Greek Historiography has been traced by scholars to mythical tales that were passed on orally from generation to generation and makes up one of the earliest aspects of Greek literature. As a matter of fact, the purpose of Greek myths is for an individual to achieve some understanding of one’s past. Greeks learned about their history and origins largely due to the Homeric poetry which are considered factual by some yet also regarded as mere fantasy and imagination by others.
Critics observed that the events that occurred in the past also became true for the present as stories such as those of Agamemnon and Odysseus influence the psyche of the people. It was during the latter part of the sixth century in Ionia that the prose history of Greeks was first put to words. This event coincided with the development of philosophy and early science in some parts of Greece. At this part, a systemic and rational approach was utilized especially on the local traditions as well as to the epic poetry that were becoming widespread at the time.
This period was also characterized by an increase in information and knowledge brought about by the seafarers regarding the people, culture, history, harbour and coastline of the Mediterranean. These seafarers were already considered as historians and were called logographers which mean “prose writers”. The most famous and influential of these logographers was Hecateus of Miletus although Miletus’ and that of the other prose writers’ works were destroyed and only a few fragments survive in out era. These historians wrote both Greek and non-Greek history as well as general and local history.
The system of writing proved to be based on general and local events throughout history. Although there is no surviving work of the logographers, their work played a significant role in the advancement of historiography in Greece as they are one of the earliest historical accounts. The history of Greece formally began with the “historiai”, an example of which is the work of Herodotus. However, the term historiai became restricted. The work of Herodotus, however, set the standard for the scale of history.
His innate curiosity led him to include several subject areas in his work such as geography, archaeology, religion, ethnography as well as several anecdotes. Aristotle is deemed as Herodotus’ successor, in terms of intellect as he also wrote several treaties on several scientific areas and a broad range of history. A generation after Herodotus, Thucydides wrote about the contemporary history of Greece. He was known to have made critical remarks regarding his predecessors, including Herodotus for seeming to write only what is interesting at the time rather than writing about the truth and the reality.
Thucydides exhibited a passion for generalization and to write about the truth of the matter. These characteristics allowed him to write about significant subject areas such as the true cause of the Peloponnesian War, the democrats and oligarchs’ behavior, as well as the dynamics involved in imperialism. The influence he exerted created several limitations on Greek history and it became focused on politics. Although he utilizes a writing characterized by difficult Greek, Thucydides expressed his thoughts in a concise manner.
His speeches were an important aspect of his wok and it represented the increasing popularity of art of persuasion (known as rhetoric) during the 5th century. Thucydides’ writings of facts along with generalizations made him a unique historian which no other could imitate or sustain. The most similar style as that of Thucydides was that analytical style of Polybius. During the fourth century, Isocrates influenced a new style of history due to his moralistic outlook as well as Plato’s concern regarding moral education.
At this period, history was utilized to bring about moral education and prejudice in the field of politics. Content was considered secondary compared to the style utilized. Ephorus, the pupil of Isocrates, also wrote a universal history wherein he believes that his primary role is either to give praise or to blame. Although this universal history had been lost, this certain school of thought greatly influenced the historians of Rome. During the Hellenistic age, readability takes precedence over accuracy. However, certain historians such as Hieronymus of Cardia are exceptions to this trend.
The style that was usually favored was romantic and rhetorical. As such, monographs of certain topics, memoirs, history of cities and other such topics that are limited flourished in writing. An expansion of the Greek worldview started when prose accounts on the topic of geography were written by Anaximander of Miletus and who went on to create a map of the world. The Ionian intellectual revolution, which occurred during the 5th century, was largely due to the combination of geography and the mythical history.
This phase reached its peak with the works of Hecataeus of Miletus as his works modified the traditional myths based on rational thinking and on common sense, thus rendering it with more credibility. A general view in the field of metaphysics state that history cannot be known as things that continuously changed cannot be fully comprehended. Thus, historians ted to write things that they have personally witnessed during their own lifetime. One of the major areas that are being studied is the limitation of Greek historical writing, the competence of historians and the influence and public reception of their thoughts and ideas.
As only a small umber of Greek historiography has survived, another problem is that it provides a small scope of area characterized by lack of choices and inability to write a comprehensive history. Scholars, comparing the Greek literature to other texts, have finally concluded that the literature of Greece is considered poor and inadequate in terms of historical writing. Scholars deem Herodotus as the historian to have looked at the larger picture as he displayed certain interest in the Asian and Egyptian cultures. It seems that other historians have not been able to separate what is factual and what is myth from their writings.
It is said that fictitious events are very similar to the facts and vice versa so that several beliefs cannot be confirmed or disproved and instead remains fraught with uncertainty. Greek historiography has also been a significant influence to western historical writing as a formal discipline. It has also served to render several contributions in various fields such as geography, biography, romance, ethnography and travel memoirs. The distinctiveness of the historical writing in Greece influenced the approach utilized by historians during the Roman period as well as during the early part of the Christian periods.
It is from the Greek historical writing that focus on contemporary events, usage of texts as evidence, the historian acting as the witness of events as well as the importance of explaining events became significant ad important hallmarks during the early historical thinking
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