Herodotus

Herodotus

Overview
Herodotus was an ancient Greek historian
Historian
A historian is a person who studies and writes about the past and is regarded as an authority on it. Historians are concerned with the continuous, methodical narrative and research of past events as relating to the human race; as well as the study of all history in time. If the individual is...

 who was born in Halicarnassus
Halicarnassus
Halicarnassus was an ancient Greek city at the site of modern Bodrum in Turkey. It was located in southwest Caria on a picturesque, advantageous site on the Ceramic Gulf. The city was famous for the tomb of Mausolus, the origin of the word mausoleum, built between 353 BC and 350 BC, and...

, Caria
Caria
Caria was a region of western Anatolia extending along the coast from mid-Ionia south to Lycia and east to Phrygia. The Ionian and Dorian Greeks colonized the west of it and joined the Carian population in forming Greek-dominated states there...

 (modern day Bodrum
Bodrum
Bodrum is a port city in Muğla Province, in the southwestern Aegean Region of Turkey. It is located on the southern coast of Bodrum Peninsula, at a point that checks the entry into the Gulf of Gökova. The site was called Halicarnassus of Caria in ancient times and was famous for housing the...

, Turkey
Turkey
Turkey , known officially as the Republic of Turkey , is a Eurasian country located in Western Asia and in East Thrace in Southeastern Europe...

) and lived in the 5th century BC ( – ). He has been called the "Father of History", and was the first historian known to collect his materials systematically, test their accuracy to a certain extent and arrange them in a well-constructed and vivid narrative. The Histories
Histories (Herodotus)
The Histories of Herodotus is considered one of the seminal works of history in Western literature. Written from the 450s to the 420s BC in the Ionic dialect of classical Greek, The Histories serves as a record of the ancient traditions, politics, geography, and clashes of various cultures that...

—his masterpiece and the only work he is known to have produced—is a record of his "inquiry" (or historía, a word that passed into Latin and took on its modern meaning of history), being an investigation of the origins of the Greco-Persian Wars
Greco-Persian Wars
The Greco-Persian Wars were a series of conflicts between the Achaemenid Empire of Persia and city-states of the Hellenic world that started in 499 BC and lasted until 449 BC. The collision between the fractious political world of the Greeks and the enormous empire of the Persians began when Cyrus...

 and including a wealth of geographical and ethnographical
Ethnography
Ethnography is a qualitative method aimed to learn and understand cultural phenomena which reflect the knowledge and system of meanings guiding the life of a cultural group...

 information.
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Quotations

I know that human happiness never remains long in the same place

Book 1, Ch.5

Men trust their ears less than their eyes.

Book 1, Ch. 8

In peace sons bury fathers, but in war fathers bury sons.

Book 1, Ch. 87

It was a kind of Cadmean victory.

Book 1, Ch. 166

I am going to talk at some length about Egypt, because it has very many remarkable features and has produced more monuments which beggar description than anywhere else in the world.

Book 2, Ch. 35

From great wrongdoing there are great punishments from the gods.

Book 2, Ch. 120

If a man insisted always on being serious, and never allowed himself a bit of fun and relaxation, he would go mad or become unstable without knowing it.

Book 2, Ch. 173

It is better to be envied than pitied.

Book 3, Ch. 52

Force has no place where there is need of skill.

Book 3, Ch. 127
Encyclopedia
Herodotus was an ancient Greek historian
Historian
A historian is a person who studies and writes about the past and is regarded as an authority on it. Historians are concerned with the continuous, methodical narrative and research of past events as relating to the human race; as well as the study of all history in time. If the individual is...

 who was born in Halicarnassus
Halicarnassus
Halicarnassus was an ancient Greek city at the site of modern Bodrum in Turkey. It was located in southwest Caria on a picturesque, advantageous site on the Ceramic Gulf. The city was famous for the tomb of Mausolus, the origin of the word mausoleum, built between 353 BC and 350 BC, and...

, Caria
Caria
Caria was a region of western Anatolia extending along the coast from mid-Ionia south to Lycia and east to Phrygia. The Ionian and Dorian Greeks colonized the west of it and joined the Carian population in forming Greek-dominated states there...

 (modern day Bodrum
Bodrum
Bodrum is a port city in Muğla Province, in the southwestern Aegean Region of Turkey. It is located on the southern coast of Bodrum Peninsula, at a point that checks the entry into the Gulf of Gökova. The site was called Halicarnassus of Caria in ancient times and was famous for housing the...

, Turkey
Turkey
Turkey , known officially as the Republic of Turkey , is a Eurasian country located in Western Asia and in East Thrace in Southeastern Europe...

) and lived in the 5th century BC ( – ). He has been called the "Father of History", and was the first historian known to collect his materials systematically, test their accuracy to a certain extent and arrange them in a well-constructed and vivid narrative. The Histories
Histories (Herodotus)
The Histories of Herodotus is considered one of the seminal works of history in Western literature. Written from the 450s to the 420s BC in the Ionic dialect of classical Greek, The Histories serves as a record of the ancient traditions, politics, geography, and clashes of various cultures that...

—his masterpiece and the only work he is known to have produced—is a record of his "inquiry" (or historía, a word that passed into Latin and took on its modern meaning of history), being an investigation of the origins of the Greco-Persian Wars
Greco-Persian Wars
The Greco-Persian Wars were a series of conflicts between the Achaemenid Empire of Persia and city-states of the Hellenic world that started in 499 BC and lasted until 449 BC. The collision between the fractious political world of the Greeks and the enormous empire of the Persians began when Cyrus...

 and including a wealth of geographical and ethnographical
Ethnography
Ethnography is a qualitative method aimed to learn and understand cultural phenomena which reflect the knowledge and system of meanings guiding the life of a cultural group...

 information. Although some of his stories were not completely accurate, he claimed that he was reporting only what had been told to him. Little is known of his personal history since ancient records are scanty, contradictory and often fanciful.

The Histories



The Histories, otherwise known as The Researches or The Inquiries, were divided by later Alexandrian editors into nine books, named after the nine Muses: the "Muse of History," Clio, representing the first book, then Euterpe
Euterpe
In Greek mythology, Euterpe + τέρπειν terpein ) was one of the Muses, the daughters of Mnemosyne, fathered by Zeus. Called the "Giver of delight", when later poets assigned roles to each of the Muses, she was the muse of music. In late Classical times she was named muse of lyric poetry and...

, Thaleia, Melpomene
Melpomene
Melpomene , initially the Muse of Singing, she then became the Muse of Tragedy, for which she is best known now. Her name was derived from the Greek verb melpô or melpomai meaning "to celebrate with dance and song." She is often represented with a tragic mask and wearing the cothurnus, boots...

, Terpsichore
Terpsichore
In Greek mythology, Terpsichore "delight of dancing" was one of the nine Muses, ruling over dance and the dramatic chorus. She lends her name to the word "terpsichorean" which means "of or relating to dance". She is usually depicted sitting down, holding a lyre, accompanying the dancers' choirs...

, Erato
Erato
In Greek mythology, Erato is one of the Greek Muses. The name would mean "desired" or "lovely", if derived from the same root as Eros, as Apollonius of Rhodes playfully suggested in the invocation to Erato that begins Book III of his Argonautica....

, Polymnia
Polyhymnia
Polyhymnia , was in Greek mythology the Muse of sacred poetry, sacred hymn and eloquence as well as agriculture and pantomime. She is depicted as very serious, pensive and meditative, and often holding a finger to her mouth, dressed in a long cloak and veil and resting her elbow on a pillar...

, Ourania and Calliope
Calliope
In Greek mythology, Calliope was the muse of epic poetry, daughter of Zeus and Mnemosyne, and is now best known as Homer's muse, the inspiration for the Odyssey and the Iliad....

 for books 2-9 respectively. At its simplest and broadest level of meaning, The Histories is structured as a dynastic history of four Persian kings:
  • Cyrus
    Cyrus the Great
    Cyrus II of Persia , commonly known as Cyrus the Great, also known as Cyrus the Elder, was the founder of the Achaemenid Empire. Under his rule, the empire embraced all the previous civilized states of the ancient Near East, expanded vastly and eventually conquered most of Southwest Asia and much...

    , 557-530 BC: Book 1;
  • Cambyses
    Cambyses
    Cambyses can refer to two ancient rulers and two plays:-*Cambyses I, King of Anshan 600 to 559 BCE*Cambyses II, King of Persia 530 to 522 BCE*Cambyses, a tragedy by Thomas Preston...

    , 530-522 BC: Book 2 and part of Book 3;
  • Darius
    Darius I of Persia
    Darius I , also known as Darius the Great, was the third king of kings of the Achaemenid Empire...

    , 521-486 BC: the rest of Book 3 then Books 4,5,6;
  • Xerxes
    Xerxes I of Persia
    Xerxes I of Persia , Ḫšayāršā, ), also known as Xerxes the Great, was the fifth king of kings of the Achaemenid Empire.-Youth and rise to power:...

    , 486-479 BC: Books 7, 8, 9.


Within this basic structure, the author traces the way the Persians developed a custom of conquest and shows how their habits of thinking about the world finally brought about their downfall in Greece. Some commentators have argued that the story of the first three kings must have been originally planned as a history of Persia and that the story of Xerxes, later added to it, is instead a history of the Persian Wars. Whatever the original plan might have been, the larger, historical account is often merely a background to a broad range of inquiries and, as Herodotus himself observes, "Digressions are part of my plan." (Book 4, 30) The digressions can be understood to cover two themes: an account of the history of the entire, known world as governed by the principle of reciprocity (or what today might be more commonly called an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth and one good turn deserves another); and an account of the many astonishing reports and sights gained by the author during his extensive travels. The reader is thus presented with a diversity of human experiences and settings within the context of an over-arching historical order. The narrative structure allows for this diversity through simple stylistic devices such as the principle of ring composition
Ring composition
Ring composition is a narrative technique said to be characteristic of preliterate peoples and oral modes of composition. It is also called chiasmus, chiastic structure, or simply ring structure...

, familiar since the time of Homer
Homer
In the Western classical tradition Homer , is the author of the Iliad and the Odyssey, and is revered as the greatest ancient Greek epic poet. These epics lie at the beginning of the Western canon of literature, and have had an enormous influence on the history of literature.When he lived is...

, in which the introduction and conclusion of a story or sub-plot is signalled by the repetition of some formulaic statement, facilitating the reader's comprehension of stories within stories in a kind of 'Chinese-box technique' - a structure that has no resemblance to the nine books artificially created by Alexandrian scholars. Herodotus's method of enquiry in fact presents a world where everything is potentially important - this at a time when philosophers increasingly sought to understand the world according to basic principles. The work in fact was something of an anachronism. Yet those who did not appreciate it as model of history could still admire the style of writing - thus Dionysius of Halicarnassus
Dionysius of Halicarnassus
Dionysius of Halicarnassus was a Greek historian and teacher of rhetoric, who flourished during the reign of Caesar Augustus. His literary style was Attistic — imitating Classical Attic Greek in its prime.-Life:...

 praises its sweetness and charm (De Thuc. 23). Herodotus employs a deceptively simple, narrative style, in which the original Greek is Ionian in dialect, including however some Homeric and other forms.

Place in history



Herodotus announced the size and scope of his work at the very beginning of his Researches or Histories:

The extent of his achievement has been debated. His place in history and his significance may be understood according to the traditions within which he worked. His work is the earliest Greek prose to have survived intact. However, Dionysius of Halicarnassus
Dionysius of Halicarnassus
Dionysius of Halicarnassus was a Greek historian and teacher of rhetoric, who flourished during the reign of Caesar Augustus. His literary style was Attistic — imitating Classical Attic Greek in its prime.-Life:...

, a literary critic of Augustan Rome, listed seven predecessors of Herodotus, describing their works as simple, unadorned accounts of their own and other cities and people, Greek or foreign, including popular legends, sometimes melodramatic and naive, often charming - all traits that can be found in the work of Herodotus himself. Modern historians regard the chronology as uncertain but, according to the ancient account, these predecessors included for example Dionysius of Miletus, Charon of Lampsacus, Hellanicus of Lesbos
Hellanicus of Lesbos
Hellanicus of Lesbos was an ancient Greek logographer who flourished during the latter half of the 5th century BC. He was born in Mytilene on the isle of Lesbos in 490 BC and is reputed to have lived to the age of 85...

, Xanthus of Lydia and, the best attested of them all, Hecataeus of Miletus. Only fragments of the latter's work survive (and the authenticity of these is debatable) yet they allow us glimpses into the kind of tradition within which Herodotus wrote his own Histories, as for example in the introduction to Hecataeus's work, Genealogies:

This points forward to the 'folksy' yet 'international' outlook typical of Herodotus. Yet, one modern scholar, reading between the lines, has described the work of Hecataeus as "a curious false start to history" because, despite its critical spirit, it failed to liberate history from myth. Herodotus actually mentions Hecataeus in his Histories, on one occasion mocking him for his naive genealogy and, on another occasion, quoting Athenian complaints against his handling of their national history. It is possible that Herodotus borrowed much material from Hecataeus, as stated by Porphyry
Porphyry (philosopher)
Porphyry of Tyre , Porphyrios, AD 234–c. 305) was a Neoplatonic philosopher who was born in Tyre. He edited and published the Enneads, the only collection of the work of his teacher Plotinus. He also wrote many works himself on a wide variety of topics...

 in a quote recorded by Eusebius. In particular, it is possible that he copied descriptions of the crocodile
Crocodile
A crocodile is any species belonging to the family Crocodylidae . The term can also be used more loosely to include all extant members of the order Crocodilia: i.e...

, hippopotamus
Hippopotamus
The hippopotamus , or hippo, from the ancient Greek for "river horse" , is a large, mostly herbivorous mammal in sub-Saharan Africa, and one of only two extant species in the family Hippopotamidae After the elephant and rhinoceros, the hippopotamus is the third largest land mammal and the heaviest...

 and phoenix
Phoenix (mythology)
The phoenix or phenix is a mythical sacred firebird that can be found in the mythologies of the Arabian, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, Chinese, Indian and Phoenicians....

 from Hecataeus's 'Circumnavigation of the Known World' (Periegesis/Periodos ges), even mis-representing the source as 'Heliopolitans' (Histories 2.73). But unlike Herodotus, Hecataeus did not record events that had occurred in living memory, nor did he include the oral traditions of Greek history within the larger framework of oriental history. There is no proof that Herodotus derived the ambitious scope of his own work, with its grand theme of civilizations in conflict, from any predecessor, despite much scholarly speculation about this in modern times. Herodotus claims to be better informed than his predecessors, relying on empirical observation to correct their excessive schematism. For example, he argues for continental asymmetry as opposed to the older theory of a perfectly circular earth with Europe and Asia/Africa equal in size (Hist. 4.36 and 4.42). Yet, he retains idealising tendencies, as in his symmetrical notions of the Danube
Danube
The Danube is a river in the Central Europe and the Europe's second longest river after the Volga. It is classified as an international waterway....

 and Nile
Nile
The Nile is a major north-flowing river in North Africa, generally regarded as the longest river in the world. It is long. It runs through the ten countries of Sudan, South Sudan, Burundi, Rwanda, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Tanzania, Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda and Egypt.The Nile has two major...

.

His debt to previous authors of prose 'histories' might be questionable but there is no doubt that he owed much to the example and inspiration of poets and story-tellers. For example, Athenian tragic poets provided him with a world-view of a balance between conflicting forces, upset by the hubris
Hubris
Hubris , also hybris, means extreme haughtiness, pride or arrogance. Hubris often indicates a loss of contact with reality and an overestimation of one's own competence or capabilities, especially when the person exhibiting it is in a position of power....

 of kings, and they provided his narrative with a model of episodic structure. His familiarity with Athenian tragedy is demonstrated, for example, in a number of passages echoing Aeschylus
Aeschylus
Aeschylus was the first of the three ancient Greek tragedians whose work has survived, the others being Sophocles and Euripides, and is often described as the father of tragedy. His name derives from the Greek word aiskhos , meaning "shame"...

's Persae, including the epigrammatic observation that the defeat of the Persian navy
Navy
A navy is the branch of a nation's armed forces principally designated for naval and amphibious warfare; namely, lake- or ocean-borne combat operations and related functions...

 at Salamis
Battle of Salamis
The Battle of Salamis was fought between an Alliance of Greek city-states and the Persian Empire in September 480 BCE, in the straits between the mainland and Salamis, an island in the Saronic Gulf near Athens...

 caused the defeat of the land army (Hist. 8.68 ~ Persae 728). The debt may have been repaid by Sophocles because there appear to be echoes of The Histories in his plays, especially a passage in Antigone
Antigone
In Greek mythology, Antigone is the daughter of Oedipus and Jocasta, Oedipus' mother. The name may be taken to mean "unbending", coming from "anti-" and "-gon / -gony" , but has also been suggested to mean "opposed to motherhood", "in place of a mother", or "anti-generative", based from the root...

that resembles Herodotus's account of the death of Intaphernes (Histories 3.119 ~ Antigone 904-20) - this however is one of the most contentious issues in modern scholarship.

Homer
Homer
In the Western classical tradition Homer , is the author of the Iliad and the Odyssey, and is revered as the greatest ancient Greek epic poet. These epics lie at the beginning of the Western canon of literature, and have had an enormous influence on the history of literature.When he lived is...

 was another inspirational source.

Just as Homer drew extensively on a tradition of oral poetry, sung by wandering minstrels, so Herodotus appears to have drawn on an Ionian tradition of story-telling, collecting and interpreting the oral histories he chanced upon in his travels. These oral histories often contained folk-tale motifs and demonstrated a moral, yet they also contained substantial facts relating to geography, anthropology and history, all compiled by Herodotus in an entertaining style and format. It is on account of the many strange stories and the folk-tales he reported that his critics in early modern times branded him 'The Father of Lies'. Even his own contemporaries found reason to scoff at his achievement. In fact one modern scholar has wondered if Herodotus left his home in Asiatic Greece, migrating westwards to Athens and beyond, because his own countrymen had ridiculed his work, a circumstance possibly hinted at in an epitaph said to have been dedicated to Herodotus at Thuria
Thuria, Messenia
Thouria is a village and a former municipality in Messenia, Peloponnese, Greece. Since the 2011 local government reform it is part of the municipality Kalamata, of which it is a municipal unit. Its population as of 2001 was 4,106....

 (one of his three supposed resting places):
Herodotus the son of Lyxes here
Lies; in Ionic history without peer;
A Dorian born, who fled from Slander's brand
And made in Thuria his new native land.


Yet it was in Athens where his most formidable contemporary critics could be found. In 425 BC, which is about the time that Herodotus is thought by many scholars to have died, the Athenian comic dramatist, Aristophanes
Aristophanes
Aristophanes , son of Philippus, of the deme Cydathenaus, was a comic playwright of ancient Athens. Eleven of his forty plays survive virtually complete...

, created The Acharnians
The Acharnians
The Acharnians is the third play - and the earliest of the eleven surviving plays - by the great Athenian playwright Aristophanes. It was produced in 425 BCE on behalf of the young dramatist by an associate, Callistratus, and it won first place at the Lenaia festival...

, in which he blames The Peloponnesian War on the abduction of some prostitutes - a mocking reference to Herodotus, who reported the Persians' account of their wars with Greece, beginning with the rapes of the mythical heroines Io
Io (mythology)
Io was, in Greek mythology, a priestess of Hera in Argos, a nymph who was seduced by Zeus, who changed her into a heifer to escape detection. His wife Hera set ever-watchful Argus Panoptes to guard her, but Hermes was sent to distract the guardian and slay him...

, Europa, Medea
Medea
Medea is a woman in Greek mythology. She was the daughter of King Aeëtes of Colchis, niece of Circe, granddaughter of the sun god Helios, and later wife to the hero Jason, with whom she had two children, Mermeros and Pheres. In Euripides's play Medea, Jason leaves Medea when Creon, king of...

 and Helen. Similarly, the Athenian historian Thucydides
Thucydides
Thucydides was a Greek historian and author from Alimos. His History of the Peloponnesian War recounts the 5th century BC war between Sparta and Athens to the year 411 BC...

 dismissed Herodotus as a 'logos-writer' or story-teller. Thucydides
Thucydides
Thucydides was a Greek historian and author from Alimos. His History of the Peloponnesian War recounts the 5th century BC war between Sparta and Athens to the year 411 BC...

, who had been trained in rhetoric, became the model for subsequent prose-writers as an author who seeks to appear firmly in control of his material, whereas Herodotus with his frequent digressions appeared to minimize (or possibly disguise) his auctorial control. Moreover, Thucydides developed a historical topic more in keeping with the Greek lifestyle - the polis
Polis
Polis , plural poleis , literally means city in Greek. It could also mean citizenship and body of citizens. In modern historiography "polis" is normally used to indicate the ancient Greek city-states, like Classical Athens and its contemporaries, so polis is often translated as "city-state."The...

 or city-state - whereas the interplay of civilizations was more relevant to Asiatic Greeks (such as Herodotus himself), for whom life under foreign rule was a recent memory.

Although The Histories were often criticized in antiquity for bias, inaccuracy and plagiarism — Lucian
Lucian
Lucian of Samosata was a rhetorician and satirist who wrote in the Greek language. He is noted for his witty and scoffing nature.His ethnicity is disputed and is attributed as Assyrian according to Frye and Parpola, and Syrian according to Joseph....

 of Samosata attacked Herodotus as a liar in Verae Historiae and went as far as to deny him a place among the famous on the Island of the Blessed
Fortunate Isles
In the Fortunate Isles, also called the Isles of the Blessed , heroes and other favored mortals in Greek mythology and Celtic mythology were received by the gods into a winterless blissful paradise...

 — modern historians and philosophers take a more positive view of Herodotus's methodology, especially those searching for a paradigm of objective historical writing. A few modern scholars have argued that Herodotus exaggerated the extent of his travels and invented his sources yet his reputation continues largely intact: "The Father of History is also the father of comparative anthropology", "the father of ethnography", and he is "more modern than any other ancient historian in his approach to the ideal of total history."

As told by other 'liars'


As mentioned earlier, Herodotus has sometimes been labeled 'The Father of Lies' because of his tendency to report fanciful information. Much of the information that others subsequently reported about him is just as fanciful and some of it is vindictive or blatantly absurd, yet it is interesting and therefore worth reporting. Herodotus himself reported dubious information if it was interesting, sometimes adding his own opinion about its reliability.

Some "calumnious fictions" were written about Herodotus in a work titled On the Malice of Herodotus
On the malice of Herodotus
Plutarch in his On the Malice of Herodotus, with the original title in Greek criticizes the historian Herodotus for all manner of prejudice and misrepresentation. It has been called the “first instance in literature of the slashing review.”...

, by Plutarch
Plutarch
Plutarch then named, on his becoming a Roman citizen, Lucius Mestrius Plutarchus , c. 46 – 120 AD, was a Greek historian, biographer, essayist, and Middle Platonist known primarily for his Parallel Lives and Moralia...

, a Theban by birth, (or it might have been a Pseudo-Plutarch
Pseudo-Plutarch
Pseudo-Plutarch is the conventional name given to the unknown authors of a number of pseudepigrapha attributed to Plutarch.Some of these works were included in some editions of Plutarch's Moralia...

, in this case "a great collector of slanders"), including the allegation that the historian was prejudiced against Thebes because the authorities there had denied him permission to set up a school. Similarly, in a Corinthian Oration, Dio Chrysostom
Dio Chrysostom
Dio Chrysostom , Dion of Prusa or Dio Cocceianus was a Greek orator, writer, philosopher and historian of the Roman Empire in the 1st century. Eighty of his Discourses are extant, as well as a few Letters and a funny mock essay In Praise of Hair, as well as a few other fragments...

 (or yet another pseudonymous author) accused the historian of prejudice against Corinth
Ancient Corinth
Corinth, or Korinth was a city-state on the Isthmus of Corinth, the narrow stretch of land that joins the Peloponnesus to the mainland of Greece, roughly halfway between Athens and Sparta. The modern town of Corinth is located approximately northeast of the ancient ruins...

, sourcing it in personal bitterness over financial disappointments - an account also given by Marcellinus
Marcellinus (writer)
Marcellinus was the author of a Life of Thucydides, found in some of the ancient commentaries on the History of the Peloponnesian War by Thucydides. Nothing else is known for certain about this Marcellinus, but he probably lived in about the 6th century, and compiled his biography from passages in...

 in his Life of Thucydides. In fact Herodotus was in the habit of seeking out information from empowered sources within communities, such as aristocrats and priests, and this also occurred at an international level, with Periclean Athens
Pericles
Pericles was a prominent and influential statesman, orator, and general of Athens during the city's Golden Age—specifically, the time between the Persian and Peloponnesian wars...

 becoming his principal source of information about events in Greece. As a result, his reports about Greek events are often coloured by Athenian bias against rival states - Thebes and Corinth in particular. Thus the allegations promoted by 'Plutarch' and 'Chrysostom' may be regarded as 'pay-back'.

Herodotus wrote his Histories in the Ionian
Ionic Greek
Ionic Greek was a subdialect of the Attic–Ionic dialect group of Ancient Greek .-History:Ionic dialect appears to have spread originally from the Greek mainland across the Aegean at the time of the Dorian invasions, around the 11th Century B.C.By the end of the Greek Dark Ages in the 5th Century...

 dialect yet he was born in Halicarnassus, originally a Dorian settlement. According to the Suda
Suda
The Suda or Souda is a massive 10th century Byzantine encyclopedia of the ancient Mediterranean world, formerly attributed to an author called Suidas. It is an encyclopedic lexicon, written in Greek, with 30,000 entries, many drawing from ancient sources that have since been lost, and often...

(an 11th-century encyclopaedia of Byzantium
Byzantium
Byzantium was an ancient Greek city, founded by Greek colonists from Megara in 667 BC and named after their king Byzas . The name Byzantium is a Latinization of the original name Byzantion...

 which likely took its information from traditional accounts), Herodotus learned the Ionian dialect as a boy living on the island of Samos
Samoš
Samoš is a village in Serbia. It is situated in the Kovačica municipality, in the South Banat District, Vojvodina province. The village has a Serb ethnic majority and its population numbering 1,247 people .-See also:...

, whither he had fled with his family from the oppressions of Lygdamis, tyrant of Halicarnassus and grandson of Artemisia I of Caria
Artemisia I of Caria
Artemisia I of Caria became the ruler, after the death of her husband, as a client of the Persians – who in the 5th century BC ruled as the overlords of Ionia....

. The Suda also informs us that Herodotus later returned home to lead the revolt that eventually overthrew the tyrant. However, thanks to recent discoveries of some inscriptions on Halicarnassus, dated to about that time, we now know that the Ionic dialect was used there even in official documents, so there was no need to assume like the Suda that he must have learned the dialect elsewhere. Moreover, the fact that the Suda is the only source we have for the heroic role played by Herodotus, as liberator of his birthplace, is itself a good reason to doubt such a romantic account.

It was conventional in Herodotus's day for authors to 'publish' their works by reciting them at popular festivals. According to Lucian
Lucian
Lucian of Samosata was a rhetorician and satirist who wrote in the Greek language. He is noted for his witty and scoffing nature.His ethnicity is disputed and is attributed as Assyrian according to Frye and Parpola, and Syrian according to Joseph....

, Herodotus took his finished work straight from Asia Minor to the Olympic Games and read the entire Histories to the assembled spectators in one sitting, receiving rapturous applause at the end of it. According to a very different account by an ancient grammarian, Herodotus refused to begin reading his work at the festival of Olympia until some clouds offered him a bit of shade, by which time however the assembly had dispersed - thus the proverbial expression "Herodotus and his shade" to describe any man who misses his opportunity through delay. Herodotus's recitation at Olympia was a favourite theme among ancient writers and there is another interesting variation on the story to be found in the Suda, Photius
Bibliotheca (Photius)
The Bibliotheca or Myriobiblon was a 9th century work of Byzantine Patriarch Photius, dedicated to his brother and composed of 279 reviews of books which he had read. It was not meant to be used as a reference work, but was widely used as such in the 9th century, and is generally seen as the first...

 and Tzetzes, in which a young Thucydides happened to be in the assembly with his father and burst into tears during the recital, whereupon Herodotus observed prophetically to the boy's father: "Thy son's soul yearns for knowledge."

Eventually, Thucydides and Herodotus became close enough for both to be interred in Thucydides' tomb in Athens. Such at least was the opinion of Marcellinus in his Life of Thucydides. According to the Suda, he was buried in Macedonian Pella
Pella
Pella , an ancient Greek city located in Pella Prefecture of Macedonia in Greece, was the capital of the ancient kingdom of Macedonia.-Etymology:...

 and in the agora
Agora
The Agora was an open "place of assembly" in ancient Greek city-states. Early in Greek history , free-born male land-owners who were citizens would gather in the Agora for military duty or to hear statements of the ruling king or council. Later, the Agora also served as a marketplace where...

 in Thurium.

As told by other historians


Modern scholars generally turn to Herodotus's own writing for reliable information about his life, very carefully supplemented with other ancient yet much later sources, such as the Byzantine Suda:
Typically modern accounts of his life go something like this:
Herodotus was born at Halicarnassus around 484 BC. There is no reason to disbelieve the Suda's information about his family, that it was influential and that he was the son of Lyxes and Dryo, and the brother of Theodorus, and that he was also related to Panyassis
Panyassis
Panyassis of Halicarnassus, sometimes known as Panyasis , was a 5th century BC Greek epic poet, famous for the Heracleia and the Ionica. It is believed that he also wrote other works which have since been lost. He was critically unappreciated during his lifetime, but was posthumously recognised as...

, an epic poet of the time. The town was within the Persian empire at that time and maybe the young Herodotus heard local eye-witness accounts of events within the empire and of Persian preparations for the invasion of Greece, including the movements of the local fleet under the command of Artemisia
Artemisia I of Caria
Artemisia I of Caria became the ruler, after the death of her husband, as a client of the Persians – who in the 5th century BC ruled as the overlords of Ionia....

. Inscriptions recently discovered at Halicarnassus indicate that her grandson Lygdamis negotiated with a local assembly to settle disputes over seized property, which is consistent with a tyrant under pressure, and his name is not mentioned later in the tribute list of the Athenian Delian League
Delian League
The Delian League, founded in circa 477 BC, was an association of Greek city-states, members numbering between 150 to 173, under the leadership of Athens, whose purpose was to continue fighting the Persian Empire after the Greek victory in the Battle of Plataea at the end of the Greco–Persian Wars...

, indicating that there might well have been a successful uprising against him sometime before 454 BC. Herodotus reveals affection for the island of Samos (III, 39-60) and this is an indication that he might have lived there in his youth. So it is possible that his family was involved in an uprising against Lygdamis, leading to a period of exile on Samos and followed by some personal hand in the tyrant's eventual fall.

As Herodotus himself reveals, Halicarnassus, though a Dorian city, had ended its close relations with its Dorian neighbours after an unseemly quarrel (I, 144), and it had helped pioneer Greek trade with Egypt (II,178). It was therefore an outward-looking, international-minded port within the Persian Empire and the historian's family could well have had contacts in countries under Persian rule, facilitating his travels and his researches. His eye-witness accounts indicate that he travelled in Egypt probably sometime after 454 BC or possibly earlier in association with Athenians, after an Athenian fleet had assisted the uprising against Persian rule in 460-454 BC. He probably travelled to Tyre next and then down the Euphrates
Euphrates
The Euphrates is the longest and one of the most historically important rivers of Western Asia. Together with the Tigris, it is one of the two defining rivers of Mesopotamia...

 to Babylon
Babylon
Babylon was an Akkadian city-state of ancient Mesopotamia, the remains of which are found in present-day Al Hillah, Babil Province, Iraq, about 85 kilometers south of Baghdad...

. For some reason, probably associated with local politics, he subsequently found himself unpopular in Halicarnassus and, sometime around 447 BC, he migrated to Periclean Athens
Pericles
Pericles was a prominent and influential statesman, orator, and general of Athens during the city's Golden Age—specifically, the time between the Persian and Peloponnesian wars...

, a city for whose people and democratic institutions he declares his open admiration (V, 78) and where he came to know not just leading citizens such as the Alcmaeonids, a clan whose history features frequently in his writing, but also the local topography (VI, 137; VIII, 52-5). According to Eusebius and Plutarch
Plutarch
Plutarch then named, on his becoming a Roman citizen, Lucius Mestrius Plutarchus , c. 46 – 120 AD, was a Greek historian, biographer, essayist, and Middle Platonist known primarily for his Parallel Lives and Moralia...

, Herodotus was granted a financial reward by the Athenian assembly in recognition of his work and there may be some truth in this. It is possible that he applied for Athenian citizenship - a rare honour after 451 BC, requiring two separate votes by a well-attended assembly - but was unsuccessful. In 443 BC, or shortly afterwards, he migrated to Thurium as part of an Athenian-sponsored colony. Aristotle
Aristotle
Aristotle was a Greek philosopher and polymath, a student of Plato and teacher of Alexander the Great. His writings cover many subjects, including physics, metaphysics, poetry, theater, music, logic, rhetoric, linguistics, politics, government, ethics, biology, and zoology...

 refers to a version of The Histories written by 'Herodotus of Thurium' and indeed some passages in the Histories have been interpreted as proof that he wrote about southern Italy from personal experience there (IV, 15, 99; VI 127). Intimate knowledge of some events in the first years of the Peloponnesian War
Peloponnesian War
The Peloponnesian War, 431 to 404 BC, was an ancient Greek war fought by Athens and its empire against the Peloponnesian League led by Sparta. Historians have traditionally divided the war into three phases...

 (VI,91; VII,133,233; IX,73) indicate that he might have returned to Athens, in which case it is possible that he died there during an outbreak of the plague. Possibly he died in Macedonia instead after obtaining the patronage of the court there or else he died back in Thurium. Either way, there is nothing in the Histories that can be dated with any certainty later than 430 and it is generally assumed that he died not long afterwards, possibly before his sixtieth year.

Analysis and recent discoveries




Herodotus provides much intriguing information about the nature of the world and the status of science during his lifetime, often engaging in private speculation.


For example, he reports that the annual flooding of the Nile
Nile
The Nile is a major north-flowing river in North Africa, generally regarded as the longest river in the world. It is long. It runs through the ten countries of Sudan, South Sudan, Burundi, Rwanda, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Tanzania, Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda and Egypt.The Nile has two major...

 was said to be the result of melting snows far to the south, and he comments that he cannot understand how there can be snow in Africa, the hottest part of the known world, offering an elaborate explanation based on the way that desert winds affect the passage of the Sun over this part of the world (2:18ff). He also passes on dismissive reports from Phoenicia
Phoenicia
Phoenicia , was an ancient civilization in Canaan which covered most of the western, coastal part of the Fertile Crescent. Several major Phoenician cities were built on the coastline of the Mediterranean. It was an enterprising maritime trading culture that spread across the Mediterranean from 1550...

n sailors that, while circumnavigating Africa
Africa
Africa is the world's second largest and second most populous continent, after Asia. At about 30.2 million km² including adjacent islands, it covers 6% of the Earth's total surface area and 20.4% of the total land area...

, they "saw the sun on the right side while sailing westwards". Owing to this brief mention, which is included almost as an afterthought, it has been argued that Africa was indeed circumnavigated by ancient seafarers, for this is precisely where the sun ought to have been. His accounts of India
India
India , officially the Republic of India , is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by geographical area, the second-most populous country with over 1.2 billion people, and the most populous democracy in the world...

 are among the oldest records of Indian civilization by an outsider.

Discoveries made since the end of the 19th century have added to his credibility. His description of Gelonus
Gelonus
Gelonus, was according to Herodotus, the capital of the Scythian tribe Budini.- Search for Gelonus :In his account of Scythia , Herodotus writes that the Gelonii were formerly Greeks, having settled away from the coastal emporia among the Budini, where they "use a tongue partly Scythian and partly...

, located in Scythia
Scythia
In antiquity, Scythian or Scyths were terms used by the Greeks to refer to certain Iranian groups of horse-riding nomadic pastoralists who dwelt on the Pontic-Caspian steppe...

, as a city thousands of times larger than Troy
Troy
Troy was a city, both factual and legendary, located in northwest Anatolia in what is now Turkey, southeast of the Dardanelles and beside Mount Ida...

 was widely disbelieved until it was rediscovered in 1975. The archaeological study of the now-submerged ancient Egypt
Ancient Egypt
Ancient Egypt was an ancient civilization of Northeastern Africa, concentrated along the lower reaches of the Nile River in what is now the modern country of Egypt. Egyptian civilization coalesced around 3150 BC with the political unification of Upper and Lower Egypt under the first pharaoh...

ian city of Heracleion
Heracleion
Heracleion was an ancient Egyptian city near modern day Alexandria. It was known as early as the 12th century BC but its importance grew during the waning days of the pharaohs, the late period. Herakleion was Egypt's main port in the time of the pharaohs...

 and the recovery of the so-called "Naucratis stela" give extensive credibility to Herodotus's previously unsupported claim that Heracleion was founded during the Egyptian New Kingdom
New Kingdom
The New Kingdom of Egypt, also referred to as the Egyptian Empire is the period in ancient Egyptian history between the 16th century BC and the 11th century BC, covering the Eighteenth, Nineteenth, and Twentieth Dynasties of Egypt....

.

One of the most recent developments in Herodotus scholarship was made by the French ethnologist Michel Peissel
Michel Peissel
Michel Georges Francois Peissel was a French ethnologist, explorer and author. He wrote twenty books mostly on his Himalayan and Tibetan expeditions...

. On his journeys to India and Pakistan
Pakistan
Pakistan , officially the Islamic Republic of Pakistan is a sovereign state in South Asia. It has a coastline along the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Oman in the south and is bordered by Afghanistan and Iran in the west, India in the east and China in the far northeast. In the north, Tajikistan...

, Peissel claims to have discovered an animal species that may finally illuminate one of the most bizarre passages in Herodotus's Histories. In Book 3, passages 102 to 105, Herodotus reports that a species of fox-sized, furry "ants" lives in one of the far eastern, Indian provinces of the Persian Empire
Achaemenid Empire
The Achaemenid Empire , sometimes known as First Persian Empire and/or Persian Empire, was founded in the 6th century BCE by Cyrus the Great who overthrew the Median confederation...

. This region, he reports, is a sandy desert, and the sand there contains a wealth of fine gold
Gold
Gold is a chemical element with the symbol Au and an atomic number of 79. Gold is a dense, soft, shiny, malleable and ductile metal. Pure gold has a bright yellow color and luster traditionally considered attractive, which it maintains without oxidizing in air or water. Chemically, gold is a...

 dust. These giant ants, according to Herodotus, would often unearth the gold dust when digging their mounds and tunnels, and the people living in this province would then collect the precious dust. Now, Peissel says that in an isolated region of Pakistan, in the Pakistani-controlled part of Kashmir
Kashmir
Kashmir is the northwestern region of the Indian subcontinent. Until the mid-19th century, the term Kashmir geographically denoted only the valley between the Great Himalayas and the Pir Panjal mountain range...

 that is known as the Federally Administered Northern Areas (FANA), on the Deosai Plateau
Deosai National Park
The Deosai National Park is located in the Skardu, Astore Districts of Gilgit-Baltistan province, in northernmost Pakistan. The park is located on the Deosai Plains of the Greater Kashmir geographic region...

 there exists a species of marmot
Marmot
The marmots are a genus, Marmota, of squirrels. There are 14 species in this genus.Marmots are generally large ground squirrels. Those most often referred to as marmots tend to live in mountainous areas such as the Alps, northern Apennines, Eurasian steppes, Carpathians, Tatras, and Pyrenees in...

, (the Himalayan Marmot
Himalayan marmot
The Himalayan marmot is a marmot found in the Himalayan regions ranging in elevation from . They can be seen in the Deosai plains in Pakistan and Ladakh in India. They are about the size of a large housecat, and live in colonies. Marmota himalayana is closely related to the woodchuck, the hoary...

), (a type of burrowing squirrel
Squirrel
Squirrels belong to a large family of small or medium-sized rodents called the Sciuridae. The family includes tree squirrels, ground squirrels, chipmunks, marmots , flying squirrels, and prairie dogs. Squirrels are indigenous to the Americas, Eurasia, and Africa and have been introduced to Australia...

) that may have been what Herodotus called giant "ants". Much like the province that Herodotus describes, the ground of the Deosai Plateau is rich in gold dust. According to Peissel, he interviewed the Minaro
Brokpa
The Brokpa are a small community of Dard people residing in the Dha-Hanu valley about 163 km southwest of Leh in Ladakh. They are thought by some to be the purist descendants of the ancient Indo-Europeans....

 tribal people who live in the Deosai Plateau, and they have confirmed that they have, for generations, been collecting the gold dust that the marmots bring to the surface when they are digging their underground burrows. The story seems to have been widespread in the ancient world, because later authors like Pliny the Elder
Pliny the Elder
Gaius Plinius Secundus , better known as Pliny the Elder, was a Roman author, naturalist, and natural philosopher, as well as naval and army commander of the early Roman Empire, and personal friend of the emperor Vespasian...

 mentioned it in his gold mining
Gold mining
Gold mining is the removal of gold from the ground. There are several techniques and processes by which gold may be extracted from the earth.-History:...

 section of the Naturalis Historia
Naturalis Historia
The Natural History is an encyclopedia published circa AD 77–79 by Pliny the Elder. It is one of the largest single works to have survived from the Roman Empire to the modern day and purports to cover the entire field of ancient knowledge, based on the best authorities available to Pliny...

.
Even more tantalizing, in his book, The Ants' Gold: The Discovery of the Greek El Dorado
El Dorado
El Dorado is the name of a Muisca tribal chief who covered himself with gold dust and, as an initiation rite, dived into a highland lake.Later it became the name of a legendary "Lost City of Gold" that has fascinated – and so far eluded – explorers since the days of the Spanish Conquistadors...

 in the Himalayas
, Peissel offers the theory that Herodotus may have become confused because the old Persian word for "marmot" was quite similar to that for "mountain ant". Because research suggests that Herodotus probably did not know any Persian (or any other language except his native Greek), he was forced to rely on a multitude of local translators when travelling in the vast multilingual Persian Empire. Therefore, he may have been the unwitting victim of a simple misunderstanding in translation. As Herodotus never claims to have himself seen these "ant/marmot" creatures, it is likely that he was simply reporting what other travellers were telling him, no matter how bizarre or unlikely he personally may have found it to be. In the age when most of the world was still mysterious and unknown and before the modern science of biology, the existence of a giant ant may not have seemed so far-fetched. The suggestion that he completely made up the tale may continue to be thrown into doubt as more research is conducted.

With that said, Herodotus did follow up in passage 105 of Book 3, with the claim that the "ants/marmots" are said to chase and devour full-grown camels; again, this could simply be dutiful reporting of what was in reality a tall tale or legend told by the local tribes to frighten foreigners from seeking this relatively easy access to gold dust. On the other hand, the details of the "ants" seem somewhat similar to the description of the camel spider (Solifugae
Solifugae
Solifugae are an order of Arachnida, known as camel spiders, wind scorpions and sun spiders or solifuges, comprising more than 1,000 described species in about 153 genera...

), which are said to chase camels, have lots of hair bristles, and could quite easily be mistaken for ants. On account of the fear of encountering one, there have been "many myths and exaggerations about their size". Images of camel spiders could give the impression that this could be mistaken for a giant ant, but certainly not the size of a fox.

See also

  • The Histories
    Histories (Herodotus)
    The Histories of Herodotus is considered one of the seminal works of history in Western literature. Written from the 450s to the 420s BC in the Ionic dialect of classical Greek, The Histories serves as a record of the ancient traditions, politics, geography, and clashes of various cultures that...

  • Thucydides
    Thucydides
    Thucydides was a Greek historian and author from Alimos. His History of the Peloponnesian War recounts the 5th century BC war between Sparta and Athens to the year 411 BC...

    , ancient Greek historian who is often said to be also "the father of history"
  • Naturalis Historia
    Naturalis Historia
    The Natural History is an encyclopedia published circa AD 77–79 by Pliny the Elder. It is one of the largest single works to have survived from the Roman Empire to the modern day and purports to cover the entire field of ancient knowledge, based on the best authorities available to Pliny...

  • Pliny the Elder
    Pliny the Elder
    Gaius Plinius Secundus , better known as Pliny the Elder, was a Roman author, naturalist, and natural philosopher, as well as naval and army commander of the early Roman Empire, and personal friend of the emperor Vespasian...


Translations


  • Several English translations of The Histories of Herodotus are readily available in multiple editions. The most readily available are those translated by:
    • C.E. Godley, 1920; revised 1926. Reprinted 1931, 1946, 1960, 1966, 1975, 1981, 1990, 1996, 1999, 2004. Available in four volumes from Loeb Classical Library
      Loeb Classical Library
      The Loeb Classical Library is a series of books, today published by Harvard University Press, which presents important works of ancient Greek and Latin Literature in a way designed to make the text accessible to the broadest possible audience, by presenting the original Greek or Latin text on each...

      , Harvard University Press
      Harvard University Press
      Harvard University Press is a publishing house established on January 13, 1913, as a division of Harvard University, and focused on academic publishing. In 2005, it published 220 new titles. It is a member of the Association of American University Presses. Its current director is William P...

      . ISBN 0-674-99130-3 Printed with Greek on the left and English on the right.
    • David Grene
      David Grene
      David Grene was a professor of classics at the University of Chicago from 1937 until his death. He was a co-founder of the Committee on Social Thought and is best known for his translations of ancient Greek literature.-Life:...

      , Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985.
    • George Rawlinson
      George Rawlinson
      Canon George Rawlinson was a 19th century English scholar, historian, and Christian theologian. He was born at Chadlington, Oxfordshire, and was the younger brother of Sir Henry Rawlinson....

      , translation 1858–1860. Public domain; many editions available, although Everyman Library and Wordsworth Classics editions are the most common ones still in print.
    • Aubrey de Sélincourt
      Aubrey de Selincourt
      Aubrey de Sélincourt was an English writer, classical scholar and translator. Educated at the Dragon School and Rugby School, he won an open classical scholarship to University College, Oxford...

      , originally 1954; revised by John Marincola in 1996. Several editions from Penguin Books
      Penguin Books
      Penguin Books is a publisher founded in 1935 by Sir Allen Lane and V.K. Krishna Menon. Penguin revolutionised publishing in the 1930s through its high quality, inexpensive paperbacks, sold through Woolworths and other high street stores for sixpence. Penguin's success demonstrated that large...

       available.
    • Strassler, Robert B., (ed.), and Purvis, Andrea L. (trans.), The Landmark Herodotus, Pantheon, 2007. ISBN 978-0-37542109-9 with adequate ancillary information.
    • Robin Waterfield
      Robin Waterfield
      Robin Anthony Herschel Waterfield is a British classical scholar, translator, editor, and writer of children's fiction.-Career:Waterfield was born in 1952, and studied Classics at Manchester University, where he achieved a first class degree in 1974...

      , with an Introduction and Notes by Carolyn Dewald, Oxford World Classics, 1997. ISBN 978-0199535668

External links


} (translation by George Campbell Macaulay
George Campbell Macaulay
George Campbell Macaulay , also known as G. C. Macaulay, was a noted English Classical scholar. He was the father of the well-known English author Rose Macaulay.-Family:...

, 1852–1915)
}