History : Mar-Apr 2018
HISTORY OF HERODOTUS Circa 484 b.c. Herodotus is born in Halicarnassus (modern- day Bodrum, Turkey), then controlled by Persia. Circa 454 b.c. Herodotus begins his travels. Interviewing those he meets, he gathers his impressions, which will become The Histories. XXXXX In the prologue to The Histories—almost cer- tainly written after he had finished the larger work—Herodotus informs the reader of his double objective to preserve events for poster- ity so that “neither the deeds of men may be forgotten by lapse of time, nor the works great and marvellous, produced some by [Greeks] and some by Barbarians, may lose their renown; and especially that the causes may be remembered for which these waged war with one another.” His general aim then was to recount the great past acts of Greeks and non-Greeks, and, more specifically, to explain the causes and course of the recent Greco-Persian Wars (492-449 b.c.). This conflict had a colossal impact on Herodo- tus’s own life, and a desire to understand how it unfolded lies behind his great historic project. It was this endeavor that ultimately earned him the moniker “father of history.” Personal History For all his chronicling of events in his time, little is known of Herodotus’s own life. He was born in about 484 b.c. in the Greek city of Halicarnassus (modern-day Bodrum, Turkey), a port city on the southwestern coast of Asia Minor. The city had been under Persian control since the mid-sixth century b.c. A Greek revolt arose in the 490s but was quashed by Persian emperor Darius the Great. Athens sent aid to Halicarnassus dur- ing the rebellion, which would become the first event in the Greco-Persian conflict that would dominate Herodotus’s imagination. Herodotus’s methodical approach to history was an outgrowth of the rigorous intellectual spirit that took hold of Halicarnassus, Samos, Miletus, and other coastal towns in the sixth century b.c. New ways of thinking and inquiry took root and flowered, and rational inquiry was valued over blind faith. Philosophers such as Thales of Miletus saw the world as an intercon- nected and comprehensible system. In his writings Herodotus makes it clear that he identifies himself as Greek and favors Greek language and culture, but Persia’s influence on his life is undeniable. Cosmopolitan Halicarnas- sus had close contacts with the Persian world, and Herodotus was intrigued by these other lands. Beginning around 454 b.c., he embarked T he fifth century b.c . was an auspicious time in the Greek world, marked both by the horror of war and a flower- ing of creativity. The Greeks battled the Persian Empire and penned enduring plays, such as Sophocles’ Antigone and Euripides’ Medea. It was also the first time a scholar looked to the past to explain the present, as Herodotus did in The Histories. This mammoth work was the world’s first narrative history book. MUSE OF HISTORY Unlike the poet Homer, Herodotus did not invoke Clio, the Greek Muse of history (depicted in a Renaissance fresco below). Even so, later scholars named each of The Histories’ nine books after one of the nine Muses. Museum of Rome SCALA, FLORENCE QUOTES FROM HERODOTUS’S HISTORIES IN THIS ARTICLE ARE FROM THE 1890 EDITION BY GEORGE CAMPBELL MACAULAY.