AbstractsPhilosophy & Theology

The New Science: Herodotus' Historical Inquiry and Presocratic Philosophy

by Katie Kingsley

Institution: Princeton University
Year: 2016
Keywords: Herodotus; intellectual history; Presocratic philosophy
Posted: 02/05/2017
Record ID: 2066039
Full text PDF: http://arks.princeton.edu/ark:/88435/dsp01qn59q647s


Abstract This dissertation aims to destabilize the assumption that early Greek historiography, as exemplified by its first extant practitioner, Herodotus, is a discipline impervious to the concerns of contemporaneous philosophical research. Juxtaposing the Histories with the fragmentary remains of sixth and fifth-century philosophers will suggest that the traditional division of generic boundaries needs to be reassessed in the fifth century BCE. Building on the work of Schwartz, Nestle, and more recently, Thomas, I endeavor to reinscribe philosophy into the narrative of the rise of historiography and to demonstrate the extent to which philosophical knowledge shapes specific narrative features of the Histories. By illustrating the dynamic incorporation and manipulation of broader philosophical themes, motifs, and language, I develop a new way of reading Herodotus’ historiē. In Chapter One, I trace the scholarly tradition on Herodotus’ engagement with Presocratic philosophy, focusing in particular on the late nineteenth-century German thinkers who pioneered this method of reading the Histories, a background against which I then outline my own hermeneutic strategy. In chapters Two and Three, I turn to the Histories and suggest that Herodotus’ narratorial persona adopts and transforms the advances in epistemology introduced by Presocratic philosophers; the narrator’s obligation to truth is set in stark contrast to the historical actors in the narrative, who operate on the basis of the advantage calculus, a motivation evocative of contemporary sophistic thought. Chapters Four and Five examine the Histories in the context of the inquiry into physis prominent in the philosophical fragments; here I demonstrate that Herodotus favors a universal rather than a geographically specific philosophy of physis, a feature of the text that has implications for the aetiology of the Hellenic defeat of the Persians. In the final chapter, I show that Herodotus’ fascination with tyranny and imperialism is constructed in the context of the highly contested philosophical debate on cultural relativism. This reading of philosophy and historiography side-by-side challenges their generic separation in the fifth century, and instead mandates an interdisciplinary methodology that contributes to contextualizing the history of philosophy as much as it does the history of historiography. Advisors/Committee Members: Flower, Michael (advisor).