Geoffrey Hawthorn’s review essay “Things Keep Happening” in the LRB discusses various books about the history and practice of writing histories (the title comes from Gregory of Tours’ History of the Franks: “A great many things keep happening, some good, some bad”) and has many good things in it, including this quote from John Burrow’s A History of Histories: Epics, Chronicles, Romances and Inquiries from Herodotus and Thucydides to the Twentieth Century:
The impulse to write history has nourished much effective narrative, and narrative – above all in Homer – was one of the sources of history as a genre. It would be a strange paradox if narrative and history turned out to be incompatible. But the example of Homer may teach us not to take the paradox too tragically. The Iliad has a climax, the fall of Troy, but it has many perspectives, and it would be a drastically impoverished reading of Homer’s epic that saw as its ‘point’ an explanation of Troy’s fall. The concept of a story is in essence a simple one, but that does not make all narrators either simple-minded or single-minded. Narrative can be capacious as well as directional.
But I’m here to pass on to my clever and polymathic readers a couple of questions that have imposed themselves on me as a result of reading Hawthorn:
1) He mentions an obscure late-16th-century historian named Reiner Reineck, also known (in the Latinizing style of the day) as Reineccius; in an effort to find out more about him I googled the latter form, and imagine my surprise when I got tens of thousands of hits, almost all for modern bearers of that surname: Gary Reineccius, Kelsea Reineccius, Stefanie Reineccius… It’s not by any means a common name (this site says it “had 156 occurences in the 2000 Census”), but I want to know how it’s pronounced by those who use it today—rye-NESH-us? rye-NEESH-us? Anybody know? (In German it would be rye-NECK-see-oos, I think.)
2) In a passage on Reineck’s better-known contemporary Jean Bodin (who “recommended torture, even in cases of the disabled and children, to try to confirm guilt of witchcraft” and “asserted that not even one witch could be erroneously condemned if the correct procedures were followed, suspicion being enough to torment the accused because rumours concerning witches were almost always true”), Hawthorn says: “But his exuberantly penetrating reflections on the ars historica were to stir all but the most fearful crabs. Like Patrizi’s dialectics and Reineck’s researches, they can in retrospect be seen to have contributed to the end of what they purported to extend.” I think of myself as a pretty decent reader, but I have not the faintest idea what he means by “stir all but the most fearful crabs”; can anybody elucidate?
Update (January 2010): An actual bearer of the Reineccius name writes to inform me that his family pronounces it rye-NECK-sus (three syllables), adding “that is a very German pronunciation, coming from a predominantly German person” (the family has been in the U.S. since 1868 but “has held on to our German roots since that time”).