Herodotus

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Herodotus

Herodotus (hērŏd´ətəs), 484?–425? BC, Greek historian, called the Father of History, b. Halicarnassus, Asia Minor. Only scant knowledge of his life can be gleaned from his writings and from references to him by later writings, notably the Suda. He traveled along the coast of Asia Minor to the northern islands and to the shore of the Black Sea; he also at some time visited Mesopotamia, Babylon, and Egypt. By 447 BC he was in Athens, and in 443 he seems to have helped to found the Athenian colony of Thurii in S Italy, where he probably spent the rest of his life completing his history. That classic work, the first comprehensive attempt at secular narrative history, is the starting point of Western historical writing. It is divided into nine books named for the Muses (a division made by a later editor). Herodotus was the first writer to evaluate historical, geographical, and archaeological material critically. The focus of the history is the story of the Persian Wars, but the extensive and richly detailed background information put Greece in its proper historical perspective. He discusses the growth of Persia into a great kingdom and traces the history and migration of the Greek people. Among his grand digressions are fascinating histories of Babylon, Egypt, and Thrace, as well as detailed studies of the pyramids and specific historical events. The value of the work lies not only in its accuracy, but in its scope and the rich diversity of information as well as the charm and simplicity of his writing.

See translations of his history by G. Rawlinson (1858), A. de Selincourt (1954), R. Waterfield (1998), and A. L. Purvis (2007); studies by J. L. Myres (1953, repr. 1971), C. W. Fornara (1971) and J. A. Evans and F. Hartog (1982); W. W. How and J. Wells, A Commentary on Herodotus (2 vol., rev. ed. 1928); H. R. Immerwahr, Form and Thought in Herodotus (1966); D. Hamel, Reading Herodotus (2012).

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