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Logographer (history)

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Logographer (history)

The logographers (from the Ancient Greek λογογράφος, logographos, a compound of λόγος, logos, here meaning "story" or "prose", and γράφω, grapho, "write") were the Greek historiographers and chroniclers before Herodotus, "the father of history". Herodotus himself called his predecessors λογοποιοί (logopoioi, from ποιέω, poieo, "to make"). Thucydides applies the name to all who preceded him, including Herodotus (I, 21).

Their representatives with one exception came from Ionia and its islands, which from their position were most favourably situated for the acquisition of knowledge concerning the distant countries of East and West. They wrote in the Ionic dialect in what was called the unperiodic style (see below) and preserved the poetic character, if not the style, of their epic model. Their criticism amounts to nothing more than a crude attempt to rationalize the current legends and traditions connected with the founding of cities, the genealogies of ruling families, and the manners and customs of individual peoples. Of scientific criticism there is no trace whatever, and so they are often called chroniclers rather than historians.

The first logographer of note was Cadmus (dated to the 6th century BC), a perhaps mythical resident of Miletus, who wrote on the history of his city. Other logographers flourished from the middle of the 6th century BC until the Greco-Persian Wars; Pherecydes of Leros, who died about 400 BC, is generally considered the last. Hecataeus of Miletus (6th–5th century BC), in his Genealogiai, was the first of them to attempt (not entirely successfully) to separate the mythic past from the true historic past, which marked a crucial step in the development of genuine historiography. He is the only source that Herodotus cites by name. After Herodotus, the genre declined, but regained some popularity in the Hellenistic era.

The logographers, though they worked within the same mythic tradition, were distinct from the epic poets of the Trojan War cycle because they wrote in prose, in a non-periodic style which Aristotle (Rhetoric, 1049a 29) calls λέξις εἰρομένη (lexis eiromenê, from εἴρω, eiro, "attach, join up"), that is, a "continuous" or "running" style.

Famous logographers

Dionysius of Halicarnassus (On Thucydides, 5) names those who were most famous in the classical world. They are noted with an asterisk (*) in the following incomplete list of logographers:


  • The History of History; Shotwell, James T. (NY, Columbia University Press, 1939)
  • The Ancient Greek Historians; Bury, John Bagnell (NY, Dover Publications, 1958)

Further reading

  • Georg Busolt, Griechische Geschichte (1893), i. 147-153.
  • C. Wachsmuth, Einleitung in das Studium der alten Geschichte (1895).
  • A. Schafer, Abriss der Quellenkunde der griechischen und romischen Geschichte (ed. Heinrich Nissen, 1889).
  • J. B. Bury, Ancient Greek Historians (1909).
  • J. W. Donaldson, A History of the Literature of Ancient Greece (1858), translation of K. O. Müller (ch. 18); and W. Mute (bk, iv. ch. 3).
  • C. W. Müller, Fragmenta historicorum Graecorum (1841–1870).

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