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Herodotus of Halicarnassus
||The Greek researcher
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
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
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
This is the first part of an article in eight pieces.
Herodotus on causality
Herodotus as a
Herodotus the moralist
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?