when history was a branch of literature rather than a scientific discipline, and an essential perspective for classicists who rely on these works to reconstruct the ancient world.

Pub Date: June 15th, 1995
Page count: 192pp
Publisher: Routledge