TuTh 8:30–9:45 Allen Bldg 229

William A. Johnson
Office hours TuTh 1:30, by chance, by appt.
Allen 229B 684-2802

Conspectus. The frame to this course will be the question of how the genre of history writing develops in early Greece— the history of historiography, as it were. To that end, we will spend a month with Herodotus, a week or so with the fragments of other early historians, and a bit more than a month on Thucydides. Some may wish to extend the course to include at least some of what happens later —Xenophon, Polybius, Diodorus, Appian, Arrian. Those are all huge authors, though, and the survey would need to be a breathless gallop. Our aim there will be more modest: to become good friends with a more limited number of authors and texts. (Even a severe Classicist will forgive you for not knowing Diodorus or Appian well, but you must know your Herodotus and Thucydides!)

Your principal goals in this class will be: (1) to master the “essential” primary texts, that is, to create a firm and last impression of the purple patches from Herodotus and Thucydides; (2) to gain confidence and some fluency in the reading of Greek historiographical prose; (3) to come to your own understanding, however provisional, of the nature of early historical writings; (4) to command some critical parts, at least, of the secondary literature and its history, that is, to come to understand some ways that scholarship has shaped the contours of how we think and talk about early historiography. Successful application to these goals will have these direct outcomes: (1) you should be prepared to teach an introductory course in Herodotus or Thucydides, including a course in translation (such as classical civilization); (2) you should have a solid foundation for more specialized mastery of Greek historiography, including further work in these authors, but also enabling informed investigation of later Greek historians.

Logistics. Since this is a course directed to advanced students, and since there is a range of preparation among the students, the weekly rhythm will allow for some flexibility and independence. The more advanced the student, the more flexibility is in play, something that needs to be used to advantage. We will all read certain passages each week in Greek, and selected secondary matter. The remainder of the purple patch material (see list in schedule of assignments) will be contracted by the student. Well-advanced students will want to read far beyond the mandatory material in Greek; less advanced students will need to concentrate on developing firm control and fluency, and thus will have time to read less additional mateiral. All students will, at the least, master all purple patch materials in translation, as well as the mandatory materials in Greek. Tests will focus on command of the Greek and will include the materials that the class as a whole reads in Greek, plus the individually contracted materials; each test will also have an essay that allows you to speak more broadly to the purple patch materials and the issues raised by the secondary literature. Each student will lead the class in two directed discussions, acting as facilitator to discussion of secondary materials (see faciliations). Each student will also have the opportunity to begin to develop a specialty interest (see student projects).

Facilitations. Most weeks a pair of students will be asked to facilitate discussion of a central article or book chapter, sometimes two, or a central passage that illuminates scholarship we have already studied. Your goal will be to draw out what is interesting or extraordinary, but also to pursue critical analysis of the methods, presentation, and evidential base to the scholarship. Best will be a facilitation by which the two students work as a team to coordinate content and strategy. This is an exercise in teaching as well as a class facilitation. Presentations in the mode of the traditional, deathly “graduate student report” will not be tolerated.

Student Projects. Each student will select a specialty area to explore. Readings in primary and secondary materials within that area will result in a round-table presentation of provisional thoughts, and a short paper that seeks to encapsulate those thoughts in a more considered fashion. For details follow the navigation tab above for Student Projects>Overview.


  1. Class work, facilitations, presentation 30%
  2. Two hour examinations 50%
  3. Written exercise 20%

Texts. For Herodotus and Thucydides, use the Oxford Classical Texts, by Hude and Jones/Powell respectively. For Herodotus, we will use for translation my newly minted volume, The Essential Herodotus (if you want to supplement that with a full translation, I recommend Sélincourt). For Thucydides, you can have your choice; I rather like the Landmark Thucydides there.

On reserve (in the Classics library, 233 Allen Bldg). Very useful is Enoch Powell’s Lexicon to Herodotus, sadly out of print but kindly made available online by the TLG. Essential for the early books is the commentary by Asheri et al. For Thucydides, there are competing commentaries, by Simon Hornblower (most up to date) and the venerable Historical Commentary in five volumes by Gomme. We will also make fairly heavy use of Rusten’s collection of essential scholarship on Thucydides: Jeffery Rusten, Thucydides: Oxford Readings in Classical Studies. For bibliography, we have the excellent guidance of the Oxford Bibliographies Online, and for Herodotus I have provided in addition a more idiosyncratic bibliography of my own, topically arranged to my own research interests.