Herodotus
The History
"I, Herodotus of Halicarnassus, am here setting forth my history, that
time may not draw the color from what man has brought into being, nor
those great and wonderful deeds, manifested by both Greeks and
non-Greeks, fail of their report, and, together with all this, the reason why
they fought one another."


This rich passage, at the start of The History, tells us much.  We
understand the motivations that led Herodotus to pursue this
work --- to save the deeds the beliefs of great cultures from the
oblivion that engulfed so many earlier societies.  But he also
explicitly states his goal of looking at nations outside his own,
and understanding the causes of the greatest conflict of his time.
 This is the birth of history, of the social sciences, and
multiculturalism -- all in one sweeping gesture.

With Herodotus we encounter the first glimmer of history as a
discipline separated from the narrative constraints and
falsifications of myth and epic.   Great civilizations had always
sought to preserve their heritage, but after Herodotus the ways
in which they did this achieved far greater refinement and
objectivity.  

The scope of his endeavor was awe-inspiring.  He aimed to
chronicle the history of the known world, not just Greece, but
also Egypt, Persia and other societies of his day.   How he
gathered his various sources is still a matter of speculation, but
later discoveries and breakthroughs -- such as the deciphering of
Egyptian hieroglyphics -- have served to validate much of what
he sketched out in his famous work.

But Herodotus is also a great story-teller, sometimes gossipy,
occasionally tawdry, and never dull.   Culminating in his dramatic
account of the Greek response to the Persian invasion, the
Histories stands out not as just the first historical account, but
still among the finest.


INTERNET LINKS

An on-line text of Herodotus can be found
here

Click here for a useful commentary, maps, glossary and other
aids in studying Herodotus

Here is a
map of the world as described by Herodotus

Check out
Shane Salow's photographic tour of the world of
Herodotus
TIPS FOR READERS

I first encountered
Herodotus in
George
Rawlinson's translation,
but never really felt the
power of the work
until I read
David
Grene's version.


Over a hundred
years ago, John
White published his
The Boys' and Girls'
Herodotus, and it
remains the only
adaptation of this
historian for younger
readers.   Alas, the
language is
someone stilted for
today's students.   A
more up-to-date
version for younger
readers is much
needed.

A MODERNIST TWIST

The main protagonist in
Michael Ondaatje's rich
novel
The English Patient
carries a cherished
volume of Herodotus
wherever he goes.  It is
filled with marginalia,
scraps of paper and
other odds and ends,
and the work serves as
touchstone, guide and
even diary for the
mysterious convalescent.


Yet celebrated Polish
journalist Ryszard
Kapuściński was
something of a real life
English Patient, and in
his memoir
Travels with
Herodotus, he describes
his journeys through
modern day Africa, Asia
and Europe with the
ancient historian as
companion and guide.