Pierre Vidal-Naquet: French historian and activist (obituary)

Historians in the News

Pierre Vidal-Naquet, French historian and activist, died this past weekend; he was 76. So far, there are obituaries in Le Monde and Libération (there’s also a second, longer piece in Libération), but I have not seen any English-language obituaries as yet. Vidal-Naquet was a scholar of ancient Greece (see particularly the work he wrote with Jean-Pierre Vernant, Myth and Tragedy in Ancient Greece), but he was well-known for his social activism (taking very public stands against torture during the Algerian War) and his attacks on French anti-Semitism (in his books Assassins of Memory and The Jews: History, Memory, and the Present). The second piece in Libération gives a quote from Vidal-Naquet’s Mémoires that seems particularly apt (apologies for my infelicitous translation):

Lorsque, dans le silence de l’abjection, l’on n’entend plus retentir que la chaîne de l’esclave et la voix du délateur; lorsque tout tremble devant le tyran, et qu’il est aussi dangereux d’encourir sa faveur que de mériter sa disgrâce, l’historien paraît, chargé de la vengeance des peuples.

When, in the silence of abjection, one no longer hears the clanking of the chain of slavery or the voice of the informant; when everyone trembles before the tyrant, and it is as dangerous to incur his favor as to earn his displeasure, the historian appears, responsible for the people’s revenge.

Read entire article at The History Librarian (blog)

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