Lessons from the Past contributes in a new way to current discussions of the connections between the genres of rhetoric and history in Greek literature, and deepens our understanding of the Greek tendency to look to the past as a source for moral edification of contemporary audiences. This agenda is even apparent, to some extent, in the writings of Herodotus, the first Greek historian. Because of the didactic nature of the historical genre, many scholars---ancient and modern---have seen connections between history and rhetoric. So far, discussion has centered on fifth-century authors---Herodotus and Thucydides, along with the sophists and early philosophers.
Frances Pownall extends the focus of this discussion into an important period. By concentrating on key intellectuals and historians of the fourth century (Plato and the major historians---Xenophon, Ephorus, and Theopompus), the author examines how these prose writers created an aristocratic version of the past as an alternative to the democratic version of the oratorical tradition.
Lessons From the Past is not only a systematic examination of Greek historiography of the fourth century prior to the Alexander historians, but also has a contribution to make to current debates on literacy, orality, and the education of the elite in Athens. It should be of interest not only to students and scholars of Greek history and historiography, but also ancient philosophy and political thought.
Frances Pownall is Associate Professor of History and Classics at the University of Alberta.