History & Historians | Part 2 – The Classical World


“It requires but a glance at the historians of the classical period to see how altered is the point of view from which they write… Herodotus and Diodorus make the writing of their histories a life-work. They travel from one county to another, and familiarize themselves with their subject as much as possible first hand. They mingle with the scholars of many land, and listen to their recitals of the annals of their respective peoples. They weigh and consider, though in a quite different mental balance from that which an historian uses today. They spend thirty, forty years in composing their books. From them, we have not a single event but universal histories… In their interest for the general reader, they have perhaps never been excelled. And in this citation of fact and fable they become a storehouse upon which succeeding generations of historians have drawn to this day.”

“There are other historians of the period no less remarkable, some of them even superior… The names of Thucydides, Xenophon, Polybius among the Greeks; of Tacitus, Livy, Caesar among the Romans… Several of these were men who participated in the events they described, and confining themselves to limited periods, treated these periods in such masterly fashion, with such breadth of view and discriminating judgment, that their verdicts have weight with all succeeding generations… Clearly, then, this was a culminating epoch in the writing of histories…”

Excerpted from: The Historians' History of the World: Prolegomena; Egypt, Mesopotamia edited by Henry Smith Williams, Volume 1, 1907. (3)

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