Historical Figures


Data on the life of Herodotus, like most of the great Greek men, are scarce and controversial. It is known that he was born in Halicarnassus, a Greek city located in Asia Minor, on an uncertain date, although it is usually set between 490 and 480 BC. It is also unclear what position his family occupied within the city, whether he only enjoyed a comfortable situation or belonged to the nobility with roots in Halicarnassus.

We know that Herodotus was the nephew of the famous epic poet Paniasis, and as his life progresses, more information becomes available about him. He had to go into exile on Samos for supporting the uprisings against the tyrant Lygdamis, a vassal of Persia, who ruled the city. Keep in mind that in those years Athens was expanding its area of ​​influence after the peace of Callias and, therefore, sought to wrest control over the Greek cities of Asia Minor, such as Halicarnassus, from the Persians.

In Samos he will come into contact with the Ionian prose that he will adopt for his work, as opposed to the Doric culture of his hometown. It will be from exile in Samos when he begins the trips that will mark his life and his work. Without his chronology being clear, nor the places where he was, it is estimated that he visited Egypt, Palestine, Babylon, Assyria, Thrace, the Greek mainland and Magna Graecia. These trips are essential to understand his writings:many of the references and facts that he will collect are a direct consequence of them, since they put him in contact with the cultural elites of the regions he visited and gave him access to their traditions. and myths. The income to finance the trips seems to have come from the contests in which he participated and from the teachings he offered wherever he went. We do not know if he had any other alternative source of income.

Herodotus is an atypical exile since he belongs to the diaspora of intellectuals born in Asia Minor who went to the continent or to Magna Graecia, attracted by the cultural rebirth of these territories. Around the year 447 B.C. he arrives in Athens and enters the circle of scholars who gravitate around Pericles. It will be then that he discovers the qualities of the Athenian political, social and cultural system whose appreciation shines through in all of his work despite his attempt to maintain his objectivity, which will lead Plutarch to accuse him of partiality and of supporting Attic positions. .

We do not know how long he stayed in Athens. But in the year 444 B.C. he is placed in the Panhellenic colony of Turius, founded by Pericles where the city of Sybaris used to be. Although we do not know if during the last years of his life he remained in Turius or continued his itinerant life, the year 425 BC is usually fixed. as the date of his death, which occurred in this colony. Most Herodotus scholars consider that it was here that he developed and wrote most of his work.

Herodotus is by no means the founder of the historical genre. Before him there are several authors who had dealt with historical narration, such as Xanthus of Lydia, Hecatus of Miletus or Helanicus of Lesbos. Some of them even dealt with the same theme as the historian from Halicarnassus. However, the production of Herodotus will mark a before and after in historiography, in addition to being the author of the first great work written in Ionian prose. He will also be the first, or at least the most relevant, to abandon localist or regionalist history to focus on the universal vision of the events that occurred prior to the Persian Wars. The Stories of him They are not limited to a specific contender or a specific event, but rather seek to cover everything that allows explaining the determining causes of the conflict.

Herodotus's world, as he perceives it, is divided between the West (Greece) and the East (Persia). Both live in a situation of balance that will be broken with the beginning of the Medical Wars. In the first part of his work, his first five volumes, he deals with the expansion of the Persian empire and the historical setting of the Greek cities, especially Sparta and Athens. The second part, more extensive, tells us about the development of the Medical Wars. All this against the background of the Greek world that opened in the 6th and 5th centuries BC

Behind Herodotus's prose is what has come to be called the law of equilibrium or of the cycle, which it reinforces the tragic component of the destiny of man, whose ambition –or rupture of that established balance- leads him to the failure of his enterprises. Throughout his work, he also delves into the changing nature of human happiness. This universal law is not attributed to someone in particular and, throughout the work, the divine, the gods, chance, fate and even the unjust actions of men promoted by their greatness are held responsible. excessive. The teleological vision of man, who is ineluctably subject to his destiny, demonstrates the influence that still persists in Herodotus of the traditional epic and lyric.
The marked teleological character of his work does not prevent him from highlighting the importance of the actions of man in the course of events. Moreover, when explaining what led him to write the Stories of him emphasizes the importance of man:he affirms that «he wants to preserve from oblivion what men have done, celebrate the great and wonderful deeds of the Greeks and the barbarians and, above all, develop the reasons that led them to become war «.

The objective that Herodotus seeks is simply to explain the causes that caused the Medical Wars. This explanation is based on the research that the author himself has carried out; there are no longer muses that reveal the work, there is an author and an investigation behind it. The facts and the interpretations that are made of them replace the myth and, perhaps most importantly, attention to the events of men prevails to the detriment of the gods, who appear secondarily. While before the stories of the heroes were sung, Herodotus focuses on men and on what can be studied, the true protagonists of the work being the Greek, barbarian and Persian peoples.

One ​​of the biggest criticisms that Herodotus has received is related to the treatment of the sources. The trips he made allowed him to access a copious amount of information, the use of which has been described as naive or incorrect. There are three sources primarily used by the historian:the written, the oral and his own knowledge.

As for the written sources, he uses the works of other authors or, less often, existing inscriptions and rarely cites their origin except when he criticizes them . The oral sources, the most abundant, consist of the information that has been transmitted to him, without Herodotus usually indicating the name of the person who provided it, replaced by generic or impersonal references. First-hand knowledge includes descriptions of places, landscapes, races, and other circumstances that he was able to observe through his travels. To all these sources he applies a critical bias, trying to limit their fabulous scope or reinterpreting their meaning. He also tries to provide different versions of the same event to contrast some data.

Herodotus does not develop a historical science as Thucydides did a few years later, but he is the first to apply objective criteria for the treatment of abundant information and will leave for posterity a work which, also for the first time, has humanity as a whole as its framework.

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