Article written for Galleria, the HWA magazine, for Historical Writing Month, November 2013.
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The History Writers
‘The first law of history is to tell the truth,’ said Cicero in the first century BC. Yet the histories written in Greek and Latin, Aramaic and the languages of ancient Asia in the thousand years before Cicero do not conform to a fixed truth. The Christian gospels, supposedly synonymous with truth, do not agree with each other by a wide margin, and were not written by, or in the lifetime of, those whose names they take but are thought to have been composed between eighty and two hundred years after the death of Jesus of Nazareth.
Ancient writers of histories, like modern writers of history, made choices about how to present material gathered from records, artefacts and memories. They told stories. Broadly speaking, they based their narratives on actual events, but it remains that what we think of today as history and, almost by definition, truth, could be more truthfully described as partiality.
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