Which in fact, I do. At least, I trust them more than the alternatives.
The author John Maddox Roberts likes to reply with a question of his own, when he's asked about historical accuracy in his Roman mysteries. He asks back, how much do we really know about the Kennedy assassination? And that was a major event that happened only 50 years ago.
He's right, of course. Pick any newsworthy event that's happened in the last three months, and I guarantee you'll find at least two, and probably four or more, strongly differing views about what really happened.
If you go to the library and check the books on ancient Greece, you'll see they fall into three simple groups:
- Stuff that was written at the time;
- Stuff that Roman period people wrote about the Greeks; and
- Stuff that was written in the last 100 years.
Category 1 is Herodotus, Thucydides, Plato, Artistotle et al.
Category 2 is Plutarch, who wrote biographies, and Pausanias, who wrote the world's first Hitchhiker's Guide to Greece. They're both Greek, but they're writing hundreds of years after the fact.
Category 3 is piles and piles of books, some by academics, some popular. The more popular they are, the better written, but the less accurate and comprehensive.
My level of trust in these books is precisely the order 1,2,3. The only thing that will modify that order is archaeological evidence and common sense.
When you read an ancient text, you're reading one man's view, but at least it's the view of someone on the ground as it happened, or as close as we can get. It's like reading the news these days: you read the article, and then you factor in the likely political bias of the person who's writing the news. Though come to that, Herodotus and Thucydides strike me as noticeably more balanced and unbiased than quite a few modern historians I've come across, and certainly far more unbiased than every journalist.
The guys writing in the Roman period often worked off older books that have since been lost. Pausanias personally visited just about everywhere he wrote of. And described it in detail. Unbelievably. Minute. Detail. This makes them, frankly, more trustworthy than most modern books.
This is going to get me into trouble with my academic friends, but I honestly believe it's true, that modern academic texts have an unfortunate tendency to be infected with left-wing ideology. So I don't see them as any less biased than ancient texts, but biased in a different way.
It's easy to cherry-pick examples one way or the other, so let me choose one that suits me. Believe it or not, there are ancient historians who are still fighting the Peloponnesian War. I swear I could guess modern people's voting patterns by whether they support Sparta or Athens. And the funny thing is, I've a feeling that 80% of the pro-Spartans are of a left wing disposition, and 80% of the pro-Athenians are right-wing. Not that I can prove it, but it's the distinct impression I get. Of course there are purely dispassionate modern articles, and when they are, they spend a lot of time quoting the ancient sources and doing logical analysis. Which ultimately takes me back to the primary sources anyway. And I must say, by far the biggest use for modern articles is pointers to ancient sources or quotes that I wasn't aware of.
If someone wrote about the Kennedy assassination, 2,500 years from now, how accurate is it likely to be?
So what it comes down to is, I trust the guys on the ground, writing within 50 years of the event, over people writing 2,500 years out.