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Alon

Rome's mythic founding mythic no longer!

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Say what?  I thought Brutus killed Julius Caesar . . . two different guys that, through some miracle of coincidence, had the same name?  Gahh, it's been ten years I can't remember ... Different guy, same name?

Yes. Do you recall, in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, the conspirators want Brutus to join them, and one of them slips him a suggestive note: "There was a Brutus once ..."

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The historical veracity of the Bible I cannot much comment on, because I don't know how many different accounts have existed that corrobrated its general "plotline", i.e. its lineage of Abraham, etc. The Catholic Church has standardized its book, so at this point we don't have many competing versions remaining I'd assume.

The only sort of "competing" verisons of the bible come from difference sects of chirstianity (minor differences within the wording of the text...not really all that important to outsiders) or the "gnostic gospels" which may or may not have some sort of historical backing to them....historians tend to say no.

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Literary sources do not exist for the period we were discussing, the 8th century B.C. Of course there are Greek and Roman historians who name older sources in their texts but none from Rome’s foundational era. It is also likely that Rome was not a literary society in its early years and no documentation (beyond decrees, records of transactions, etc. – material common to more primitive societies) could have passed onto later historians.

The statue which you mention, and on which so much of your argument relies, is utterly irrelevant. It would be relevant if we had the same statue and could date it. The statue might have been built at any time and a few generations later believed to be much older. There are many such instances; holy relics thought by the Medievals to have belonged to saints, Greek temples to local, semi divine heroes, tombs of heroes and kings (the tomb of King David being an excellent example – Jews believe it is evidence of his existence, yet the tomb was quite obviously built long after David would have lived).

Furthermore, a statue does not necessitate a man. All ancient societies had founding myths and heroes which they celebrated and honored in their art. Do statues of Achilles necessitate a historical existence?

As for your comment on Renaissance and Enlightenment historians,

“And everyone during the Rennaissance and Enlightenment found all the sources enough and quite adequate. Modern historians do not have some kind of an abundance of historical science that the earlier "primitive" historians of the Enlightenment were too simple-minded to adopt. That kind of belief, if accepted, would be the very height of false and haughty presumptiousness; modern historians don't hold a candle to the likes of Edward Gibbon, or Polybius for that matter.”

Of course they found the sources adequate. They also found the Bible adequate proof for the existence of God. Modern historians do have a “kind” of historical science that earlier historians did not. It is called historiography, and it was only developed in the 19th century. (I am sorry if you took my “recent” to mean historians of the past decade). When scientific principles were applied to the study of history and when archaeology began to corroborate (or contradict) the ancient sources.

Edward Gibbon is an excellent author and his work considered one of the best in the English language for its literary style, not its historical scholarship.

It amazes me that you and Eran Dror, and I imagine other Objectivists, have such faith in the ancient sources, a faith I believe stems from your revulsion for modern historiography, causing you to blindly accept ancient narratives without a shred of understanding ancient literary culture or even a critical eye.

Did you stop to consider how documents might have been transmitted from the mythic past to the later historians? If they existed at all? Or how did historians recording the events of their times get news of the events they describe? And what about the all-too-common tendency to embellish stories?

Do you believe an army of 3 000 000 Persians crossed the Dardanelles? And that 300 Spartans held this army at bay?

Granted, Thucydides came remarkably close to an objective retelling of events – as best as an Ancient historian could. But in general, the Ancients embellished and glorified their accounts to signify certain events or people in their history: often to extol virtues, individual or collective (as in the case of Herodotus).

Embellishment went hand in hand with a retelling of popular myths. Just as the Biblical story of the flood was a popular myth of the Israelites, so the Trojan War was to the Greeks or the stories of Romulus and Remus to the Romans.

These myths gave birth to heroes and events which many a time were used to explain phenomena. The Bible is full of them, as are the stories of Greece and Rome’s mythic past.

How would 1st century AD (or even 3rd century BC) historians come to know of people and events which took place hundreds of years earlier?

“I'm sorry if I was a bit hostile, but I take Classical history very personally.”

You aren’t fit to study history. You take personally any comment which contradicts your child’s view of the ancient world and resort to ad hominems in its defense. Further, you unquestioningly believe ancient accounts with not a hint of critical analysis. The only thing ridiculous here is your conception of ancient Rome, clearly evidenced by your recent post on the differences between the Republic and Principate.

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You aren’t fit to study history.
Then you and I have the opposite understanding of what history is, and what it is for.

You have a child's view of the ancient world (paraphrasing)
Without being sarcastic at all, I can say that this is one of the biggest compliments anyone can ever give me. So I appreciate it, though you probably didn't mean for me to.

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I have to say Alon, that you are staring in the face of rather typical anti-scientific rationalism. Proper, critical observation of reality is dicarded if it does not fit some preconcieved pseudo-Objectivist interpretation.

This particular mentality is well displayed in Robert Tracinski - who, in an issue of TIA (incidentally, this is why I try to read that particular journal less and less), discarded the ill effects of second-hand smoking becuase it came from a government source, and more importantly because it was used for statist purposes by the government. In other words, placing ideology above reality.

As for Free Capitalist, as a history major myself I must mention that even if the most marxist, corrupt professor consistently failed your essays, I would not blame him. The utter lack of context, naivete, and anti-observational approach to history (i.e. considering all that one knows of men, their actions, the veracity of sources, motivations of the historians, & c.) would render any conclusions you reached pure fantasy. :)

The discepline of History is a conceptual, not to mentional a very investigative, field. The perceptual world of a child does not belong in it's hallowed halls.

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Mr. Cobden:

Discussing your hypothesis that FC's current argument is anti-scientific rationalization is one thing and is OK, but attacking a prominent Oist, along with anyone who respects him and follows his work, is not. Mr. Tracinski is not personally involved in this thread, not as a poster nor as an advocate of the particular ideas in play, and so I ask you to refrain from gratuitous attacks on him or anyone, for that matter. Furthermore, in general, attack the merits of an idea, not the merits of the character of someone you can't possibly know simply from a finite number of posts on a forum.

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The discepline of History is a conceptual, not to mentional a very investigative, field. The perceptual world of a child does not belong in it's hallowed halls.
The only reason it became hallowed in the first place is because of great historians of the past, whose approach to history I mentioned above, and try to imitate. It did not only become hallowed in the modern era with the advent of modern cynics, who are actually destroying history as a valid field of study, just as they already destroyed the field of classics.

I have to say Alon, that you are staring in the face of rather typical anti-scientific rationalism. Proper, critical observation of reality is dicarded if it does not fit some preconcieved pseudo-Objectivist interpretation.
By the way I have to add that no views expressed in this thread directly relate to Objectivism. History is a place to apply philosophy, so the philosophy itself stands aloof from however it is applied; no one can say their ideas constitute an Objectivist version of history, so that pseudo comment is out of line.

However, Objectivism does underscore the importance of hero-worship, which the views expressed here against mine explicitly lack. It also talks about context, which again is sorely lacking here.

Edited by Free Capitalist

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This particular mentality is well displayed in Robert Tracinski - who, in an issue of TIA (incidentally, this is why I try to read that particular journal less and less), discarded the ill effects of second-hand smoking becuase it came from a government source, and more importantly because it was used for statist purposes by the government. In other words, placing ideology above reality.

[bold added for emphasis.]

Which issue, article, and page number?

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FC's point, which others are contending here, should be clearly stated (if I get something wrong, FC, please correct me):

I think everyone here agrees that the contended ancient historians likely wrote their literature with a level of Roman bias (evident by some of the fantastic aspects of their accounts in the literature). This does not necessarily mean, however, that their retelling of history is complete fiction: one cannot, outright, discard the entirety of their texts as fantasy. I think the point was made that though the bible is replete with fantasy, some of the events that are retold in it are historically accurate.

FC's argument is not about molding history to fit a view that illegitimately exalts a peoples to a status they could not have reached, but about asking us to reconsider the modern interpretation of the ancient texts, to consider the source of this interpretation, and determine whether or not it is reason-based.

In this context, Objectivism only says this: base your assessment on reality (do not drop historical context), use reason to conclude whether or not a certain interpretation of history is correct (do not make any arbitrary assumptions). The absence of contradictory evidence for a particular view of history--certain general aspects of which are supported by many historical texts and can, within reason, actually be true (such as the main point of contention here: that the early Romans were virtuous)--should not necessarily lead one to conclude that the view is factual, nor that it is fictional. It should lead us to the only conclusion possible: its validity is contingent on the accumulation of supportive archaeological evidence.

In a nutshell: rethink the illogical modern position of completely discarding these ancient texts as pure fiction, consider whether or not it is hero-hatred that is driving their view of the early Romans. Where is the conclusive evidence that, as a rule, Romans of all periods were corrupt in nature? Here you have texts that describe Romans as virtuous and they are completely discarded because they embellish the details of their tales with a Roman bias? Surely you can understand that reality can be deduced from fantastic accounts of history with the help of archeological evidence?

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I should add that archaeology only began as a science in the middle of the 19th century. It is a completely fledgling new field, and although it can tell us a lot, it also cannot tell us even more. For the men of the Rennaissance and the Enlightenment, archaeology didn't even exist, which however did not stop their study of history, nor application of its lessons to the modern world. I won't even get into the ancient historians, and how far they were from the archaeological mindset, who still produced inestimable historical works of invaluable worth.

Archaeology is valuable, but should be taken with a large grain of salt and care, rather than thrown about as the only true study of the past, as is done nowadays.

Edited by Free Capitalist

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The only reason it became hallowed in the first place is because of great historians of the past, whose approach to history I mentioned above, and try to imitate.

What aspects of the work of great historians of the past do you try to imitate? Methods, subject matter, purposes, values, or other?

For contrast, are there any aspects of their work you do not try to imitate?

(In the passage I quoted at the top, you say "above," but you don't specify exactly where so that the reader can go there and read it for himself. I would also like to point out a communication problem: You sometimes quote people but you don't tell your readers the source -- person and post -- you are quoting; in this thread, post 34 is an example. That approach makes reading your posts difficult, which is unfortunate because the issues you are raising are worthy of discussion or even debate.)

Edited by BurgessLau

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Burgess,

I apologize if my references to ancient historians have been unclear. I have been engaged in a pretty serious argument in these two threads, and have mentioned various names here and there, so I thought the reference was clear. However, in browsing over this thread, it turns out that most of my specific references were made in the other one (Rome, Republic vs Empire). So I understand the source of confusion, and it will become clear below whom I was referring to.

You ask,

What aspects of the work of great historians of the past do you try to imitate? Methods, subject matter, purposes, values, or other?
First and foremost, I try to imitate the values the ancients held about history. Ancients viewed history as a moral science -- a rational study concerned with facts (as can be seen from their bickering about what did or did not happen, and criticism of one other on various points of fact) -- and a moral study of rise and fall of men and nations. They viewed history as a kind of enormous canvas on which all of humanity was drawn on, for us to examine and to learn from.

Instead of trying to go in more detail, because I won't do the historians any justice, I will instead let them speak in their own words, which I hope will you will bear the trouble of reading. The quotes will more than answer your question.

Although it is much against my will to indulge in the explanatory statements usually given in the prefaces to histories, yet I am obliged to prefix to this work some remarks concerning myself. In doing this it is neither my intention to dwell too long on my own praise, which I know would be distasteful to the reader, nor have I the purpose of censuring other historians, as Anaximenes and Theopompus did in the prefaces to their histories but I shall only show the reasons that induced me to undertake this work and give an accounting of the sources from which I gained the knowledge of the things that I am going to relate. For I am convinced that all who propose to leave such monuments of their minds to posterity as time shall not involve in one common ruin with their bodies, and particularly those who write histories, in which we have the right to assume that Truth, the source of both prudence and wisdom, is enshrined, ought, first of all, to make choice of noble and lofty subjects and such as will be of great utility to their readers, and then, with great care and pains, to provide themselves with the proper equipment for the treatment of their subject.

Had the praise of History been passed over by former Chroniclers it would perhaps have been incumbent upon me to urge the choice and special study of records of this sort, as the readiest means men can have of correcting their knowledge of the past. But my predecessors have not been sparing in this respect. They have all begun and ended, so to speak, by enlarging on this theme: asserting again and again that the study of History is in the truest sense an education, and a training for a moral life [...].

Can any one be so indifferent or idle as not to care to know by what means, and under what kind of polity, almost the whole inhabited world was conquered and brought under the dominion of the single city of Rome, and that too within a period of not quite fifty-three years? Or who again can be so completely absorbed in other subjects of contemplation or study, as to think any of them superior in importance to the accurate understanding of an event for which the past affords no precedent.

It has always seemed to me that men, who are persuaded that they get a competent view of universal history from mere excerpts and episodes, are very like people who should see the limbs of some body, which had once been living and beautiful, now scattered and remote; and should imagine that to be quite as good as actually beholding the activity and beauty of the living creature itself. But if some one could there and then reconstruct the animal once more, in the perfection of its beauty and the charm of its vitality, and could display it to the same people, they would beyond doubt confess that they had been far from conceiving the truth, and had been little better than dreamers. For indeed some idea of a whole may be got from a part, but an accurate knowledge and clear comprehension cannot. Wherefore we must conclude that episodical history contributes exceedingly little to the familiar knowledge and secure grasp of universal history. While it is only by the combination and comparison of the separate parts of the whole,--by observing their likeness and their difference,--that a man can attain his object: to obtain a view at once clear and complete, and thus secure both the profit and the delight of History.

It was for the sake of [teaching] others that I first commenced writing my works; but I find myself proceeding and attaching myself to it for my own [pleasure]; the virtues of these great men, that I describe, serving me as a sort of looking-glass, in which I may see how to adjust and adorn my own life. Indeed, it can be compared to nothing but daily living and associating together; we receive, as it were, in our inquiry, and entertain each successive guest, view "their stature and their qualities," and select from their actions all that is noblest and worthiest to know.

"Ah, and what greater pleasure can one have?" or what more effective means to one's moral improvement? Democritus tells us we ought to pray that of the phantasms appearing in the circumambient air, such may present themselves to us as are propitious, and that we may rather meet with those that are agreeable to our natures and are good than the evil and unfortunate; which is simply introducing into philosophy a doctrine untrue in itself, and leading to endless superstitions. My method, on the contrary, is, by the study of history, and by the familiarity acquired in writing, to habituate my memory to receive and retain images of the best and worthiest characters. I thus am enabled to free myself from any ignoble, base, or vicious impressions, contracted from the contagion of ill company that I may be unavoidably engaged in; by the remedy of turning my thoughts in a happy and calm temper to view these noble examples.

Whether the task I have undertaken of writing a complete history of the Roman people from the very commencement of its existence will reward me for the labour spent on it, I neither know for certain, nor if I did know would I venture to say. For I see that this is an old-established and a common practice, each fresh writer being invariably persuaded that he will either attain greater certainty in the materials of his narrative, or surpass the rudeness of antiquity in the excellence of his style. However this may be, it will still be a great satisfaction to me to have taken my part, too, in investing, to the utmost of my abilities, the annals of the foremost nation in the world with a deeper interest; and if in such a crowd of writers my own reputation is thrown into the shade, I would console myself with the renown and greatness of those who eclipse my fame. The subject, moreover, is one that demands immense labour. It goes back beyond 700 years and, after starting from small and humble beginnings, has grown to such dimensions that it begins to be overburdened by its greatness.

The subjects to which I would ask each of my readers to devote his earnest attention are these - the life and morals of the community; the men and the qualities by which through domestic policy and foreign war dominion was won and extended. Then as the standard of morality gradually lowers, let him follow the decay of the national character, observing how at first it slowly sinks, then slips downward more and more rapidly, and finally begins to plunge into headlong ruin, until he reaches these days, in which we can bear neither our diseases nor their remedies.

There is this exceptionally beneficial and fruitful advantage to be derived from the study of the past, that you see, set in the clear light of historical truth, examples of every possible type. From these you may select for yourself and your country what to imitate, and also what, as being mischievous in its inception and disastrous in its issues, you are to avoid. Unless, however, I am misled by affection for my undertaking, there has never existed any commonwealth greater in power, with a purer morality, or more fertile in good examples; or any state in which avarice and luxury have been so late in making their inroads [...].

Thucydides, an Athenian, wrote the history of the war between the Peloponnesians and the Athenians, beginning at the moment that it broke out, and believing that it would be a great war, and more worthy of relation than any that had preceded it. This belief was not without its grounds. The preparations of both the combatants were in every department in the last state of perfection; and he could see the rest of the Hellenic race taking sides in the quarrel; those who delayed doing so at once having it in contemplation. [2] Indeed this was the greatest movement yet known in history, not only of the Greeks, but of a large part of the barbarian world--I had almost said of mankind. [3] For though the events of remote antiquity, and even those that more immediately precede the war, could not from lapse of time be clearly ascertained, yet the evidences which an inquiry carried as far back as was practicable leads me to trust, all point to the conclusion that there was nothing on a great scale, either in war or in other matters.

The absence of romance in my history will, I fear, detract somewhat from its interest; but if it be judged useful by those inquirers who desire an exact knowledge of the past as an aid to the interpretation of the future, which in the course of human things must resemble if it does not reflect it, I shall be content. In fine, I have written my work, not as an essay which is to win the applause of the moment, but as a possession for all time.

Etc. History as it can and ought to be.

Edited by Free Capitalist

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For contrast, are there any aspects of their work you do not try to imitate?
As far as values go, there aren't any serious values that I try to be careful not to adopt from writers such as these. That would be rather foolish of me. My approach is that of a consumer, and their product is exceedingly healthy for my body.

If I was a historian, however, I could take your question in a different light, and understand it to mean whether there was something in their style of history that I wouldn't adopt for my own. That's a completely different question, and I don't know the answer right away; I would definitely adopt their concern with morals, completely lacking from modern history (except in authors like Victor Hanson), but I also might might focus a little less on speeches. Then again that might be merely a modern prejudice, and a really minor issue either way. I don't know. There's nothing clearly big and opposite to my values, which is another reason why I find the books so valuable.

Edited by Free Capitalist

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I would like to apologize to all the readers of the thread that I suddenly stopped replying. I am in the middle of midterms, papers, and finals. I will return to this thread to elaborate on my earlier statements.

I would also like to apologize to FreeCapitalist, I had been intending to for some time but thought I would attach it to my next post. I was rather harsh in one of my statements regarding his take on history. I would like to explain that my words were a result of one of his comments, in which he misunderstood me on several points, and without asking for elaboration or clarification, criticized me rather harshly. Don't mistake me, this is not a rationalization of my attack, only an attempt to explain how things came to be as they are. In conclusion, I'm sorry for the injury, you are very intelligent and well-read, and I enjoy your discussions on this forum.

I'll return to our discussion on the Roman Republic as soon as I find more time.

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