You are here

28 IV: Aleksander Paradziński (UW), The boundaries of genre from Aristotle to Isidore of Seville: Can history be versified?


In his essay Uber die Entwicklung der griechischen Historiographie und den Plan einer neuen Sammlung der griechischen Historikerfragmente, which previewed the principles of his edition of fragmentary preserved works of Greek historians, Felix Jacoby soberly remarked that ‘in antiquity there was absolutely no independent science that exactly corresponded to our “History”, specifically dedicated to the research and narration of historical events of the distant or more recent past’. Many other scholars involved in the research of ancient historiography demonstrated a similar awareness of how arbitrary and artificial the modern categories employed to characterise ancient literary works ultimately are. However, the descriptive usefulness of such classifications and the lack of a better alternative led to their continued usage. For better or worse, modern historians and philologists, not unlike their ancient predecessors, categorise ancient texts according to their own understanding of what a history work should or should not be. This leads not only to distinctions between certain scholars in defining what constitutes historiography, but even different framing of its boundaries between various publications of the same authors.

In my paper, I will discuss one of such contested borders of historiography - versified works that adopted a historiographical or biographical perspective in some shape or form. I am going to present some of the modern approaches in dealing with these compositions at the intersection of Clio and Calliope’s domains, as well as examine attested late antique Latin works of that kind and their place in broader literary trends of the era. Finally, I shall explore the views of selected ancient authors from Aristotle to Isidore of Seville on the matter of distinguishing history and adjacent genres from poetry. Although I cannot promise to offer a definite answer to the question posed in the title of my paper, I hope to provide at least a set of feasible interpretations of the matter.