Did ideal Greco-Roman historiographers work hard to relay honest witness testimony (the more direct/1st hand the better)?

“Yes, after all…
  • Historians laboriously investigated

    Before writing their historical works, 1st century Greco-Roman historiographers tended to laboriously investigate the relevant issues surrounding their topics of choice.

    This page analyzes 8 arguments:

    • The works internally exemplify hard work.
    • Historians imply that labor was the required norm.
    • “Historia” (ἱστορία) denotes a laborious research.
    • Historians testify to laboring to get info.
    • Polybius calls Timaeus the laziest historian.
    • Agatharchides: “old men couldn’t do it!”.
    • Siculus: “Some historians die before completing!”
    • Historians strove for a 1st-hand-as-possible history

    This is relevant because this goal is irrelevant unless one’s wider goal is to report the truth. [This is relevant because the laborious investigation involved consulting witnesses and local experts who knew witnesses in order for one’s account to be as 1st hand (and close to the tr]uth) as possible..1

    1. For example, consider Thucydides:
      Thucydides: “I took great pains to make out the exact truth. …associating with both sides, with the Peloponnesians quite as much as with the Athenian” [History of the Peloponnesian War 5.26] For example:
      Thucydides: “Of the events of the war I have not ventured to speak from any chance information, nor according to any notion of my own; I have described nothing but what I either saw myself, or learned from others of whom I made the most careful and particular enquiry.” [History of the Peloponnesian War 1.22.2]
      Thucydides: “I did not even trust my own impressions, but it rests partly on what I saw myself, partly on what others saw for me, the accuracy of the report being always tried by the most severe and detailed tests possible. My conclusions have cost me some labour from the want of coincidence between accounts of the same occurrences by different eye-witnesses, arising sometimes from imperfect memory, sometimes from undue partiality for one side or the other. [History of the Peloponnesian War 2.22]
      Thucydides: “This is what the Thebans say and they allege that they [viz., the Plataeans] took an oath. The Plataeans do not agree …” [History of the Peloponnesian War 2.5:5-6]
  • Historians oft say “witness testimony only!”

    In cases where witnesses were available, historians commenting on what is expected of historiography would often outright say interviewing them was required.

    This page analyzes 4 arguments:

    • Polybius etc. say “only share/relay 1st hand info”
    • Plutarch etc. 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.

    This is relevant because it represents an ideal (even if they did not always meet it). It is safe to assume that, if they could not get witness testimony, they got something as close as possible so that their work would still be witness-based.

  • In fact, they strove to echo “from beginning” witnesses

    Ideal Greco-Roman historiographer strove to relay information from eyewitnesses who were sufficiently involved and ideally saw the whole thing.

    This page analyzes 2 arguments:

    • Historians boasted of seeing it all “from the beginning.”
    • “From the beginning” is a historiography-implying phrase.

    This is relevant because, if it is true, then it is also true that historians strove to be as 1st hand as possible (because witnesses who saw it all from the beginning are a kind of 1st hand source).

  • Ancients prize testimony being 1st hand as possible

    A man with an eyeball for a head has an empty speech bubble. Three people sit on the floor facing him with hearts above their head. A Greek column is in the background.

    Greco-Roman inquirers about the past place great value the source's being directly witness-based, or close enough.

    This page analyzes 5 arguments:

    • Ancients were oft critical thinkers.
    • Polybius etc. say “all agree” 1st hand is best.
    • Most inquiry in the past valued witness-testimony.
    • Ancients oft said “seeing beats hearing.”
    • E.g. Historians oft felt 2nd-3rd hand etc. is unacceptable.

    This is relevant because it would lead us to expect that Greco-Roman historians would strive to obtain and relay honest witness testimony.

    On the other hand, this counterevidence is also analyzed in the linked page:

    • They didn't even prize witness testimony.
  • Histories did get witness approval and/or close

    If you're following the tree, you have arrived at a circle. Otherwise, see the full page discussion here.

“No, after all…
  • Greco-Romans didn’t care if testimony was 1st or 9th hand

    A man with an eyeball for a head has an empty speech bubble. Three people sit on the floor facing him with hearts above their head. A Greek column is in the background.

    Greco-Roman inquirers about the past place little to no value on whether the source was directly witness-based closed to being such.

    This page analyzes one evidence:

    • They didn't even prize witness testimony.

    But against the accuracy of that claim (also discussed in the above page)...

    • Ancients were oft critical thinkers.
    • Polybius etc. say “all agree” 1st hand is best.
    • Most inquiry in the past valued witness-testimony.
    • Ancients oft said “seeing beats hearing.”
    • E.g. Historians oft felt 2nd-3rd hand etc. is unacceptable
  • Historians didn’t even work to investigate

    Greco-Roman historiographers didn't really put much work into preparing for their histories.

    This page considers 2 claims/arguments…

    • Historians didn’t critically examine their sources.
    • Ancient historians regularly produced errors.

    This is relevant because then they wouldn’t strive in this particular way: to produce a 1st-hand-as-possible history.

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