πῶς ἔγκαρπος τῆς ἱστορίας χρῆσις: Polybius’ Source Criticism, Or, How (Not) to Write History
AbstractIn his Histories, Polybius often criticises earlier Hellenistic historiographers and thus naturally falls into the historiographical tradition; what is novel in his approach is that his criticism is expressly aimed at individuals. The author most often criticised is Timaeus of Tauromenium (356–260 B.C.), a Sicilian Greek whose research concentrated on the Greek West. Polybius charges Timaeus with a number of errors, the common denominator of his charges being – or appearing to be – that Timaeus is “a compiler, an armchair historian”, who has replaced the autopsy concept of the historian-traveller with burrowing in the archives. On the other hand, Polybius does credit Timaeus with a careful and orderly approach to collecting his materials, and pays homage to him by adopting some of his methodological techniques, such as the system of dating by Olympiads. The question why Polybius should have focused precisely on Timaeus is anintriguing one, calling for a range of possible interpretations; the most likely answer is, however, that Timaeus, as suggested by the esteem in which he was held by later-day historians, was considered the authority on Sicily, the subject of Polybius’ own research. Polybius’ criticism is grounded in the methodological passages and in a factual hierarchy of the historiographical method, as well as in his realisations of the contemporary progress in scholarship, which enabled researchers to conduct accurate investigations. His polemic against earlier writers is thus also – or mainly – an opportunity for Polybius to foreground the question of how (not) to write history.
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