Greek and Roman Historians: Information and Misinformation by Michael Grant

By Michael Grant

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The main significance of the work lies in this information, since it is otherwise a period about which we are inadequately enlightened. Another reason for its significance is the moderation of Ammianus (despite certain partisanships); such a quality was infrequently encountered at the time, or indeed among ancient historians in general. Ammianus provides subtle assessments, and displays an acute comprehension. But the work is also interesting because of his conviction that the empire, like eternal Rome itself, would last for ever.

35 Polybius writes thus because he wants to denounce a growing tendency to assimilate history and tragic poetry still further. In particular, he wishes to attack Phylarchus (p. 111) for writing, apparently, history that was too close to tragedy, and appealing too much to the emotions, with the consequent sacrifice of accuracy. And Polybius considered the style of Timaeus to be that of ‘third-rate historical tragedy’,36 although it must be confessed that when he himself wrote about King Philip II of Macedonia he was not guiltless of tragic history.

The choice of contemporary themes by… Aeschylus shows clearly the wish of the author to express views of contemporary relevance…. The fact that Sophocles took an active part in the political life of Athens, even holding office, does not make the historical interpretation of his tragedies any easier…. The historical use of tragedy is on safer ground when it pursues an understanding of an astonishingly lively milieu, in social, political and cultural terms, and of an age passionately involved in dramatic choices.

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