Herodotus Essay, Research Paper
Herodotus was a Greek historian, generally called the Father of History. The work of Herodotus is the oldest surviving major Greek prose and the first history in Western civilization.
He was born at Halicarnassus, a Greek state under Persian rule, in southwestern Asia Minor. After a civil war, he left his homeland for good and spent some time in nearby Ionia. Then he traveled widely: as far south as Elephantine in Egypt; eastward into Asia to Babylon; and north to the far coast of the Black Sea. He lived in Periclean Athens for a while and took part in the Athenian colonization of Thurii in southern Italy in 433. Since he referred to early events of the Peloponnesian War, he must have lived past 431. His tomb was later shown at Thurii, but it is possible that he died in Athens, where he recited some of his history.
The preface of his history begins, These are the researches of Herodotus of Halicarnassus, which he publishes, in the hope of thereby preserving from decay the remembrance of what men have done. He sought to describe and explain great wars before his own generation. To Herodotus, two ways of life were opposed to one another in these wars-the freedom of the Greeks and the despotism of the Persians; nevertheless, he was so fair to the Persians that he was called in later ages friend to the barbarian.
Herodotus was also deeply interested in the geography and ethnography of the lands he had visited, and he discussed the customs he found there in great deal. As he states in Book II, chapter 123, of his history, I propose to myself throughout my whole work faithfully to record the traditions of the several nations, particularly if they produced entertaining stories. His account, however, does not take up the period of myth and epic to any extent. He was skeptical of the story of King Minos thalassocracy in Crete, and he doubted that Helen ever went to Troy. In general, his history reaches back no further that he felt he could trust oral accounts; that is, not often earlier that the middle of the 6th century BC
Unlike the succeeding Greek historian Thucydides, Herodotus did not write his history to give lessons for the future; his intent was primarily in preventing the great and wonderful actions of the Greeks and the barbarians from losing their due meed of glory.
Through Herodotus came from a Dorian state, his work is written in the Ionian dialect, which had been used by the early philosophers and by the writer Hectares. At first glance, Herodotus style appears simple and artless; Aristotle called it a running style. But on closer inspection, his subtle skill in varying sentences and vocabulary and in creating climaxes is evident. Herodotus does not appear to be indebted to the Athenian tragedians of his day, but he was much influenced by homer.
As a modern critic observes of Herodotus, he more than most writers is one to read, not to talk about, for his rich tapestry is not easily summarized. To judge Herodotus as a historian, one must remember that he was the first Greek writer who tried to reconstruct the past in a historical manner. There were no previous histories for him to use a models, although he did draw from Hectares geographical work and cited Home, Pindar, and the oracles. For the most part, he had to rely on his own observations of monuments and customs and on oral information. This investigation was called historie at the time; only later did it mean the written results of research.
Most of his information, which he gathered in many places over many years, Herodotus kept in his head, for taking notes was not an easy process. As a result, he sometimes made simple mistakes in geography or other points where we can check his account, but on the whole he sought with remarkable success to be factually accurate. At the time there was no standard method of dating on which he could rely. Events in Herodotus are dated by kings or parallel events elsewhere, or they are placed in sequence. Modern scholars tend to accept his basic chronological structure.
The objectivity of Herodotus is notable. He lived at Athens, and praises its courage in withstanding the Persians, but he also gives full credit to the Spartan role in the victory. He considers the Greeks as free men, acknowledging no master but the law; yet he can also describe sympathetically the unusual religion of the Persians and praise them for instructing their sons in three things alone-to ride, to draw the bow, and to speak the truth.
Perhaps more than any other great historian, Herodotus has been both criticized and praised, from ancient times on down to the present. During the 19th century, Herodotus was often considered a simple storyteller who could not be trusted. But archaeological work in the Middle East has proved that much of his account of Egypt and Babylon is more accurate than was commonly assumed, and scholars have assessed him more carefully. The significance of his history is twofold. In the first place, our knowledge of early Greek history becomes consecutive and extensive only when we can draw on the information picked up and preserved by Herodotus; and we know the great
Persian wars, which halted the expansion of the Persian Empire at a crucial point, almost entirely from his history. Secondly, Herodotus began the writing oh history in the Western world, although few historians have tried to emulate his remarkable scope and intricate pattern of organization.