Ephorus, ideal communities, and Greece : philosophical themes in a universal history




Yarbrough, Colin Warner

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Ephorus was an historian held in high esteem by ancient authors, but his reputation has not fared as well among modern scholars. He has been accused of apolitical simplicity, lack of judgment in selecting sources, political bias, and, most damagingly, choosing or even distorting his material for the purpose of creating moral exempla. This characterization, however, is unfair to Ephorus and his History. Analysis of the fragments does not reveal an explicitly moral purpose to his work, thus he must be freed from the negative implications that such a purpose entails. Nevertheless, as this study will demonstrate, Ephorus did have a concept of ideal communities and how they functioned to ensure internal concord and external security, one that apparently approached historical reality in Scythia and Crete. Both communities, according to Ephorus, are characterized by an aversion to wealth, harmony amongst citizens, and shared communal ownership and responsibility. These themes appear again in Ephorus’ narrative of the 5th and 4th centuries, most prominently in the histories of Athens, Sparta, and Thebes. Furthermore, these themes are related to philosophical and political discourses of the 4th century found in the major philosophical schools. Thus, while Ephorus should not be considered a moral historian, his worldview was shaped by the philosophy of the 4th century, which helped in the creation of an organized, though possibly overly schematized, understanding of history.