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Herodotus
The father of history

Herodotus - Greek historian

picture of a sculpted bust of herodotus Herodotus, later famous as a historian to the point of becoming known by his admirers as the 'father of history', was born in Halicarnassus, (now Bodrum, Turkey), in about 484 B. C.

As a son of a prominent family Herodotus received a good education sufficient to allow him to eventually gain an extensive familiarity with the literature of ancient Greece.

He seems to have travelled very extensively in the Greek and Persian worlds into which he had been born.



The inhabited world as known of by Herodotus.
Map of the inhabited world as known of by Herodotus.

 

On this map the Mediterranean Sea can be discerned as a large inlet, with landmasses to the north and south, and with a western entry point labelled Pillars, (from the Greek designation ~ 'the Pillars of Hercules').
Today's Italian peninsula can be easily seen with mainland Greece being located to its right and with today's Turkey, (or Asia Minor), being furthur right again.
In Herodotus day Halicarnassus was an "Ionian" Greek colonial town subject to Persian overlordship and located at the bottom left of Asia Minor.

When he was in his early thirties (circa 457 BC) some political difficulties between Herodotus' wider family and the rulers of Halicarnassus contributed to his living in exile for several years. During these times his initial destination seems to have been the the island of Samos but thereafter Herodotus traveled widely throughout virtually the entire ancient Middle East visiting Asia Minor, Babylonia, Egypt, and Greece.

Herodotus was centrally involved in the rebellious overthrow of the unpopular ruler of Halicarnassus and was thereby enabled to enjoy full rights of citizenship in his home city. He did not settle down there however but, circa 447 BC, went to Athens, then the center and focus of culture in the Greek world, where he won the admiration of the most illustrious men of Greece, including the great Athenian statesman Pericles. During a stay of some years in Athens Herodotus seems to have been awarded a substantial sum, by a decree of the people, in appreciation of his literary talents.

Herodotus did not enjoy the status of citizenship, with associated enhancements in rights, in Athens and this may have contributed to his joining in (443 BC) with a new colonial settlement at Thurii in southern Italy where he could hope to be a citizen. Such colonies were widely sponsored by individual greek city states for commercial reasons and also to better provide for the employment of their citizens.

Herodotus settled down in Thurii and devoted his efforts to the completion of a great work entitled 'Inquiry' ( a Greek word which passed into Latin and took on its modern meaning as History ). Herodotus' wide-ranging work has subsequently been presented by scholars as a nine part work the first six 'books' of which are introductory and give rounded introductions to most of the peoples of the ancient world giving insights into their customs, legends, history, and traditions. The last three 'books' treat with the rivalries and conflicts between the Greek and Persian worlds from the early fifth century B. C.

In the several sections of The Histories, Herodotus describes the expansion of the Persian Achaemenid empire under several of its kings including Cyrus the Great (557-530 BC: Book1), Cambyses (530-522 BC: Book 2 and part of Book 3) and Darius I the Great (521-486 BC: the rest of Book 3 then Books 4,5,6), culminating in king Xerxes' (486-479 BC: Books 7, 8, 9) expedition in 480 BCE against the Greeks, which met with disaster in the naval engagement at Salamis and the land battles at Plataea and Mycale.

Herodotus' work presents the development of civilization as moving inexorably toward a great confrontation between Persia and Greece, which are presented as the centers, respectively, of Eastern and Western culture.
Herodotus of Halicarnassus hereby publishes the results of his inquiries, hoping to do two things: to preserve the memory of the past by putting on record the astonishing achievements both of the Greek and the non-Greek peoples; and more particularly, to show how the two races came into conflict.
These are the opening lines of the Prologue to Herodotus' Histories

In preparing his History Herodotus' sources of information include the works of predecessors, but these are widely complemented through the knowledge that he gained from his own extensive travels. Although Herodotus' great work does in fact contain some factual inaccuracies, he does seem to have striven for accuracy. The entire work being an ambitious attempt to present the historical context of the Greek rivalry with Persia.
Herotus' Histories is rendered particularly appealing by such admirable qualities as the fullness with which Herodotus conveys his subject and the beauty of expression that he is able to impart to the Ionic dialect in which it is composed. The whole being a grandly concieved narrative with appropriate episodic diversions that manage to elucidate the main theme without seeming to interrupt its flow.

Thomas Babington Macaulay said of Herodotus that he:-
"wrote as it is natural that he should write. He wrote for a nation susceptible, curious, lively, insatiably desirous of novelty and excitement."

Herodotus believed that the universe is ruled by Fate and Chance, and that nothing is stable in human affairs. Moral choice is still important, however, since arrogance (Hubris) brings down upon itself the retribution of the gods (Nemesis).
Herodotus' effective attempt to draw moral lessons from the study of great events formed the basis of the Greek and Roman historiographical tradition which he is held to have established.

Herodotus died in 425 B. C.

Quotes attributed to Herodotus
The Father of History

The worst pain a man can suffer: to have insight into much and power over nothing.


Some men give up their designs when they have almost reached the goal; While others, on the contrary, obtain a victory by exerting, at the last moment, more vigorous efforts than ever before.


He is the best man who, when making his plans, fears and reflects on everything that can happen to him, but in the moment of action is bold.


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Many of our visitors seem to find the content of one of our pages -


Which is about Human Nature, (and 'Very Possibly' related matters)


- to be particularly fascinating!!!


There's neither honesty, manhood, nor good fellowship in thee.
William Shakespeare

"…can we possibly refuse to admit that there exist in each of us the same generic parts and characteristics as are found in the state? For I presume the state has not received them from any other source. It would be ridiculous to imagine that the presence of the spirited element in cities is not to be traced to individuals, wherever this character is imputed to the people, as it is to the natives of Thrace, and Scythia, and generally speaking, of the northern countries; or the love of knowledge, which would be chiefly attributed to our own country; or the love of riches, which people would especially connect with the Phoenicians and the Egyptians.
From Plato's most famous work ~ The Republic ~ detailing conversations entered into by his friend, and teacher, Socrates


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Pythagoras was a prominent figure in the intellectual life of the Greek world of the sixth century B.C.
Alongside his genuine contributions to mathematics and geometry Pythogoras is also considered to have recognised that there was evidently a "Tripartite" complexity to Human Nature:-
 Pythagoras who, according to Heraclides of Pontus, the pupil of Plato and a learned man of the first rank, came, the story goes, to Philus and with a wealth of learning and words discussed certain subjects with Leon the ruler of the Philasians. And Leon after wondering at his talent and eloquence asked him to name the art in which he put most reliance. But Pythagoras said that for his part he had no acquaintance with any art, but was a philosopher. Leon was astonished at the novelty of the term and asked who philosophers were and in what they differed from the rest of the world.

 Pythagoras, the story continues, replied that the life of man seemed to him to resemble the festival which was celebrated with most magnificent games before a concourse collected from the whole of Greece. For at this festival some men whose bodies had been trained sought to win the glorious distinction of a crown, others were attracted by the prospect of making gains by buying or selling, whilst there was on the other hand a certain class, and that quite the best class of free-born men, who looked neither for applause no gain, but came for the sake of the spectacle and closely watched what was done and how it was done: So also we, as though we had come from some city to a kind of crowded festival, leaving in like fashion another life and nature of being, entered upon this life, and some were slaves of ambition, some of money; there were a special few who, counting all else as nothing, ardently contemplated the nature of things. These men he would call "lovers of wisdom" (for that is the meaning of the word philo-sopher).


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In all districts of all lands, in all the classes of communities thousands of minds are intently occupied, the merchant in his compting house, the mechanist over his plans, the statesman at his map, his treaty, & his tariff, the scholar in the skilful history & eloquence of antiquity, each stung to the quick with the desire of exalting himself to a hasty & yet unfound height above the level of his peers. Each is absorbed in the prospect of good accruing to himself but each is no less contributing to the utmost of his ability to fix & adorn human civilization.
In William H. Gilman (ed.) The Journals and Miscellaneous Notebooks of Ralph Waldo Emerson, vol II, 1822-1826, 305

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In what is perhaps Ralph Waldo Emerson's most famous essay - 'History' - we read such things as:-
… There is one mind common to all individual men. Every man is an inlet to the same and to all of the same. He that is once admitted to the right of reason is made a freeman of the whole estate. What Plato has thought, he may think; what a saint has felt, he may feel; what at any time has be-fallen any man, he can understand. Who hath access to this universal mind is a party to all that is or can be done, for this is the only and sovereign agent.

Of the works of this mind history is the record. Its genius is illustrated by the entire series of days. Man is explicable by nothing less than all his history. Without hurry, without rest, the human spirit goes forth from the beginning to embody every faculty, every thought, every emotion, which belongs to it in appropriate events. But the thought is always prior to the fact; all the facts of history preexist in the mind as laws. Each law in turn is made by circumstances predominant, and the limits of nature give power to but one at a time. …

… We are always coming up with the emphatic facts of history in our private experience, and verifying them here. All history becomes subjective; in other words, there is properly no history; only biography. Every mind must know the whole lesson for itself, -- must go over the whole ground. What it does not see, what it does not live, it will not know. …

… In old Rome the public roads beginning at the Forum proceeded north, south, east, west, to the centre of every province of the empire, making each market-town of Persia, Spain, and Britain pervious to the soldiers of the capital: so out of the human heart go, as it were, highways to the heart of every object in nature, to reduce it under the dominion of man. A man is a bundle of relations, a knot of roots, whose flower and fruitage is the world. His faculties refer to natures out of him, and predict the world he is to inhabit, as the fins of the fish foreshow that water exists, or the wings of an eagle in the egg presuppose air. He cannot live without a world. …

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"History is for human self-knowledge ... the only clue to what man can do is what man has done. The value of history, then, is that it teaches us what man has done and thus what man is."
R. G. Collingwood


To access our page about Human Nature, (and 'Very Possibly' related matters), - please click here:-


Human Nature (and the Courses of History?)




Popular European History pages
at Age-of-the-Sage


Several pages on our site, treating with aspects of nineteenth century European history, have been favored with some degree of popularity, rank highly in some search engines, and receive many visitors.
The preparation of these pages was greatly influenced by a particular "Philosophy of History" as suggested by this quote from the famous Essay "History" by Ralph Waldo Emerson:-
There is one mind common to all individual men...
Of the works of this mind history is the record. Its genius is illustrated by the entire series of days. Man is explicable by nothing less than all his history. Without hurry, without rest, the human spirit goes forth from the beginning to embody every faculty, every thought, every emotion, which belongs to it in appropriate events. But the thought is always prior to the fact; all the facts of history preexist in the mind as laws. Each law in turn is made by circumstances predominant, and the limits of nature give power to but one at a time. A man is the whole encyclopaedia of facts. The creation of a thousand forests is in one acorn, and Egypt, Greece, Rome, Gaul, Britain, America, lie folded already in the first man. Epoch after epoch, camp, kingdom, empire, republic, democracy, are merely the application of his manifold spirit to the manifold world.

More insights into this "Philosophy of History" as recommended by Emerson, and the history pages so-prepared, are available to those sufficiently interested, from the links further down this page:-