I seem to be asking for a lot of help, lately. This time, it’s for those with access to the Greek text of Polybius’s book 12 of his History and with the means of locating without much trouble the word συμπλοκή
The occasion is the following passage about ancient historians:
The existence of different voices or interpretations of a past which have the “right” to exist side-by-side shows that the accurate reporting of past events was not necessarily on the agenda of societies and their authors in Antiquity. Leaving to readers the decision of what really happened tells us much about the nature of the societies we are dealing with (Polybius, who expresses a rationalistic approach to the past, knew how to tackle this by suggesting that history should be viewed as a symploke, [intertwining]; see his Book 12).
Mendels, Doron. 2008. “How Was Antiquity Treated in Societies with a Hellenistic Heritage? (And Why Did the Rabbis Avoid Writing History?).” In Antiquity in Antiquity: Jewish and Christian Pasts in the Greco-Roman World, edited by Gregg Gardner and Kevin Osterloh, 132–51. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck. (p. 142)
I read Book 12 in an English translation and failed to notice any discussion of the sort of idea I think Doron Mendels is addressing. What would help if I knew what passage(s) in Book 12 Polybius uses συμπλοκή or some form of it.
The idea that I thought Mendels is addressing is the recording of inconsistent versions of events in historical narratives. I know that some ancient historians do this, but it appears from the reference to Polybius that I should find a discussion by an ancient historian on the fact that historians do set side by side contradictory (or at least inconsistent) narratives.
Anyone able to help with this one?
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19 thoughts on “Another request”
A simple search doesn’t turn up anything, but that may be because I’m on my tablet.
Can you tell me how you brought up that page — which was the one I was hoping to find there. I only got as far as seeing one small snippet of each section of a chapter part at a time.
But I don’t see anything there that looks like a form of συμπλοκή — that could be because of my ignorance, but also I suspect it has more to do with what Brad below has found …
Third grey box on the left gives you the option “View text chunked by:
book : chapter : section”. Standard is “section”.
Thank you! I’ve sorely missed that little option for so long!
According to a TLG search of ‘συμπλοκ’, the term occurs in several grammatical forms 49 times in the History, but not once in book 12.
This is frustrating. Perhaps I should try to contact Doran Mendels directly. There may be a typo.
• συμπλοκή (symplokí)
Walbank, F. W. (1975). “Symploke: Its Role in Polybius’ Histories”. In Parry, Adam (ed.). Studies in the Greek Historians. Yale Classical Studies 14. Cambridge University Press. pp. 197–212. ISBN 978-0-521-20587-0.
Wiater, Nicolas (15 October 2013). “Politics, Aesthetics and Historical Explanation in Polybius I | Rethinking Late Hellenistic literature and the Second Sophistic”. arts.st-andrews.ac.uk.
db beat me to it.
I have access to the searchable online Loeb Classical Library. I searched for words starting with συμπλοκ in Polybius. I got 45 hits, none in book 12.
I used Project Perseus to search for forms of συμπλοκή in Polybius. I got 30 hits, none in book 12:
What you might be looking for is the last few sentences of chapter 4 in book 1:
“For we can get some idea of a whole from a part, but never knowledge or exact opinion. Special histories therefore contribute very little to the knowledge of the whole and conviction of its truth. It is only indeed by study of the interconnection (συμπλοκῆς) of all the particulars, their resemblances and differences, that we are enabled at least to make a general survey, and thus derive both benefit and pleasure from history.”
Polybius, The Histories, Volume I: Books 1-2 (2010)
Loeb Classical Library 128
Translated by W. R. Paton. Revised by F. W. Walbank, Christian Habicht.
Hi Neil. I just sent you an email with 35 passages in Polybius from a search in Perseus (but none in book 12).
This is serious scholarship. Thanks for sharing. I wish that I have some assistance to render other than moral support.
Mortley, Raoul (1996). The Idea of Universal History from Hellenistic Philosophy to Early Christian Historiography. Edwin Mellen Press. pp. 41–42. ISBN 978-0-7734-8787-1.
Mendels, Doron (1997). The Rise and Fall of Jewish Nationalism. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. p. 36. ISBN 978-0-8028-4329-6.
Cf. Mendels, D. (1988). “‘Creative History’ in the Hellenistic Near East in the Third and Second Centuries BCE: the Jewish Case”. Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha. 1 (2): 13–20. doi:10.1177/095182078800000202.
Yes, Polybius’ “symploke” is not what Neil was looking for, a term for presenting a variety of equally possible ‘truths’. Polybius very much thought that the truth of and behind public events could be established, or at least extreme probability presented, as long as the historian was himself a public ‘player’ with that experience to guide his judgement.
Nevertheless, time spent reading Polybius 12 is not wasted, indeed should be recommended reading! It’s great fun, a detailed -and extremely vitriolic- critique of more popular Hellenistic historians. Of Timaeus, a great archival researcher who (allegedly) got everything wrong : “For while he exhibits great severity and audacity in accusing others, his own pronouncements are full of dreams, prodigies, incredible tales and, to put it shortly, craven superstition and womanish love of the marvellous”.
Indeed. The same should be compulsory reading for anyone tempted to say that the gospels conform to the historical methods of the day, insofar as people then supposedly treated myths and the miraculous as “facts” or “historical truths”.
Further to this, ancient writers with a critical faculty had a particular problem with the sensationalist histories written by the companions of Alexander the Great, supposedly reliable eye-witnesses.
Strabo 15.1.28 : “..Onesicritus, who cannot so properly be called arch-pilot of Alexander as of things that are incredible; for though all the followers of Alexander preferred to accept the marvellous rather than the true, Onesicritus seems to surpass all of them in the telling of prodigies. However, he tells some things that are both plausible and worthy of mention, and therefore they [the fantasies] are not passed by in silence even by one who disbelieves them”.
Of Clitarchus, who had Alexander meet the queen of the Amazons, Quintilian (10.1.75) was more succinct : “Clitarchi probatur ingenium, fides infamatur”.
OP: “I read Book 12 in an English translation and failed to notice any discussion of the sort of idea I think Doron Mendels is addressing.”
Per Mendels, “[Polybius’] views on the writing of history are to be found mainly in his twelfth book, where he elaborately lays out his views on causation (aitia, prophasis, arche).” —(1997, pp.35f)
I’m in interdisciplinary studies; which tries to take all the separate studies, disciplines, and put them together into the big, overall picture. Sounds like Poly was thinking about trying that. But noting how difficult it was.
Sounds like he had his own earlier version of the story of the blind men and the elephant. But problems too with Frankensteinian syntheses. Though finally he reached some kind of acceptably integrative “symbiosis.” Or “sym”phonic overview.
Research the Greek root “sym” …
Thank you one and all for your replies, including those who sent me emails — and the one who offered “nothing more than” moral support 🙂
I am coming to conclude that Polybius did not quite say or address exactly what Doron Mendels had been addressing, the inconsistent accounts of events in the one work. Polybius spoke of different perspectives, technical, practical, moral, etc, but that’s not quite the same thing.
Inowlocki-Meister, Sabrina (September 2009) [now formatted]. “Review of: Antiquity in Antiquity: Jewish and Christian Pasts in the Greco-Roman World. Texte und Studien zum antiken Judentum, 123”. Bryn Mawr Classical Review.