duck5

procrastination, heresy, and navel-gazing.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

the life-blood of the historian

Just as Odysseus found on his visit to Hades that the dead seer Teiresias could not speak to him until his inarticulate ghost had been brought to life by the blood of a sacrifice, so from the life-blood of his own sympathy the historian gives a blood transfusion to the ghosts of the past.
G.B. Caird, The Language and Imagery of the Bible, 202-3, 1980 (1997).
the task of the historian is tough. it depends on what questions one asks of the past, and in some cases (of necessity?), creating the past. here is the understandable response:
It has been said that though God cannot alter the past, historians can; it is perhaps because they can be useful to Him in this respect that He tolerates their existence.
Samuel Butler, Erewhon Revisited, ch 5.
it is clear that sympathy is required, empathy even better. it doesn't make doing history any easier, but it surely helps.

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