John Oliff: Thucydides to Historians: If You Don't Know for Certain, Just Make Stuff Up

John Oliff is a professor of New Testament, Greek and Theology. He is married and has five wonderful daughters. He is employed at Biblical Theological Seminary and Eastern University. In additional to his professional career he is deeply involved in teaching and training biblical studies at his local church, The Well in Feasterville, PA.

Well, the more things change they appear to remain the same! Just when I thought I had thoroughly read on the nature of historiography I picked up The History of the Peloponnesian War by Thucydides. Written between 460 and 400 BCE, he chronicles the events surrounding the PPW. The following is an excerpt from book I.22. It explains the process Thucydides used in gathering information for his work. It is instructive on many levels, not least of which is insight into the nature of “history writing” leading up to the first century. You may also find it interesting that he was a fan of Homer, but that is for another post! He writes,

In this history I have made use of set speeches some of which were delivered just before and others during the war. I have found it difficult to remember the precise words used in the speeches which I listened to myself and my various informants have experienced the same difficulty; so my method has been, while keeping as closely as possible to the general sense of the words that were actually used, to make the speakers say what, in my opinion, was called for by each situation.

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