Click on the footnote number and you will jump down to that note. Once there and enlightened, then click on that number and you will return to where you were in the text


From An Introduction to the History of History, by James T. Shotwell; Columbia University Press; New York; 1922; pp. 144-161.




THE life of Herodotus coincided almost exactly with the years of the Athenian supremacy, those sixty years or so which lay between the battle of Salamis and the beginning of the end of things in the Peloponnesian war. He was born about 480 B.C., and died after 430 B.C. Practically nothing is known of his life except what can be deduced from his history. His native city was Halicarnassus, a Dorian settlement on the seacoast of Asia Minor, where, however, inscriptional remains indicate that the Ionic dialect was in use.1 He had thus accessible for his history the tongue which had already been consecrated to prose literature. But while he wrote their language, he could not rid himself of a strong native prejudice against the Ionians. They are practically the only people in his whole narrative to whom he is almost consistently unfair. They “have built their cities in a region where the air and climate are the most beautiful in the whole world; for no other region is equally blessed with Ionia, neither above it nor below it, nor east nor west of it.”2 Yet, “of all its [Greek] tribes the Ionic was by far the feeblest and least esteemed, not possessing a single State of any mark excepting Athens. The Athenians and most of the other Ionic States over the world went so far in their dislike of the name as actually to lay it aside; and even at the present day the greater number of them seem to me to be ashamed of it.”3 Thus he brings his neighbors into the story, borrowing their tongue to do it! And once in it, they fare no better. His jibes sometimes became a sneer, deftly driven home by the rhetorical device of having some one else — a Scythian for instance — say “by way of reproach” that the Ionians “are the basest and most dastardly of all mankind . . . 145 but the faithfullest of slaves.”4 There is a touch, a shadow, of something Dantesque in this strength of local antipathy, quite out of keeping with the breadth of sympathy and interest he shows elsewhere. The much-travelled Greek never entirely lost the narrow partisanship of his home town. To be sure, as commentators have pointed out, such anti-Ionian sentiments were popular at Athens,5 which was having its troubles keeping the Ionians in subjection, in the days when Herodotus sought its hospitality; but, although the applause of his audience6 may have led him to polish his darts, he flicked them of his own accord. The Halicarnassus of his boyhood seems to have left its traces in his outlook, whatever else it supplied.7

It is unfortunate to have to touch first upon this evidence of the smallness of Herodotus, for the work as a whole is marked by a breadth of view in keeping with its breadth of knowledge. Indeed it is doubtful if the wide scope of its information did not depend upon the open mind with which the author-voyager travelled the world, that frank desire to see things as they are, which, when disciplined, leads toward science. Just what disciplines directed the native curiosity of Herodotus no one knows, but they must have been considerable.8 His work reveals a wide and intimate knowledge of the poetry of Hellas, especially Homer;9 and he had readily at hand his predecessors in the new art of prose-writing, 146 especially Hecatæus, to cite or refer to on occasion. His education, therefore, must have been almost as extensive as his travels, covering practically the known world. Only a well-born and well-to-do young man could equip himself as he did for his life-task. Such a one could hardly keep out of politics in a Greek city, and his travels may have been partly due to exile. But of this he gives no glimpse himself, and the story of participation in a Halicarnassan revolution, and subsequent withdrawal to Ionian Samos, rests only on a late source.10 Practically all we know for certain is that about 447 B.C., near the age of forty, he went to Athens to reside, and to form part of that most brilliant circle of men of genius which the world has ever seen, at the “court” of Pericles; that he left Athens four years later (443) to become a citizen of the Athenian colony of Thurii in Italy, where he died, apparently shortly after 430 B.C. Into this framework were fitted many travels and the arduous labor of a great composition. Just how they fitted, careful study of the text can largely show, but such intensive criticism is no part of this survey. The striking thing is the extent of the travels, from upper Egypt to the south, to “Scythia” in the far north, from Magna Græcia in the western Mediterranean to Babylon in the Orient, and almost all the world between; the dates matter less.

Turning from the biography of Herodotus to his history is like turning from a single article in an encyclopædia to the encyclopædia as a whole. The first thing that strikes one on opening it, is its vastness, its intricacy, the wealth of its information. Such a work is too large, in every sense of the word, to be compressed within the few pages of this outline. With it before us, we have at last entered upon the broad lines of the genuine history of History, and we may stand aside, as it were, to let the Herodotean achievement speak for itself. The usefulness of a guide depends not less upon maintaining discreet silences in the presence of monuments universally known, than in bringing the traveller face to face with them. Such comments as follow, therefore, are not intended as contributions to scholarship, but as suggestions, mostly familiar to students, for reading the text in the light of this study as a 147 whole, not leaving it either entirely unexplained nor yet permitting it to be entirely submerged beneath the rising tide of expert criticism.

The first impression of the History is one of relative formlessness; the rambling story of a good raconteur. The opening sections carry back the conflict between East and West to the dawn of history, or rather beyond it, to the rape of Helen by the Asiatics and of Europa and Medea by the Greeks, with all their consequences. The stage is thus set for the drama, and were Herodotus a dramatist, he would have at once brought on the main actors and reduced the outlying portions of his subject to mere incidents, as Thucydides did. But Herodotus was not a dramatist. Although, influenced perhaps by Æschylus, he depicted the overthrow of the Persians as the result of divine judgment, and so secured for his work an underlying dramatic unity, he handled his material like a romancer, with careless art passing from story to story and land to land. One subject seems to suggest another, and with hardly a casual “that reminds me” the story-teller seems to plunge into each new narrative, rich with description of unknown lands and the fabulous tales of distant centuries. The mention of the attack of Crœsus, King of Lydia, upon the Greek cities of Asia Minor leads to a general survey of the history of Lydia and of its Greek neighbors. The conquest of Crœsus by Cyrus, which follows, opens up the great Persian Empire, and we pass to Egypt, Babylon and Scythia in a rambling survey of that great “barbarian” world. Then the narrative settles down to the struggle between Persians and Greeks. Passages dealing with the Greeks in the earlier portion are now linked up with the revolt of the Ionian cities against Darius, and by way of the anger of the great king we are led to Marathon, and then to Salamis and more recent times. As we approach this central theme, the digressions drop away, the style becomes more direct, and the author marshals his motley array of materials somewhat as Xerxes did his army when it passed before him in that vast, bewildering review.

Such is the first impression one receives of the work as a whole, but closer reading shows that it is by no means so loosely knit as it appears. On the contrary, it bears evidence of careful editing, and fits with little strain into a general architectural plan, which 148 modern scholars have had little difficulty in agreeing upon. Although the division of the work into nine books seems clearly to have been done by a later hand, probably, as indicated above,11 to meet the exigencies of the libraries where scholars of the Hellenistic period consulted it, yet the editor did his work so well that no one has attempted to improve upon it. But the assignment of the text to these accepted “books” has not prevented modern scholars from attempting to find “broader, more fundamental and primary” divisions.12 The conclusions of the greatest textual critic of today, based on a most elaborate analysis and reduced to simple statement by the historian of Greek historians are as follows:13

“The work falls naturally into three sections, each consisting of three parts. The first section, or triad of Books, comprises the reigns of Cyrus and Cambyses, and the accession of Darius; the second deals with the reign of Darius; the third with that of Xerxes. The first is mainly concerned with Asia including Egypt, the second with Europe; the third with Hellas. The first displays the rise and the triumphs of the power of Persia; the last relates the defeat of Persia by Greece; while in the middle triad represents a chequered picture, Persian failure in Scythia and at Marathon, Greek failure in Ionia. And each of the nine subdivisions has a leading theme which constitutes a minor unity. Cyrus is the theme of the first Book, Egypt of the second, Scythia of the fourth, the Ionian rebellion of the fifth, Marathon of the sixth. The seventh describes the invasion of Xerxes up to his success at Thermopylæ; the eighth relates to the reversal of fortune at Salamis; the final triumphs of Greece at Platæa and Mycale occupy the ninth. In the third alone the unity is less marked; yet there is a central interest in the dynastic revolution which set Darius on the throne. Thus the unity of the whole composition sharply displays itself in three parts, of which each again is threefold.14 The simplicity with which this architectural symmetry has been managed, without 149 any apparent violence, constraint, or formality, was an achievement of consummate craft.”

It may be wrong, but as one turns from this schematic arrangement to the narrative itself, an unbidden doubt arises to question if the “architectural unity” of the great work is quite as simple as the analysis seems to imply. As Macan himself confesses,15 the fourth book is like the first three in the quality which links them all, that encyclopædic survey by way of vast digressions, which carries the narrative far away from the central theme. The fourth book swings off to the outer confines of the barbarian world, and matches with its brilliant sketches of Scythia and Libya the wonderful second book on Egypt. We leave Darius by Bosphorus or Danube to study the climate, fauna and flora of the cold northern plains, wander like the Greek traders (whose accounts are woven into the texture of the history) along far rivers through unknown peoples, trace the amber trail to dimmer distances, and, almost incidentally, note the habits and customs of men, until the Scythian logos becomes a priceless treasure of anthropological lore. This is surely in the style of the first three books.

The change from the far-reaching discursive style to the narrower treatment of events in the later books is a gradual one; for there are digressions right up to the battle of Thermopylæ, but as the Greeks themselves come more and more into the story there is naturally less description and more straight narrative. There was no need to describe the Greeks to themselves, except as the facts were not well known at Athens. The turning point in the history, therefore, inasmuch as one can detect it, seems to be when Athens itself is brought upon the scene, the Athens they all knew. This comes in the fifth book, when, through the great Athenian revolution, we are brought out of the “old régime” to the modern days of the new democracy. All before was ancient history; the overthrow of the tyrants marked, fittingly, the coming of modern times, and from now on Herodotus could be a modern historian. It is hard at this distance to recover the perspectives of the fifth century B.C., and to realize that the Athens and Sparta which had figured in the earlier books were already, to the listeners of Herodotus, 150 about as far away in time as the kingdom of Lydia in space. It takes but a short time for unhistorical peoples to lose their sense of the reality of events; and Solon and Crœsus were both alike, the half-historical, half-mythical figures of a bygone era. With Miltiades and Darius the case was different. Thought they too already were passing into the heroic past, men who had fought Darius were still alive, and these old veterans sprinkled in the audience would hardly encourage that discursive anecdotal type of narrative which was suitable for the ancient history and for the geography of the earlier part.

The fifth book, therefore, in which the “revolution” is described, may be regarded as furnishing the transition from the “ancient” to the “modern” history of Herodotus. The point is rather obscured by the persistence of downright mediæval conditions at Sparta, which had yet to be described,16 and, although recent, seem to be on a par with the remoter days of the tyranny at Athens. But everything is shaping up for the dramatic act with which the book closes, the Ionian revolt, which brought the Great War to Greece, henceforth the one dominant theme of the history. The new keynote is struck by the comment with which Herodotus closes the account of the Athenian revolution: “And it is plain enough, not from this instance only, but from many everywhere, that freedom is an excellent thing, since even the Athenians, who, while they continued under the rule of tyrants, were not a whit more valiant than any of their neighbours, no sooner shook off the yoke than they became decidedly the first of all. These things show that, while undergoing oppression, they let themselves be beaten, since then they worked for a master; but so soon as they got their freedom, each man was eager to do the best he could for himself. So fared it now with the Athenians.”17 The path from this to Salamis was thus definitely entered upon, but it was still a long one with many turnings.

Whichever way one views the “architectural plan” of Herodotus’ history, whether as a tri-partite grouping or a less formal but more intrinsic unity, the plan was apparently not thought out before hand, but grew with the history itself. For internal 151 evidence shows that the first books to be written were the last three, and they were apparently already largely written by the time he went to Athens.18 His travels, — that is, the real expeditions to the outlying world, — came later. It was a triumph of art to master the bewildering miscellany which these later years revealed and weave it into a single texture, so that the original story of Xerxes’ invasion, with which he came to Athens, was left after all as the fitting climax to the whole.

If the simplicity and perfection of plan were a product of art and not, as might seem, the result produced by the very nature of the circumstances recorded, the same is true of the style. The very artlessness of Herodotus is artful. He is garrulous to a point and sophistically ingenuous. When unable to either confirm or deny the truth of what he tells, he brings his sources frankly into the narrative and leaves them there. Sometimes, often in fact, he seems to apologize for them, as in a passage in the seventh book, where he says, “My duty is to report all that is said; but I am not obliged to believe it all alike — a remark which may be understood to apply to my whole History.”19 So he lets his characters talk; and how they talk! Often he seems to stand by and chuckle. Once in a while he interjects a dry remark, — as, when reporting a story that a certain Scyllias swam several miles under water, he adds, “My own opinion is that . . . he made the passage . . . in a boat”!20 Similarly, he often escapes committing himself, as on the question of the sources of the Nile, with regard to which he had found no one among all those with whom he conversed who professed to have any knowledge except a single person. “He was the scribe who kept the register of the sacred treasures of Minerva in the City of Saïs, and he did not seem to me to be in earnest when he said that he knew them perfectly well.”21 Herodotus wishes us to know that he could travel and listen with his tongue in his cheek; yet deftly, at the same 152 time, by his deference to our criticism, and the frankness of his confessions to us, he leaves an impression of simple candor that adds to the charm of the telling.

It must not be forgotten how much of Herodotus’ history is a collection of what other people said. Even his moralizing is partly due to what he got from his informants.22 It is a vast mass of material, drawn from priests and travellers, from tradition and documents, from stories of eye-witnesses and personal observations, all arranged and fitted to a single plan, but not worked over so as to obliterate the nature of the originals. This, to the modern student, is not its least merit. However biassed and pro-Athenian Herodotus was, however guides imposed upon his ignorance or sources misled him, he left us largely the means for passing judgment upon himself. And this very fact does much to bring the verdict of even this critical, scientific age in his favor.

It was serious work. Long years of travel were behind the story, and the author, with proud simplicity, proclaimed himself a savant in the opening line. His narrative “is the showing forth of researches [histories]” by one who is able to make them: the term history is here used in the definite technical sense. His predecessors were “makers of prose,” but he is a “historian.” Modern criticism denies him the distinction in just the way he claimed it,23 but it awards him still the distinction which he was awarded in antiquity, of being at once a pioneer and a classic, — the Father of History. He combined with the instincts of critical investigation the consummate skill of a great artist. When his work is compared with the histories written before his day, its epoch-making quality is at once apparent. There is not only the deft, elusive touch of a master in the massing of detail, but the narrative never loses its élan, however burdened with the weight of fact. It swings along with the strength and grace of a mind 153 unfettered by either the hampering taboos of the primitive or the theories and questionings of too philosophic culture. A tinge of romance from the golden age still lightens the sober path of real events. One must turn to the text itself to appreciate it; commentaries are as inadequate as they are plentiful.

There are one or two further points, however, which are more especially pertinent to this survey. In the first place, we must revert to the point referred to above, — the modernity of Herodotus. Nothing is more difficult in the appreciation of history than its perspective, and in judging the achievement of the first historian we are almost sure to find, first of all, our own limitations. Through the long stretch of the intervening centuries, Midas, Solon, Crœsus, Cyrus, Darius, and Xerxes all seem to belong to one and the same time. They are all “ancients”; and the short intervals which lie between them do not seem of much importance. Only Egypt reaches out from what seems to us a common age into a different horizon, 24 like the sombre suggestion of the mystery which lies beyond the beginning of the things one knows. But to Herodotus and his audience the perspective was entirely different. It would be as though some one of this generation, writing of the Franco-Prussian war, were to carry back the narrative of causes through the long centuries of the national development of Europe in order to treat adequately the questions of today. Herodotus had met and talked with those who lived through these stirring times; the scars of war were in a sense still there; the effects upon the fortunes of Greece, and especially of Athens, were just showing themselves to the full. He built his vast and labyrinthine structure around this main theme of the world-conflict; and since it was a world-conflict, he brought to bear upon it the history of the world. The treatment varies with the sources. The events at home were known — or at least might be known — to his audience beforehand. There he must be on his guard. On the other hand, the accounts of Egyptians and Orientals are picked up at second-hand: Herodotus marks them off from the rest of his narrative; they are the logoi, — the tales of the different countries, the extras in his narrative, “histories” by themselves. They are drawn form all kinds of sources, from native priests and dragomans and travellers 154 before his day — Hecatæus especially. It is easy to see why this part is so much less reliable than the other. The priests of Egypt might mislead him or he misunderstand them; but in the Grecian part he knew where he was going. As a matter of fact he did make the mistakes of a traveller. For a glaring instance, he puts down Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon as a woman, — Queen Nitocris. But we must recall, as Macaulay reminds us, that Babylon was to Greece about what Pekin was to the Europe of the eighteenth century. The remarkable thing is that Herodotus got as much correct as he did. When one thinks of what tales European tourists are fed on today, what myths are current in this country about the character of foreign peoples, even what persistent misunderstanding there is between different sections of the same country, where intercourse is so general and so constant one begins to see the canny temper of the Father of History.

It is hard to get a true sense of the Herodotean achievement in terms of any modern parallel. That of a European historian of today writing of the Franco-Prussian war is obviously entirely inadequate. Perhaps it might spur the historical imagination if we were to suppose that our Persians are Russians and our Greeks Japanese, and that some twenty or thirty years from now an Oriental historian sets to work to immortalize the war which broke the island barriers of Japan and started it on its imperial career of expansion. Port Arthur is Thermopylæ, Mukden is Marathon, and Tsushima, Salamis. The Oriental Herodotus travels through the West to gather the materials for a history of the two worlds in conflict. So, in place of the ancient royal road of Persia, he takes the Trans-Siberian railway to the ancient West and wanders through Europe, in search of truth — a genuine ἱςτορέων. He asks the professors at Oxford for light on history and theology. He listens to talk in the clubs and hotels, and, with little to fall back upon but his Oriental common sense, and a few guide books in Japanese, tries to work out a reliable account of peoples whose language he cannot read or speak, and among whom he lived only as a travelling guest. His history of Europe might begin with an account of a Magellan, in search of golden fleeces in the eastern seas, or Marco Polo visiting the great Khan. Beyond Marco Polo, the first historical figure in the annals of Europe, would lie the incredible 155 story of Rome and Greece, and perhaps there would be a passage from Herodotus himself. Beyond this are the blank prehistoric ages, stretching back, according to Oxford anthropologists, to a fabulous ice flood, much farther than the 432,000 years which the priests allotted to ancient Babylon. Suppose that here and there he confused these data of science with the accounts of theologians who believed in the literal inspiration of Genesis. He might, perhaps, suspect and suggest that the material hardly fitted the context, but the theologians were admirable men, with a high sense of morals, so down it would go, with a short note on the character of the informants. As the story drifted on toward modern times, it would grow more complicated, for in a single lifetime Japan passed from feudal society, fighting in armor, to a nation armed with siege cannon and dreadnoughts. Of the age of transition, when the Phœnician Britishers played their rôle, our Herodotus could gather personal reminiscences and local memoirs, — of varying reliability. But when he finally reaches the struggle in Manchuria, he has been over the ground of Mukden himself, and recalls, from his youth, the effects of the war. Here he knows his time and people, for they are his own.

The comparison might be developed farther. But if we have to invent our modern Herodotus in order to appreciate the ancient one, it is better to delay until our impressions of the original are refreshed by a new study of the first single masterpiece in the history of History. To do so one must turn to the book itself, for no series of extracts can do it justice. One instance of his scientific method is perhaps worth quoting in full for another reason.

In an earlier chapter we ventured to regret that Herodotus had not visited Jerusalem about the time the Pentateuch was being edited for the Bible as we have it.25 It may be of interest to see how near he was to Jerusalem. He had become attracted by the problem of tracing the myth of Heracles throughout non-Greek parallel and tells us how, with curiosity quickened rather than subdued by what he found in Egypt,26 he pursued his investigations to that borderland of Palestine, Phœnicia. A visit inland to the Jewish scholars would not have thrown much light on Heracles, for of the 156 Heraclean labors of Gilgamesh, the story of Noah retains no trace.27 But there might have been significant comments on other matters! The researches in Phœnicia are recorded as follows:

“In the wish to get the best information that I could on these matters, I made a voyage to Tyre in Phœnicia, hearing there was a temple of Hercules at that place, very highly venerated. I visited the temple, and found it richly adorned with a number of offerings, among which were two pillars, one of pure gold, the other of emerald, shining with great brilliancy at night. In a conversation which I held with the priests, I inquired how long their temple had been built, and found by their answer that they too differed from the Greeks. They said that the temple was built at the same time that the city was founded, and that the foundation of the city took place two thousand three hundred years ago. In Tyre I remarked another temple where the same god was worshipped as the Thasian Hercules. So I went on to Thasos, where I found a temple of Hercules which had been built by the Phœnicians who colonized that island when they sailed in search of Europa. Even this was five generations earlier than the time when Hercules, son of Amphitryon, was born in Greece. These researches show plainly that there is an ancient god Hercules; and my own opinion is, that those Greeks act most wisely who build and maintain two temples of Hercules, in the one of which the Hercules worshipped is known by the name of Olympian, and has sacrifice offered to him as an immortal, while in the other the honours paid are such as are due to a hero.”28

There is no need to appraise the work of Herodotus; history has already done that for us. Until the monuments were deciphered his account was about all we had of some of the greatest empires of the ancient world, and it still remains a constant commentary on them. One might even say that until our own time it has been for antique history as a whole almost what Homer was to the Greek of Athens. But if appraisal of his achievement is gratuitous, it may be well in closing to recall that the achievement involved the two aspects of historiography, — criticism, which lies in the field of science, and narrative, which is mainly art, and that while the latter quality has been chiefly of value in the long centuries of the unscientific mind, preserving the story by the very magic of its appeal, yet today it is the other aspect which is of most importance; for it has now to pass a much more critical audience than ever assembled in Athens, and one that knows more of Greece than they, or of its antiquity than Herodotus.


It follows, that only those conversant with this vast new lore of classical and Oriental archæology are qualified to speak authoritatively on the critical capacity and the reliability of Herodotus. But, while leaving detailed criticism for textual students, we may at least register the fact that their verdict is growingly in his favor. For the case of the writings of Herodotus is somewhat parallel with that of the records of the Jews. So long as they were taken for more than they could possibly be, they were open to most serious charges of anachronisms, exaggerations and the like. But when a truer historical perspective enables us to appreciate the necessary limitations, in both the implements and the sources of research, of all antique historians, we obtain a juster estimate of their performance because we do not expect too much. So it was with Herodotus. When the data of history from the inscriptions began to run counter to some of his accounts there was a movement of distrust in them,29 but it has apparently subsided, and we have more discriminating judgments based on less expectations.

It was obviously impossible for Herodotus to write history as we do now. The question is whether he used his methods successfully. There was one stern critic of his time, Thucydides, who clearly thought that he attempted too much. Thucydides would likely have held the story down to the original last three books, and polished them over and over (as indeed Herodotus did), established every item in them indisputably, and left it at that. But Herodotus chose to add to them the logoi or histories which fill the long proem, although he could not establish their accuracy with the precisions which characterized the events of his own time. The contrast is significant, and has been taken to show a distinctly less scientific temper on the part of Herodotus, in that he has not that keen appreciation of the boundary line which separates the world of fact from that of fiction. But is the line as firm a one after all as the purely scientific mind imagines it? If Herodotus had been as skeptical as Thucydides, he would have left out of his history some of its most valuable parts, for some of the things most incredible to him 158 contain hints of items established or made intelligible by archæology.30 The most striking instance is the comment of Herodotus on the story of the Phœnicians circumnavigating Africa at the behest of Neco, the Egyptian Pharaoh. “On their return, they declared — I for my part do not believe them, but perhaps others may — that in sailing round Libya they had the sun on their right-hand.”31 Again, in his description of Scythia, he doubts the long northern nights, perhaps because of the exaggerated way the account reached him, that men there slept half the year;32 he refuses to indorse the existence of any “Tin Islands” whence the tin came which they used,33 and expressly states that, with reference to the Baltic, “though I have taken vast pains I have never been able to get an assurance from an eye-witness that there is any sea on the further side of Europe.”34 It would have given a poorer, and not a more accurate idea of the world as known to the contemporaries of Herodotus, if all this varied information had been sorted out by a too-skeptical mind. The reader who is not upon his guard is constantly reminded,35 by innuendo, if not openly, that a fact was not finally established simply because it was recorded, — a reminder too long ignored, — and that the reader could contribute as well some of the critical insight he demanded of the writer. The sources Herodotus used have been analyzed in great detail,36 and the result is to show that the work is much more the product of scholarly erudition and less of casual hearsay than at first appears. He used documents, such as the acts of the ecclesia at Athens, treaties, 159 declarations of war, but more sparingly than a modern historian would, and seems to have been willing to take them second-hand. He could embody genealogies,37 and use geographies while abusing them.38 But there was one set of sources which, however essential, was of dubious value: the oracles, especially those of Delphi. They largely furnished the mechanism for that supernatural element which to us lends an air of myth to the narrative, but they were part and parcel of Greek history and Herodotus had no choice but to use them. Unfortunately they helped him to ignore his own chief defect, — an absence of the sense of historical causation. He sought only to keep the motives psychologically true39 and left events to shape themselves under the hand of fate, or by the chastening justice of the gods. For while Herodotus did not, like the poets and his predecessors, follow the gods to Olympus and “drew . . . a very marked line between the mythological age and the historical,”40 he remained throughout a devoutly religious man. “Under the sunny gleam of his rippling narrative, there is a substratum of deep melancholy and of the awe concerned with the anger and envy of the gods. King Crœsus, whom the auriferous Pactolus made the richest of men, Polycrates, tyrant of Samos, or Periander, despot of opulent Corinth — their pride and their end are merely iterations and reverberations of the stern melody of human success and divine retribution and the humiliation of men, exemplified most signally in Xerxes himself.”41 This belief is a Providential scheme of things offered him a clue for tracing the sequence of events which is open now to criticism. But history had to wait from the days of Herodotus to our own for anything approaching a mastery of causation in history. And perhaps our groping may, before long, be classed with such tendency-writing as his.

As to style, the varied charm and genial manner are still as fresh and winning as ever; yet one device which Herodotus took over from his logographic predecessors, — but which, as we shall see, goes back to the very origins of story-telling, — the insertion of 160 speeches into the narrative, leaves upon the whole the tone of something antique. What gave an added air of reality to it in ancient Greece lessens its force today. But of this device we shall have more to say when we come to it in a less natural setting and form in the work of Thucydides.

With Herodotus a new art may be said to have begun, that of basing a genuine epos upon the search for truth. How potent the touch of the master in it was may be judged from the fact that it still remains among the first of all the creations of history, and that it embodied for subsequent centuries the life and movement, thought and action of all that vast antiquity which lay outside the Bible and the other Greek literature. Even Darius and Xerxes owed a large part of their immortality to the traveller-student of Halicarnassus.


The best edition of the text of Herodotus is that of H. Stein (2 vols., 1869-1871, and 5 vols., 4th, 5th and 6th ed., with notes, 1893-1908). The last six books of this have been reprinted by R. W. Macan, along with introductions, valuable commentaries, maps, etc., thus forming the best edition for general use (Herodotus, the Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Books, 2 vols., 1895; Herodotus, the Seventh, Eighth and Ninth Books, 2 vols., 1908). There are two principal English translations, The History of Herodotus, one by G. Rawlinson (4 vols., 1858-1860; 2d ed., 1862; 3d ed., 1876), with a wealth of notes, though antiquated as regards archæological finds, particularly for the East; and one by G. C. Macaulay (2 vols., 1890, new ed., 1904). The Rawlinson translation has been used for this text. A translation of Herodotus, by A. D. Godley, is announced for the year 1920 by the Loeb Classical Library. For general accounts of Herodotus and his work, see the histories of Greek literature: G. Murray, A History of Ancient Greek Literature (1912), Chap. VI, pp. 132-152; A. and M. Croiset, Histoire de la littérature grecque (5 vols., 2d ed., 1896-1899; 3d ed., Vols. I-III, 1910-1914) (2d ed.), Vol. II, Chap. X, pp. 565-637; W. v. Christ, Geschichte der griechischen Litteratur (2 vols, 5th and 6th ed., 1908-1913), Vol. I, pp. 459-476; and also J. B. Bury, The Ancient Greek Historians (1909), Lect. II, pp. 36-74. For detailed and careful study a notable work is that of A. Hauvette, Hérodote, historien des guerres médiques (1894). See also E. Meyer, Forschungen zur alten Geschichte (2 vols., 1892-1899), Vol. I, pp. 151-202 (Herodots Chronologie der griechischen Sagengeschichte and four supplements), Vol. II, pp. 196-268 (Herodots Geschichtswerk); V. Costanzi (Ricerche su alcuni punti controversi intorno alla vita e all’ opera di Erodoto ), Memoriæ del’ r. Instituto Lombardo, 1891, pp. 181-240; G. Busolt, Griechische Geschichte (3 vols., 2d ed., 1893-1904), Vol. II, pp  602 sqq.; for more special 161 points see J. L. Myres (Herodotus and Anthropology), in R. R. Marett, Anthropology and the Classics (1908); E. Weber, Herodot als Dichter, in Neue Jahrbücher für das klassische Altertum, Vol. XXI (1908), pp. 669-683; W. Nestle, Herodots Verhältnis zur Philosophie und Sophistik, Prog. Schönthal (1908); H. Matzat, Über die Glaubwürdigkeit der geographischen Angaben Herodots über Asien, in Hermes, Vol. VI (1872), pp. 392-486; R. Müller, Die geographische Tafel nach den Angaben Herodots (1881); A. Bauer, Die Entstehung des Herodotischen Geschichtswerkes (1878), Herodots Biographie; eine Untersuchung (1878); K. W. Nitzsch, Über Herodots Quellen für die Geschichte der Perserkriege, in Rheinisches Museum, Vol. XXVII (1872), pp. 226-268; H. Diels, Herodot und Hekataios, in Hermes, Vol. XXII (1887), pp. 411-444. The criticism of A. H. Sayce, in his Anceint Empires of hte East (1883, reprinted 1900), has met with little sympathy among scholars. For the question , see in addition to A. Hauvette, cited above, Part I; A. Croiset, Revue des études grecques, Vol. I (1888), pp. 154 sqq.; R. W. Rogers, History of Babylonia and Assyria (2 vols., 6th ed., 1915), Vol. I, p. 397; J. Oppert in Mélanges Henri Weil (1898), pp. 321 sqq.; For Herodotus’ influence on later philosophers see J. Geffcken, Zwei griechische Apologeten (1907), p. 188, n. 3. For his influence on Roman historians, see W. Soltau, Die Anfänge der römischen Geschichtschreibung (1909), Chap. IV, pp. 73-91, and Appendix III (Herodot bei römische Historikern). For other recent material on Herodotus, see Jahresbericht über die Fortschritte der klassischen Altertumswissenschaft; Vol. CXVII (1903), pp. 76 sqq., for 1898-1901; Sup. Vol. CXLVI (1909), pp. 556 sqq.; Vol. CXLVII (1910), pp. 1 sqq., for 1902-1908; Vol. CLXX (1915), pp. 291 sqq, for 1909-1915; Vol. CLXXI (1915), pp. 194 sqq.

Elf.ed: Kind Bill Thayer has provided the following information: The Godley translation in the Loeb edition, mentioned in the Bibliography as “announced for the year 1920” did actually appear (4 vols., 1920-1925, i.e., Vol. IV only appeared in 1925).


1  This disposes of the difficulty which critics had found in his use of it.

2  The History of Herodotus, Bk. I, Chap. CXLIII.

3   Ibid., Bk. II, Chap. CXLIII.

4  Ibid., Bk. IV, Chap. CXLII. Cf. R. W. Macan’s comments (Herodotus, the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Books (2 vols., 1895), Vol. I, Bk. IV, p. 98) that this remark “may have been current in Sparta: at least it has a Doric ring. But the sneer was singularly unjust, as the Ionic revolts proved. What is not found in Herodotus is the story of the surrender of the Asiatic Dorians to the Persian.”

5  Cf. J. B. Bury, The Ancient Greek Historians, pp. 61-62.

6  Cf. Thucydides’ comment on him, infra, p. 163.

7  The best discussion of Herodotus’ attitude toward Ionia is by R. W. Macan, Herodotus, the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Books, Introduction, Vol. I, pp. lxvii sq.

8  George Rawlinson, in the introduction to his translation of Herodotus, has perhaps the best survey of the subject as a whole.

9  “He has drunk at the Homeric cistern until his whole being is impregnated with the influence thence derived. In the scheme and plan of his work, in the arrangement and order of its parts, in the tone and character of the thoughts, in ten thousand little expressions and words, the Homeric student appears; and it is manifest that the two great poems of ancient Greece are at least as familiar to him as Shakspeare to the modern educated Englishman.” G. Rawlinson, The History of Herodotus (2d ed.), Vol. I, p. 6. In addition, Rawlinson cites references to some fifteen poets.

10  Suidas, the Byzantine scholar of the early Middle Ages, whose lexicon preserved many valuable items of classical information.

Elf.ed: Suidas is now known to be the name of the lexicon, a massive Byzantine encyclopedi, and not the name of a person. It is being translated into English online for the first time in history, on an ongoing basis, by expert contributors. See the Suda On Line Project.

11  Cf. supra, Chap. III. R. W. Macan, Herodotus., the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Books, Introduction, Vol. I, p. x.

12  R. W. Macan, Herodotus, the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Books, Introduction, Vol. I, pp. xi sq.

13  J. B. Bury, The Ancient Greek Historians, pp. 38, 39, based upon Macan’s analysis, though supplying independent criteria.

14  This has been developed by Macan.

15  Cf. R. W. Macan, Herodotus, the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Books, Introduction, Vol. I, pp. xxii-xxiv.

16  Cf. The History of Herodotus, Bk. V, Chaps. XXXIX-XLVIII.

17  Ibid., Bk. V, Chap. LXXVIII.

18  For a full treatment of practically all detailed problems concerning Herodotus’ history, see the edition by R. W. Macan, with its introductions, notes and appendices. On this point see Herodotus, the Seventh, Eighth, and Ninth Books (2 vols., 1908), Introduction, Vol. I, pp. xlv-xlvii. Cf. J. B. Bury, The Ancient Greek Historians,, p. 39.

19  The History of Herodotus, Bk. VII, Chap. CLII. It should be noted that this comment dealt with a controversial matter of so recent a date that it has a more defensive ring than the earlier ones.

20  Ibid., Bk. VIII, Chap. VIII.

21  Ibid., Bk. II, Chap. XXVIII.

22  Cf. The History of Herodotus, Bk. II, Chap. XXVIII.

23  The attack of A. H. Sayce in his Ancient Empires of the East, referred to above, casting doubt upon the veracity of Herodotus, was perhaps the severest criticism which the Father of History has had to face. Subsequent studies have refuted at least the implications of most of the points alleged. See the judgment of A. and M. Croiset, Histoire de la littérature grecque (2d ed.), Vol. II, pp. 565 sq., where Herodotus is treated in connection with a most illuminating survey of Greek historiography.

24  As for the legends of Babylon, they bear on the surface the marks of legend.

25  Chap. VIII Supra, ad fin.

26  Cf. The History of Herodotus, Bk. II, Chap. XLIII-XLV.

27  Vide supra, Chap. V.

28  The History of Herodotus, Bk. II, Chap. XLIV. (Rawlinson’s translation.)

29   Perhaps the strongest statement of this is in A. H. Sayce’s Ancient Empires of the East. See, by contrast, the judgment summed up in Bury’s Ancient Greek Historians.

30  Cf. G. Rawlinson’s acute observations along this line, The History of Herodotus (2d ed.), Vol. I, pp. 71 sq., and R. W. Macan, Herodotus, the Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Books, Introduction, Vol. I, pp. lxxii.

31  The History of Herodotus, Bk. IV, Chap. XLII.

32  Cf. Ibid., Bk. IV, Chap. XXV.

33  Cf. Ibid., Bk. III, Chap. CXV.

34  Ibid.

35  Cf. Ibid., Bk. II, Chaps. XXVIII, LVI-LVIII, CXXXI; Bk. III, Chaps. CXV, CXVI; Bk. IV, Chaps. XXV, XXXI, XXXII, XXXVI, XLII, XCVI, CV; Bk. V, Chap. X; Bk. VII, Chap. CLII.

36  See especially the conclusions of R. W. Macan, Herodotus, the Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Books, Introduction, Vol. I, pp. lxxiv sqq. One of the most interesting problems in his use of sources is in his account of Darius’ expedition into Scythia, where he omits all mention of the Balkans (Bk. IV, Chaps. XC-XCIII) apparently, as Macan surmises, because at this point he was following a historical and not a geographical source, and it made no mention of the mountains. But this incident only emphasizes all the more the success with which, upon the whole, Herodotus welded his materials and marshalled the facts.

37  Cf. The History of Herodotus, Bk. VI, Chap. LIII.

38  Vide supra, Hecatæus.

39  The point is well developed by R. W. Macan, Herodotus, the Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Books, Introduction, Vol. I, p. cvi.

40  G. Rawlinson, The History of Herodotus, (2d ed.), Vol. I, p. 94.

41  G. W. Botsford in Hellenic Civilization, p  23.