The subject of “Tradition” is problematic when regarding historical sources pertaining to archaic Greece. Much of what we know about ancient times comes from literary sources and various inscriptions, such as Herodotus. Having been written by people of the epoch, influenced by oral tradition as well as political and social climates, and not as historical research, these writings should not be taken literally. And some, like Osborne, would say are automatically disqualified as historical evidence.
When examining the case of the foundation of Cyrene, we must first assess the quality of our main source of information on the subject - Herodotus. Herodotus, who wrote in the 5th century BC, tells us of the stories he had heard from the people of Cyrene and the people of Thera (The claimed Mother-city of Cyrene) regarding the founding of Cyrene.
Osborne’s reading of Herodotus’ stories conveys they are not in unison. He claims that the Theran story emphasizes the difficulties they went through and the amount of careful planning put into the founding endeavor, whereas the Cyrenian version tells almost exclusively of their founder and first king, Battos. He explains these differences by looking at the socio-economical climate at the time the text was written. The Therans had an interest to keep their historical links with prosperous Cyrene alive and well, while it was important for the Cyrenian monarchy, the Battiads, to emphasize Battos’ role to legitimize themselves, as well as affirm Cyrene’s independence. It is clear now that these stories were based on each side’s interests and needs, and are selective and exaggerated.
Malkin dismisses Osborne’s presentation of Herodotus’ accounts as conflicting, and suggests that with further analysis of the text it becomes evident that the Theran version is a combined Theran-Cyrenian one, and the “Cyrenian” story is in fact just used to fill what is missing in the Theran version. He agrees that the stories, especially...
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