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Herodotus of Halicarnassus


Herodotus. Bust in the Agora Museum, Athens (Greece). Photo Marco Prins.
The Greek researcher and storyteller Herodotus of Halicarnassus (fifth century BCE) was the world's first historian. In The Histories, he describes the expansion of the Achaemenid empire under its kings Cyrus the Great, Cambyses and Darius I the Great, culminating in king Xerxes' expedition in 480 BCE against the Greeks, which met with disaster in the naval engagement at Salamis and the battles at Plataea and Mycale. Herodotus' remarkable book also contains excellent ethnographic descriptions of the peoples that the Persians have conquered, fairy tales, gossip, legends, and a very humanitarian morale. (A summary with some historical comments can be found here.)

This is the first part of an article in eight pieces.

Prologue
Herodotus' life
Herodotus' originality
Herodotus on causality
Herodotus' sources
Herodotus as a
topographer/ethnographer
Herodotus the moralist
Further reading

Contents of 
The Histories

The Aegean region in the fifth century BCE. Design Jona Lendering. 

Prologue

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 confident opening lines of Herodotus' Histories, and the Greeks who heard them must have been surprised. Preserving the memory of the past by putting on record certain astonishing achievements was not unusual, but the bards who had been singing legendary tales had been less pretentious. Even the great poet Homer had started his Iliad in a more modest way:
Sing, goddess, the wrath of Peleus' son Achilles, that brought endless harm upon the Greeks. Many brave men did it send down to the Underworld, and many heroes did it yield a prey to dogs and vultures. In this way, the counsels of Zeus were fulfilled, from the day on which Agamemnon -king of men- and great Achilles first fell out with one another. And which of the gods was it that set them on to quarrel?
The similarity between these two prologues is obvious: we are about to hear a tale about a terrible conflict and the speaker wants us to understand how the two sides came into conflict. The difference is striking, too: Homer invites a goddess to relate the story; Herodotus does not need divine aid. Who was this man, who so proudly gave his personal opinion about the past?
Ancient-Warfare.com, the online home of Ancient Warfare magazine
Part two
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