; MAKING THE WORSE CASE APPEAR THE BETTER: BRITISH RECEPTION OF THE GREEK SOPHISTS PRIOR TO 1850
Documents
Resources
Learning Center
Upload
Plans & pricing Sign in
Sign Out
Your Federal Quarterly Tax Payments are due April 15th Get Help Now >>

MAKING THE WORSE CASE APPEAR THE BETTER: BRITISH RECEPTION OF THE GREEK SOPHISTS PRIOR TO 1850

VIEWS: 54 PAGES: 29

This essay surveys descriptions of the ancient Greek sophists written by British historians in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. At that time, most historians portrayed the sophists as representing the corrosive influence of populism and commercialism on the intellectual life of ancient Athens. Beginning in the 1820s, several Whig and Radical historians began to challenge the traditional interpretation. Just as before, the revisionist histories of the sophists were shaped as much by modern political, economic, and religious interests as by disagreements about the evidentiary status of textual fragments from antiquity. Among the authors discussed in this survey are William Mitford, Walter Anderson, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Thomas Mitchell, John Forster, Thomas Babbington Macaulay, Connop Thirlwall, G. H. Lewes, and George Grote. [PUBLICATION ABSTRACT]

More Info
  • pg 1
									    Making the Worse Case appear the Better:
     British reCeption of the greek sophists
                 prior to 1850
                                    Karen e. Whedbee




This essay surveys descriptions of the ancient Greek sophists written by British his-
torians in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. At that time, most histo-
rians portrayed the sophists as representing the corrosive influence of populism and
commercialism on the intellectual life of ancient Athens. Beginning in the 1820s,
several Whig and Radical historians began to challenge the traditional interpre-
tation. Just as before, the revisionist histories of the sophists were shaped as much
by modern political, economic, and religious interests as by disagreements about
the evidentiary status of textual fragments from antiquity. Among the authors
discussed in this survey are William Mitford, Walter Anderson, Samuel Taylor
Coleridge, Thomas Mitchell, John Forster, Thomas Babbington Macaulay, Connop
Thirlwall, G. H. Lewes, and George Grote.

   One of the most remarkable phenomena in our recent historical literature is a
   tendency to whitewash all characters which had previously presented a black
   aspect; to prefer the intellectual divination of a subtle modern professor to the
   plain testimony of a sober old chronicler; and generally to unsettle all things that
   we had in previous ages been taught to look on as settled.



Karen E. Whedbee is Associate Professor of Communication at Northern Illinois University
in DeKalb, Illinois. The research for this essay was completed with financial support from a
National Endowment for the Humanities Faculty Grant (2006). Any views, findings, conclu-
sions, or recommendations expressed in this publication do not necessarily reflect those of the
National Endowment for the Humanities. Additional support was provided by Northern Illinois
University through a Summer Research and Artistry Award (2006). Catherine Lang served as an
undergraduate research assistant for this project. The author thanks Carol Poster for her gener-
ous criticism of an earlier version of the paper and Janet Novak for her valuable suggestions and
editorial assistance.

© 2008 Michigan State University Board of Trustees. All rights reserved.
Rhetoric & Public Affairs Vol. 11, No. 4, 2008, pp. 603–630
ISSN 1094-8392
604	                                                       RhetoRic	&	Public	AffAiRs


I  n his 1874 essay, John Stuart Blackie noted the growing influence of
     revisionist historians who manipulated the historical record so as to
transform villains into heroes and heroes into villains.1 He directed attention
specifically to George Grote’s rehabilitation of the ancient Greek sophists. Prior
to Grote, historians had always condemned the sophists as a class of morally
corrupt men who engaged in the cynical and self-interested manipulation of
public opinion. However, in volume 8 of his History of Greece, originally pub-
lished in 1850, Grote presented arguments that reversed this 
								
To top