Knowing Future Time in and through Greek Historiography

Department of Classics, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki

7-9 June 2013

Future time had a peculiar position in both Greek historiography and the genealogies of historical thought generated through its reception. On the one hand, as Arnaldo Momigliano noted, “the future did not loom large in the work of Greek historians”, especially in comparison with Roman, Judeo-Christian or modern historiography. Indeed, in a context wherein interpretations of oracles and divine signs posited prediction as a key part of cultural conceptions of time, while mythical temporality offered an ethical basis for linking past, present and future, Greek historical thought may be seen as produced on the basis of resistance to narratives of future time and prediction. On the other hand, both the concept of knowing the future and specific claims to such knowledge were never banished. Herodotus has been read as anticipating the future of the Peloponnesian war, when he warned about the catastrophic nature of Persian imperialism; he embraced the memorializing nature and ethical dimension of mythical traditions; and deployed interpretations of dreams and oracles throughout his narrative (without, however, offering a historiographical category of correct interpretation). Thucydides began his work with a prediction about the greatness of the war to come and prefigured his reception by proclaiming his investigation to be a possession for all time. Xenophon’s history was delimited by two categories of future time in the genre of historiography itself: it began by setting itself in the time after Thucydides incomplete history of the Peloponnesian War and concluded by anticipating its own continuation. In a different context, Polybius’ account of the fate of political regimes elaborated future time in both philosophical and historical terms, setting up a category of the politics of time that often mediated the reception of Greek historians and continued to reverberate in modern historiographical and political thought.

The conference seeks to discuss the philosophical, narrative, ethical and political articulations of future time in Greek historiography and reflect on the repercussions of this category in modern genealogies of historical thought. How was the quest for knowing the future inscribed in or resisted by Greek historiography? What was the position of future time in regimes of historicity whose dominant orientation focused on past and present? What were the ethics and politics of future time in Greek historiography and the modern genealogies of history that evoked Greek antiquity as their inaugural moment?

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