Authors: Herodotus

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Last reviewed: June 2018

Greek historian

c. 484 b.c.e.

Halicarnassus, Asia Minor (now Bodrum, Turkey)

c. 424 b.c.e.

Thurii, Lucania (now in Italy)


Only from references in his own works and occasional mention by encyclopedias such as the tenth-century Suda can details of the life of Herodotus (hih-RAHD-uh-tuhs) be obtained. Herodotus relates that his parents were Lyxes and Dryo, wealthy people of the upper class, and that his birthplace, Halicarnassus, was part of the Persian Empire until he was thirty years old. His many quotations and references to dozens of authors show the scope and quantity of his reading, and his apparent familiarity with non-Greek cultures indicates how widely he traveled in Egypt, Scythia, Asia Minor, and various Greek states. Although he tried to test the validity of his sources, the interest rather than the veracity of many of the related incidents appealed to him most; therefore, Herodotus must be read with caution. For that reason, some scholars prefer the historical writings of Thucydides. {$I[AN]9810000501} {$I[A]Herodotus} {$I[geo]GREECE;Herodotus} {$I[tim]0484 b.c.e.;Herodotus}


(Library of Congress)

Herodotus earned the name Father of History for his detailed account of the wars of the Greeks and the Persians between 500 b.c.e. and 479 b.c.e. This work is the earliest example of a secular narrative of events. Interested in causation, Herodotus tried to establish strict chronology and in doing so became the first historian in the West. True, he includes all he had been able to learn about earlier culture and history—without much effort to see deep meaning or discuss movements or trends—but the result is a colorful yet neat and serious story, presented by a master of prose style, who does suggest the lessons inherent in the events.

Parts of The History were written in Samos and in Athens during a period when Herodotus was in exile, probably for taking part in a revolution. His uncle Panyasis was executed as a conspirator, and later Herodotus returned to Halicarnassus to help overthrow the tyrant Lygdamis and to labor to persuade his city to join the Athenian Confederacy. When he left home permanently about 447 b.c.e., perhaps because he believed he was not appreciated, Herodotus settled in Athens where, in 445, the city voted him ten talents, a sum estimated at more than ten thousand dollars. Because it did not give him what he wanted most, citizenship, he left Athens to help found a colony of Greeks in Thurii, now in Italy. Scholars believe he lived there for the rest of his life, his death occurring about 424 b.c.e. Another, competing tradition has it that he died at Pella, Macedonia. His history was not printed in its original Greek until Aldus Manutius printed an edition in 1502, divided into nine books, each named after one of the Muses. Previously, in 1474, the work had been published in a Latin translation.

Author Works Nonfiction: Historiai Herodotou, c. 424 B.C.E. (The History, 1709) Bibliography Bakker, Egbert J., Irene J. F. De Jong, and Hans Van Wees, eds. Brill’s Companion to Herodotus. Boston: Brill, 2002. Includes essays on Athens, oral strategies in the language of Herodotus, epic heritage and mythical patterns, the intellectual trends of Herodotus’s time, the Persian invasions, and more. De Sélincourt, Aubrey. The World of Herodotus. San Francisco: North Point Press, 1982. This work retraces Herodotus’s literary journal based on twentieth century knowledge of his world. De Sélincourt translated The History for the Penguin Classics series. Evans, J. A. Herodotus. Boston: Twayne, 1982. This biography covers the known facts of Herodotus’s life and clearly explains the various scholarly controversies surrounding him. Flory, Stewart. The Archaic Smile of Herodotus. Detroit:Wayne State University Press, 1987. An analysis of literary motifs in The History, showing the tightness of its structure and the larger purposes Herodotus had in mind, beyond chronicling the Persian War. Harrison, Thomas. Divinity and History: The Religion of Herodotus. New York: Clarendon Press, 2000. A study of Herodotus’s religious beliefs in divine retribution, in oracles and divination, and in miracles or in fate, seeking to show not only how such beliefs were central to his work, but also how they were compatible with lived experience. Herodotus. The History. Translated by David Grene. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987. This translation includes a commentary that provides an excellent introduction to Herodotus. Illustrated with helpful maps. How, Walter W., and Joseph Wells, eds. A Commentary on Herodotus: With Introduction and Appendixes. 2 vols. New York. Oxford University Press, 1989-1990. This is the standard commentary on Herodotus and provides almost a line-by-line analysis. Hunter, Virginia. Past and Process in Herodotus and Thucydides. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1982. An analysis of the first two historians, finding great similarities in their worldviews. Lateiner, Donald. The Historical Method of Herodotus. Buffalo, N.Y.: University of Toronto Press, 1989. An important study of Herodotus’s historiography. Luraghi, Nino, ed. The Historian’s Craft in the Age of Herodotus. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002. Contextualizes the origins and development of Greek historiography through situating the early historical writings in the framework of late archaic and early classical Greek culture and society. Munson, Rosaria Vignolo. Telling Wonders: Ethnographic and Political Discourse in the Work of Herodotus. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2001. Analyzes Herodotus’s relation of the exotic and the marvelous in his histories. Myres, John L. Herodotus, Father of History. Reprint. Chicago: Henry Regnery, 1971. Myres reveals the tight and deliberate construction of The History. Priestley, Jessica. Herodotus & Hellenistic Culture: Literary Studies on the Reception of the Histories. Oxford UP, 2014. A collection of essays examining the early reception of Herodotus' work among various audiences. Romm, James S. Herodotus. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1998. An overview study of Herodotus’s dual roles as historian and storyteller. Thomas, Rosalind. Herodotus in Context: Ethnography, Science, and the Art of Persuasion. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000. Examines the ways in which Herodotus established the scholarly norms for the investigation of alien cultures, not only in the ancient world but also in all eras influenced by the classics.

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