Fact or Fiction?

Courtesy of bible-history.com
Courtesy of bible-history.com

Did you know that ancient historians made up the speeches of prominent figures and presented them as if these figures had actually said them?

I find this fascinating considering the lengths we all have to go through in this day and age to make sure we do not commit plagiarism. The following extracts by Trevor Fear taken from The Open University book Reputations gives further insight:

It is important for the modern reader to be able to see where a historian gets
his or her information from, and to be able to judge how reliable his or
her sources are likely to be.

Ancient historians seldom refer to the sources of their information, and certainly don’t feel
obliged to justify their assertions.

Then (ancient) historians used their own judgement to put a speech into the
mouth of a historical character, gauging what was likely to have been
said by such a character in a particular situation. Such speeches are not a
record of what was said, but rather plausible fictions.

In this manner the work of ancient historians can
seem to be a bit like a play or novel where what happens is often
predetermined by the way the author has presented the make-up of his
or her characters.

‘Cleopatra’ by Trevor Fear, taken from Reputations

I feel like this is the earliest version of creative nonfiction. Or is it just historical fiction masked as actual history? In either event I am glad we have different standards in which we judge information. The line between fact and fiction may be running thinner than ever, but it is still good to know which is which.



8 thoughts on “Fact or Fiction?

  1. There’s that book called The Bible that some people have read. Hmm, wonder if there are any made-up speeches in it. I need a job as an ancient historian. And I need to have a book with the distribution and sales record of that Bible book. Has anything ever topped it? Cool post, Samir.

  2. As Oscar Wilde said: “The ancient historians gave us delightful fiction in the form of fact; the modern novelist presents us with dull facts in the guise of fiction.”

    1. A most appropriate quote! I’m ashamed to admit it, but I still have to read Wilde. My girlfriend has been motivating me to do so for a long time already and she says he’s got the most memorable quotes. I guess she was right.

  3. I think this fits in the realm of what is considered culturally acceptable. So yes, when we take a look at various cultures, today or throughout history, it is important to understand the context in which things are or were written down. This includes interpreting the text of various religious books as the actual “word of ___” or someone’s idea of what this person would have said.

    1. Yes, this makes sense. After all, without having some idea of what someone said I’d imagine ancient history to be a real dreary subject. As for the ‘word of __’ there’s some serious creativity there, don’t you think? 😉

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