Historiography and Censorship Criticism - Essay

Thomas Babington Macaulay (essay date 1828)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: "History and Literature: Thomas Babington Macaulay," in The Varieties of History: From Voltaire to the Present, revised edition, edited by Fritz Stern, Macmillan and Co., 1970, pp. 71-89.

[Macaulay was a respected English writer and statesman whose best-known work is The History of England (1848-61), covering the reigns of James II and William III. In the following excerpt from his essay "History, " first published in the Edinburgh Review in 1828, he comments on Herodotus and Thucydides in the context of separating truth from fiction in historical writing.]

To write history respectably—that is, to abbreviate despatches, and make extracts...

(The entire section is 2910 words.)

Arnold J. Toynbee (essay date 1924)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: An introduction to Greek Historical Thought, from Homer to the Age of Heraclius, translated by Arnorld J. Toynbee, 1924. Reprint by The Beacon Press, 1950, pp. v-xxviii.

[Toynbee was an eminent English sociologist and economist. In the following excerpt from his work on Greek historians, he argues that the writers included in this category were neither, by and large, solely Greek, nor only historians, because they also contributed to other genres.]

Ancient Greek or Hellenic historical thought began at the moment when the first rudiments of the poetry of Homer shaped themselves in Greek minds. It came to an end when Homer yielded precedence to the Bible as the sacred...

(The entire section is 4154 words.)

R. G. Collingwood (essay date 1946)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: "Greco-Roman Historiography," in The Idea of History, 1946. Reprint by Oxford University Press, 1963, pp. 14-45.

[In the following excerpt, Collingwood analyzes some of the mental predispositions of Greek historians that influenced their view of history, historical writing, and the role of the historian.]

… I should like to point out how remarkable a thing is [the] creation of scientific history by Herodotus, for he was an ancient Greek, and ancient Greek thought as a whole has a very definite prevailing tendency not only uncongenial to the growth of historical thought but actually based, one might say, on a rigorously anti-historical metaphysics. History is...

(The entire section is 3444 words.)

M. I. Finley (essay date 1959)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: An introduction to The Greek Historians: The Essence of Herodotus, Thucydides, Xenophon, Polybius, edited by M. I. Finley, The Viking Press, 1959, pp. 1-21.

[In the excerpt below, Finley explores the evolution of Greek historical thought, noting significant milestones in the shaping of the historians ' worldview, and concluding that "In the end, its intense political orientation, which was the great force behind the histories of Herodotus and Thucydides, was the fatal flaw in Greek historical writing. "]

History in its root sense means inquiry. For a considerable time before it took on the specific, narrower meaning the word now has, and even long...

(The entire section is 6876 words.)

Aubrey de Sélincourt (essay date 1962)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Greek Feeling for History," in The World of Herodotus, Little, Brown and Company, 1962, pp. 21-27.

[Here, de Sélincourt enumerates some of the main reasons why Greek tradition is comparatively poor in the area of history.]

Greek literature, the richest in the world after our own, Is comparatively poor in the department of history. Only two Greek historians have a title to greatness: Herodotus, first in time and incomparably the greater, and Thucydides. Xenophon, who continued the story of Greece where Thucydides left it, was a second-rate historian; he did indeed write one good book, his account—a splendid piece of first-hand reporting—of the...

(The entire section is 2560 words.)

Stephen Usher (essay date 1970)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: "Some Minor Historians," in The Historians of Greece and Rome, Taplinger Publishing Company, 1970, pp. 235-57.

[In the following excerpt, Usher presents an overview of two minor Greek historians-Diodorus of Sicily and Dionysius of Halicarnassus-who were émigrés living and working in Rome during the latter part of the first century B.C.]

Beginning with Diodorus of Sicily, we encounter history in its broadest conception. He inherited the idea of universal history from Ephorus, divested it of its Greek orientation, and included the whole of the inhabited world in a compendious Library of History. No less a Greek than Ephorus, he was convinced by two...

(The entire section is 2541 words.)

M. I. Finley (essay date 1975)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: "Myth, Memory, and History," in The Use and Abuse of History, The Viking Press, 1975, pp. 11-33.

[In the excerpt below, Finley examines the interaction between myth, memory, and history in Greek culture and writing, and posits that, because of certain methodological and metaphysical limitations, after the time of Herodotus and Thucydides, "serious Greek historical writing was about contemporary history" only.]

The Fathers of History were Greeks. Historians of antiquity are very proud of that, so much so that they prefer not to remember that some of the best minds in antiquity were not all impressed by this achievement. History as a discipline has always...

(The entire section is 10555 words.)

Arnaldo Momigliano (essay date 1978)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: "Greek Historiography," in History and Theory, Vol. XVII, No. 1, 1978, pp. 1-28.

[Below, Momigliano, a notable Italian historian, discusses the nature, transmission, and reception of Greek historical models and methods, noting that, even given its limitations for the modern historian, the significance of Greek historiography lies in the fact that it "spread among non-Greeks and became an international form of communication. "


Like the ancient Romans we are conscious of having inherited "history" …[istoria] from the Greeks. Herodotus is to us the "father of history," as he was to Cicero. We are also conscious that history has...

(The entire section is 10306 words.)