The Father of History
Herodotus was a writer who invented the field of study known today as ‘History’. He was called ‘The Father of History’ by the Roman writer and orator cicero for his famous work. The histories but has also been called ” The Father of Lies” by critics who claim these ‘histories’ are little more than tales.
Herodotus and Myth
Although Herodotus considered his “Inquiries” a serious pursuit of knowledge, he was not above relating entertaining tales derived from the collective body of myth, but he did so judiciously with regard for this historical method, by corroborating the stories through enquiry and testing their probability. The Histories of Herodotus is now considered the founding work of history in Western literature. One example of this is his claim of fox-sized ants in persia who spread gold dust when digging their mounds.
The Legacy of the Histories
Indeed, there are people who call Thucydides ” The First Historian” and Herodotus “. The First Liar “. But no matter how one judges his reporting, Herodotus will likely get credit for taking a dry political story and turning it into literature. Instead of settling in one place, Herodotus spent his life travelling from one persian territory to another. The Histories also incorporated observations and stories, both factual and fictional from Herodotus travels. He treats every piece of his narrative from the main themes to the digressions and from the facts to the fictions, with equal importance.
At least that was his aim according to a new translation of the entire Histories by Tom Holland. It was my eagerly undertaken task to vet his translation,from the standpoint of a professional classicist who has been reading Herodotus in the original Greek since the age of 19. Indeed few history books written since can compare for sheer drama with Herodotus narrative of the persian invasions of Greece,and the Histories contains much more than that besides all human life is there.
Qualities as a Historian
Herodotus was a great traveler with an eye for detail, a good geographer a man with an indefatigable interest in the customs and past history of his fellow citizens, and a man of the widest tolerance with no bias for the Greeks and against the barbarians. His work is not only an artistic masterpiece for all his mistakes he remains the leading source of original information not only for Greek history of the all important period between 550 and 479 BCE but also for much of that of western Asia and of Egypt at the time.
Herodotus is neither a mere gatherer of data nor a simple teller of tales-he is both. While Herodotus is certainly concerned with giving accurate accounts of events, this does not preclude for him the insertion of powerful mythological elements into his narrative, elements which will aid him in expressing the truth of matters under his study.