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Herodotus (c.480-c.425 B.C.)


Ancient Greek historian, often called the father of history, and less frequently, of lies. Herodotus wrote his famous Historiē (means "inquiry" or "research") in the Ionic dialect. Much of his material Herodotus collected firsthand. The anecdotal and entertaining account of the conflict between the Greeks and the Persians, between freedom and despotism, consists of nine books. Since its early formulation, the idea of the "conflict of civilizations" has been a part of European political and historical discourse.

"If anyone, no matter who, were given the opportunity of choosing from amongst all the nations in the world the set of beliefs which he thought best, he would inevitably, after careful considerations of their relative merits, choose that of his own country. Everyone without exception believes his own native customs, and the religion he was brought up in, to be the best; and that being so, it is unlikely that anyone but a madman would mock at such things. There is abundant evidence that this is the universal feeling about the ancient customs of one's country." (in Histories, translated by Aubrey de Selincourt, 1954)

Little is know of Herodotus's early life. He was born in Halicarnassus (modern Bodrum, Turkey), a costal city with both Greek and Carian inhabitants, at that time under Persian rule. Later the city became famous for the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Herodotus's father Lyxes came of a distinguished local family. His mother was named Dryo (or Rhoio), and he had a brother named Theodorus. The writer Panyassis, praised as second only to Homer, was an older members of the family. Some sources report that Herodotus left his native city for Samos, and returned after the tyrant of Halicarnassus, Lygdamis, was expelled.

During his travels, Herodotus conversed with priests and satraps, peasants, merchants, local historians, all kinds of people. Because he spoke only Greek, he had to rely on interpreters, but differing from Xenophon (c.430– 354 B.C.), he seldom refers to them. Over the course of his travels, he possibly acquired some practical knowledge of non-Greek languages. Herodotus's intention was to write the book "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." Originally the work was meant to be read aloud. Many of the stories he recorded he left it up to the readers to decide what was truth and what not. Occasionally he commented, "This is hardly to be believed," or "Others tell this story differently." Like the majority of his countrymen, Herodotus believed in divine intervention, oracles, and Fate, but his mind was also open to rational explanations.

As a part of his Greek upbringing, Herodotus considered his own culture superior to all others. At the same time he expressed openness and tolerance for other beliefs and cultures. He wrote that the names of nearly all the gods came to Greece from Egypt. Moreover, the mythological hero Heracles was of foreign origin. Herodotus described that the Egyptians are "black skinned and have woolly hair." In the book V he told that they ruled part of Greece at the beginning of the Heroic Age. Basically, Herodotus argued that the Greek culture had African roots. Because of his views on the origin of Greel customs and religion and sympathetic treatments of non-Greek peoples, the influential biographer Plutarch (c.45-120 A.D.) labelled Herodotus as a "barbarian-lover" (philobarbaros) in a treatise entitled On the Malice of Herodotus.

In his flat-earth geography Herodotus set the Greeks in the centre; Ister in the north was balanced by the Nile in the south. The Earth surface was arranged around the Mediterranean. Beyond the know world lay the surrounding "Ocean". When he visited Naucratis, a trading centre on the Nile delta, he was told about Phoinicians, who had 150 years ago circumnavigated the continent of Africa; they had sun on their right hand as they sailed along the coast. The whole tale was so strange that Herodotus refused to believe it.

Herodotus knew Egypt well; the country impressed him deeply. On his long journeys Herodotus went through the straits into Euxine (Black Sea), reached the Ister (Danube) and travelled northward across the steppes along the valley of the Don. He also travelled around the Persian empire, visiting Susa and Babylon. For a time he lived in Athens. There he became a friend of Pericles (460–429 B.C.), the most prominent statesman of the polis (usually translated as "city-state").

While in Egypt, Herodotus saw the pyramids, and travelled up the Nile as far as Aswan. Herodotus stated that the height of the Great Pyramid was equal to the base: "The pyramid itself was a work of twenty years; it is of a square form; every front is eight plethra long, and as many in height; the stones are very skillfully cemented, and none of them of less dimensions than thirty feet." (translated from the Greek by William Beloe, rev. ed., 1844) Oddly, Herodotus did not mention the Great Sphinx of Giza; later Greek writers made reference to it. When Napoleon went to Egypt in 1798, the Sphinx was buried in the sand only up to its neck.

Perhaps tired of the harships of travel in those days, Herodotus settled in Athens, where he lectured and read parts of his work. Lucian relates that he recited his history to the assembled spectators at the Olympic festivals. Later in life Herodotus joined the newly founded  pan-Hellenic settlement Thurii, in southeastern Italy. According to the 10th century Byzantine encyclopedia Suda, he was buried in the agora there. Some sources claim that he died at Pella, or his tomb was in Athens. Near the end of his life, Herodotus witnessed the outbreak of war between Athens and Sparta in 432 B.C., but his book concludes with the fall of the Persian stronghold of Sestos (Gallipoli peninsula).

It is disputed where exactly he composed the Histories. Its division into nine books was probably made after his death. The conflict between the East and the West he traced and which culminated in the battles of Thermopylae, Salamis, Platace, and Mycale, were already a generation past. Herodotus himself was still a young child at the time of  the second Persian invasion, but in his adulthood he must have heard stories told by the soldiers. Thucydides (c.460/455-c.400 B.C.), his near-contemporary, brought into history writing scholastic impartiality and excluded all supernatural explanations from his methodological arsenal. The third great prose historian of the era, Xenophon (c.431-c.355 B.C.), was born some years before the death Herodotus. Most probably he was familiar with the Histories. His Hellenica, a continuation of Thucydides' history of the Greeks, mixed Thucydidean vivid style with Herodotean episodes. Xenophon himself participated in the military operation he described in Anabasis.

The first translation of Histories into Latin was made in the fifteenth century, on the initiative of Pope Nicholas V. Cicero (106-43 B.C.) gave Herodotus the title "Father of History" in Laws, saying that "for in history everything is meant to lead to the truth, but in poetry a great deal is intended for pleasure – although in Herodotus, the father of history . . . there are a countless number of legends." Herodotus' fabrications and factual errors annoyed Aristotle (384-322 B.C.), who expressed his irritation in the Generation of Animals. At one point Aristotle noted that Herodotus made a mistake in his statement that "the semen of Ethiopians is black," and added mockingly "as [Herodotus] could see for himself." The outraged Plutarch, otherwise a peaceable vegetarian, renamed the "Father of History" the "Father of Lies". The Russian mathematician Anatoly T. Fomenko has claimed that the History refers to mediaveal events of the XI-XVI century A.D. – thus Herodotus was a Renaissance scholar. "The original oeuvre of Herodotus must have been cautiously edited from the viewpoint of the recently introduced Scaligerian history." (History: Fiction or Science? Chronology 2, p. 232) In his books Fomenko has tried to demonstrate by empirico-statistical methods that the official version of the chronology of ancient history is a deliberate forgery.
For further reading: The Life of Herodotus Drawn out from His Book ... by Friedrich Christoph Dahlmann (1845); The Geography of Herodotus. Developed, Explained, and Illustrated from Modern Researches and Discoveries. With Maps and Plans, by James Talboys Wheeler (1854); Herodotus by George C. Swayne (1870); A Lexicon to Herodotus by J. Powell (1938); Herodotus, Father of History by John Linton Myres (1953); The World of Herodotus by A. de Sélincourt (1962); The Ancient Historians by M. Grant (1970); Herodotus on Tyrants and Despots by K.H. Waters (1971); Herodotus: An Interpretative Essay by C.W. Fornara (1971); The Interrelation of Speech and Action in the Histories of Herodotus by Paavo Hohti (1976); Herodotus and Greek History by John Hart (1982); Herodotus and His Sources by Detlev Fehling (1988); Herodotus, Explorer of the Past: Three Essays by J.A.S. Evans (1991); Herodotus-Historian or Liar? by E. M. Yamauchi, et al. (1996); Herodotus by James Romm (1998); The Cambridge Companion to Herodotus, edited by Carolyn Dewald and John Marincola (2006): Travels with Herodotus by Ryszard Kapuscinski (2007); Herodotus and Sima Qian: The First Great Historians of Greece and China: A Brief History with Documents by Thomas R. Martin (2009);  Thucydides and Herodotus, edited by Edith Foster, Donald Lateiner ( 2011); Myth, Truth, and Narrative in Herodotus, edited by Emily Baragwanath and Mathieu de Bakker (2012); Herodotus, edited by Rosaria Vignolo Munson (2013); Ethnicity and Identity in Herodotus, edited by Thomas Figueira and Carmen Soares (2020); Herodotus and Imperial Greek Literature: Criticism, Imitation, Reception by N. Bryant Kirkland (2022) - Suomennokset: Herodotos, Historiateos 1-2, suom. Edvard Rein, 1964.  


  • Ek ton Herakleitu tu Ephesiu, in Poiesis philosophos, 1573 (ed. H. Stephanus)
  • The History of Herodotus, 1720 (translated from the Greek by Isaac Littlebury) 
  • The History of Herodotus, 1791 (4 vols, translated from the Greek, with notes, by William Beloe)
  • The History of Herodotus, 1792 (translated from the Greek, with notes subjoined, by J. Lempriere)
  • The Nine Books of the History of Herodotus, 1827 (tr. from the text of the Rev. Thomas Gaisford ... by Peter Edmund Laurent) 
  • The Nine Books of the History of Herodotus, 1846 (3rd ed.; translated by P. E. Laurent) 
  • History of Herodotus, 1875 (3rd ed., translated & edited by George Rawlinson)
  • The Story of the Persian War, from Herodotus, 1882 (translated by Alfred John Church)
  • Euterpe: Being the Second Book of the Famous History of Herodotus, Englished by B. B. 1584, 1888 (edited by Andrew Lang) 
  • The History of Herodotus, 1890 (2 vols., translated by G.C. Macaulay)
  • The Famous Hystory of Herodotus. Translated into English by B. R. [i.e. Barnaby Rich] anno 1584, 1924 (with an introduction by Leonard Whibley)
  • [Works], 1928 (with an English trans. by A. D. Godley) 
  • The History of Herodotus, 1939 (by J. Enoch Powell)
  • The History of the Peloponnesian War, 1952 (translated by Richard Crawley, revised by R. Feetham)
  • The Histories, 1954 (translated by Aubery de Selincourt, ed. by John M. Marincola)
  • The Persian War, 1982 (translated by William Shepherd)
  • The Histories, 1998 (translated by Robin Waterfield; with an introduction and notes by Carolyn Dewald)
  • Book VI / Herodotus, 2001 (edited with introduction and commentary by E.I. McQueen)
  • Herodotus. Book 1, 2002 (edited with introduction and notes by J.H. Sleeman)
  • On the War for Greek Freedom: Selections from the Histories, 2003 (translations by Samuel Shirley; edited, with introduction and notes, by James Romm)
  • The Landmark Herodotus: The Histories, 2007 (edited by Robert B. Strassler; A New Translation by Andrea L. Purvis)
  • Histories. Book VIII / Herodotus, 2007 (edited by A.M. Bowie)
  • Herodotus: The Histories: The Complete Translation, Backgrounds, Commentaries, 2013 (2nd ed., translated by Walter Blanco; edited by Walter Blanco and Jennifer T. Roberts)
  • Histories, 2014 (translated by Pamela Mensch; edited, with introduction and notes, by James Romm)
  • The Histories, 2014 (translated by Tom Holland; introduction and notes by Paul Cartledge) 
  • Histories: Book I, 2022 (edited by Carolyn Dewald and Rosaria Vignolo Munson)
  • Herodotus historiae. Books V-IX, [n.d.] (edited by Hude) 
  • The History of Herodotus, [n.d.] (translated by George Rawlinson)

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