Herodotus was born in Halicarnassus in 484 B.C., a city that is now Bodrum, Turkey. Very little is known about the man or his life, but it is surmised that he was exiled by the tyrant, Lygdamis, and moved to the island of Samos. Later in life, he appears to have migrated to Thurii, Italy, but it is uncertain where he met his death.
Seen as the first historical writing showing cause and effect, The Histories was written by Herodotus in approximately 440 B.C. The initial words of Herodotus set up the purpose of his narrative:
"Herodotus of Halicarnassus her presents his research so that human events do not fade with time. May the great and wonderful deeds ---- some brought forth by the Hellenes, others by the barbarians --- not go unsung, as well as the causes that led them to make war on each other."
Known as the first "father of history", treating it as an investigation or "inquiry," Herodotus begins his account from the rise of the Persian Empire, following the leaders Cyrus the Great, Cambyses, his son, Darius the Great and Xerxes I which comprise books one to six of his narrative. Books seven to nine account for the Greco-Persian wars in exacting detail, from Xerxes' initial aggression to the victory of the Hellenes.
Through Herodotus' lively accounts the reader becomes acquainted with the Lydians and Croesus, the Medes, the Persians, Egyptian customs and geography, Persian conquests, the tyrants vs. the democracy of Athens, the Ionian Revolt, the Battle of Marathon, the alliance of Athens and Sparta, the battle of Thermopylae, the battle at Artemesium, the victory at Salamis, the victory at Plataea and Mycale, and the end of the war, with Xerxes in an embarrassing retreat.
|Clio, Euterpe and Thalia (1652-55)|
Eustache Le Sueur
Reviewing book by book gave me an invaluable anchoring in these ancient times and a more concentrated view of these bygone adversaries and battles. The links to the books, which are charmingly named after the Greek Muses, are as follows:
Book I - Clio ~ muse of history
Book II - Euterpe ~ muse of music, song & lyric poetry
Book III - Thalia ~ muse of comedy
Book IV - Melpomene ~ muse of tragedy
Book V - Terpsichore ~ muse of dance
Book VI - Erato ~ muse of love poetry
Book VII - Polymnia ~ muse of sacred hymns and poetry
Book VIII - Urania ~ muse of astronomy
Book IX - Calliope ~ muse of epic poetry
|Apollo and the Nine Muses (1856)|
Told with a lively and personal tone, Herodotus' stories range from the practical to the bizarre, causing scholars to disbelieve some of his tales, yet modern findings have tended to support his accounts. For example, Herodotus recounted a story of fox-size ants that would spread gold while digging their mounds. Sounds completely ridiculous, doesn't it? Except for the fact that in 1984, a French explorer discovered the existence of a fox-sized marmot in the Himalayas that did indeed spread gold dust and of which there was a tradition of it that extended back into antiquity. Not only that, but the Persian word for "mountain ant" is apparently close to their word for "marmot" so it may have been a translation error instead of a factual one. Score one for Herodotus! Personally, as I read The Histories I could tangibly feel Herodotus' strong desire to recount his findings in an entirely truthful way, and if some of his veracity is in doubt, it would only be through honest error and not by intentional fanciful tales or deliberate deceit.
I'm so happy to have finally read The Histories and hope to revisit them again one day. Now on to Thucydides', The History of Peloponnesian War in which Thucydides follows up Herodotus' account of the Greco-Persian wars with his own account of the Peloponnesian War which occurred approximately 20 years later. More wars but more fascinating Greeks. What could be better?