To what extent can Herodotus be called ‘The Father of History’?

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Nov 24, 2017


Principally because he is the first one to give an account of certain facts.


Herodotus lived in the 5th century BC (484-413, both dates are estimated). This was the golden century of Greek culture. Socrates, Pericles, the three Tragic (Sophocles, Aeschylus Euripides), Menandro, Phidias and many others great intellects were his contemporaries or quasi-contemporary.

He travelled extensively the Greek islands all the way to Sicily, the Greek diaspora of North Africa and Asia Minor. He enquired, he watched, he listened, and he recorded his experience in a series of books that he called "the Stories". His writing is comparable to Marco Polo’s who, in similar terms, narrated China nearly 2000 years after him.

His narrative is not scholarly. In fact is fluid and entertaining. His is more a chronicle than a text book. He makes no difference between facts and fancy. He narrates of gods and heroes, he mixes evidence with legends. He recounts his own experiences but also recounts numerous stories he heard or overheard from travellers often without attempt to verification.
He cannot be blamed for this. He IS the first one. Before him Hesiod’s chronology of the world was all gods and titans; and when you consider that the closest Roman historians to him is Quintus Pictor, who wrote in the second century BC, you can see the relevance of the Herodotus.

In fact his only competition time-wise is Thucydides (465-395 BC) who wrote only a few decades after him. And a competition he was indeed since Thucydides is a real historian.
Thucydides tells us of the War of Peloponnesus, a war that he fought himself. He relates the speech of Pericles that he heard with thousands of other Athenians, he describes battles and strategies that he was instrumental to.

Thucydides also has pages of analysis, which Herodotus does not, he searches for causes, consequences, which Herodotus ignores.

Who is best? Who is the first historian? Let me tell you my own experience. I read the whole of Herodotus 7 books when I was probably of your age (15 or thereabout). I loved it. I could not put the book down.
When I was 18 we had Thucydides in our syllabus. We had to translate two chapters of his Wars. I did, I thought it was very good, but never read one more line of his writing after that.

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