This excellent volume is essentially the proceedings of a conference on Greco-Roman historiography organized in honour of Hans-Joackim Gehrke on the occasion of his 70th birthday. Professor Gehrke’s seminal contribution to the studies of classical historiography covers many aspects and topics, with his remarks on the phenomenon of “intentional history” being today one of the most celebrated notions for every student of ancient historical prose. The aforementioned notion and others related to the scrutiny of sources, historicity, and forgetfulness are the main thematic axes of the present book, which is marked by an intense interest in the theories of history and memory and the ways both can be applied in classical historiography.
After a short introduction, which offers the summaries of the volume’s papers, in his article “Patres historiae? Die Anfänge kritischer Geschichtsschreibung in vergleichender Perspective,” Kurt. A. Raaflaub traces the origins of the so-called “kritische Geschichtsschreibung” in the Greek historians (Herodotus and Thucydides) as well as in the Chinese historian of the 2nd-1st century BCE Sima Qian. R. defines critical historiography as the composition of a historical narrative which is marked by the historian’s endeavour to use reason as a means by which to scrutinize his sources and to assess the individuals’ decisions and actions. Raaflaub uses this concept as the main perspective from which to compare the historiographical tradition of three nations: the Greeks, the Mesopotamians and the Chinese. He concludes that, while the Mesopotamian historians were serving through their accounts the political expediencies and ideologies of the monarchs whom they were dependent on, Herodotus, Thucydides and Sima Qian had the luxury of treating events with a more sober and objective eye, by introducing the following principles of historical research: (a) rational cross-examination of sources; (b) explanation of the causes of the events; (c) reflection on issues of philosophy of history, and (d) the examination of the past as a useful didactic tool for the present.
The first section of the book “Heroische Erzählungen” consists of two papers. In his fascinating article “An Intentionale Gegenwart? Odysseus’ ‘False Tales’ and the Intellectual Context of the Odyssey”, Marek Węcowski treats the non-heroic and non-marvellous character of the “false stories” in the Odyssey as reflections of the poet’s and his contemporaries’ realization that they now lived in a period in which men’s interaction with gods was no more manifested in the same way it was in the mythical, heroic past. For Węcowski, alongside the heroic and the marvellous world we find in the Homeric epics, there is also a third world, which arises from the poet’s self-ironical and more realistic “false stories” of Odysseus and Athena in the Odyssey. This world mirrors the archaic Greeks’ rationalism towards their own religion and marks the first steps of the western civilization towards Humanism, i.e. towards an anthropocentric treatment of the world and of our place in it.
In “Spartan Heroic Ancestry and Austere Virtues. Heracles, Theseus, and the Phaiakians on the Throne of Amyklai”, Massimo Nafissi endeavours to interpret the mythical scenes which decorated the throne of Apollo in the Amyklaion, whose description survives in Pausanias. Nafissi reads Pausanias description through the prism of various other literary sources, such as Homer, the lyric poets, and Athenaeus, and argues that the distinctive feature of these mythical scenes lies in that they build a contrast between the bravery, power and military virtue of Heracles, the celebrated progenitor of the Spartans, and the weakness or, at least, the inferiority of Theseus, forefather of the Athenians, and of the luxurious Phaeacians. For Nafissi, this specific use of mythical scenes exemplifies the Spartans’ effort to create their own “intentional history”, in that they tried to highlight the main features of their cultural and political present (austerity and military virtue) by juxtaposing them with the weaknesses of other peoples and especially of the Athenians. Although his arguments are at times far-fetched, Nafissi demonstrates a high degree of meticulousness and insight in the way he re-constructs historical reality by co-examining archaeological material and literature.
The next section “Herodot und Sein Erbe” includes four chapters. In the first one, “Traditional Narratives, Historiography, and Truth. On the Historicity of Herodotus’ Histories”, Maurizio Giangiulio, stepping on the fact that Herodotus drew vastly from oral and written folk narrative traditions, offers some passages from the Histories which, in his view, prove Reginald Macan’s view that “there is no page on which fact and fiction […] are not to be found lying side by side […].” In particular, he develops the inflexible argument that, whenever Herodotus expresses his judgment about the validity of testimonies he had at his disposal, he does not base his verdict on rational scrutiny of his sources. Giangiulio is thus led to the overgeneralizing conclusion that in his authorial comments Herodotus is not interested in bringing the reader closer to the truth of his stories but to delineate a favourable portrait of himself as an author and historian. More convincing is Giangiulio’s view that the Histories’ tales of folk narrative background do not only reflect what happened in the past but also the very structure of the peoples’ memory of it.
Nino Luraghi’s paper “Herodotus, Egypt, and the Athenian Expedition” offers a much soberer interpretation of how Herodotus interacted with historical material of his age, by successfully making the case that Herodotus shaped his Egyptian logos on the basis on his acquaintance with parts of the Egyptian history after Egypt’s conquest by the Persians. Equally interesting are Johannes C. Bernhardt’s speculations in his paper “Das zweite Makkabäerbuch und die Tradition der Perserkriege” on the possibility that the Second Book of Maccabees was composed by its author as a narrative and ideological “dejà-vu” of Herodotus’ account of the Persian Wars. The section ends with Alexander Free’s “Geschichte zum Geschenk und als Zeitvertreib: Lukians Macrobii und die Frage, Warum Liest Man Geschichte?”, in which Free takes Lucian’s Macrobii as a test-case and demonstrates that the Romans did not read history only out of interest in the past but also for many other reasons, such as pleasure, use if historical exempla or acquisition of historical knowledge without any practical use.
The next section “Vergessen und Erinnern” comprises two papers. In “Kollektives Vergessen in Athen. Paul Ricœur und die attische Rhetorik”, Katharina Wojciech traces in Attic Oratory of 4th century BCE the three basic, according to Paul Ricœur, kinds of collective forgetfulness: (a) forced memory; (b) repressed memory; and (c) manipulated memory. As a characteristic example of the first type of forgetfulness Wojciech recognizes the Athenians’ effort, as it emerges from the surviving sources, to forget the calamities they suffered during the months of the Thirty’s government and to offer general amnesty to all citizens. “Manipulated memory” is manifested in the attic myths on autochthony and in the stories which favoured Dracon and Solon at the expense of other significant political figures of Athens, such as Cleisthenes and Ephialtes. Last, the third type of collective forgetfulness (“manipulated memory”) is discernible in the way the Athenians promoted those events of their past which represented their collective identity and neglected others which they saw as black spots of their national physiognomy. In a similar vein, Verena Schulz explores three ways in which Roman historians and biographers used to cast certain parts of their history in oblivion (removal, focus, and replacement). The volume ends with Felix K. Maier’s “Epilog”, in which he reminds us that historians’ exploration of the past is a procedure closely related with art, given that, as Hayden White has long ago forcefully demonstrated, historical narrative, our main window towards our past, has always been some kind of art.
All contributions are well-written and in a reader-friendly fashion for both classicists and a wider readership, while the editing of the volume is exemplary with only very few typos. Classicists, historians and philologists specializing in ancient historiography and its reception by and affinity to modern theory of history will find the book to be a precious resource.