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Thread: A Curious Detail About Greek Historiography

  1. #1

    Default A Curious Detail About Greek Historiography

    I made this thread here because I would expect the EB team to shed some light into the subject, which is not far removed from the 270 timeframe.

    Basically, I've read yesterday the account of Alexander of Epirus' invasion of Italy, detailed in a translation of Hermann Schreiber's "Throne unter Schutt und Sand", an archaelogical romance.

    Anyway, as you probably know already Alexander was a Molossos by birth, and was king in the latter half of the IVth century. The most interesting part though is the account of his Italian campaign: according to the book, an oracle in Epirus had predicted to Alexander that he "should be careful with the city of Pandosia and the river Acheron". Since there were both a city and a river with these respective names in Epirus, Alexander was eager to go to Italy so he could avoid them in his campaign.

    It just happened that later in Italy, as Alexander was trying to cross a turbulent river with his army, a soldier suddenly mumbled about how the river "made justice to its name of Acheron". And indeed, Alexander soon discovered that a certain Lucanian city of Pandosia laid nearby, thereby fulfilling the oracle's prophecy! And it happened that as Alexander realized this, lucanian hosts attacked him so he, without hesitation, set on to cross the river to meet them when he was impaled by a spear and thrown dead, carried by the river.

    I still have some doubts about this account since archaelogical romances are not notoriously reliable, despite being interesting. There are indeed both an Acheron and a Pandosia in Greece, but so far I was unable to verify if such names exist in the Italic peninsula at all. I would really like to know if there are any original Greek accounts on the death of King Alexander that prove this story.

    But the most interesting part is that it has a notorious resemblance to other parts of Greek historiography and even theatre. Greek Oracle stories are probably famous, and Alexander's death bears resemblance to Croesus' own demise, as well as the famous play Oedipus Rex. All of them are centered around the theme of usually powerful figures attempting to evade prophecy only to find out later that they unintentionally fulfilled it just by doing it .

    This puts some light into my questions: how much is Greek, and maybe all Ancient historiography influenced by legends and popular storylines such as these? And most importantly how can modern historians accurately deduce how things happened and avoid even subtle myths when dealing with ancient accounts and historiography? Of course I've never believed in the Oracle, but now I'm curious on whether such accounts can be roughly trusted or if we really can't have any idea on how Croesus et all perished or met their demise.

    And of course I was just eager to share the similarities with the forums anyway .

  2. #2
    green thingy Member the tokai's Avatar
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    Default Re: A Curious Detail About Greek Historiography

    Well Ancient Greek historiography is somewhat of a tricky business, mainly because, as you noted, myths do tend to play a part in them. But dismissing it's historical value altogether because of this is a somewhat hasty conclusion.

    Ancient Greek historiography has three main pillars, namely the Ionian descriptions of personal travels, like those of Anaximander and Hekataios, myths and poetry, with Homeros being the most famous example, and lastly geneologies of heroes and poleis, wich also included their fair share of mythology. It is of course mainly with those last two things that one has to be carefull, but the first can give us some fairly reliable information. Historians are actually divided on this issue, some dismissing Greek historiography altogether as a reliable source, but most tend to view it as somewhat usefull, provided there is some knowledge about the context of the writing and the writer. It should also be noticed that Greek Historiography spans hundreds of years and had many different authors, so reliability can also vary from case to case.

    When it comes to the similarity's between the deaths of Croessus and Alexander, it should be noted that Greeks tended to view history as circular, as opposed to the Christian and Judean view of a more linear history. So pointing out where history repeated itself was a rather common aspect of Ancient Greek Historiography.
    Wheel down, wheel down to southward! Oh, Gooverooska, go!
    And tell the Deep-Sea Viceroys the story of our woe;
    Ere, empty as the shark's egg the tempest flings ashore,
    The Beaches of Lukannon shall know their sons no more!

    Rudyard Kipling, Lukannon

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