After all, already in the century. V, around tragedy and comedy, science and prose had made considerable progress and had succeeded in affirming themselves in their own and autonomous forms. The main example also came from Ionia, where the pragmatic, logical, discursive spirit had grown on the margins of the cyclical epic, and had produced the first prose writers, λογογράϕοι: that is, the first historiographers, still steeped in mythological concepts, and the first naturalist philosophers, not yet free from theology and mysticism. And another example came from the West, from the predominantly Doric culture of Sicily and Magna Graecia, where the study of nature and realistic observation were also addressed with a certain precocity (as can be seen even from the plays of Epicarmo), and moreover, special dialectical and rhetorical inclinations had been or demonstrated: for eloquence was in great honor there, and soon began to be subjected to it in a workmanlike manner. These different currents collide in Athens and contribute to forming a new broader and more advanced culture which develops philosophy, history, eloquence, etc .; and that therefore in the uses of philosophy, history, eloquence, etc. gradually introduces his own dialect, the attic. The attic thus comes to establish itself as a kind of “common language” and as a natural organ of prose; while poetry (if we exclude the dialogic and that is rather reasoning parts of the drama) does not free itself and it is never to free itself from the traditions that bind it to the Ionic or Doric or Aeolian,
At the beginning the continuers and representatives of the antecedent thought met in Athens, especially the followers of Ionian philosophy, such as Diogenes of Apollonia and Anaxagoras of Clazomenes (together with Pythagoreans of Magna Graecia, such as Damone of Oa): who, in the enlightened environment and unscrupulous of Pericles, they continued along the path of naturalistic studies, undressing them more and more from theological and mystical subjection. But then, starting from about the middle of the century, and especially in the period of the Peloponnesian war, Athens became the center of that new intellectual movement which, in effective reaction with the Ionian philosophy, invaded all of Greece: the sophistry, whose main representatives, like Protagoras of Abdera, Prodicus of Ceo, Hippias of Elis, Gorgias of Leontini, they really came from all over,
Sophistics was opposed to Ionian philosophy, and in general to all previous philosophy, in that it no longer fixed the object of the research in nature and in the surrounding world, but in man, understood both as an individual and as a social being: and therefore he turned to study essentially all the creations of the human spirit and of culture, religion, state, family, nationality, country, poetry, etc. moreover, it was opposed to Ionian philosophy also in the scope of research, since philosophy aimed at the theoretical aim of knowledge, while sophistry for the most part doubted the possibility of objective knowledge and tended to exercise the practical dominion of life. This was the first time that Greek thought moved away from any transcendence of myth or nature, and he sought to question himself, his means and his achievements, the spiritual products of humanity. This approach led the discussion on a very delicate terrain, of beliefs, laws, traditions and customs. This explains the excesses and daring to which, at first, the sophistication reached; and at the same time explains the enormous repercussions of fear and doubt it provoked in every branch of contemporary life.
Socrates of Athens (469-399) is also closely connected with sophistry, although a different and very important development begins with him, which contrasts with the mostly skeptical and immoral tendencies of the sophists and is based, in fact, both on the definition concepts, both on the moralization of philosophy. Socrates did not leave anything written, but through his disciples, who variously interpreted and spread the principles – Plato, Xenophon, Aeschines of Sfetus, Antisthenes, Aristippus, Phaedo, etc. – exerted incalculable influences. From its seed arose a number of philosophical schools, Cynical, Cyrenaic, Megaric, Eretrics (as well as Plato and the Academicians), which pervade the whole culture of the 4th century BC. C.
Sophistics, by drawing attention to the problems of man, must necessarily provoke an increase in historiography. In fact, apart from the writers of biographical memoirs and portraits (such as Stesimbrotus of Thasos and Ion of Chios), the first great Greek historian, Herodotus of Halicarnassus (484-425 circa), was immediately present at the beginning of this period.
Herodotus is still quite tied to the traditions of logographers: and he demonstrates it, not only in his predilection for legendary, fictional, fabulous elements, not only in a certain narrative slowness and disorganization, yes also in preserving, he who writes in Athens and especially for Athens, the Ionian dialect. But on the other hand the new spirit is revealed in the attitude with which he subjects the whole set of narratives on the events and customs of peoples to a historical problem, real and present, which is that of the conflict between Greeks and barbarians, that is of the Persian wars and the becoming of Athens: a problem which, to tell the truth, for its object recalls the heroic climate of the fighting generations in Marathon and Salamis, but at the same time implies a harmony with critical and philosophical progress. L’ Herodotian work is on the border between two ages: from one it receives the splendor of faith and heroism, from the other it learns subtle habits of discussion and reasoning. The art of the writer dominates over everything: he has something similar to the great contemporary dramatists and, in the facts he narrates, breathes the breath of poetry.
A great step forward is made by the historian of the Peloponnesian war, Thucydides (c.460-396), who could not have chosen a material more conforming to the dispositions of his intellect.
He exposes the events of Athenian politics in that stormy period, which for the most part he witnessed, or of which he could have immediate news for documents or reports; he exposes them with objective and realistic understanding, therefore in the language that is suited to reality, concise and robust; not in the language of tradition, but in that of current use, and therefore in the Attic (which under these auspices makes its entry into literary prose). The separation from the ionic logography is clear; all the remnants of mythology, theology and mysticism are condemned and scattered; one has no faith in anything other than in what can be established with a critical method, and one aims at nothing but the positive circle of facts; the facts are interpreted as a pure game of interests and necessities especially as a result of the inclinations and disposition of men: and men are judged not so much from the moral point of view as from the rigidly political and pragmatic point of view. Thucydides is in all this the son of sophistry. From the experience of the times he draws a bitter sense of skepticism and pessimism, which brings him very close to Euripides.
His successor historians in general used the example of Thucydides, who learned from there the method and aims of objective research, even if, as a result of the Socratic reaction, they freed themselves from sophistry and introduced more serene moral ideas and tendencies. more constructive, or more varied.
This is what Xenophon of Athens did first (about 430-354). Intellect not very deep but versatile and brilliant, he was animated by a great variety of interests, which led him to be a disciple of Socrates, to accompany the adventurous expedition of the Ten Thousand, etc. These interests also led him to write a little of everything, with limpid simplicity and grace; and they make him appear in many respects (he very attic) almost a precursor of the Alexandrian age: polygraph, publicist, journalist rather than historian or philosopher. In essence, he tended to the biographical, anecdotal, personal element; to give shape to the moral and political ideas that were close to his heart, he did not disdain to resort to the element of romance as well (as demonstrated above all in Ciropedia). His specialty was the memoir and propaganda book; and in this regard it must be compared to the great representative of contemporary journalism, Isocrates (436-338), who equally mixed philosophy with practice and in the forms of apparatus eloquence, solemn, copious, persuasive, examined the maximum political and social problems that were appearing or were about to appear not only in Athenian but Panhellenic consciousness. Isocrates had a very large influence on his century; also on the historians, Ephorus and Theopompus, who were his disciples.