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Michael Flower: Seven Types of Fiction in Historical Narrative: Or, Why You Cannot Trust Herodotus or Thucydides


March 13, 2019 · 4:30 pm6:00 pm · 010 East Pyne

Old Dominion Public Lecture Series in the Humanities Council

The Humanities Council invites the campus community to join us for a new series of public lectures given by the Council’s Old Dominion Research Professors for 2018-19.

 Michael Flower (David Magie ’97 Class of 1897 Professor of Classics and Old Dominion Research Professor 2018-19) will deliver the third lecture in the series entitled “Seven Types of Fiction in Historical Narrative: or Why you cannot trust Herodotus or Thucydides.”

This lecture adapts the title of T. P. Wiseman’s well-known article ‘Lying Historians: Seven Types of Mendacity’.  I am consciously eschewing the words ‘lying’ and ‘mendacious’ since the ancient Greeks and Romans would not have considered the generic rules by which they wrote ‘history’ in such terms.  Rather, I will argue that what we understand as ‘fictionality’ was simply the normative rules for writing narratives of contemporary and past events.  This talk will explore seven narrative devices which, if they appeared in a modern academic historical work, would normally be considered ‘fictional’.  But if the employment of such devices was the normative working procedure of both Thucydides and Herodotus, can we really use their narratives either to reconstruct the political history of ancient Greece or to underpin contemporary theories of interstate relations (such as the so-called “Thucydides trap”, according to which the US is on the path to war with China?).

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