Ancient Historians did not write history?

The following thoughts are retransmitted from and the product of a discussion held by Dr. Kurt Raaflaub, emeritus professor from Brown University, at The University of Missouri on the Ulterior Motives of these historians.

When the word history is mentioned, there is a certain preconception held, namely that there will follow a discussion of those events that came before. Often this would take the form of a simple narrative, with the emphasis on what happened, though with some discussion, too, of why, how, and the repercussions. In Greece and Rome there was a somewhat different conception of history.

What happened was of secondary importance, especially in contrast to why, how, and the overarching patterns. To this end, and to maintain audience interest, speeches could be added, depictions exaggerated, etc. At one level the changes fit the broader picture sought by the author, but at another it was meant as a tool of immediacy, a way to bring the past events home to the reader or listener.

Due to these it was suggested that perhaps ‘history’ is not the best descriptor of what these people were doing, but something of historical importance that also bears resemblance and kinship with drama, biography, poetry and others forms of artistic production. In particular there is the reverse assumption from today, not that the historian must remain removed from the subject, but that the historian must have personal involvement and passion (though not rancor)for the subject matter.