1902 Encyclopedia > History > Modern School of Historians: Rejection of the Fabulous; Seeing the Ancients as Living People

(Part 14)

Modern School of Historians: Rejection of the Fabulous; Seeing the Ancients as Living People

This is not the place to dwell in detail on the achievements of the modern school of historians. The whole field of history has been explored afresh with such superior insight, knowledge, and just conception of the task in hand that all historical writings anterior in date to the end of the 18th century are entirely superseded, with the single exception perhaps of Gibbon, who alone, as Mr Freeman says, has not been set aside by subsequent research.

Ancient history, chiefly in consequence of the extraordinary zeal and diligence of the Germans in what they call the science of antiquity (Alterthumswissenschaft), has become a reality, vivid in interest, and fruitful in knowledge, instead of the nebulous unreality it had been before.

The rejection of the fabulous elements in the histories of Greece and Rome was the first step, but a long one, which it required many years and much effort to make.

The next was to obtain a firm grasp of the idea that the Greeks and Romans were living men, and not statues like the Elgin Marbles, and to look at their politics, institutions, and religions with the discriminating eye of common sense, and a real wish to see them as they were.

The true nature of Athenian democracy, of the Spartan oligarchy, of the commons and patricians of Rome, of the partly struggles which caused and justified the transition from the republic to the empire, has been put in a clear light, which can hardly be appreciated by those who are not aware of the darkness which it replaced. Points of view and lines of inquiry concerning the religion, government, institutions, taxation, and law of the ancient states have been opened up, of which the possibility in the old days was not suspected.

The sociological knowledge of the present has illumined the past, an interesting example of which is afforded by the rapprochement between the English dominion in India and the Roman provincial administration.

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