Cicero’s Take on History and Historians

 

CiceroBust

The first law for the historian is that he shall never dare utter an untruth. The second is that he shall suppress nothing that is true. Moreover, there shall be no suspicion of partiality in his writing, or of malice.” Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 B.C.)

As a historian and historical fiction writer, I’ve always loved this great Roman statesman’s quote.  If we aren’t objective in our study of history, if we twist the facts or rewrite history to suit our own opinions about the past, we not only cheat ourselves–we also fail to learn our ancestors’ past lessons that we can apply to today’s events.

We historical fiction writers should strive for objectivity, which also means accuracy. While weaving our fictional characters’ stories into historical events, we should accurately depict these events and the historical figures involved in them.

Is it ever acceptable to engage in a bit of artistic license? Maybe twist a small fact? I believe it’s acceptable, but shouldn’t  be done often. Bernard Cornwell shows us how to do this in his novel, Redcoat, set during the American Revolution. In a historical note at the end of the book, he tells readers that he took “some liberties with the Revolution’s chronology,” and then he explains what these liberties were. So if we do engage in a bit of license, follow Cornwell’s example and let your readers know.

Cicero’s advice is sound, though. We historians and historical fiction writers do well to heed it.

 

Historical Novels: Their Importance

 

Louis_L'Amour

“Historical novels are, without question, the best way of teaching history, for they offer the human stories behind the events and leave the reader with a desire to know more.”

Louis L’Amour (2008). “Education of a Wandering Man”, p.15, Bantam

Mister L’Amour’s words have proven true in my life. My three favorite genres have always been history, historical fiction and biographies, even as a child.

The historical fiction books I read during my growing-up years, such as The Horse Soldiers (Harold Sinclair), The Black Arrow (Robert Louis Stevenson), and The Count of Monte Cristo (Alexandre Dumas) spurred my youthful hunger for more knowledge about these books’ eras. Getting lost in the past was, for me, sheer joy.

Sadly, many people today have little knowledge of the past. They learn their history from “historical” movies, most of which aren’t entirely accurate. It’s become easier to watch a film than it is to read.

So, we historical fiction writers have a challenge. Our writing must be at the “top of our game.” Not only must we write well, we must also keep our facts accurate. Our books may not win a Pulitzer Prize write like Michael Shaara’s The Killer Angels, about the Battle of Gettysburg, but if our historical novels get more folks interested in learning about the past, our time and labor is worth it. 

Research, write, and read! Till next time, friends. Have a great week.

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