The Histories of Herodotus of Halicarnassus is considered the first work of history in Western literature. Written about 440 BC, the Histories tell the story of the war between the Persian Empire and the Greek city-states in the 5th century BC. Herodotus traveled extensively around the ancient world, conducting interviews and collecting stories for his book. The rise of the Persian Empire is chronicled, and the causes for the conflict with Greece. Herodotus treats the conflict as an ideological one, frequently contrasting the absolute power of the Persian king with the democratic government of the Greeks.
Herodotus writes with the purpose of explaining; that is, he discusses the reason for or cause of an event. He lays this out in the preamble: "This is the publication of the research of Herodotus of Halicarnassus, so that the actions of people shall not fade with time, so that the great and admirable achievements of both Greeks and barbarians shall not go unrenowned, and, among other things, to set forth the reasons why they waged war on each other."
This mode of explanation traces itself all the way back to Homer, who opened the Iliad by asking:
Which of the immortals set these two at each other's throats?
Zeus’ son and Leto’s, offended
by the warlord. Agamemnon had dishonored
Chryses, Apollo's priest, so the god
struck the Greek camp with plague,
and the soldiers were dying of it.
Both Homer and Herodotus begin with a question of causality. In Homer's case, "who set these two at each other's throats?" In Herodotus's case, "Why did the Greeks and barbarians go to war with each other?"
Herodotus's means of explanation does not necessarily posit a simple cause; rather, his explanations cover a host of potential causes and emotions. It is notable, however, that "the obligations of gratitude and revenge are the fundamental human motives for Herodotus, just as ... they are the primary stimulus to the generation of narrative itself."
Some readers of Herodotus believe that his habit of tying events back to personal motives signifies an inability to see broader and more abstract reasons for action. Gould argues to the contrary that this is likely because Herodotus attempts to provide the rational reasons, as understood by his contemporaries, rather than providing more abstract reasons.
- Herodotus' Histories Vol 1 by Herodotus of Halicarnassus
- Herodotus' Histories Vol 2 by Herodotus of Halicarnassus
- Herodotus' Histories Vol 3 by Herodotus of Halicarnassus
Original LanguageAncient Greek
Published In430 BCE
Herodotus of Halicarnassus
Herodotus was an ancient Greek writer and geographer who was born in the ancient Greek city of Halicarnassus, part of the former Persian Empire (now modern-day Bodrum, Turkey). Credited as bein...More about Herodotus of Halicarnassus
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