Republish our articles for free, online or in print, under Creative Commons licence. Too much is going on, right from the start. A wild ride! His principal aim was to explain the unlikely Greek victory against the much stronger Persian army in the so-called Persian Wars that ravaged the Greek world between and BCE.
Most of the tales have no clear link to the main story. They seem peripheral, if not entirely unrelated, to the account of the Persian Wars and their pre-history. Many characters appear only once, never to be seen again. Yet as soon as one pauses and appreciates the stories for what they are one cannot but marvel at the events Herodotus relates. There is the conversation between King Croesus of Lydia and the Athenian statesman, reformer and poet Solon, on the true nature of human happiness.
The moral is, in a nutshell: call no man happy until he is dead. That same king consults the Delphic oracle and learns to his delight that he will bring down a great empire. Certain of victory, he wages war against the Persians; as the oracle foretells, Croesus duly ends up destroying an empire — his own. Herodotus of Halicarnassus here displays his inquiry, so that human achievements may not become forgotten in time, and great and marvellous deeds — some displayed by Greeks, some by barbarians — may not be without their glory.
Herodotus 'The Histories'
Unlike Homer, Herodotus no longer claims to be inspired by the Muses. After all, Homer, too, reported great deeds by Greeks and non-Greeks alike and preserved them for posterity. Herodotus combined the two major themes of Homeric epic — travel and warfare — into a single whole. Travel and the insights they yield are as dominant a theme in the ethnographic sections of the Histories as expansion, warfare and conflict are in the historical sections. Herodotus uses the gradual expansion of the Persian Empire to delve deeply into the cultures of those who came under its influence in the century preceding the war.
In his account the historical and the cultural influence each other. While Herodotus does not dismiss the Iliad and the Odyssey , he openly takes a swipe at Homer at least once. Helen, he claims, never made it to Troy: she was diverted to Egypt due to bad weather. This shows an awareness of the particular demands of the kind of account Herodotus hoped to write as being different from Homeric epic. What specifically sets Herodotus and his enquiry apart, then, is the proto-scientific way he explores the inner workings of the world.
It brings together the different strands of Herodotean investigation: Why did the Greeks and the barbarians go to war with each other? Why does the Nile flood? Why do the women of Cyrene abstain from eating beef? Herodotus frequently finds the answer to these questions by looking at origins and beginnings.
He takes the military conflict between Greeks and barbarians back to its roots in mythical times. In a similar vein he enquires into the source of the river Nile and traces the names of the twelve Olympians — the major deities of the Greek pantheon — back to their origins in ancient Egypt.
The quest for origins and beginnings runs deep in the Histories. It introduces a form of explanation which links the disparate strands of Herodotean enquiry by presenting them as part of an ordered cosmos. The world Herodotus outlines in the Histories ultimately and profoundly makes sense.
His efforts to establish himself as a credible researcher and narrator are tangible throughout. He is careful to tell his reader from where he derived his information on foreign lands, whether he witnessed personally or learnt from a reliable source:. Frequently, he gives us all the different explanations sourced from others.
In the case of the flooding of the Nile he adds why he favours one incidentally, the wrong one over all others. By presenting views other than his own, Herodotus gives his readers the chance to form their own opinion. The same striving for precision, exactness and authority also explains his diligence when it comes to numbers, distances and measurements.
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Putting together the various measurements I have given, one finds that the Egyptian coastline is, as I have said, about miles in length, and the distance from the sea inland to Thebes about miles. It is another miles from Thebes to Elephantine. Why does this level of detail matter, and do we really need to know it? We do! At the same time, Herodotus shows a profound interest in names and naming and the translation of words and concepts from one language into another.
He tells us that the name Egypt applied first to Thebes, and that the name of the Asmach people of Egypt means those who stand on the left hand of the king. Being able to name things in the world is part of being able to explain them. Herodotus was not just pioneering critical enquiry; along with the world he discovered, he had to invent a method and a language. All these are instances in which Herodotean inquiry — despite his own claims to the contrary — slip beyond the realm of the authentic, credible and real. But it would be a mistake to make too much of these examples.
They are memorable only because they stand in such marked contrast to the accurate pictures Herodotus sketches elsewhere of the world. And who can say for sure that the gold-digging ants, the long-tailed sheep and the flying snakes did not, in fact, exist? Some have argued that the gold-digging ants of India were actually marmots and Herodotus applied a Greek word for ant to a creature unknown to him but reminiscent albeit faintly of an ant.
Other creatures, however, take the reader fully into the realm of the fantastic. In his description of Libya, Herodotus says emphatically:.ifyquvysykag.gq
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There are enormous snakes there, and also lions, elephants, bears, asps, donkeys with horns, dog-headed creatures, headless creatures with eyes in their chests at least, this is what the Libyans say wild men and wild women and a large number of other creatures whose existence is not merely the stuff of fables. Some of these beings belong to a different, more archaic world, where the boundary between man and beast was fluid and uncertain.
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We can see a whole spectrum of more or less fantastic creatures, whose ranks included the Cyclops and Sirens of the Odyssey. Brilliantly translated, filled with just the right amount of footnotes, maps and pictures, and there is an appendix for pretty much everything you could think of. This was way outside of my comfort zone and I doubt if I'd have undertaken it if it hadn't been read as a group read.
I went into it without any prior conceptions. I just thought it would be interesting, and it was.
A long read and in parts a difficult read as I initially found it challenging to grasp the differing but similar sounding names. Thought the attention given to detail quite staggering at times describing events, wars, armour, weaponry, customs and traditions. Difficult to comprehend that this was written over years ago. Jun 23, Nathan "N. Wish I had the Landmark edition at the time.
Herodotus - Biography, Histories & Importance - HISTORY
But Oxford does make nice books. View all 3 comments. The main subject of The Histories is the twenty years B.
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E of war between Greece and Persia. Herodotus begins by presenting the alleged origins of enmity between Greece and Persia in mythic times.