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  • The Story of Athens: The Fragments of the Local Chronicles of Attika
  • John Dillery (bio)
Phillip Harding . The Story of Athens: The Fragments of the Local Chronicles of Attika. Routledge. 2007. 272. US$32.95

This is a splendid volume. It meets a crying need, is well written, and is priced so that students and scholars will be able to buy the book.

For many students and scholars of ancient Greece, the history of Athens is not 'just one damned thing after another,' but those things as told to us by Herodotus and Thucydides and (to a lesser extent) Xenophon and perhaps the Aristotelian Constitution of Athens. While the great historians of Greek antiquity will quite properly always remain essential reading, even a fairly quick survey of documents and less well-known texts concerning archaic, classical, and early Hellenistic Athens reveals that a reliance on Herodotus and Thucydides for the history of the most important Greek polis not only provides an incomplete picture, it can also be a misleading one. Moreover, recent work in ancient Greek history has stressed the need not only to try to reconstruct what happened, but also what the Greeks themselves thought or wanted to believe had happened - their view of history. Harding's Story of Athens precisely offers readers the chance to fill out the familiar narrative of Athenian history and to get a sense of what the Athenians thought about their own past.

Harding translates and comments on the fragments of the local historians of Athens (called 'Atthidographers') and its region (Attika) in rough chronological order, rather than grouped according to the historian responsible for them. Harding explains his decision in his preface, and I think it was the right one. Helping to avoid the need to track down important passages in a forest of otherwise recondite material, this organization [End Page 275] helps readers set the relevant texts next to the 'master narrative' of Athenian history and notes the differences or the additional information that would otherwise have been missed if they relied only on Herodotus, Thucydides, and the modern textbooks dependent on these authors.

Let me give a few examples. Though the reforms of Cleisthenes get scant attention from the historians and Aristotle in the Constitution of Athens, they were a major topic for the Atthidographers, whose fragments provide much detail that is otherwise poorly attested, or not at all. A text such as Philochorus on the archonship of Lysimachides (445/44) provides a wealth of information on a variety of topics: the citizenship law of Pericles, the population of Athens in the mid-fifth century, and the food supply. Needless to say, too, the Atthidographers also give insight into later periods of Athenian and Greek history that the great historians could not. Thus it is Philochorus again who sheds light on the Athenian declaration of war against of Philip of Macedon in 340/39: perhaps most importantly, we can tell that Philochorus used a letter of complaint from Philip to Athens, and that this letter was different from the one preserved in the Demosthenic corpus. At the other end of the spectrum, we can see that the mythical and legendary period of Athens received a great deal of attention from the Atthidographers, who often went into details that the great historians no doubt knew but simply were not interested in and did not provide: fragments dealing with Theseus and the Amazons, and Theseus and women present a complex picture that echoes popular Athenian nationalist accounts, but also contains views that were critical of early Athenian heroes. Each fragment, or groups of related fragments, receives succinct and judicious commentary that places the information provided in the larger contexts of other evidence on the topic, as well as the significance of the texts in question for the understanding of Athenian history.

This book will be of immense use to teachers of Greek and specifically Athenian history, for it enables students to grasp the crucial point that there is much that we do not know about the best-documented Greek city from antiquity, or that what we do know, thanks to Herodotus and Thucydides, is only a partial view. Harding is to...


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