Review Of Owen’s Thucydides -- By: James Hadley
BSac 5:20 (Nov 1848) p. 777
Review Of Owen’s Thucydides
Thucydides is not the earliest Grecian writer to whom we give the name historian; yet the earliest of historians could not have been more thoroughly original. Alike in the conception and the execution of his work he shows himself independent of his predecessors. He has his own notions as to the scope and aim of history. Others had been mythographers, annalists, story-tellers; it was his purpose to be something widely different. He could not content himself with reproducing the mere form and surface of the past, in a bare chronicle of outward actions and appearances; he sought to account for the past, to show how that which had been came to be. Nor in this attempt was he satisfied with attributing everything singular or mysterious to
BSac 5:20 (Nov 1848) p. 778
an ever ready supernatural machinery. In the public life of States he saw the product of natural causes, the work of human agency, in which the common character of man is seen under the modifying influences of diverse political conditions. Man acting through the social and civil forms which man has organized to shape his action—this is the great idea of Thucydides. Hence his continual eagerness to get behind the outward act, to bring out the circumstances and the motives in which it had its origin, and thus to show that it was nothing capricious, arbitrary, unaccountable, but the very thing which was to be expected from such a character in such a situation. Hence too his confident belief that what has been will be; history, having its foundation in the nature of man, which is always essentially the same, must present essentially the same phenomena from age to age. With this view he does not hesitate about applying to the past the maxims of the present, as in his exhibition of heroic times; nor does he doubt that the present will reappear in the future, and so writes his book as a κτῆμα ἐς ἀεί, that men may derive instruction from its precedents in every similar concurrence of events. Thus history—historic writing —is in his view the past giving lessons to the future; and its proper effect, to make that future not essentially different from the past, but only wiser and better.
Original in his conception of history, Thucydides is no less original in historical criticism. Unlike his predecessors, he does not receive with simple faith everything which he has heard. He balances evidence; he weighs authorities; he discusses probabilities; he is ever on his guard against deception. Everything claiming to be fact is subjected to a strict examination; and rigorously set aside unless it can make good its claim. In Thucydides, cautious, penetrating and exact, the modern historiographer finds his best...
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