THE POETICS OF ANCIENT GREEK MEMORY AND THE HISTORICAL IMPERATIVE
Article first published online: 9 OCT 2013
© 2013 Wesleyan University
History and Theory
Volume 52, Issue 3, pages 451–461, October 2013
How to Cite
Lianeri, A. (2013), THE POETICS OF ANCIENT GREEK MEMORY AND THE HISTORICAL IMPERATIVE. History and Theory, 52: 451–461. doi: 10.1111/hith.10679
- Issue published online: 9 OCT 2013
- Article first published online: 9 OCT 2013
- Greek memory;
- contingency of chance;
- ancient historiography;
- genres of memory;
- historical imperative;
This book examines Greek engagements with the past as articulations of memory formulated against the contingency of chance associated with temporality. Based on a phenomenological understanding of temporality, it identifies four memorializing strategies: continuity (tradition), regularity (exemplarity), development, and acceptance of chance. This framework serves in pursuing a twofold aim: to reconstruct the literary field of memory in fifth-century bce Greece; and to interpret Greek historiography as a memorializing mode. The key contention advanced by this approach is that acts of memory entailed an “idea of history” that was articulated not only in historiography, but also in epinician poetry, elegy, tragedy, and oratory. The book offers a rich account of poetic conventions and contexts through which each of these genres counterbalanced contingency through the use of exemplary and traditional modes of memory. This fine analysis highlights the grip of the present on the past as a significant feature of both historiographical and nonhistoriographical genres.
The essay argues that this work fills a disciplinary gap by extending the reflection on memory to a new period, Greek antiquity. The retrospective positioning of this period at the outset of Western historical thought brings Grethlein's investigation to the center of debates about memory, temporality, and the meaning history. In engaging with the book's argument, the essay suggests that historiographical memory emerged in Greece not as a first-order encounter with time, but as a second-order encounter with forgetting. This confrontation marked a certain separation of historiography from other memorializing genres. Whereas poetic and rhetorical memories were posited against contingency, historiography sought to retrieve those aspects of the past that may otherwise have been irretrievably lost and forgotten. In doing so, it formulated the historiographical imperative as a negation of forgetting that problematized the truth-value of memory and the very act of remembering the past.