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Lessons from the Past

The Moral Use of History in Fourth-Century Prose

Frances Pownall

Publication Year: 2004

Because of the didactic nature of the historical genre, many scholars ancient and modern have seen connections between history and rhetoric. So far, discussion has centered on fifth-century authors -- Herodotus and Thucydides, along with the sophists and early philosophers. Pownall extends the focus of this discussion into an important period. By focusing on key intellectuals and historians of the fourth century (Plato and the major historians -- Xenophon, Ephorus, and Theopompus), she examines how these prose writers created an aristocratic version of the past as an alternative to the democratic version of the oratorical tradition. Frances Pownall is Professor of History and Classics, University of Alberta.

Published by: University of Michigan Press


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pp. 1-4

Fourth-century historiography has often been overlooked and under-valued because much of it exists only in a fragmentary state and that which does survive is considered biased, inaccurate, and prone to moralizing. Unlike Thucydides, whose moralizing is implicit, Xenophon, Ephorus, and Theopompus make the presentation of moral exempla explicit and the primary focus of their histories. Clearly they were less influenced ...

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Chapter One. The Intellectual Context

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pp. 5-37

The beginning of the fourth century B.C. coincided with an era of change in many aspects of the Greek world. The generation-long Peloponnesian War ended with the fall of Athens, but so weakened its belligerents that no single Greek city-state was able thereafter to claim hegemony for long. Autocrats seeking power beyond the borders of their home city-states began to play an increasing role in Greek politics, a fact ...

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Chapter Two. The Menexenus: Plato's Critique of Political Rhetoric

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pp. 38-64

One of the characteristic features of Attic oratory is the frequent appeal to the historical example as a means of winning over the audience to the speaker’s point of view. Because the chief motivation for its use is persuasion,1 the orators tend to render events according to popular tradition (even when it is clearly inaccurate) in order not to strike a discordant note with their audience and risk losing its good will.2 Similarly, the ora-...

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Chapter Three. Xenophon's Hellenica

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pp. 65-112

Xenophon’s Hellenica is notorious for omissions of fact and inequalities of treatment.1 These flaws could be explained by the theory tha tXenophon wrote different sections at different times, without fully unifying it as a whole. Nevertheless, the Hellenica is coherent as it stands, and Xenophon is certainly consistent in his views on moral virtue throughout; I therefore treat it as a unified whole.2 In the past, the facile explana-...

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Chapter Four. Ephorus's History

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pp. 113-142

Although his work does not survive, Ephorus of Cyme (FGrHist 70) exerted a large influence on succeeding historians.1 He was apparently a prolific writer. The work he is best known for is a History in thirty books (T I,FF7–96, 201–36). Its title is variously given in our sources in both the singular and the plural, perhaps because the work originally had no title, as the Suda entry appears to indicate (T I). For ease of reference, I ...

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Chapter Five. Theopompus's Philippica

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pp. 143-175

Theopompus of Chios (FGrHist 115) was widely renowned in antiquity for the severity with which he condemned the moral faults of the characters peopling his Philippica. Few indeed escaped the scathing vigor of his pen. Despite his family’s exile from Chios, Theopompus seems to have had the necessary funds to carry out thorough research (TT 20 and 28, FF 25, 26 and 181) and did not have to work for a living, but was able ...

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pp. 176-182

Although Xenophon begins his Hellenica at almost precisely the point where Thucydides’ history left off, he did not continue the historiographical tradition inherited from Herodotus and Thucydides but instead represents a transition between the fifth century and the Hellenistic period ,in his inauguration of paradigmatic history, which became much more overt in Ephorus and Theopompus and the Hellenistic historians. The concern ...


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pp. 183-198


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pp. 199-204

E-ISBN-13: 9780472025671
E-ISBN-10: 0472025678
Print-ISBN-13: 9780472113279
Print-ISBN-10: 0472113275

Page Count: 216
Publication Year: 2004

OCLC Number: 588879213
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Lessons from the Past

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Subject Headings

  • Greece -- Intellectual life -- To 146 B.C.
  • Greece -- History -- To 146 B.C. -- Historiography.
  • Historiography -- Moral and ethical aspects -- Greece -- History -- To 1500.
  • Exempla in literature.
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