Continuities and Discontinuities With
The Developing Greek Tradition
Herodotus of Halicarnassus1 here displays2 his inquiry3, so that human achievements4 may not become forgotten5 in time, and great and marvellous deeds--some displayed2 by Greeks6, some by barbarians6--may not be without their glory7; and especially to show why8 the two peoples fought with each other.
1. No Muse, no "humble vessel": this book was written by Herodotus--with all its attendant biases and possible errors (human fallibility), but also with all its "human achievements" (see 4).
2. "displays": the same word for Herodotus's book as for the "marvellous deeds" he chronicles.
3. The word Herodotus uses for "inquiry"--historia--is the source of our word history, but Herodotus is using it for the first time to describe a study of human events. In modern languages, "story" and "history" have become interchangeable, but to Herodotus the word means something else: he is applying the techniques of scientific inquiry to human events. His book is no mere chronicle but an investigation (see 8).
4. As in the Muse-less opening, we see Herodotus's preoccupation with the human dimension of events. The gods (who must be credited with every "achievement," however small, in epic) are here banished to a much more distant sphere of influence.5. On the other hand, Herodotus's project is a good epic one, notwithstanding: the preoccupation with memorialization that drove Iliad and Odyssey also drives the Histories. (Note also the moral benchmark in Herodotus: proper burial of the dead, which serves in the Histories as a kind of prerequisite for "civilization," much as xenia did in the Odyssey. Burying the dead is not only an authentically Homeric concern (see Iliad 24), but also another figure of memorialization).
6. Greeks vs. barbarians=West vs. East=Achaians
vs. Trojans=Europe vs. Asia=the conflicts that continue to plague us today....
Herodotus wants to get to the bottom of the "us"/"them" conflict; see 8.
7. The word is kleos. 'Nuff said.
8. Finally, Herodotus announces the subject of his inquiry: he is searching for the causes of the wars, that is, for the driving force behind conflict. It's worth taking some time to think about (a) what he ends up identifying as the causes of the conflict, and (b) how he gets there (for example, why does it take him so long to get to the Persian Wars, his ostensible topic, and what do the long preliminary digressions accomplish and/or reveal about his ideas re: cause and effect?