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Herodotus: The Father Of History

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Category: History Other

Autor: reviewessays 23 December 2010

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Herodotus: The Father of History

Many students today propose the question, "why do we study history, what does it have to do with us?" This question is not a new idea; in fact, the Greeks didn't concern themselves with true scientific history until after 500 B.C. Up until this point the Greeks focused mainly on myths and legends that explained how to please their many gods. It wasn't until the time of Herodotus that any emphasis was placed on recording a true account of the past. In Herodotus' writings The Histories, he tells us his reasons for recording this history:

In this book, the result of my inquiries into history, I hope to do two things: to preserve the memory of the past by putting on record the astonishing achievements both of our own and of the Asiatic peoples; secondly, and more particularly, to show how the two races came into conflict. (Herodotus, 13)

These reasons, explaining the importance of history, are still applicable today. Although Herodotus focuses on the Greek conflict with the Persians, his desire to understand human nature and culture, and the study of man's past behavior and conflicts, can be used today to help understand that same human nature that still exists. Herodotus' work is "the oldest surviving major Greek prose, and the first history in Western civilization." (Starr, 147)

Herodotus was born at Halicarnassus, a Greek state that was ruled by Persia, located in southwestern Asia Minor. He was thought to have lived from approximately 485 B.C. until approximately 430 B.C., although the exact years are not certain. He was said to have been exiled from his homeland after he started a rebellion during a civil war and lived in several different places throughout his life. Immediately after his departure from his homeland, he stayed in nearby Ionia, but left shortly after to begin his extensive travels. During his life, Herodotus traveled widely; he traveled south to Aswan in Egypt, he went as far east as Babylon, and he went north to the far coast of the Black Sea. He retired in Athens where he lived for a long period of time writing and revising his historical accounts. He also assisted with the colonization of Thurii in southern Italy in 443 B.C. It is thought that he died in Athens even though his tomb was found in Thurii.

The Histories, as recorded by Herodotus, was translated and divided into nine books. These nine books give us a recollection of the Greco-Persian wars and the history that led to their conflicts. The first two books tell the history of Ancient Near East, Egypt, and Babylon. The third and forth book show the rise of the Persian Empire. The last five books focus on the Greco-Persian wars in chronological order. Herodotus used existing inscriptions and oral accounts from people who lived through the early Greco-Persian wars. The first war was thought to have taken place just before Herodotus's life, and the second war was thought to have been fought while Herodotus was a child. This would have made it easy for him to get testimonies from people who were affected by and even participated in the early wars.

In addition to just giving a historical account of the wars, Herodotus manages to teach his readers about geography, sociology, and legends throughout the ancient known world of his time without losing focus on his subject (Herodotus, 8). His writing style appears to be influenced by Homer, but is very different from most Greek writers. Rather than ministering to the readers mind or spirit, the way that Plato did, Herodotus takes you on a narrative journey that puts you at his side through his travels. His focus on detail makes his accounts inviting to read for entertainment; for this reason his writings are thought to be the product of legends. However, more recent archaeological discoveries prove most of Herodotus experiences to be factual. Starr says:

During the 19th century, Herodotus was often considered a storyteller who could not be trusted. But archaeological work in the Middle East has proved that much of his account of Egypt and Babylon is more accurate than was commonly assumed, and scholars have assessed him more carefully. (Starr, 149)

Herodotus, the father of history, is not the most accurate historian. The difficult process of note taking in his time prevented him from keeping an accurate account of his findings. Herodotus had to rely on his memory while writing The Histories. In his accounts there are flaws in his dates and geography, however the archaeological evidence to back up the overall account proves that his works are based on facts.

Herodotus writes about other cultures from an almost unbiased position. When telling accounts of Persians in war, he is very fair. Herodotus does not treat Persians as barbarians but rather studies there history and culture to help him understand the conflicts they have had with the Greeks. Another account of his unbiased writings is with the Egyptians. Lindering writes:

Nothing was funnier to a Greek than to hear about EgyptВ… But Herodotus never presents it as if he is joking. Strange customs have his sincere interest, not his contempt. It is as if he wants to show how much diversity there can be in human culture: other cultures are not just a little bit dissimilar, they can be completely different. (Lindering)

Herodotus is eager to learn about other cultures rather than just have fun with their differences. His writings teach tolerance and fairness for all races of people. His works also show the importance of an unbiased account when recording history.

In conclusion, Herodotus not only answers the question of why history is important, in his account of The Histories, but he also introduces a narrative style of writing in order to make it interesting. He shows the importance of understanding where we come from in order to find out what causes our conflicts with our fellow man. A lot can be, and has been, learned from Herodotus, and his writings ultimately shaped the way our history is recorded. Herodotus is truly the father of history.