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The Children of Herodotus:

Greek and Roman Historiography and Related Genres

Edited by

Jakub Pigoń

The Children of Herodotus: Greek and Roman Historiography and Related Genres Edited by Jakub Pigo ń

Cambridge Scholars Publishing

The Children of Herodotus: Greek and Roman Historiography and Related Genres, Edited by Jakub Pigoń

This book first published 2008

Cambridge Scholars Publishing

12 Back Chapman Street, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE6 2XX, UK

British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library

Copyright © 2008 by Jakub Pigoń and contributors

All rights for this book reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the copyright owner.

ISBN (10): 1-4438-0015-5, ISBN (13): 978-1-4438-0015-0




My aim in this chapter is to offer a brief tentative answer to two interconnected and rather simple questions, disquieting nonetheless, I think, a big part of scholars who deal with Herodotus and Thucydides. 1 We all feel pretty confident that the latter draws extensively on the former. But it is difficult to point our fingers on any particular issue involved in this relationship, save for some very general aspects of Thucydides’ thought and literary technique and for some passages wherein an indifferent and indeed unfair criticism against his predecessor can (arguably) be found. Whence my first question: what were the nature and the degree of Thucydides’ indebtedness to Herodotus? Now, the students of Greek historiography who think that this intellectual debt was indeed substantial must face a second question. To put it briefly: why was Thucydides so intolerant of Herodotus, who was most probably so important to him? An additional question may be appended to this set of

I am particularly indebted to Benedetto Bravo, Robert L. Fowler, Kurt A. Raaflaub, Stephanie West, and Aleksander Wolicki for their critical insights and comments; needless to say, I am the sole responsible for all the mistakes that remain. I would also like to express my gratitude to the organizers of the Wrocław “Children of Herodotus” conference, not only for this inspiring intellectual venue and for their hospitality, but also for their humane indulgence for the lateness of the present contribution. 1 Of the immense bibliography on the relationship between Herodotus and Thucydides, see in particular Jacoby 1913a, 505f. and Hornblower 1996, 122-37 (Annex A: “Thucydides’ Use of Herodotus”); cf. also Pelling 1991 and esp. Tsakmakis 1995. I have not found Rogkotis 2006 very useful for my present purpose.

Friends or Foes? Herodotus in Thucydides’ Preface


problems already at this stage of my enquiry: why is Thucydides’ severe polemics against Herodotus so implicit? The name of Herodotus never being mentioned in such a polemical context, unlike, famously, that of Hellanicus of Lesbos (in Thuc. 1.97.2). 2 These questions seem appropriate to the book devoted to “the children of Herodotus.” In answering them, the ancient biographical tradition is of limited use unless we are content with a pseudo-psychological diagnosis (cf. already [Marcellinus] Vita Thuc. 54) that Thucydides might have suffered from the “Love-and-Hate” syndrome in his difficult relationship with the Father of History. What is at stake when we raise these questions is actually the problem of how different to one another would both historians look in the eyes of their contemporary readers (including themselves)—and not of their disciples, imitators and critics in later Greek and indeed European historiography (including ourselves). Ultimately, such an enterprise amounts at attempting provisionally to bridge one of the greatest divides in the history our discipline, namely that between the “Herodotean” and the “Thucydidean” model in ancient historical writing. It must be said right away that this is hardly a virgin territory: there have been quite a few scholars who tried to minimise the distance separating, in our post-Thucydidean perspective, our both historians. To simplify a little, what they did was trying to make Herodotus look more “modern” than it is usually assumed or to make Thucydides sound more “archaic” than we ordinarily think. Alternatively, and in a more traditional vein, one could also try to put the problem of the relationship between our both writers in evolutionary terms, positing a gradual development of an adolescent Tucidide erodoteo towards a self-conscious (and anti- Herodotean) Thucydides of the (bulk of the) Peloponnesian War. There was some element of arbitrary thinking involved in all these approaches that drew too much on general assessments of the first Greek historians. 3 Only quite recently, we witness a fresh slant in classical scholarship focusing this time on the contemporaneous intellectual context of Herodotus and Thucydides. 4 It would be worthwhile, I think, to supplement

  • 2 Cf. below, p. 48 with n. 39.

  • 3 This is not to deny, of course, that these approaches, divergent as they are, produced many highly valuable studies. To mention only a few: Canfora 1982; Hunter 1982; Stahl 1983. Cf. already Cornford 1907.

  • 4 Cf. esp. Raaflaub 1987b and 2002b; Fowler 1996; Thomas 2000; Corcella 2006; Rood 2006; Schepens 2007, esp. 42-8. But cf. already Hunter 1982.

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this approach by a detailed parallel analysis of how and what they both tell us about their respective projects. 5


It has been observed long ago that the opening sentences of Thucydides’ prologue echo, in many ways, the incipit of Herodotus. 6 True, what survived of early Greek prose writing is too poor to call for far- reaching generalizations; 7 but it seems clear that our two extant prologues have much in common. Let me briefly restate the issue here. Simon Hornblower observes that Thucydides’ “reference to the ‘war between the Peloponnesians and the Athenians, how they fought against each other’ (i. 1. 1) seems…clumsier in its context than the equivalent phrase at the very beginning of Herodotus, a phrase which is thus presupposed.” 8 I must admit I am not sure of this clumsiness, but as Stephanie West points out to me (per litteras, 15 January, 2008) these words, hardly adding anything but focusing our attention on his strict view of his subject, might invite “comparison with Herodotus’ immensely hospitable outline of his project.” For the present purpose it is important to note that besides (a) this phrase [scil. τὸν πόλεμον] ὡς ἐπολέμησαν πρὸς ἀλλήλους (in any case reminiscent of Herodotus: διἣν αἰτίην ἐπολέμησαν ἀλλήλοισι, “for what reason did they fought against each other”), in Thucydides’ incipit we find some other verbal echoes and indeed some other fundamental ideas echoing the first sentence of Herodotus. 9 Both historians introduce (b) the notion of greatness of their subject matters ([πόλεμον]…μέγανκαὶ ἀξιολογώτατον τῶν προγεγενημένων, “[the war that was going to be] great and more worthy of recording than all the previous ones”; cf. ἔργα μεγάλα τε καὶ θωυμαστά, “great and wondrous achievements”, in Herodotus) stated, what is more, in a very peculiar way. Namely, they both define this greatness by (c) stressing the all-inclusive character of their respective

  • 5 In what follows, I will base on the results of an earlier paper of mine on the form and thought in the prologue of Herodotus (Węcowski 2004a), but I do not necessarily assume for my readers any acquaintance with this previous study.

  • 6 See e.g. Jacoby 1913a, 505f. What I deliberately leave outside the scope of this paper is the issue of the relationship between Thuc. 1.1-23 and Hdt. 7.19-21, the so-called “second preface” of Herodotus.

  • 7 In general, cf. Fehling 1975. For a thorough interpretation of Thucydides’ prologue, see e.g. Erbse 1970.

  • 8 Hornblower 1996, 125.

  • 9 See also Moles 1993, 99.

Friends or Foes? Herodotus in Thucydides’ Preface


narratives, encompassing both the Greeks and the barbarians (…τοῖς Ἕλλησινκαὶ μέρει τινὶ τῶν βαρβάρων [“the greatest disturbance for the Greeks and for a part of the barbarian world”]; cf. [ἔργα] τὰ μὲν Ἕλλησι, τὰ δὲ βαρβάροισι ἀποδεχθέντα [“achievements produced both by Greeks and barbarians”] in Herodotus). What they do by that is in fact bringing in (d) a novel idea of “humankind” as the ultimate source of the importance of a historian’s narrative (…ὡς δὲ εἰπεῖν ἐπὶ πλεῖστον ἀνθρώπων [“…so to say, for the majority of humankind”] in Thucydides; cf. τ[note the article!] γενόμενα ἐξ ἀνθρώπων, “the human events”, in Herodotus). When passing to the demonstration of his superior historical skills, Thucydides famously emphasizes (e) the difficulty of getting a precise knowledge of past events “because of their remoteness in time” (…σαφῶς εὑρεῖν διὰ χρόνου πλῆθος ἀδύνατα ἦν; trans. by R. Warner, adapted); yet, he says he would be perfectly able to conjecture the (relative) insignificance of the past based on the available evidence (τεκμήρια). His mastery in the field of remote history will further be evidenced in the so-called “archaeology” (1.2-19). No doubt, Thucydides comes to terms here with Herodotus’ self-proclaimed task of recording (e) past human deeds that would have otherwise been effaced by time (τῷ χρόνῳ ἐξίτηλα…), but also with Herodotus’ ἱστορίης ἀπόδεξις ἥδε, “the display of the inquiry,” as such. Needless to say, the whole incipit looks like a deliberate and detailed answer by Thucydides to the opening claims of his predecessor. Furthermore, some incongruities of Thucydides’ claims (such as “the majority of humankind” as arguably involved in the Peloponnesian War) may witness to the depth of his indebtedness to Herodotus. Hence, I think it is worthwhile to read the incipit of Thucydides not only as reflecting some traditional competitive attitude of the writer towards his predecessors (one of the obvious strategies intended to grab the attention of the public), 10 but also as a deliberate polemic against Herodotus. On the other hand, it is revealing to observe, which elements of Herodotus’ proem have been passed into silence in Thucydides’ authorial self-presentation. Two of Herodotus’ keywords are conspicuously absent:

the epic-laden adjective ἀκλεᾶ (extremely rare in prose-writing) and the adjective θωυμαστά, so important for Herodotus’ narrative. Conceivably, the underlying notions, namely that of “renown,” κλέος, and that of “marvellous,” θαυμαστόν, seemed to Thucydides old-fashioned and unsuitable for a serious historical enquiry; as we shall see shortly, he will elaborate on the two ideas at the end of his prologue, in 1.20.

10 For this issue, cf. recently Corcella 2006, esp. 53-6.

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However, this is not only a matter of close verbal correspondences between the two prologues. Immediately after having mentioned his name and his war, as if in the same breath, Thucydides briefly appends two ideas that will be substantiated at length in the course of the “archaeology”: (a) “beginning my account at the very outbreak of the war…” (ἀρξάμενος εὐθὺς καθισταμένου κτλ.) and (b) “believing it was going to be great…” (ἐλπίσας μέγαν τε ἔσεσθαι κτλ.). I would argue that both developments bring a polemical message. What is implied here is a criticism (1) of those among Thucydides’ predecessors who were unable to watch their respective wars closely all along their course as well as (2) of those who lacked the unfailing judgement enabling Thucydides to foresee the future scope and the exceptional importance of the Peloponnesian War. The first shortcoming made some of his predecessors rely on unreliable hearsays, the second made some of them focus on what in fact did not deserve the attention of a serious writer. This set of ideas will of course be voiced explicitly at the end of Thucydides’ prologue (1.20-3), but in a nutshell it is foreshadowed as early as in the very first sentence of his book. Now, the only serious candidate who fulfils both conditions, i.e. who combined both (arguable) handicaps was Herodotus. Not surprisingly, the “flaws” explicitly stigmatized by Thucydides at the end of his prologue refer the reader to the work of Herodotus. 11 If so, the sheer position of the first Herodotean references in Thucydides (including the aforementioned verbal echoes) is highly revealing. In fact, they appear long before the unprepared reader could understand Thucydides’ intentions based on the material gathered in the “archaeology” and on the authorial methodological claims. At the very beginning of his work, when first asserting its superior qualities and first imposing his authority on the reader, Thucydides assumes a public for which Herodotus seems an obvious point of reference of a grand historiographical work. 12


  • 11 Cf. the voting prerogatives of the Spartan kings and the problem of the famous Pitanate lochos (1.20.3) as well as the disputable greatness of the Persian Wars (1.23.1). The mention of the Athenian tyrants (for the traditions regarding the liberation of Athens from the Pisistratid tyranny, cf. in general Thomas 1989, 238- 82) is a more complicated issue for the present state of this passage (1.20.2) may be due to a late interpolator, as B. Bravo warns me. Cf. also below, pp. 40f.

  • 12 Whether such a public really existed these days or not cannot detain us here, but I do believe it was more that a virtual reader conceived in Thucydides’ mind.

Friends or Foes? Herodotus in Thucydides’ Preface


As it has been observed long ago, the whole prologue of Thucydides’ Peloponnesian War (1.1.1-23.6) assumes the form of a large-scale ring composition, 13 the nutshell ideas of the incipit (1.1.1-3) being substantiated in the “archaeology” and then restated, developed and sometimes generalized at the end of the proem (1.19-23). But before looking at the end of it in order to see the outcome and the meaning of Thucydides’ argument, let me first take a look at what stands in the middle. As John L. Moles once observed, prefaces of both Herodotus and Thucydides share a “sandwich” structure, as he puts it, “consisting of initial preface, narrative of past events, resumed preface.” 14 According to Moles, Thucydides’ “sandwiched” “narrative of earlier periods,” i.e. the “archaeology,” “is concerned to depreciate Homeric subject matter and the historical accuracy of Homer” (1993, 100) and this would be “a further imitation of Herodotus” and his Persian (and Phoenician) stories by the oriental λόγιοι, or “wise men.” Furthermore, in narratological terms, putting the “filling” in both “sandwiches” is in fact making a “false move” of the narrative, “a move apparently away from the announced topic, the war,” as Carolyn Dewald has it. 15 For both Herodotus and Thucydides, this is also an epideixis, subtly advertising their subject matter, their analytical and/or literary skills and dismissing earlier competitors in the respective fields. Of course, there are numerous marked differences between Herodotus’ and Thucydides’ “sandwiches,” consisting not only of the more humane and good-humoured attitude of the former as compared with his austere and stern successor. I could not agree more with this view, but there is much more to this. As I have tried to show in my analysis of the oriental λόγιοι stories about the mutual kidnappings of (mythical) women in Herodotus’ preface, this amusingly ironic section of the Histories has also a serious goal, namely to criticize implicitly a very peculiar type of causality that must have been popular in post-Homeric epics. 16 In Herodotus, great wars break out not because of women, but for political and indeed psychological reasons, most often because of greed or desire for “having more” (πλεονεξίη):

more power, more wealth, more land or more subjects. Individual and highly “personalized” episodes do occur in his Histories, but form just

  • 13 See already Hammond 1952. Incidentally, in that, he clearly followed Herodotus (recently, cf. Węcowski 2004a, esp. 146-8), but not only him, for this structure is also present e.g. in the opening sections of the Iliad.

  • 14 Moles 1993, 98.

  • 15 Dewald 1999, 236.

  • 16 Węcowski 2004a, 149-55.

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links in the chain of serious events leading to monumental crises such as the Persian Wars. In his preface, the way he deals with the popular and naïve explanation of great conflicts is ironic, dismissive, but far from domineering. His good-humoured digression is light-heartedly abandoned on his way to a more serious history; his sophistic display-piece, which at the same time shows his mastery in the field of erudite mythography and genealogy, is easily dropped back. After all, the whole section is confined to two or three pages of our modern editions. The serious message remains implicit and none of Herodotus’ predecessors and contemporaries is criticized specifically; it is rather a certain intellectual tendency that was amusingly repudiated. Thucydides’ initial digression is several times longer. It is also more severe in tone, more serious, and closely linked with the argumentative lines of his prologue. In fact it illustrates and evidences the methodological claims of the historian and does it in a fairly explicit manner. It looks as if Thucydides, unlike his predecessor, did not like to waste his time, the “archaeology” being an utilitarian and functional preparatory section of his work with only a minor element (brilliant though it is) of disinterested antiquarianism. Of course, it is also a display of the author’s skills in the realm of archaiologia, including interpretation of ancient poetry, i.e. in the field deliberately left outside the scope of Thucydides’ work. 17 As if he explicitly said: look what I can do, even in this utmost difficult sphere, wherein only dim traces of evidence are available. This methodological line of the “archaeology” culminates in the “resumed prologue,” i.e. in the famous methodological chapters 1.20f. Here, Herodotus is unambiguously, although anonymously, defied by Thucydides. First, as one of those who, within the field of more distant history, give false information about the past even to those who happen to live in the cities concerned, as it allegedly is in the case of the Athenians who rely on Herodotus for their wrong stories about the Pisistratidae (1.20.2; cf. esp. Hdt. 5.55). 18 Secondly, Thucydides mentions two of his (arguable) errors regarding “what does not belong to dimly remembered past” but to the contemporary history: the voting prerogatives of the Spartan kings and the very existence of the Pitanate lochos in Sparta (1.20.3; cf. respectively Hdt. 6.57.5 and 9.53.2). The coda of the section is very striking indeed: “thus, finding out the truth is not a matter of concern

  • 17 Two among the outstanding experts in the realm of archaiologia, more or less contemporaneous with Thucydides, deserve special attention: Hellanicus of Lesbos (FGrHist 4) and Hippias of Elis (see esp. FGrHist 6 T 3). For the latter, cf. my forthcoming commentary in BNJ.

  • 18 But cf. above, n. 11.

Friends or Foes? Herodotus in Thucydides’ Preface


for the most people, but they rather turn to what is at hand” (1.20.3 ad fin.). It is not easy to say whether Herodotus is counted among “the majority,” οἱ πολλοί, that does not care for striving for the truth, ζήτησις τῆς ἀληθείας, or whether he serves here just as the (or one of the) author(s) of τὰ ἑτοῖμα, “the most easily available stuff.” One way or another, he and primarily he seems to be targeted here. 19 So far so good, and I think almost everybody is prepared to accept this aspect of Thucydides’ polemics against Herodotus. Things become more complex and equivocal when another line of the “archaeology” comes to the fore. In his incipit, Thucydides announces his intention to demonstrate that his war was in fact much greater that any one before. This claim, as substantiated in the “archaeology,” has long been stigmatized by modern scholars as a bold rhetorical exaggeration. Let us think about the casuistic argument in favour of the relative insignificance of the Persian Wars (1.23.1): true, it was the biggest “feat,” or ἔργον, of the past, but incomparable with the Peloponnesian War because the former conflict was decided in just four battles—two of them naval and two on land. It is hard indeed to imagine another way of arguing for the superiority of the Peloponnesian over the Persian Wars. Or take Thucydides’ “proof” for the relative insignificance of the Trojan War (1.11): true, it lasted for ten long years; it would have been settled faster, but the Greeks were too weak and, what is more, Hellas was too poor (cf. the notion of ἀχρηματία throughout the chapter) to wage a solid full-scale siege of Troy. Ergo, the Trojan War must have been rather unimportant just because of its length. What a neat paradox, isn’t it! 20 By contrast, and this used to be taken by modern critics as a prime example of Thucydides’ rhetorical amplificatio, 21 his positive arguments in favour of the primacy of his war strike a note of utmost pathos. The superiority of the Peloponnesian War is evidenced not only by the sheer length of the conflict, but also by the “sufferings” throughout its course, unprecedented in earlier Greek history (1.23.1-4), including natural phenomena such as earthquakes, eclipses of the sun, droughts, famines and the Athenian plague (23.3). For our modern taste, this is too much. But to understand it properly, I think we need, first, to comprehend the notion of “greatness” as developed throughout the preface and next to grasp the nature of Thucydides’ overall argument there.

  • 19 If the latter is the case, this sentence might throw some interesting light on the issue of the popularity of Herodotus those days.

  • 20 Cf. in detail Luraghi 2000.

  • 21 See e.g. Woodman 1988, esp. 28-32.

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Now, some modern scholars used to take the whole “archaeology” as following a positive process, namely the gradual progress of power and preparedness in Greece and culminating in the pre-war and polarised Greek world. 22 In fact, however, what Thucydides tells us in this section is not so much the story of some material advance of the Hellas in positive terms. It is rather a negative perspective that dominates the picture. Every stage of the process is rendered in very peculiar terms; what the narrator does at almost every juncture of his argument is enumerating and analysing, as he puts it (1.16.1), “obstacles to growth,” κωλύματα μὴ αὐξηθῆναι (cf. {1.1.6?}; 1.12.1). It was only after the Persian Wars, when both future enemies, Sparta and Athens, consolidated their alliances and their own power, that the Greek world reached the peak of its development (1.19 ad fin.). From this standpoint, the main body of the digression forms a sophisticated diptych with the so-called Pentekontaetia (1.89.1-118.2), 23 which is in fact the mirror image of the “archaeology.” This time, the key- notion of the excursus, as well as its openly stated subject, is the positive “growth,” αὔξησις, of the Athenian power. Incidentally, that is why this, rather impressionistic, narrative culminates in the Samian War and actually disregards even quite important events that took place between this war and the beginnings of the Peloponnesian War (1.116.1-117.3). Our historian most probably thinks that it was then, in the morrow of the Samian victory of 439 BC, that Athens reached the summit of its power and preparedness. 24 By no means was he going to recount the story of the fifty years between the Persian and the Peloponnesian Wars. It is fundamental to note that this very perspective, the—so to say— “growth-oriented” vision of Greek history, has been announced as early as the first sentence of his work. His decision to watch closely and ultimately to narrate the Peloponnesian War was born at the very beginning of this conflict, when he realized that both sides “had entered the war at the very peak of all their powers” (τεκμαιρόμενος ὅτι ἀκμάζοντές τε ᾖσαν ἐς αὐτὸν ἀμφότεροι παρασκευῇ τῇ πάσῃ κτλ.). The ensuing sentence had long been enigmatic, 25 before Joachim Latacz rightly, to my mind, took the phrase κίνησις γὰρ αὕτη μεγίστη κτλ. (“for it was indeed the

  • 22 For a well-balanced view, see already Romilly 1966; cf. Hunter 1982, 17-49 and Meier 1990, ch. 10.

  • 23 For the Pentekontaetia in general, see recently Stadter 1993.

  • 24 I think this judgement was to a large extent based on the message of the funeral speech delivered at this occasion by Pericles and on Pericles’ vision of the Athenian empire in general. Cf. below, p. 44 with nn. 29 and 30.

  • 25 See already Schwartz 1929, 178f. and Classen and Steup 1919, ad loc.; for earlier scholarship, cf. Latacz 1994, 400f.

Friends or Foes? Herodotus in Thucydides’ Preface


biggest motion etc.”) as referring to a “pre-war motion” (“eine Vorkriegsbewegung”). 26 In fact, in keeping with his usual tendency, Thucydides introduces here a quasi-medical abstractum, the term κίνησις, to render the impressive process of “growth” leading to the ἀκμή, or “peak,” of both parties and to the κρίσις, or “turning point,” of their rivalry. The “greatest παρασκευή” of the Athenians is depicted in detail as late as the outset of Book 2 (2.9), 27 and the sections that fall in between are organised to a large extent by this “growth-and-peak” pattern. Both the “archaeology” and the Pentekontaetia culminate at the point when Athens reach the summit of her (and her allies’) παρασκευή (1.19 ad fin.), the peak of her ἀρχή and her power, including her ναυτικόν, or “naval forces” (cf. 1.89.1 init.; 97.2 ad fin.; 99.3; 118.2). 28 What is more, the whole process leading to the war is explicitly explained in the prologue

when the narrator states the “truest cause,” or ἀληθεστάτη πρόφασις, of the conflict in these very terms: the real source of the war was the fear of the Spartans facing the irresistible growth of the Athenians (1.23.6). In the crucial debate in Sparta, when the Athenian imperialism was put on trial by the Peloponnesians, the Corinthian “prosecutor” depicts this “growth,” partly in psychological terms, and accuses Sparta of not having reacted timely to stop it (1.69.4). Responding to that, the Spartan ephor Sthenelaïdas encourages immediate voting for war, so as to prevent further Athenian “growth” (86.5) and the vote is in fact determined by the fear of this “growth” (1.88 ad fin.). Next, the Pentekontaetia begins (89.1): οἰ γὰρ Ἀθηναῖοι τρόπῳ τοιῷδε ἦλθον ἐπὶ τὰ πράγματα ἐν οἷς

ηὐξήθησαν, “for here is how the Athenians have reached the position enabling them to grow.” But even this is not the whole story. The “growth-and-peak” pattern goes as far as the Funeral Speech, where Pericles, after having explicitly dismissed the rhetorical elevation of the Athenian past αὔξησις (2.36.4), turns to his grand picture of the πολιτεία and the τρόποι that made the unprecedented ἀκμή of Athens possible. Then, famously, comes the Plague with its social and moral dissolution and, consequently, with its ideological disillusion. In his last speech, Pericles views the Athenian “growth” from the other side of the hilltop, so to say. The “peak” of the Athenian power is away, the troubles come, and the reward the Athenians can count for is the posthumous glory of their city. As he puts it himself,

  • 26 Latacz 1994, 422.

  • 27 Cf. also Latacz 1994, 424-6.

  • 28 In general, cf. Kallet-Marx 1993.

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“it is part of the nature of all things to decline” (2.64.3: πάντα γὰρ πέφυκε καὶ ἐλασσοῦσθαι). Now, as I tried to show elsewhere, this “growth-oriented” vision of the Peloponnesian War, its preliminaries, and its first phase, was deeply rooted in the ideology of the Periclean Athens. Thucydides’ Pericles uses the slogan of αὔξειν τὴν πόλιν, or “enhancing the country”, several times, but we know it also from Sophocles, Aristophanes, Euripides, Xenophon, and some fourth-century writers rethinking the Athenian empire and its ideology, including Plato and Isocrates. 29 And I hope to demonstrate at some other occasion that the historical Pericles, in another epitaphios logos of his, honouring the heroes of the war against Samos, proudly declared that it was time to “abandon the toils” (πόνων παυσόμεθα) because the “apex,” or ἀκμή, of the Athenian power had been reached. Incidentally, for a Greek this must have been a shocking idea, but thinkable in the generation, so brilliantly analysed by Christian Meier, that believed in unlimited possibilities offered by this exceptional epoch to human mind, courage, and inventiveness. 30 Of course, this “growth-and-peak” pattern was deeply rooted in earlier Greek thought (just think about Solon and archaic Greek wisdom in general). But Thucydides’ decision to organise in this very way not only the preliminaries of his war, but his whole account up to the, to put it in Aristotelian terms, περιπέτεια, or sudden reversal of the plot, namely to the description of the Plague—all this is highly revealing. The Periclean ἀκμή-ideology” was no doubt crucial for Thucydides’ interpretation of the logic of the Peloponnesian War and of the fate of Athens in general. However, he was not the first to interpret the preliminaries of a war and indeed the whole history of Athens in these very terms. It was Herodotus who organised his monumental narrative of the “cause of hostilities between Greeks and barbarians” in two parallel developments he systematically, although at times implicitly or periphrastically, dubs “growth,” or αὔξησις. On the one hand, the irresistible (to a certain point) march of the Persian tyranny crushing one oriental kingdom after another. On the other, the difficult, uneven, and capricious development of Greece, incarnated in Sparta’s “good political order,” or εὐνομίη, and in her

  • 29 In my unpublished Ph.D. Diss. Hérodote, Thucydide et un aspect de l’idéologie athénienne du V ème siècle (Paris, École des hautes études en sciences sociales, 2000); for the time being, see my Polish paper (with a summary in English) Węcowski 2004b.

  • 30 Meier 1990, ch. 10.

Friends or Foes? Herodotus in Thucydides’ Preface


hegemony over the Peloponnesus and in the first triumphs of the Athenian ἰσηγορίη, or democracy. 31 Furthermore, Herodotus ends his story at Sestos, where the Athenians begin to substitute Persians as the would-be cruel “tyrants of the Hellas” (9.114-21). 32 The point is that throughout his work Herodotus gives enough hints and clues for his public to extrapolate the future course of events, growing hostilities between the former anti-Persian allies, and ultimately the fratricidal war between Athens and Sparta. 33 But the most important thing is that this implicit message of Herodotus stems above all from, and is foreshadowed by, the idea of the parallel αὔξησις of the two cities in the course of their history before the Persian Wars. This two-fold line of the narrative subtly structures the whole work of Herodotus, 34 investing it with a contemporary meaning. To put it briefly, the two lines of parallel “growths” of Athens and Sparta go beyond the boundaries of Herodotus’ book, on a collision course with one another, towards the crush that was well known to the historian and to his public from their life-time experience. No doubt, Herodotus must have been very proud of this extrapolated contemporary meaning encoded in his narrative about the glorious Greek past. Well, it is by no means a coincidence that in the Pentekontaetia Thucydides picks up the Greek and in particular the Athenian history exactly where Herodotus once dropped it behind, namely at Sestos (1.89.2). 35 Furthermore, he goes on recounting the Fifty Years period precisely in terms of (the Herodotean) αὔξησις. The goal of this excursus is to continue, but even more to outclass, Herodotus. And we are not far from this in the “archaeology” neither. Here again the Herodotean principle of αὔξησις is used, but in a negative manner. Herodotus is bettered, so to say, through the systematic, at times pedantic, but always ingenious and erudite exposé of the “obstacles to growth.” In a word, Herodotus is defeated on his home turf and using his own weapon. With all this in our minds, let me briefly return to the incipit of Thucydides’ work. As I tried to argue before, in the two initial participial clauses (“beginning at the very outbreak of the war” and “expecting that it

  • 31 For this interpretation, see briefly Węcowski 1996.

  • 32 For this political catchword (and idea), cf. esp. Raaflaub 1979 and Tuplin 1985.

  • 33 As regards the political message in Herodotus, see already the pioneering work by Strasburger 1955; cf. Fornara 1971, 46-58 and 79-91; recently, see e.g. Raaflaub 1987b and 2002b, esp. 164-83; Stadter 1992; Moles 1996 and 2002; Węcowski 1996; Fowler 2003.

  • 34 Cf. already Bornitz 1968, passim.

  • 35 Cf. also below, n. 53.

  • 46 Chapter Four

would be great etc.”) we find a polemical hint at Herodotus. The third one (τεκμαιρόμενος ὅτι ἀκμάζοντές τε ᾖσαν κτλ.), on the one hand, explains how did the narrator come to believe, at the very outset of the war, in its future greatness; on the other, it forms a starting point of the subsequent argument in favour of the idea of the relative insignificance of the previous conflicts. But among other things it also introduces the “αὔξησις-and- ἀκμή” pattern, which draws from, and elaborates on, the organising idea of Herodotus. Thus, in the opening statement of his work, Thucydides proudly declares he will focus on the true “summit” and on the highest concentration of power thus far, unlike those who, having well grasped the nature of the pregnant political “growth,” turned their backs on what really mattered and dealt instead with some distant history. In the phrase to which the participial clause in question is subordinate, Thucydides makes a deadly stroke against Herodotus: the superlative ἀξιολογώτατος (lit. “the most worthy of writing”), clearly corresponds with the idea of the “peak” of power and preparedness, of the ἀκμή prepared by the αὔξησις analysed and foreshadowed by Herodotus. 36 Let us not forget that Herodotus was still active, even at the height of his career during the first decade of the Peloponnesian War. Hence, Thucydides’ charges against the Halicarnassian must have been all the more severe: “Herodotus should have known better!” As we shall see shortly, this tentative reading of what is implied in Thucydides’ incipit will be corroborated by my interpretation of the final chapters of the prologue (1.21-3). But already at this stage of my argument, I would posit that his polemic with Herodotus assumes so monumental and so intensive a form just because he did understand and did adopt Herodotus’ view of earlier and contemporary Greek history. In the eyes of his successor, however, the “teacher” got it all wrong when choosing his subject. In sum, the (implied) charge is that he badly realized in practice his most perspicacious insight.

  • 36 One more thing must be said about the way Thucydides used the Herodotean notion of auxesis. What was implicit, allusive and required “extrapolating” in Herodotus, is now explicit and duly restated time and again. The sheer number of straightforward references to this idea in Thucydides makes it very tempting to infer that he severely disagreed with this peculiar literary technique of Herodotus who offered to his public a “coded message” beneath, and going far beyond, his narrative. Is this disagreement tangible in the opposition between the useless “ornament” and “pleasure” (τὸ προσαγωγότερον τῇ ἀκροάσει ἢ ἀληθέστερον, 21.1) allegedly offered to the readers by his predecessors and the “non- entertaining” (cf. ἀτερπέστερον and τὸ μὴ μυθῶδες) “usefulness” (cf. ὠφέλιμα, 22.4) of his own work? I think so.

Friends or Foes? Herodotus in Thucydides’ Preface



There are some fundamental difficulties in our interpretation of the three crucial chapters of the Peloponnesian War: 1.21-3. Most importantly, the logic and the argumentative lines of this section are far from evident. What is the battlefield of Thucydides’ attack against the “poets” and the λογογράφοι (21.1)? Is it his whole historiographical project, i.e. his entire work, or just the distant history (τὰ παλαιά or τὰ ἀρχαῖα), deliberately left outside the scope of this work? If the latter was the case (and such an interpretation might at first seem preferable given the logic of his preceding argument) the weight of the comparison, and contrast, between the two classes of his predecessors on the one hand and his own achievement on the other would be negligible. Yet, Thucydides dwells on this contrast when presenting his methodological principles regarding, strikingly, the contemporary history (22.3f.). And here, again, it is not clear how could he make such a comparison at all, for he juxtaposes two incomparable things. On the one hand, his predecessors’ unreliability not as far as the actual course of the Trojan or Persian Wars is concerned (he just takes Homer’s numbers for granted!), but as to the relative significance, i.e. as to the general judgement, of the wars of the past. On the other, the best possible method he used himself in order to establish the true course of events, ἔργα, and to render speeches. And all this gives way to the famous statement regarding the practical utility of his account (22.4) and, moreover, to the aforementioned rhetorical amplificatio, wherein diverse “sufferings” are accumulated (23.1-3). I cannot help getting the impression that Thucydides’ argument was a cumulative one and there is no point in dissecting it into atomic logical units or classes of argumentation. Greatness of war(s), historical method, utility of an historical account—all this goes together. In a similar vein, ποιηταί, λογογράφοι, and Thucydides go hand in hand along the same path, although his war, his method, and the utility of his work are better by far. Now, the question is who the ποιηταί and the λογογράφοι are. Traditionally, scholars used to understand both terms as rendering mainly, if not exclusively, Homer and Herodotus, but this interpretation has been challenged in recent decades. On the one hand, some of “Herodotus’ contemporaries,” i.e. sixth- and fifth-century prose writers dealing with the past, could stand for as possible candidates for Thucydides’ λογογράφοι. On the other hand, not only other epic poets beside Homer, but also

  • 48 Chapter Four

elegiac poets singing glory of quite recent historical events, as Simonides in his Plataean Elegy did, 37 could be taken into account. I believe there are good reasons to stick to the traditional interpretation, most of all in view of the overall impact of the aforementioned cumulative argument. It would not be easy to find another prose writer who would have produced a large-scale narrative of a military conflict of the past. 38 Local historians more or less briefly dealing with wars in the history of a given city (Hellanicus’ Atthis?) or land (diverse Persika, Lydiaka etc.) cannot count in this category. We can be sure of this, given the (dismissive) manner Thucydides mentions Hellanicus of Lesbos (1.97.2). 39 For the very same reason, epideictic oratory of “archaeological” interests is out of the question, too. The same can be said of the so-called “historical elegy,” and of the commemorative elegy, as well as of playwrights such as Phrynichus with his Sack of Miletus or Aeschylus with his Persians. It is massive narratives about massive wars, and not particular battles (or series of battles) that seem to comply to the logic of Thucydides’ argument thus far. As for the so-called “Epic Cycle,” it is true that throughout his “archaeology” the narrator gathers his material from all available sources, including non- Homeric epic poems. However, whenever he needs a solid point of reference and/or goes for a detailed polemic with previous accounts about great wars, he turns to Homer at once (1.3.3; 1.9.4; 1.10.3-5; cf. also 1.11 passim). The authority, not necessarily to rely upon, but certainly to come

  • 37 See esp. Boedeker 1995 and 1996. Cf. in general Bowie 2001. Here, one could

also mention the “historical” plays by Phrynichus and Aeschylus.

  • 38 I am aware of the risk of overstating my case here and in particular of leaving Dionysius of Miletus, with his Events after Darius and his Historical Cycle (FGrHist 687 T 1 and T 2, for his contemporaneity with Hecataeus of Miletus; the latter work might have in fact belonged to Dionysius of Samos), beyond the scope

of this enquiry. As Robert Fowler suggests (per litt.): “one could argue


that the

cumulative understanding…would go well with an understanding of logographoi as a kind of composite picture, in which Hdt. looms large but for this or that particular aspect of the composite might not in fact be the most apposite



is one of the places where, if a name is needed, Dionysios could be

... a candidate).” However, I am not optimistic about the early date (based only on the

Suda entry on Hecataeus) for Dionysius (in general, cf. von Fritz 1967, vol. 2, 78 [n. 97]). Of course, such authors of Hellenika as Charon of Lampsacus (FGrHist 262) and (probably) Damastes of Sigeion (FGrHist 5) seem to have preceded Thucydides, but I assume they were not responsible for narratives comparable to Herodotus’ one in its grandiosity and philosophical outlook (cf. below, esp. p. 55). Cf. also below, n. 41.

  • 39 In general, cf. Lendle 1964 and Smart 1986.

Friends or Foes? Herodotus in Thucydides’ Preface


to terms with, is Homer. And the same is true of Herodotus, in the aforementioned pedantic polemic in ch. 1.20, although, again, he is by no means the main source of Thucydides’ information in the “archaeology.” It is also clear from the way he concludes this step of his reasoning that the target of his criticism, and the competitors he has chosen for himself, are authors of the authoritative, indeed monumental, accounts of great wars of the past (1.21.2): whenever the current war is over, even those who used to think of it as of the greatest one of all, turn again to τὰ ἀρχαῖα. 40 In a word, then, in my opinion ποιηταί stand above all for “Homer,” just as λογογράφοι stand for “Herodotus” in 1.21.1. 41 The question is how should we understand it within the framework of Thucydides’ prologue and what does it mean for his historiographical project as such. The most obvious interpretation would associate the polemics against his both great predecessors and rivals with Thucydides’ methodology and with his tools to deal with the past and contemporary evidence, impressively deployed in detail in 1.22.1-3. 42 His rivals lack these tools and in general do not care for the truth; they exaggerate and embellish their accounts to make them pleasant to the public instead of reliable. I think that the idea of τὸ μυθῶδες, “myth-like” (21.1; 22.4), covers, among other things, the realm of κλέος, “renown,” and θαυμαστόν, “marvellous,” the two aspects of Herodotus’ prologue conspicuously absent from the incipit in Thucydides, and—in his eyes—it can be applied both to Homer and to Herodotus as representatives of a quite similar intellectual attitude. However, as I already mentioned, this is a cumulative argument that counts for him; hence, the historical method including the distance in time—both issues amounting to the idea of “uncertainty” (τὸ ἄπιστον) of previous treatments of great wars—is not enough. We should take into consideration other elements of the reasoning, namely the greatness of war and the utility of the account. And this brings us in the end to the ἀγώνισμα vs. κτῆμα issue and to the awkwardly exaggerated vision of the Peloponnesian War in the closing chapter of the prologue.

  • 40 We are perhaps entitled to link this idea with τὰ ἑτοῖμα, “the most easily available stuff” (1.20.3 ad fin.) mentioned earlier, as the main source of information for those interested in the recent and the more remote past. Cf. above, pp. 40f. with n. 19.

  • 41 This is of course not to deny that, for Thucydides, Homer and Herodotus represent just how inferior to his own achievement poetry and, say, earlier historiography are. The point is that he (implicitly) chooses the two authors as those deserving (for the reasons studied below) his attention and his criticism.

  • 42 Recently, see the illuminating comments in Rood 2006.

  • 50 Chapter Four

Thucydides’ “argument from sufferings” (1.23.1-3), so to say, has long been disquieting the scholars. In the seventies and the eighties of the previous century, it became one of the capital “proofs” that he was in fact not a true historian, but an “artful reporter” at best. 43 Now, as Hermann Strasburger demonstrated long ago in his magisterial study of Homer and historiography, the παθήματα we find here belong to the epic heritage of Thucydides. 44 On the other hand, when trying to prove the superiority of his project, he also feels obliged to match and better Herodotus, who— within the same ‘epic’ paradigm—also measured in terms of “more intensive sufferings” (cf. 6.98.2: πλέω κακά) the peculiar status of the period he narrated, but also foreshadowed, in his account (the times of Darius, Xerxes and Artaxerxes). But the question is how did Thucydides (and his public) understand the meaning of the παθήματα section. There can be no doubt that it was supposed somehow to contribute to the definition of the importance of his subject and his work in general. However, it forms but a supplementary argument—never touched upon in the “archaeology,” which is striking indeed—only after having “proven” the superiority of the Peloponnesian War. In a word, it is not directly nor logically linked with the foregoing demonstration of this “greatness.” If so, the rhetorical amplificatio of the war needs to be understood within the context of Thucydides’ cumulative argument. The concluding section of the last paragraph of ch. 22 is perhaps the best-known phrase in Thucydides and one of the most notorious in Greek prose in general. It is the famous opposition between, to put it for a while in traditional terms, a “work done to last forever” (κτῆμα ἐς αἰεί) and a “display piece designed to meet the taste of an immediate public” (ἀγώνισμα ἐς τὸ παραχρῆμα ἀκούειν, trans. by R. Warner, adapted). Now, in modern scholarship these words have generated a bunch of misunderstandings, especially when scholars began to press their own philosophical and anthropological theories on Thucydides. 45 A widely accepted and more traditional reading takes κτῆμα ἐς αἰεί as referring to the author’s turn towards the posterity and to his disdain for the contemporary audience. 46 This is no less anachronistic, because based on our modern literary aesthetics.

  • 43 Cf. above, n. 21.

  • 44 Strasburger 1972.

  • 45 Witness the utterly anachronistic, but once very popular, “Great Divide” opposition between the written (cf. κτῆμα) and oral (cf. ἀγώνισμα) modes of communication as allegedly present in 1.22.4.

  • 46 Cf. e.g. Malitz 1982.

Friends or Foes? Herodotus in Thucydides’ Preface


In 1990 Otto Lendle brilliantly observed that it is superfluous to interpret our sentence otherwise than in terms of the simple opposition between, on the one hand, the short-lived pleasure one gets at truth’s expense and, on the other, the lasting advantage at the expense of pleasure. If we impute to Thucydides the notion of unspecified posterity, both ideas lose their logical correlation because the former one would refer to the exceptional intellectual gains of a virtual member of some indefinite audience in future, whereas the latter one would pertain to the pleasure of any conceivable member of the real contemporary public of some ad hoc performances. As a matter of fact, both elements of the opposition elicit two alternative possibilities open to the writer and to his contemporary audience. Thus, we should render the κτῆμα ἐς αἰεί more or less as “the durable possession for the rest of life” of any sensible reader of Thucydides. 47 His superiority is based on far superior standards of his inquiry and his excellent analytical tools. This is all he says. That his great predecessors are targeted here is obvious, but since here too some other candidates for those responsible for ἀγωνίσματα have been proposed, 48 my own answer must wait until the whole Thucydides’ argument is clarified. Recent debates surrounding the meaning of the κτῆμα ἐς αἰεί-phrase have made us less sensitive to the fact that the real clue of the sentence and the culmination of the whole Thucydidean argument we have been analysing thus far reads as follows (1.22.4; trans. by Ch.F. Smith):

“…whoever shall wish to have a clear view both of the events which have happened and of those which will some day, in all human probability, happen again in the same or a similar way—for these to adjudge my history profitable will be enough for me.” In a paper on the meaning of Herodotus’ prologue, I elaborated on the key-position of the idea of τὰ γενόμενα ἐξ ἀνθρώπων at the very beginning of Herodotus’ incipit as well as the coda position of the notion of ἀνθρωπηίη εὐδαιμονίη at the end of the prologue (1.5.4). What I tried to show was that Herodotus’ ambition to present himself as a σοφός, or “sage,” was grounded in his self-proclaimed knowledge of the instability of human affairs, based on his research, ἱστορίη, into human past in all its variety, but especially on his

47 Lendle 1990. 48 Cf. recently Thomas 2000, esp. 267: “It [scil. 1.22.4] should perhaps be understood more widely [scil. more widely than as “a narrow jab at Herodotus alone, or at the sophistic epideixis in its extreme form alone,” ibid.] as a rejection of the agonistic, confrontational and rhetorical mode of intellectual discourse and argument that became popular in the latter part of the fifth century and which Plato also rejected” (cf. in general Thomas 2000, 249-69).

  • 52 Chapter Four

enquiry into the (relatively) recent history of a monumental military conflict: Persian Wars and their antecedents. He also proved his superiority by dismissing the mythical war par excellence, i.e. the Trojan War in the amusing digression about the kidnappings of mythical women. By that, Herodotus imposed his authority on the reader and opposed his wisdom to other genres of wisdom literature and to other Greek “sages.” To put it briefly (let me quote the aforementioned paper), he suggested “that the ‘truth about man,’ and thus the ‘paradigmatic’ value of wisdom literature (be it poetry, philosophy, medicine, history etc.), can only be achieved if founded on the firm ground of ‘historical’ times accessible to diverse tools of ‘inquiry,’ namely in his narrative of a great recent war and its close antecedents.” 49 If we turn now to Thucydides’ prologue, it is very striking that his idea of the utility of his work as a safe ground for political conjecture in future (κατὰ τὸ ἀνθρώπινον, “human nature being what it is”) was put in the corresponding section of his preface; Herodotus also puts his comments on ἀνθρωπηίη εὐδαιμονίη at the end of the proem. Thucydides could not refer his reader to his predecessor more explicitly. What he did in his “archaeology,” continued and concluded by his polemic in 1.20f., and by his methodological chapter 22, was to clear the ground for his own authoritative statements, namely to get rid of his predecessors in much the same way as Herodotus did in his λόγιοι-digression. If we put together the whole introductory argument of his prologue, it becomes clear, I think, that Thucydides shares Herodotus’ conviction of the paradigmatic value of great wars: it is then that human nature can best be perceived. The bigger the war, the better and more representative, to put it anachronistically, the “sample” we get of human condition and of human φύσις. He also endorses Herodotus’ opinion that what we need to grasp it is reliable information about such a conflict based on good analytical tools. 50 Responding to Herodotus, he only radically sharpens his standards. His method will be much more efficient as such, but also applied to a more apprehensible subject, or to the only cognizable one, namely to contemporary events. This is the only way to meet his high standards of τὸ

  • 49 Węcowski 2004a, 158.

  • 50 Thucydides also thinks, as Herodotus did, that one of the most obvious tests of the efficiency of the historian’s analytical tools and of the historical knowledge as such is the capacity to disclose the mechanisms of historical causation. Starting in 1.23.5f., and throughout the rest of Book 1, he produces a multidimensional and clearly anti-Herodotean vision of the causes, origins, and antecedents leading to his war.

Friends or Foes? Herodotus in Thucydides’ Preface


σαφές, or “certainty,” of our knowledge and hence of our historical explanation. By a happy stroke of luck, this subject happens to be not only the best researchable, but also the greatest one, and hence the most representative, of all. The slightly uneasy logic of the prologue is due to the fact that his two main ideas—τὸ σαφές and, say, τὸ μέγεθος (or “greatness” [of the war])—are interwoven and repeatedly intersect in the course of his argument. That is why his overall argument is cumulative. Witness the uneasy logic of the “archaeology,” but also his amplificatio of the war (1.23.1-3). In the latter case, the “sufferings” not so much demonstrate the greatness of his war. They rather belong to a complementary register of Thucydides’ reasoning; the παθήματα are to be linked, I would argue, with the status of this “greatest war” as the best possible “sample” of the human nature and of the human condition. For παθήματα, ἄλγεα, or κακά form a nutshell of the human condition, as shown against the background of great wars, ever since Homer, and do it still in Herodotus. We can still deem this section exaggerated, but it is by no means a direct “proof” of the scope and sheer dimensions of the Peloponnesian War; it is a part of a larger set of ideas. The case of Thucydides’ polemical strategy should be interpreted along these very lines. From the perspective of the true sense, and utility, of his work, it becomes understandable why those targeted in his prologue are personally, although anonymously, Homer and Herodotus. I would argue that he considers them his predecessors and rivals in the field of paradigmatic accounts of great wars. He views both of them as authoritative writers striving in their works for a truth about the human condition. For him, they are both unable to provide their (and his) public with the truth, but still worth debating with. Homer comes out of this polemic (relatively) unhurt, since the main target is Herodotus. Given the scope of Thucydides’ debt to Herodotus as evidenced by the preface and by the organisation of the opening parts of the Peloponnesian War, the latter fully deserves to be regarded as the “teacher” of the former. However, it is shocking indeed how unfair Thucydides can be. It is not only the matter of some minor details stigmatized in ch. 20. Throughout the “archaeology” and more explicitly in his parallel criticism of the “poets” and “logographers,” he ostentatiously measures both categories by the same stick. Both groups devote themselves to the remote past and hence produce only myth-like accounts (cf. τὸ μυθῶδες), excessively embellish their works disregarding the truth altogether. Thucydides totally ignores Herodotus’ historical method when pointing to the “hearsays” the latter (allegedly) relies on and further shamelessly publicize among his

  • 54 Chapter Four

poor public. 51 The most striking is the fact that by criticizing Herodotus and Homer side by side Thucydides intentionally disregards one of the most important and most spectacular accomplishments of the earlier historical writing, namely the qualitative difference between what is adopted κατὰ τὰ λεγόμενα (or from ἀκοαί), usually consisting in particular of the evidence of the “good old poetry,” and what is known (cf., in Herodotus, τῶν ἡμεῖς ἴδμεν) based on one’s research into the matter (as, for instance, in Hdt. 7.20.2). This is by no means a coincidence since establishing this dichotomy was one of the main goals of Herodotus’ preface (see esp. 1.5.3). 52 For Thucydides, any cognition but that gained through a personal observation of events or through impartial cross- questioning of actual witnesses is mere hearsay as opposed to (his) “accuracy” (ἀκρίβεια), the only solid basis of knowledge (1.22.2). From this standpoint, both Homer’s and Herodotus’ endeavours, notwithstanding their ambition to provide deep insights into the human condition, deserve to be called ἀγωνίσματα ἐς τὸ παραχρῆμα ἀκούειν. The only “durable possession” for the Greek public, or κτῆμα ἐς αἰεί, is Thucydides’ own work.


Thucydides’ polemic with Herodotus as deployed in the preface, although in fact highly “personalized,” is kept in anonymous terms— which forms a striking contrast with the reference by name to Hellanicus (1.97.2), precisely, I believe, because the latter issue was a minor one and the latter author’s achievements were intellectually negligible from the standpoint of Thucydides’ overall project. 53 The anonymity of the criticism, both openly stated and implied, may be due to a more serious and ultimately even respectful attitude towards his rivals and predecessors, already “classic” in the field. I believe the intensity of this polemic can only be accounted for in view of a massive “common denominator,” so to say, linking Thucydides and Herodotus, of a deep intellectual proximity as felt, reconsidered, and

  • 51 And Thucydides does this following very closely in his “archaeology” (as well as in his “archaeology” in Book 6) Herodotus’ language and technique, including the “markers of Herodotus’ voice,” as Fowler 1996, 76f. (with n. 106) puts it.

  • 52 Cf., famously, Hdt. 2.99.1.

  • 53 Cf. also the brilliant passing remark by Gomme 1954, 116: “he [Thuc.] paid him [Hdt.] the compliment that later historians were to pay to himself of beginning where he left off, not attempting to do again what he had once done, whereas he must do again what Hellanikos had attempted.”

Friends or Foes? Herodotus in Thucydides’ Preface


conceptualised by the former. What they both monumentally share is their notion of historiography. The ultimate goal of a historical work is to provide the reader, based on a thorough enquiry, with a well-grounded insight into the human condition and human nature. In that, emerging historiography consciously embarks on a rivalry against other genres (wisdom poetry, medicine, philosophy etc.) likewise supposed to offer “wisdom” to their audiences. For both Herodotus and Thucydides, in order to impart a certain vision to the public, a historical work does not resort to openly stated generalisations or programmatic philosophical statements, but rather assumes a meaningful structure as far as the organization of the whole account, or its large sections, is concerned. 54 Witness the notion of auxesis underlying and organising large compositional units in both writers, but also the Thucydidean meaningful contrasts between speeches and narrative and other suggestive traits of his literary accomplishment. 55 In a word, both historians stand shoulder to shoulder within the realm of what I would be tempted to call “paradigmatic historiography.” Needless to say, we are entitled to posit that those days, at the turn of the fifth century BC, there must have been a public capable of grasping and appreciating the “philosophical” (in pre-Platonic terms) message conveyed by grand historical works. In this perspective there is, however, a marked difference between the two historians. As compared with Herodotus, Thucydides is more explicit, as we have seen, e.g., in his straightforward way of deploying the notion of political “growth” in the

54 In the discussion following my talk during the Wrocław conference, Kurt Raaflaub drew my attention to the fact that when presenting his subject matter in the incipit and in the whole prologue Thucydides limits himself to a pre-war perspective. From my point of view it is intriguing that he stresses the “growth- and-peak” (see above) pattern but without hinting at the (all too well known to his public) outcome of the story, so without presenting the whole “growth-peak-and- collapse” model, typical of archaic and classical Greek ethics. The reason for that is not the (to some extent) unrevised state of his work, neither the need for a brief introductory advertisement for the book, but a conscious literary strategy resulting from Thucydides’ ambition to join in the earlier wisdom tradition. His reader will progressively be inculcated with the historian’s view of the human nature based on his detailed narrative of consecutive historical events (signposted at that with revealing speeches or “debates”). This principle of, so to say, cumulative instruction of the reader was characteristic of Herodotus, too. 55 More trivially, we should also mention meaningful selection of episodes, their meaningful temporal order, telling juxtapositions etc. These characteristics do not disappear, of course, with Thucydides. In general, see Romilly 1990; cf. also Rawlings 1981.

  • 56 Chapter Four

introductory sections of the Peloponnesian War 56 —a contrast to Herodotus who relied on his (implied) audience’s skill of extrapolating from the data (and patterns) of a more distant history. This, I would argue, is yet another trace of a new kind of literary public as envisaged by Thucydides. We can assume that he found himself in a new situation, facing a new post-sophistic “literary contract” between the writer and his audience. Also in these terms, Herodotus’ practice was clearly not enough. On the other hand, Thucydides felt like a member of the old tradition of wisdom genres, although he thought he beat all his predecessors. In this respect, he was still within the frames of the same, say, Herodotean, paradigm. Hence, among other things, the heat of his polemic against, and his rivalry with, Herodotus. Despite and beyond some profound differences between them, they share their place on the same side of a Great Divide in the history of Greek, and indeed Graeco-Roman, historiography. The dimensions of this divide can fully be appreciated if we turn to Xenophon, in his Hellenika one of the continuators of Thucydides. Clearly, there is no “paradigmatic historiography” of the kind after Thucydides and no envisaged public of such a historiography. 57 A famous passage of ch. 9 of Aristotle’ Poetics points to the same phenomenon (Arist. Poet. 1451b 4-11; trans. by S. Halliwell, adapted):

The real difference [between a poet and a historian] is this, that one tells what happened and the other what might happen (τὸν μὲν τὰ γενόμενα λέγειν, τὸν δὲ οἷα ἂν γένοιτο). For this reason poetry is something more philosophic and serious than history (διὸ καὶ φιλοσοφώτερον καὶ σπουδαιότερον ποίησις ἱστορίας ἐστίν), because poetry tends to give general truths while history gives particular facts (μὲν γὰρ ποίησις μᾶλλον τὰ καθόλου, ἡ δἱστορία τὰ καθἕκαστον λέγει). By a “general truth” I mean the sort of thing that a certain type of man will do or say either probably or necessarily (…κατὰ τὸ εἰκὸς ἢ τὸ ἀναγκαῖον)…By “particular facts” I mean what Alcibiades did or suffered.

But this is precisely how we could characterize Herodotus and especially Thucydides, the two writers chosen by Aristotle as negative examples of how inferior historiography is to poetry! 58

  • 56 Cf. above, n. 36. The same is true of Thucydides’ explicit statements about his method and of many other characteristics of his writing, but of course not about his implicit dealing with Herodotus, which belongs to another facet of his work.

  • 57 At least for the time being; cf. K.A. Raaflaub in this volume.

  • 58 What is more, our historians clearly comply to Aristotle’s view of the usefulness of tragedy: they do offer mimetic structures of human action embodying the

Friends or Foes? Herodotus in Thucydides’ Preface


It seems highly probable that Aristotle responds in this passage to Thucydides, who stressed the superiority of (his) historiography over poetry, and to his claims of offering to his public a “durable possession” based on the profound understanding of how τὸ ἀνθρώπινον works. Aristotle inverts the earlier hierarchy by deliberately dismissing the Thucydidean notion of factual truth for the sake of a general (or better:

generic) truth of man, τὰ καθόλου. Evidently, Aristotle was unable to grasp the “philosophical” aspect of our historians. 59 However, this is not due to a superficial reading of Thucydides. On the one hand, he was determined by the practice of the new historiography, which made Thucydides’ claims to superior knowledge of “human affairs” look rather naïve (just think here of Xenophon). On the other hand, a totally new notion of philosophy emerged in the meantime and Aristotle feels obliged to come to terms with Thucydides’ self-proclaimed wisdom as encoded in a historical work. 60 At the end of this story philosophy properly speaking strikes back. Let me conclude that it is regrettable that Aristotle ultimately succeeded in persuading the Greeks that historiography by its very nature must be un- philosophical. And it is deplorable indeed that he was able to persuade historians, too. Once their philosophical “common denominator” lost of sight, Herodotus and Thucydides started to drift apart in the eyes of their ancient successors and in our modern perception. The time was ripe for the “Herodotean” and the “Thucydidean” models to hold sway in the field.

generalised patterns of universals and are open to the contemplative mind able to perceive the plot as the dramatic communication of universals (for the Aristotelian mimesis, cf. Halliwell 1986, 79). For this passage in general, cf. also Else 1967, 302-14. For my present purpose, Gomme 1954 (passim) still remains an indispensable commentary on Arist. Poet. 1451b. 59 Did he understand that Alcibiades in Thucydides is not only a historically determined individual, but also incarnates Athens’ energies and drawbacks? I do not think so. 60 One can reasonably ask oneself in more general terms what has happened in the meantime and it is here, after Thucydides, that we may also postulate a hypothetical change in a wider cultural paradigm influencing Greek historiography (and its later assessment)—involving especially the social role of the intellectual and the fora of the communication with his audience (in general, cf. Wallace