That old saying about learning history to avoid repeating it is hard to dispute. I really love history, but I most often read good, well researched historical fiction. All history is told by unreliable narrators. What bothers me the most are those authors who profess absolutely factual events … as long as they uphold their world view – Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States gives numerous examples of unreliable historical narratives that should shake most of us out of our lazy reading and believing.
Both types of story tellers are unreliable narrators; they select events, facts and the right emphasis to support their narrative. I just find historical fiction more entertaining and most importantly, no less ‘factual’. Learning from great stories of the human condition within a historical context, helping to recognize the repeats, rhythms and parallels of surfacing in current events. A salve for my curiosity of the past.
The wonderful teacher and author, Lilyan Kesteloot (sorry only in French) who I had the honor of studying with for 1 year, carefully showed how the griot (or bard) artfully modified stories to retain the publically ‘known’ version but used the story to justify the current holder of power. Her publication of the Sundiata story is a masterpiece.
I will comment from time to time on the better stories, for example Cicero.