Herodotus - Greek historian
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.
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
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
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
Herodotus died in 425 B. C.
Quotes attributed to Herodotus
The worst pain a man can suffer: to have insight into much and power over nothing.
The Father of History
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.
Popular European History pages
The preparation of these pages was influenced to some degree 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 pre-exist 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.