Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2002.09.12

Leone Porciani, Prime forme della storiografia greca: prospettiva locale e generale nella narrazione storica (Historia: Einzelschriften; H. 152).   Stuttgart:  Steiner, 2001.  Pp. 156.  ISBN 3-515-07869-X.  

Reviewed by Gabriella Vanotti, Università Cattolica, Milano ( )
Word count: 1082 words

At the beginning of XX century (Klio 1909, and later Atthis 1949) Felix Jacoby stated that the birth of local historiography could not precede the spread of "Great Hellenic History"; in other words, no local history could have been arranged before Histories by Herodotus. By this statement he meant to refute the theory Wilamowitz had upheld some decades before in his Aristoteles und Athen. According to Wilamowitz, there was an ancient pre-literary Athenian chronicle, which might have been published around 380 B.C. and might have been the basis for the following attidographic tradition. Jacoby's statements, in turn, have often been disputed by Emilio Gabba and his followers (Troiani Athenaeum 61, 1983; Gozzoli, SCO 19-20, 1970-71) on the basis of a controversial passage from De Thucydide by Dionysius of Halicarnassus, which seems to refer to the existence of primitive local chronicles, preceding the Great Greek Historiography. The book by Leone Porciani can be placed within this great and still open debate. It is meant to face again the problem of the origins of Greek historiography, partly following a different research route. The volume is divided into two clearly different sections: the first is meant to enquire about the local and general perspective in writing history; the second aims at analysing the local roots of oral history.

In the first part, starting from a new analysis of the disputed text of De Thucydide (5, 3), of which an emendation of the text and a suitable translation are sought, it comes to the conclusion that the historian from Halicarnassus is completely isolated when he states the existence of ancient archives or documentary records as a ground to Greek history. This can be inferred from the opposite thesis expressed on the topic by Flavius Josephus in his Contra Apionem (1, 6-13). What Dionysius himself had stated in the previous chapter (5, 2) is also disputed by Porciani, who, along with earlier scholars, correctly thinks this passage is the only serious obstacle to Jacoby's theory. The historian from Halicarnassus not only gave to understand there had existed a local Greek history preceding Herodotus's work but also gave a list of its representatives. Feeling an incompatability between such a list and Dionysius's starting point, since many of the quoted works and authors have no connection to local history, Porciani enquires which might have been the source of information Dionysius was following. He is not happy with the hypothesis, shared by many scholars, which posits Theophrastus as inspirer of Dionysius's tradition. Even if Theophrastus himself gives a list of authors preceding Herodotus, Porciani thinks that this list, being about an enquiry on different literary genres, might be partly different from and can not reduced to the one quoted in De Thucydide (5,2). Actually Theophrastus's information could have been expanded by Dionysius with a lemma by an Alexandrian exegetist on Thucydides's text (namely 1, 21, 1), in which the Attic historian states his wish to be different from logographers and poets in creating his own work. Having deprived Dionysius's evidence of authoritativeness Porciani starts, in the second part of his book, his enquiry about the relationship between local History and "general" Greek history on a new basis. The thesis he wants to demonstrate is that local historiography may have existed before Herodotus, but in an oral form; it might have undergone a sort change by "meeting" the logos epitaphios, the funeral oration. Therefore it would have turned into the Great Historiography; only later on the writing of local history would have started. In this process it is fundamental to stop and analyse the structure of the logos epitaphios delivered by Perikles in Thucydides' History (2, 35-46). To highlight possible fundamental common elements between the latter and historical narration, not without facing beforehand the old problem of the authenticity of Thucydides's speeches. According to Porciani, the logos epitaphios and history (namely Thucydides' History) have a common factor in events both past and present. But this single common point is too small to justify a real influence of the funeral oration on the development of Great Historiography. Other converging elements have to be found and, most of all, the research field has to be enlarged from Thucydides to Herodotus, as the logos epitaphios should have influenced his Histories, being prior to them. The funeral oration (Perikles's in Thucydides 2, 44) has something in common with Herodotus' dialogue between Croesus and Solon in 1, 32, the consideration about the the ending of human life which, to be judged happy, must have had a good ending. Herodotus's Solon and Thucydides's Perikles, state that to find one's glorious death in a battle is to reach the greatest happiness, as it allows one to obtain kleos, immortal fame. But this concept underlines the common link between logos epitaphios and historiography with epic poetry, which is, so to speak, its forefather.

One must define (and this is a very interesting part of the book) the moment in which the logos epitaphios was born: introduced just after the Persian Wars, it seems to be a product of isonomic society. Actually, it should replace, as a mourning voice of complaint and celebration of the dead of the whole town, the single funeral orations pronounced within the gene according to typically aristocratic forms. But the isonomic town, as it shows itself capable of adopting the town funeral oration, should also be able to write its own History, which passes over (but doesn't undermine, or rather exploits) the preservation and transmission of familiar memories of aristocratic gene. By mentioning the latter, Porciani can stop and inquire about the category of logioi, as keepers of similar memories, obviously of genealogical sort. According to the author, they might be sort of "professionals of the memories", charged by powerful groups with keeping, in oral form, certain historical facts and celebrating them in set public occasions. If Jacoby could trace an evolutional route of literary genres, from epos through genealogies to the writing of the Great Greek History, Porciani suggests an alternative route from local or genealogical history in oral form to logos epitaphios and from the latter to Great Greek History.

This book by Porciani (who in the past had already dealt with some of these issues, also addressed by his maestro G. Nenci) is quite complex in its structure and not easy to read; it is definitely destined to raise discussions and start again old controversies, never settled in past or present times about the problem of the origins and development of Greek historiography.

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