Structure and Meaning in Epic and Historiography*

Richard B. Rutherford

in Thucydides and Herodotus

Published in print May 2012 | ISBN: 9780199593262
Published online September 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191752261 | DOI:
Structure and Meaning in Epic and Historiography*

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This chapter explores one aspect of historiography's debt to epic, and uses this as a basis for some comparisons and contrasts between Herodotus and Thucydides. It argues that Homer was inevitably and constantly a gigantic presence in the background for both Herodotus and Thucydides, that they measure their own subject matter and themes against those of the Homeric poems, particularly the Iliad, and that whatever influence lost sources may have had, Homer provided the central model for sustained historical narrative. It also shows that some favourite structural techniques used by Homer are also exploited by the historians, in particular scenic sequences, progressive iteration, and ironic reversal. Repetition can also signify escalation of conflict or danger: both epic and history focus on the perils of excess. Finally, the chapter stresses that Thucydides remains the heir of Herodotus, and so of Homer, and that this can be observed with particular clarity in the Sicilian books.

Keywords: epic; Herodotus; Thucydides; Greek historians; literary history; Homer; Sicilian books

Chapter.  10798 words. 

Subjects: Classical History

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