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Greatness is to Region as Color is to Individual

Greatness is to Region as Color is to Individual

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Published by: John Paul Dominic Brodeur on Jun 29, 2011
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(ID#2437666) Page 1ID#2437666Professor AlmeidaHonors 101A14 November 2008Greatness is to Region as Color is to IndividualWhat is the essential task of an historian? In what way ought he to accomplish this task?These are difficult questions, and the answers to these questions, of course, are variable; no twohistorians are likely to answer them in the same way. Despite their variability, the answers tothese questions are extremely influential; they not only determine how a historian records hishistory, but the self-comprehension of all who read it. To demonstrate this idea, a comparison of two classical Greek historians is in order. For the purposes of this essay, the comparison will beconcentrated in
Herodotus’
 History
Book 6, paragraphs 110 through 117 and in
Thucydides’
ThePeloponnesian War 
Book 7, paragraphs 43 through 47. As a result of this comparison, the
reader should come to understand the former as a history concerned with “the preservation of color” and the latter as a history concerned with “the preservation of greatness
,
and be able tograpple with the implications of this difference of concern.The first element to be evaluated in each history is the issue of detail. In the selectionfrom Thucydides, there is a super-abundance of it. This is most evidenced by use of thesubjunctive clause. In most cases, these clauses serve as modifiers which give further insightin
to a given word. In paragraph 44, the clause “which was their only means of recognition”modifies “watchword;” and the
 
clause “by night the only possible means of communication”modifies “loud cries.”
In both cases, the clauses give their modifiers greater clarity. Thucydidesis also explicit in his reasoning for a proposal or action. This is best exemplified in paragraph 47
 
(ID#2437666) Page 2where
Thucydides details at least four reasons for Demosthenes’ urging to
withdraw from Sicily.
In Herodotus’ selection, there is significantly less detail
to be found. Its few subjunctiveclauses are usually necessary for a proper understanding of the sentence and in most casesinvolve gerunds. For example, in paragraph 112,
the clause “seeing them coming at a run” isnecessary to understand why the Persians “made ready to receive them,” and in paragraph 116,the clause “rushing with all speed to defend their city” is necessary to understand how the
Athenians reached Athens first. As an entire selection, the account of the actual Battle of Marathon is surprisingly short, most of it discussed in paragraph 113, a mere five sentences long.Although some detail is certainly put forth, it lacks the
 breadth of Thucydides’ selection
. In allprobability, however, this is due more to a lack of sources than to an omission by Herodotus.The second element worth evaluating is closely related to detail, but fundamentally
different: it is the element of explanation. In Thucydides’ selecti
on, actions and ideas are
explained just as often as they are detailed. It doesn’t take much effort to find a clause beginningwith “as” or “owing to” scattered throughout the selection.
Examples of this are everywhere: in
 paragraph 43: “As by day it seemed impossible…;” in paragraph 44: “owing to the rout that hadtaken place…;” and in paragraph 47: “owing to its bei
ng the sickly season
…” to name a
few.Also used as a device for explanation are the couple instances of parentheses in paragraph 43.Herodo
tus’ method of explanation is very different from Thucydides. It is more
chronological and less extensive. In most cases, it is identified with the demonstrative, either asan adjective or as the subject of a linking verb. A couple of examples of this are found in
 paragraph 111: “This was the order of battle…,” (an example of a preceding demonstrative); andin paragraph 115: “In this fashion the Athenians captured…,” (an example of a following
demonstrative). Perhaps the most notable difference in Herod
otus’ explanation of things is
 
(ID#2437666) Page 3found in the use of parentheses in paragraph 111. Unlike Thucydides, who uses parentheses toexplain the
event 
, Herodotus uses parentheses to explain
modern practice
in light of the recordedevent. This difference leads to a third element of evaluation: resort to human experience.
Perhaps the only passage of Thucydides’ selection which requires human experience
from the reader is found in the beginning of paragraph four where he asks the reader the
question: “how could anyone know anything for certain?” This question requires the reader to
assimilate his personal experience with the still relatively colorless scene of a moonless night. Itengages him on a level which is unusual for Thucydides, who throughout the rest of the selectionmerely recounts the events as they unfold.
Herodotus’ selection involves human experience in a greater capacity and in a different
way. In his selection, Herodotus concerns himself with two different stories about individualpersons: the first concerns Cynegirus in paragraph 114 and the second concerns Epizelus in
 paragraph 117. Because neither of these stories is truly necessary to the history’s plot as awhole, they engage the reader in a way which Thucydides’ selection never does. By meetin
g thereader on a more personal level with an element of human experience, they add what Herodotus
calls “color” (1.1) to the work.
 
Another dimension of this “color” is found in the fourth and final element of evaluation:
namely, commentary. In Thucydides
’ selection, the most commentary
one can find is in
thematic phrases such as “ardor to cool” and “flushed with their victory” in paragraph 43, and insuperlatives such as “as much, or more than anything else” in paragraph 44. In both
circumstances, commentary is kept to a minimum and no tangible judgment is cast.
Herodotus’ selection contains much stronger value statements than Thucydides’. The best example of this is in paragraph 112, where Herodotus says the Athenians “fought right

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