Herodotus of Halicarnassus was probably writing around the same time as Euripides (that is, after the more conservative tragedians we'll be reading in the next two weeks), but there are sound reasons, based on genre, theme, and influence, for reading him before the tragedians. See how many such reasons you can identitfy, as you read him.
To give you some idea of his chronological relationship to our syllabus and to the events he narrates, here's a skeleton timeline:
As you might expect, little is known for sure about Herodotus's life and background. The following "facts" are known or conjectured: Herodotus was born and raised in Halicarnassus in Asia Minor (modern Bodrum, Turkey). In the 5th centruy, Halicarnassus was a city on many margins: of the Persian Empire, of Ionia (the dialect of Halicarnassus was Ionian, but the city was located on the northern edge of the Dorian region) and of the non-Greek hinterland. Some of Herodotus's cosmopolitanism and/or relativism may be attributed to his having grown up in proximity to a number of different cultures.
The Ionian civilization, to which Halicarnassians belonged, was noted for its strong scientific and philosophical tradition. It was the Ionians who first coined the word historia, meaning "inquiry" (of a scientific or systematic nature), which Herodotus uses to designate his project.
Other developments in Greek literature around the same time were also important. Herodotus's lifetime saw the establishment of Greek prose as a written mode, and a rising tradition of travel writings. The 5th century B.C.E. was the century of Attic (Athenian) tragedy as well as of wars and Herodotus, and its influence can also be also felt in Herodotus's thinking.
You can have fun trying to identify the traces of all these influences as you read. Think: having formed his worldview by picking and choosing from the modes of thought available to him, what does Herodotus end up with, in terms of (a) a workable mode of inquiry and (b) a theory about what governs the unfolding of events?
Why read Herodotus?
*(In post-modern circles, of course, it is recognised that History, fathers, and even Herodotus himself are figments of our imagination...)
It can be hard to get oriented in Herodotus's narrative if you don't know the basic outline of the events involved. Click here for a brief summary-for-kids of Greek history, 510-404 B.C.E., from www.historyforkids.com. If you want more information, click here for a more in-depth page on the Persian War only at Washington State University.
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