19. Historical Consciousness and the 'Aitiology' in Greece
Rosalind Thomas [+]
University of Oxford
This chapter examines the phenomenon of ‘aetiology’ in Greek formal historiography, particularly Herodotus, and in the more popular manifestations of historical consciousness to be found in various polis and island histories (‘local histories’), arguing that these have roots in local popular and cultic explanations. Though aitia and the discussion of ‘causes’ in these contexts are often taken to be a particularly Hellenistic and learned interest, they are very common in Herodotus and in the fragments of local histories which must relate to oral traditions – and they are often highly entertaining. The author examines whether there are differences of attitude and approach between Herodotus and the aitia of local histories, as well as the relation of these aitia to the wider and more sophisticated search for cause and causation in Greek historiography. These aetiologies also raise questions about the relation of present to past, the sense of continuity of custom, and about the invention of tradition.