Monday, January 04, 2010

Is Thucydides a Spin Doctor?

I stumbled upon this article on Thucydides while searching for archeological news on Ancient Greece and thought it might be of interest to my readers:

Was Ancient Historian One Of The First Spin Doctors?

Normally it's Herodotus who takes a brutal beating for spinning tales and composing stories (Thucydides himself once lead the charge), but Yale professor Dr. Donald Kagan dares to suggest that the pragmatic historian may have done some spinning of his own. His book Thucydides: The Reinvention of History tries to prove this point.

I haven't read the book (though I plan to), but it made me think: is history really always written by the winners? Is there any such thing as an un-biased historian? Can history really be re-invented? Or is it simply erased, glossed over by those who don't want the truth to come out?


Daphne Of Argos said...

I think History is written by the winners, however, there are those who will go to great lengths to deny written proof. the dictators in the Middle East for example are denying the fact that the holocaust happened, yet we have records and actual grave sites/ concentration camps sites and those who survived those horrific death camps to prove other wise.

History is how we interupet the facts (and misinformation)

sorry for my spelling errors.

Gary Corby said...

Thucydides is a rare but vastly important case of history being written by the loser. A loser twice over because not only did Athens lose, but Thucydides was less than pleased with his own city's politics.

There's long been debate about Thucydides' reported speeches. Especially the Melos dialogues. But overall I can't, off-hand, think of a reason why he should be considered less trustworthy than modern historians.

Rick said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rick said...

Kagan may have a contemporary agenda. He has quite hawkish views on US foreign policy, and from that perspective would want to buff up the reputation of the Athenian hardliners and push back against Thucydides and his 'imperial overstretch' interpretation.

(Proviso that I haven't read Kagan's book, and am going by reviews that themselves have a contemporary agenda. Meta, meta.)

That said, it is hardly news that Thucydides' set piece speeches are not transcriptions, and are more his own perspective than what people actually said in those debates.

I don't think history can be unbiased, but the more thorough the account, the more we can evaluate it on our own. This was the great genius of Herodotus in the first place, which Thucydides followed. (Herodotus is way underrated, IMHO.)

Gary Corby said...

Hi Rick, I'm sure their views are similar, but you might be confusing Kagan pere, who's a professional historian, with Kagan fils, who's a conservative advisor?

Rick said...

Oops. Yes, I thought it was one guy doing a double gig, just like Victor Davis Hanson.

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