Did Greco-Roman historiographers tend to successfully ground their material in witness testimony or approval?
Did Greco-Roman historiographers, especially around Plutarch’s time (AD 100), tend to successfully ground their material in witness approval (directly or nearly directly)? Did they successfully acquire witness testimony for many/most/all claims in their historical work, especially those in the recent past?
- Samuel Byrskog: “Thucydides, Xenophon, Polybius and Josephus are eyewitnesses as well as historians. Approaching the time of the emerging gospel tradition in early Christianity, it is evident that autopsy [i.e. witness testimony] was not only an integrated part of the historians' methodological repertoire, but also closely linked to their own life-stories and experiences.” [Story as History—History as Story (Westminster, 1987), 65.]
Greco-Roman histories self-identify as witness-grounded
Historical works from the Greco-Roman mediterranean proudly self-identity as relaying witness testimony.
This page analyzes 4 arguments:
- Polybius etc. testify to relaying witness testimony, and the practice of these historians is sufficiently representative of historian ideals and standard expectations in the 1st and 2nd century.
- Historians oft say: “I saw this all 1st hand”, and yet they didn't much report on all the other events they had a surplus of mere documents on. This combination of facts testifies to their preference for relaying witness testimony and being most proud of it. They were also very critical of histories failing to meet this standard.
- Histories cited witnesses via emphasis which trivially includes the implicit claim that their work was grounded in witness-testimony.
- Histories DID get witness-testimony or close, and this it is unlikely that this fact was not communicated implicitly (e.g. through conventinos of writing) and/or explicitly.
Insofar as these histories were truly claiming to be witness-grounded, in the absense of reason to think otherwise it is hard to deny that they probably were witness-grounded.
- Historians didn’t even strive to produce a witness-based history. [See page link above.]
Historians strove for a 1st-hand-as-possible history
Ideal Greco-Roman historiographers worked hard to relay honest witness testimony, and in their eyes: the more direct/1st hand the testimony was, the better it was.
This page analyzes some examples and 6 arguments…
- Histories DID get witness approval and/or close.
- Historians oft say “witness testimony only!”
- Lying historiographers pretended to be or use witnesses.
- Ancients prize testimony being 1st hand as possible.
- Greco-Roman histories self-claim to be true.
- Ancients strove to echo “from beginning” witnesses.
This is relevant because they were fairly able to produce a true history with effort. Exceptions abound, but for the most part they wrote within the witness-era or shortly after, making it likely that most of their material did enjoy witness-approval or close.
Historians oft felt 2nd-3rd hand etc. unacceptable
Greco-Roman historiographers tended to lambast the use of hearsay in their reports (especially when witnesses were available).
This page analyzes these 5 arguments:
- Historians insist “ONLY share/relay 1st hand info.”
- Historians say hearsay is a last resort.
- That’s wrapped into the definition of historia” (ἱστορία).
- Historians usually stuck to writing in the witness-age.
- Historians labored to produce direct witness-based history.
On the other hand, arguably…
Greco-Roman histories self-claim to be true
Historiographical works belong to a truth-aimed genre, and they are intrinsically claiming to accurately recount the past as it actually happened.
This page analyzes 4 arguments…
- Polybius etc. say they were aiming for accuracy.
- Historians strove to produce 1st-hand-as-possible history.
- Historians laboriously collected info/investigated.
- Historians critically examined claims.
This is relevant because, if they tried, these historians would be generally successful in actually grounding their material in witness testimony or approval, or at least be able to discern whether they succeeded in their attempt. So it is all the more relevant that they did publish their history.