- Explain how epic poetry influenced the development of classical Greek historical texts
- The formative influence of the Homeric epics in shaping Greek culture was widely recognized, and Homer was described as the teacher of Greece.
- The Iliad, sometimes referred to as the Song of Ilion or Song of Ilium, is set during the Trojan War and recounts the battles and events surrounding a quarrel between King Agamemnon and the warrior Achilles.
- Herodotus is referred to as “The Father of History,” and is the first historian known to have broken from Homeric tradition in order to treat historical subjects as a method of investigation arranged into a historiographic narrative.
- Thucydides, who had been trained in rhetoric, provided a model of historical prose-writing based more firmly in factual progression of a narrative, whereas Herodotus, due to frequent digressions and asides, appeared to minimize his authorial control.
- Thucydides is sometimes known as the father of “scientific history,” or an early precursor to 20th century scientific positivism, because of his strict adherence to evidence-gathering and analysis of historical cause and effect without reference to divine intervention.
- Despite its heavy political slant, scholars cite strong literary and philosophical influences in Thucydides’ work.
A Greek poet of the 7th or 8th century BCE; author of the Iliad and the Odyssey.
A form of meter in poetry or a rhythmic scheme. Traditionally associated with the quantitative meter of classical epic poetry in both Greek and Latin, and consequently considered to be the grand style of classical poetry.
In the Western classical tradition, Homer is the author of the Iliad and the Odyssey, and is revered as the greatest of ancient Greek epic poets. These epics lie at the beginning of the Western canon of literature, and have had an enormous influence on the history of literature.
Whether and when Homer lived is unknown. The ancient Greek author Herodotus estimates that Homer lived 400 years before his own time, which would place him at around 850 BCE, while other ancient sources claim that he lived much nearer to the supposed time of the Trojan War, in the early 12th century BCE. Most modern researchers place Homer in the 7th or 8th centuries BCE.
The formative influence of the Homeric epics in shaping Greek culture was widely recognized, and Homer was described as the “Teacher of Greece.” Homer’s works, some 50% of which are speeches, provided models in persuasive speaking and writing that were emulated throughout the ancient and medieval Greek worlds. Fragments of Homer account for nearly half of all identifiable Greek literary papyrus finds.
The Iliad (sometimes referred to as the Song of Ilion or Song of Ilium) is an ancient Greek epic poem in dactylic hexameter. Set during the Trojan War (the ten-year siege of the city of Troy (Ilium) by a coalition of Greek states), it tells of the battles and events surrounding a quarrel between King Agamemnon and the warrior Achilles. Although the story covers only a few weeks in the final year of the war, the Iliad mentions or alludes to many of the Greek legends about the siege. The epic narrative describes events prophesied for the future, such as Achilles’ looming death and the sack of Troy. The events are prefigured and alluded to more and more vividly, so that when the story reaches an end, the poem has told a more or less complete tale of the Trojan War.
Nineteenth century excavations at Hisarlik provided scholars with historical evidence for the events of the Trojan War, as told by Homer in the Iliad. Additionally, linguistic studies into oral epic traditions in nearby civilizations, and the deciphering of Linear B in the 1950s, provided further evidence that the Homeric poems could have been derived from oral transmissions of long-form tales about a war that actually took place. The likely historicity of the Iliad as a piece of literature, however, must be balanced against the creative license that would have been taken over years of transmission, as well as the alteration of historical fact to conform with tribal preferences and provide entertainment value to its intended audiences.
Herodotus was a Greek historian who was born in Halicarnassus (modern-day Bodrum, Turkey) and lived in the 5th century BCE. He was a contemporary of Socrates. He is referred to as “The Father of History” and is the first historian known to have broken from Homeric tradition in order to treat historical subjects as a method of investigation arranged into a historiographic narrative. His only known work is a history on the origins of the Greco-Persian Wars, entitled, The Histories. Herodotus states that he only reports that which was told to him, and some of his stories are fanciful and/or inaccurate; however, the majority of his information appears to be accurate.
Athenian tragic poets and storytellers appear to have provided heavy inspiration for Herodotus, as did Homer. Herodotus appears to have drawn on an Ionian tradition of storytelling, collecting and interpreting oral histories he happened upon during his travels in much the same way that oral poetry formed the basis for much of Homer’s works. While these oral histories often contained folk-tale motifs and fed into a central moral, they also related verifiable facts relating to geography, anthropology, and history. For this reason, Herodotus drew criticism from his contemporaries, being touted as a mere storyteller and even a falsifier of information. In contrast to this type of approach, Thucydides, who had been trained in rhetoric, provided a model of historical prose-writing based more firmly in factual progression of a narrative, whereas Herodotus, due to frequent digressions and asides, appeared to minimize his authorial control.
Thucydides was an Athenian historian and general. His History of the Peloponnesian War recounts the 5th century BCE war between Athens and Sparta. Thucydides is sometimes known as the father of “scientific history,” or an early precursor to 20thcentury scientific positivism, because of his strict adherence to evidence-gathering and analysis of historical cause and effect without reference to divine intervention. He is also considered the father of political realism, which is a school of thought within the realm of political science that views the political behavior of individuals and the relations between states to be governed by self-interest and fear. More generally, Thucydides’ texts show concern with understanding why individuals react the way they do during such crises as plague, massacres, and civil war.
Unlike Herodotus, Thucydides did not view his historical accounts as a source of moral lessons, but rather as a factual reporting of contemporary political and military events. Thucydides viewed life in political terms rather than moral terms, and viewed history in political terms. Thucydides also tended to omit, or at least downplay, geographic and ethnographic aspects of events from his work, whereas Herodotus recorded all information as part of the narrative. Thucydides’ accounts are generally held to be more unambiguous and reliable than those of Herodotus. However, unlike his predecessor, Thucydides does not reveal his sources. Curiously, although subsequent Greek historians, such as Plutarch, held up Thucydides’ writings as a model for scholars of their field, many of them continued to view history as a source of moral lessons, as did Herodotus.
Despite its heavy political slant, scholars cite strong literary and philosophical influences in Thucydides’ work. In particular, the History of the Peloponnesian Warechoes the narrative tradition of Homer, and draws heavily from epic poetry and tragedy to construct what is essentially a positivistic account of world events. Additionally, it brings to the forefront themes of justice and suffering in a similar manner to the philosophical texts of Aristotle and Plato.