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Herodotus, Father of History

Updated on December 19, 2017

Father of History, Father of Lies

Herodotus is known as the Father of History because he was the first of the classical writers to organise his writings into logical and subject order and also attempted to verify the veracity (or truth) of what he was writing.

Despite that, Herodotus was also called the Father of Lies by the Roman orator Cicero, because some of what he wrote was quite unbelievable. However those fantastical parts were usually written down as hearsay and not able to be verified personally by Herodotus.

Source NNDB

The Histories
The Histories

Herodotus - Early Biography

Herodotus was a Greek from Helicarnassus in Asia Minor. He was born around 484 BCE.

We know nothing about him as a child other than his parents names. They were Lyxes and Dryo. We also know that he had a brother called Theodorus and another relative called Panyassis, who wrote epic poems. These details come from the 11th century Byzantine Suda.

As a young man, Herodotus and Panyassis became involved in a plot to overturn a tyrant ruler of Helicarnassus named Lygdamis. Herodotus was forced into exile and so he and his family fled to the island of Samos.

Back in ancient times, there a number of dialects of ancient Greek. In Helicarnassus, the dialect was called DORIAN. On Samos the dialect was called IONIC. Herodotus did not learn the Ionic dialect until after he moved to Samos. Most of his writings were in Ionic as well.

The World according to Herodotus

The world according to Herodotus
The world according to Herodotus

Herodotus the Traveller

North

Technically speaking Herodotus was not an explorer - he was NOT investigating new and unknown areas. He stuck to places where Greeks had already been and settled. He was a traveller.

Some years later, Herodotus attempted to move back to Helicarnassus only to learn that he was still not wanted. This forced Herodotus to leave his hometown permanently. So like everyone else, he headed for the Big City. He went to Athens.

There were already some big names in Athens - Sophocles and Pericles and others. Herodotus was probably called on to tell stories about his home town of Helicarnassus. Story telling was in great demand, and Herorodotus seemed to be good at it. Thus he caught the story telling bug and decided to go out and find new stories and increase his knowledge. So Herodotus left Athens and began travelling.

As far as is known, he first travelled north towards the Black seas. This was semi unknown country. Greeks had settled the Mediterranean coastline to the west of Greece, as far as Marseille. Lands to the east were under Persian control and to the south was Egypt - a country that was very well known to the Greeks. So it made sense for Herodotus to look to the north.

Herodotus sailed north, past the Hellespont, and the Dardanelles, through the Straits of Bosphorus and the Sea of Marmara. He stopped at the town of Byzantium (barely 100 years old at this time) and then continued into the Black Sea. He sailed past the mouth of the Danube, until he reached Olbia - a Greek city on the Bug and Dnieper Rivers in what is now Southern Ukraine. Once in Olbia, Herodotus traveled with Greek merchants up and down the Dnieper River, even going as far as (what is now) Kiev. Thus he was able to study the Scythian people closely and accurately describe details of their culture.

Eventually Herodototus travelled further on along the Black sea coast as far as the town of Colchis (in what is now Georgia). Then for reasons of his own, Herodotus turned around and travelled back the way he came - through Olbia, across the mouth of the Danube, back into the Bosphorus, down through the Sea of Marmara and the Dardanelles to Helicarnassus.

Justin Marozzi on Herodotus - IQ squared Seminar dated 28th October 2010

Herodotus the Traveller

East

Around 455 BCE, Herodotus helped the people of Helicarnassus to remove the tyrant ruler Lygdamis from power. Shortly thereafter he set off on another trip - this time heading east - towards Persia and Babylon.

Herodotus' first stop was the city of Myriandrus, a Phoenician colony on the coast of (what was then) Syria not far from what is now Iskerundun. From there he travelled inland to the Euphrates River intending to follow the river downstream to Babylon.

Eventually Herodotus arrived at Babylon. He accurately described people. clothes, culture, food and he even asked about history. He asked for details concerning the capture of the city by Cyrus and the revolt under Darius in 521 BCE. Around 449 BCE Herodotus returned home to Helicarnassus. Helicarnassus is now known as Bodrum in Western Turkey.

Herodotus Histories in Latin

Herodotus Histories in Greek
Herodotus Histories in Greek

Latin translation by Lorenzo Valla,

Copied by Johannes Monasteriensis,

Frontispiece decorated by Andrea da Firenze,

Dedicated to Pope Pius II, Third quarter of the fifteenth century .

Picture Source

Herodotus the Traveller

South

By 446 BCE Herodotus was getting restless again. This time, he travelled south to Egypt, passing through cities such as Heliopolis, Memphis and Thebes. He managed to get as far as the city of Elephantine - one of the last cities still under Persian control. Herodotus never ventured into the kingdom of the Ethiopians. He relied on hearsay descriptions of their culture and people.

He then returned downstream to the mouth of the Nile. Then he headed 500 miles west to the city of Cyrene where he asked about the people of North Africa as far as the pillars of Hercules (what are now the straits of Gibraltar) but most of the stories he wrote down seem to be fanciful.

From Cyrene Herodotus went back to Tyre in Syria, and a few years later back to Athens. Unfortunately a law had been passed that prevented Herodotus from ever becoming an Athenian citizen so he left Athens and retired to Thuria (a Greek colony in southern Italy) where he lived out his days writing his book.

He is said to have died roughly around 425 BCE.

Have you ever read The Histories by Herodotus? - Tells us your thoughts on the ancient greek writer, Herodotus

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    • Ninche profile image

      Ninche 

      6 years ago

      Yes when I was student. Loved it and your lens, too.

    • The Philologist profile image

      The Philologist 

      7 years ago

      As a classics student, I've read the histories, and I have to say this was both a very concise and well written, and informative lens. One of the best I've read on this site yet.

    • jackieb99 profile image

      jackieb99 

      7 years ago

      I haven't read them, but they seem interesting. Nice choice for niche lens topic.

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