Thucydides: Narrative and Explanation (Oxford Classical Monographs)

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In the Company of Scholars: "How to Write a War: Thucydides and the Literature of the 1st World War"

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The Vintage Vagabonds presents Clean text. Shipping and handling. This item will ship to Germany , but the seller has not specified shipping options. A first step in this direction has already been taken by Rutger Allan in a paper on narrative modes in Thucydides. Analyzing such linguistic phenomena as tense, particles, and mood together with focalization and other narratological categories, Allan distinguishes four modes of narrative in Thucydides: a displaced diegetic mode, an immediate diegetic mode, a descriptive mode, and a discursive mode.

Even if we were to accept this definition, which conflicts with the widely accepted narratological notion of description, the distinction drawn turns out to be not so much between two different modes as between different stages of an event, such as the main tide of a battle and the final rout. The difference, it seems, resides more at the level of res gestae than in their narrative presentation. Does it here make sense to speak of two narrative modes that are as different from each other as from the discursive mode? A final point: the efforts of ancient historians to bring the past to life in their narratives can be fruitfully seen in light of a current debate in the theory of history.

The concern with emplotment, it seems, is more and more replaced by an interest in the presence of the past. He has thus been criticized for eliding the ontological distinction between res gestae and historia rerum gestarum Jenkins, , p. Studies of presence in ancient historiography not only chime well with this debate in the theory of history; they can also, I suggest, contribute something to it, maybe even steer it in a new direction see also Grethlein, a.

The New Romanticists tend to be dismissive of narrative. The volte against the linguistic turn fully explains this attitude; nonetheless, it ignores important aspects of narrative. In this context, ancient historiography and ancient criticism can remind us of the capacity of narrative to make the past present and make reading experiential. My grammar of historiographic time is not complete yet; tense needs to be complemented by mood.

Herodotus provides a notable example of history in the subjunctive 7. If the Athenians had taken fright at the danger that was bearing down on them and had abandoned their country, or if they had stayed put where they were but had surrendered to Xerxes, no one would have tried to resist Xerxes at sea. What would have happened on land, then? Even if the Peloponnesians had built wall after defensive wall across the Isthmus, the Lacedaemonians would still have been let down by their allies, not out of deliberate treachery, but because they would have had no choice, in the sense that they would have fallen one by one to the Persian fleet.

So the Lacedaemonians would have been left all alone, and in that situation they would have shown their mettle and fought bravely and well—and died nobly. Or an alternative scenario, instead of this one, is that before matters went this far they would have seen that the rest of Greece was collaborating with the Persians and so they would have come to terms with Xerxes. But in either case Greece would have come under Persian rule, because I cannot see what good the defensive wall built across the Isthmus would have done with Xerxes controlling the sea.

As things are, however, anyone who claims that the Athenians proved themselves to be the saviours of Greece would be perfectly correct, because the scales were bound to tilt in favour of whichever side Athens joined. The virtual history unfolded in this passage is elaborate for more detailed readings of the passage, see Demand, ; Pelling, Herodotus concatenates two counterfactuals—the speculation about the development on land hinges on the condition that there would have been no defence by sea—and considers various alternative courses within this frame.

The past two decades have seen a rehabilitation of virtual history the literature is vast; see, e. For an instructive survey, see Weinryb, As the Herodotus passage quoted illustrates, counterfactuals are a means of vetting causal relations: the reflection on the fate of Greece had the Athenians not marshalled their fleet drives home that their resistance was the cause of Greek liberty.

Moreover, counterfactuals are an important reminder of the openness of the past to various developments. In retrospect we tend to take the actual course for granted. To counteract this, the thought experiment of an alternative scenario alerts us to the contingency faced by the historical actors. Taking into account their perspective as well as proving causalities is further crucial to evaluating the decisions and actions of historical actors.

That said, counterfactuals should be handled with great care: as the discussion of the covering-law model demonstrated, history cannot be reconstructed as a chain of mechanical causalities. The complexity of historical developments suggests limiting the speculation about alternative courses to short periods. Counterfactuals would be a great topic for a comparative study of more than one historian. Being a clearly defined device, they allow one to pinpoint crucial aspects of historiography on counterfactuals in ancient historians, see Pelling, ; also Flory, ; Grethlein, b , pp. History in the subjunctive becomes tangible in unreal condition clauses, but it is by no means confined to the form of counterfactual sentences.

While including counterfactuals, sideshadowing also grasps less explicit forms of virtual history.

In the Anabasis , for example, the idea of a colony sideshadows the major plot line cf. Grethlein, a , pp. As already mentioned, Xenophon subverts the idea of nostos , but nonetheless the core of the Ten Thousand returns to the Greek settlements at the coast of the Mediterranean. At the same time, the possibility that the Greeks settle down in Asia forms an alternative scenario that comes to the fore at different junctures.

We are easily trapped by the retrospective fallacy and unconsciously assume that the expedition had to take the course it took. Against this, the sideshadow reminds us that other outcomes were possible too. The various forms of sideshadowing await further exploration that would pave the way for comparing its usage not only by different historians but also across genres.

Again, the analysis of a narrative device can shed light on crucial aspects of historiography. Sideshadowing brings me to my final point that marks the limitation of the approach outlined here. I hope to have shown that a focus on time permits us to tackle central issues of historiography. Something striking, though, has gone unnoticed so far: speaking of time in narrative, I have made heavy use of spatial metaphors. The German word for history, Geschichte , seems to pun on this as it evokes the term Schicht level.

Historiographic time, it seems, is inextricably linked to space, literal and metaphorical. A grammar of historiographic time needs to be complemented by a cartography of space in historiography for thought-provoking approaches to space in ancient historiography, see Greenwood, in press ; Payen, ; Purves, The writing of this essay has been funded by the European Research Council as part of the project AncNar I thank Luuk Huitink as well as an anonymous reader for their thought-provoking suggestions.

Alcock, S. Archaeologies of the Greek past: Landscape, monuments, and memories. New York: Cambridge University Press. Find this resource:. Allan, R. Lallot et al.


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Narratology and Narrative Techniques in Thucydides

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