Early Greek history only valued the past in the sense that it used the heroic stories of the past to inspire the present. Greek historians only wrote about what was Greek, and they held a cyclical view of history so their stories tend to be timeless.
Homer had a real appreciation for history, but he thought history was just telling and praising the deeds of the past. He wrote the first histories in his Iliad and Odyssey, but in reality these were a collection of very old stories about the gods and heroic humans. His stories had no real impact on the present or future since early Greeks believed in a cyclical view of history. Homer does offer a value and importance for history by discussing morality in his works.
Hesiod continued Homer’s tradition by writing the Theogony, a genealogy of the gods which divided history into five ages. Hesiod believed in a historical past that started with the gods, but this historical past had been in decline since the gods were the zenith of time.
History finally changed with Herodotus, the father of history, who wrote about the Persian Wars. He cared about ethnic studies and geography. By commenting on Greeks and Persians, he brought their histories together but he still failed to integrate them. However, Herodotus did question the reasons for the Persian Wars, thus slowly linking the past to the present. He concluded that wars were caused by human weaknesses and strengths. He also wrote that the gods were still present in history but that they were almost silent.
Thucydides furthered Herodotus’s innovations when he wrote about the Peloponnesian Wars. Thucydides cared about the dramatic account so he wanted to understand the causes for the war. He decided that warfare was caused by a set of circumstances driven by a need for power. He studied the differences between the Greek city-states, and left the gods completely out of his writings. His works even persuaded Plato to believe that reality exists on in eternal facts, not temporal life.
Together, Herodotus and Thucydides changed Greek history. Writing moved from poetry to prose so explanations increased. They used eyewitness accounts, but failed to research the past. They met foreigners so they fit these new peoples into their Greek world view. However, they never considered that their life time was unique to Greek history, and they never integrated their history into the fabric of the Greek past.
– Hannah S. Bowers