Herodotus: History Man

… to show what caused them to fight one another. Herodotus speaking of his account of  Greco-Persian Wars

The Greek have a word for it

By Roger Childs

Every country, place, person, group, subject and institution has its history.

We like to think that when we read history books and articles, we are getting as close to the truth as possible. It doesn’t always happen, however professional historians generally pride themselves on being objective.

The best writers will provide the facts, but emphasise causes and effects in their studies.

When they put forward opinions and perceptions, they make it clear are these are views and conclusions based on the best available evidence.

The man who laid the ground rules for writing history was Herodotus, who lived in Greece in the fifth century BC. He used the word historie, or investigation/inquiry in Greek, for his seminal work on the conflicts between the Greeks and the Persians.

Travel broadens the mind

Herodotus was born about 485 BC, in the Greek city of Halicarnassus. He had a lively mind and wrote on various subjects including geography and politics.

Travel was a big part of his life and he ventured through the Balkans, Egypt, Syria, Palestine, Babylon and along the west coast of the Black Sea.

Where ever he went he listened to myths and legends, recorded oral histories and made notes of the places and things that he saw. (History Today) He used the terms autopsies and personal inquiries to describe what he was doing.

When he returned to Greece, he lived in Athens – the hub of Greek intellectual and political activity.

The father of history

Herodotus lived at a time when there was a titanic struggle for political supremacy in south-east Europe and Asia Minor, between the Greek states in the southern Balkans and the Persian Empire to the east.

As the chronicler of the Persian Wars, his work was simply called The Histories.

Cambridge Professor of Greek Simon Goldhill, explains why Herodotus is known as the father of history.

… rather than tell the old stories which have power because they are taken for granted, he writes as a critical, analytical investigator …. He demands we understand the causes of events, and doesn’t just record events.

Herodotus also used phrases which are basics in the craft of the professional historian.

.. if we were to argue from inference …

From my own inquiries, I have discovered …

What they say is not convincing to me …

The second explanation is less scientific …

In writing The Histories he established a discipline which historians have followed for the last 2500 years.