The ‘Rationality’ of Herodotus and Thucydides as Evidenced by Their Respective Use of Numbers⋆

Catherine Rubincam

in Thucydides and Herodotus

Published in print May 2012 | ISBN: 9780199593262
Published online September 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191752261 | DOI:
The ‘Rationality’ of Herodotus and Thucydides as Evidenced by Their Respective Use of Numbers⋆

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Paul Keyser's recent article, ‘(Un)natural Accounts in Herodotus and Thucydides’, has challenged the modern anti-Dionysian preference for Thucydides with regard particularly to one aspect of the two historians' practice, namely their respective statements on eclipses, earthquakes, and quantifiable phenomena: ‘Rational readers of Herodotus or Thucydides’, he argues, ‘must (re)consider the engagement of the two authors with reason and tradition. Herodotus' accounts are no less, and often more, rational than the corresponding kinds of accounts in Thucydides’. This chapter discusses the use of numbers by Thucydides and Herodotus. It aims to broaden the framework for examining their numeric practice, setting on one side initially the ‘rationality/irrationality’ dichotomy as Keyser employs it. If we do that, it argues, we may find ourselves more aware of the general differences in numeric mentality between all ancient Greek historians and ourselves, and more open-minded in our search for explanations of the specific differences between Herodotus and Thucydides.

Keywords: Thucydides; Herodotus; number use; numeric practice; Greek historians

Chapter.  10044 words. 

Subjects: Classical History

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