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3 - Historical prefaces

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  15 October 2009

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Summary

The information available to us about Greek historical prefaces, as about so much else in the Greek historical tradition, is incomplete. Of a rich tradition, comparatively few works have survived whole, and while the content of a history is often preserved through the work of epitomators and anthologists, formal elements like prefaces tend to disappear in the process. The surviving examples, however, can be supplemented by a few passages of theoretical discussion in rhetorical works. Especially important here is Lucian, De hist. conscr. 52–5, and the commentary on it in Avenarius, 1956, pp. 113–18. There is a full discussion in Herkommer, 1968, ch. 2.

General features

We may consider historical prefaces under three aspects: the pattern set by the fifth-century classics, Herodotus and Thucycides; the influence of rhetoric from the fourth century onwards; and the intrusion, at a later date, of some of the practical considerations of book production.

The insistence of later writers that the writing of history was an opus oratorium (Cicero, De leg. I 5), and their subsuming of historical prefaces under the general rhetorical rules for prefaces, should not blind us to the fact that Greek historiography, as one of the oldest genres of prose writing, had its independent origins in the fifth century BC: in practice, the essential pattern for historical prefaces was established then.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 1993

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