Herodotus

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Historian (c485 BC – c413? BC)

Herodotus of Halicarnassus was a historian and geographer of the 5th century BC. First named Father of History by Cicero, his title was preserved throughout the ages because he was the first to write a book on world history in a scientific manner, with impartiality, research and critique. He was the first to introduce the term Ἱστορία (History) as the science of knowing, giving it its modern meaning and the first who attempted to write down historical facts with accuracy, truth and honesty. Herodotus spent much of his life in Athens, where he formed a close friendship with Pericles, Sophocles and Protagoras and founded a colony together with the latter in Southern Italy.

His magnum opus Ἰστορίαι (Histories) is the founding book of history in the Western World. It has been divided into 9 tomes each named after each Muse. The first book contains a proemium on the foundation of the Persian Empire and its rivalries with Greece. The second book is about Kambysus’ rule in Africa. The third book concerns Darius’ enthronement and rise to power, the siege of Samos by the Persians and its procession to Greece. The fourth book contains Darius’ campaigns against Scythia, Libya, Thrace and Hellespontus. The fifth is exclusively about the Ionian revolution while the sixth chronicles the glorious events leading to the Battle of Marathon. The seventh book in the series continues from where the sixth book left with the Battle of Thermopylae and the Battle of Salamis. The last two books of the series end with Xerxes’ retreat and the epic Battle of Plataea.

Contrary to popular belief Herodotus did not limit himself to history. He wrote books on anthropology, ethnography, biology and most importantly medicine. Herodotus’ books are of special interest because they are the primary source of pre-Hippocratic medicine. They include elements of pathology, surgery, psychiatry, ophthalmology, orthopedics and hygiene. They also contain descriptions on anthropologic findings such as traditions and practices of various races.

Herodotus’ works had tremendous influence worldwide even during antiquity. He did not simply document what happened; rather he proceeded in analysing, interpreting and explaining the historical facts using proofs he had gathered from meticulous research involving the city archives, oral accounts, older bibliography and personal investigations. For this reason they were free of mythological elements. He believed that behind every cause was the Divine, which was conceived by philosophers as the primordial principle of Anaximander.

Nevertheless, Herodotus was not objective and his writings contain a lot of historical errors, misconceptions and inaccuracies. This rose controversy among historians of later eras, most notably from Plutarch, who vehemently accused Herodotus for criticizing the Ionian revolution, the Thebans and the Corinthians, diminishing the Spartans’ contribution in the Persian Wars, disregarding Themistocles’ role in the Battle of Salamis, exaggerating the role of Athens and for being a “philobarbarian” by considering the Egyptians better than the Greeks. He even wrote a book entirely on Herodotus’ criticism called «Περὶ κακοηθείας Ἡροδότου». In spite of his flaws, however, he is regarded as a pioneer scientist as his contributions in history and anthropology are unique.

Bibliography

  1. “Herodotus”. Helios New Encyclopaedic Dictionary. Passas, I. Athens: 1946. Print.
  2. ΕΛΛΗΝΩΝ ΔΙΚΤΥΟ. ΗΡΟΔΟΤΟΣ. Hellinon.net. August 20, 2016. Web.
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Herodotus

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