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Herodotus

The father of history

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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 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.

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:-

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