Text #72"Herodotus", in .
Herodotus, a contemporary of Socrates, was a Greek historian who was born in Halicarnassus, Caria (modern-day Bodrum, Turkey) and lived in the fifth century BC (c. 484–425 BC). Widely referred to as “The Father of History” (first conferred by Cicero), he was the first historian known to have broken from Homeric tradition to treat historical subjects as a method of investigation: specifically by collecting his materials systematically and critically, and then to arrange them into a historiographic narrative. The Histories—the only work he is known to have produced—is a record of his “inquiry” (or ἱστορία historía, a word that passed into Latin and acquired its modern meaning of “history”), being an investigation of the origins of the Greco-Persian Wars and including a wealth of geographical and ethnographical information. Although some of his stories were fanciful and others inaccurate, he states he was reporting only what was told to him and was often correct in his information. Despite Herodotus’ historical significance, little is known of his personal history.
Today, The Histories is generally regarded as a masterpiece of non-fiction. […]
According to Eusebius and Plutarch, Herodotus was granted a financial reward by the Athenian assembly in recognition of his work. It is possible that he applied for Athenian citizenship—a rare honour after 451 BC, requiring two separate votes by a well-attended assembly—but was unsuccessful. In 443 BC, or shortly afterwards, he migrated to Thurium as part of an Athenian-sponsored colony. Aristotle refers to a version of The Histories written by ‘Herodotus of Thurium’ and indeed some passages in the Histories have been interpreted as proof that he wrote about southern Italy from personal experience there (IV,15,99; VI,127). Intimate knowledge of some events in the first years of the Peloponnesian War (VI,91; VII,133,233; IX,73) indicate that he might have returned to Athens, in which case it is possible that he died there during an outbreak of the plague. Possibly he died in Macedonia instead after obtaining the patronage of the court there or else he died back in Thurium. There is nothing in the Histories that can be dated with any certainty to later than 430, and it is generally assumed that he died not long afterwards, possibly before his sixtieth year.
Herodotus wrote his ‘Histories’ in the Ionian dialect yet he was born in Halicarnassus, originally a Dorian settlement. According to the Suda (an 11th-century encyclopaedia of Byzantium which possibly took its information from traditional accounts), Herodotus learned the Ionian dialect as a boy living on the island of Samos, whither he had fled with his family from the oppressions of Lygdamis, tyrant of Halicarnassus and grandson of Artemisia I of Caria. The Suda also informs us that Herodotus later returned home to lead the revolt that eventually overthrew the tyrant. However, thanks to recent discoveries of some inscriptions on Halicarnassus, dated to about that time, we now know that the Ionic dialect was used there even in official documents, so there was no need to assume like the Suda that he must have learned the dialect elsewhere. Moreover, the fact that the Suda is the only source we have for the heroic role played by Herodotus, as liberator of his birthplace, is itself a good reason to doubt such a romantic account.
It was conventional in Herodotus’s day for authors to ‘publish’ their works by reciting them at popular festivals. According to Lucian, Herodotus took his finished work straight from Asia Minor to the Olympic Games and read the entire Histories to the assembled spectators in one sitting, receiving rapturous applause at the end of it. According to a very different account by an ancient grammarian, Herodotus refused to begin reading his work at the festival of Olympia until some clouds offered him a bit of shade, by which time, however, the assembly had dispersed—thus the proverbial expression “Herodotus and his shade” to describe someone who misses an opportunity through delay. Herodotus’s recitation at Olympia was a favourite theme among ancient writers and there is another interesting variation on the story to be found in the Suda, Photius and Tzetzes, in which a young Thucydides happened to be in the assembly with his father and burst into tears during the recital, whereupon Herodotus observed prophetically to the boy’s father: “Thy son’s soul yearns for knowledge.”
Eventually, Thucydides and Herodotus became close enough for both to be interred in Thucydides’s tomb in Athens. Such at least was the opinion of Marcellinus in his Life of Thucydides. According to the Suda, he was buried in Macedonian Pella and in the agora in Thurium.