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Herodotus had a big, marvellous bust.
Tomorrow is a mystery,
but yesterday is

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Secrets of times gone by
The world as Herodotus knew it.

Herodotus (Ἡρόδοτος) was an ancient Greek historian, who lived in the fifth century BCE (c. 484–425 BCE).[1] He is remembered for writing a series of historical texts, rather unimaginatively called The Histories. Herodotus was the first historian in the European world, and an important influence on subsequent historians.

About Herodotus[edit]

His Histories (ἱστορία, originally Greek for "inquiries") are more explanatory ethnographic accounts. The current arrangement we have of them is perhaps not original; they are divided into nine books, each one named after one of the nine Muses. They attempt to explain the origins and customs of the people of the world known to Herodotus. The current arrangement is partially geographical; book 1 is about Greece, Sparta, and Asia Minor; book 2, "Euterpe", is largely concerned with Egypt; book 3, with Babylonians and Persians, and so forth. As such, the book is part history, part travelogue: but always told with a view towards portraying the wars between the Greeks and Achaemenid Persia as a great and persistent struggle through which all of world history could be understood.

As a historian, Herodotus was sarcastically referred as the father of lies for "quoting eyewitnesses about things they could have never seen, inventing and manipulating factual material." Ancient historians who followed Herodotus preferred an element of show to accuracy and fairness, aiming to give pleasure with "exciting events, great dramas, bizarre exotica." [2]

Although the factual accuracy of the works of Herodotus is defended by some,[3] others regard his works as being unreliable as a historical source. Fehling writes of "a problem recognized by everybody", namely that much of what Herodotus tells us cannot be taken at face value.[4]

The accuracy of the works of Herodotus have been criticized since his own era. Sparks writes that "In antiquity, Herodotus had acquired the reputation of being unreliable, biased, parsimonious in his praise of heroes, and mendacious". His ancient critics included Cicero, Aristotle, Josephus and Plutarch.[5][6]Cicero (On the Laws I.5) said the works of Herodotus were full of legends.[7] or "fables"; Plutarch wrote an essay "On the Malice of HerodotusWikipedia"; and Harpocration wrote a book on "the lies of Herodotus".[8] Ctesias of Cnidus called Herodotus a myth-monger.[9] Voltaire described Herodotus as both "the father of history" and the "father of lies",[10] and Hartog more recently also called him "The father of all liars".[11]

Tales from Herodotus[edit]

  • Of all the answers that had reached him, this pleased him far the best, for it seemed incredible that a mule should ever come to be king of the Medes, and so he concluded that the sovereignty would never depart from himself or his seed after him.[12]
  • Hemp grows in Scythia: it is very like flax; only that it is a much coarser and taller plant: some grows wild about the country, some is produced by cultivation: the Thracians make garments of it which closely resemble linen; so much so, indeed, that if a person has never seen hemp he is sure to think they are linen, and if he has, unless he is very experienced in such matters, he will not know of which material they are.
    The Scythians, as I said, take some of this hemp-seed, and, creeping under the felt coverings, throw it upon the red-hot stones; immediately it smokes, and gives out such a vapour as no Grecian vapour-bath can exceed; the Scyths, delighted, shout for joy, and this vapour serves them instead of a water-bath; for they never by any chance wash their bodies with water[13]
  • Thus nobly did the whole body of Lacedaemonians and Thespians behave; but nevertheless one man is said to have distinguished himself above all the rest, to wit, Dieneces the Spartan. A speech which he made before the Greeks engaged the Medes, remains on record. One of the Trachinians told him, "Such was the number of the barbarians, that when they shot forth their arrows the sun would be darkened by their multitude." Dieneces, not at all frightened at these words, but making light of the Median numbers, answered "Our Trachinian friend brings us excellent tidings. If the Medes darken the sun, we shall have our fight in the shade." Other sayings too of a like nature are reported to have been left on record by this same person.
    Next to him two brothers, Lacedaemonians, are reputed to have made themselves conspicuous: they were named Alpheus and Maro, and were the sons of Orsiphantus. There was also a Thespian who gained greater glory than any of his countrymen: he was a man called Dithyrambus, the son of Harmatidas.
    The slain were buried where they fell; and in their honour, nor less in honour of those who died before Leonidas sent the allies away, an inscription was set up, which said:-
Here did four thousand men from Pelops' land Against three hundred myriads bravely stand.
This was in honour of all. Another was for the Spartans alone:-
Go, stranger, and to Lacedaemon tell That here, obeying her behests, we fell.[14]

External links[edit]


  1. "Herodotus: Histories & Greco-Persian Wars". 2010-02-04. 
  2. Joe Salzman. Herodotus as an Ancient Journalist: Reimagining Antiquity’s Historians as Journalists, p175. University of Southern California.
  3. Jon D. Mikalson. Herodotus and Religion in the Persian Wars, pg198–200.
  4. Detlev Fehling, Travel Fact and Travel Fiction, pg2
  5. Kenton L. Sparks. Ethnicity and Identity in Ancient Israel, pg 58.
  6. David Asheri, et al. A Commentary on Herodotus, Books 1-4.
  7. Jennifer T. Roberts. Herodotus: A Very Short Introduction.
  8. Alan Cameron. Greek Mythography in the Roman World, pg 156.
  9. John Marincola. Greek Historians, pg 59, at
  10. Alba Della Fazia Amoia and Bettina Liebowitz Knapp. Multicultural Writers from Antiquity to 1945: A Bio-Bibliographical Sourcebook, pg 171.
  11. David Farley. Modernist Travel Writing: Intellectuals Abroad, pg 21.
  12. Book 1, Ch. 56
  13. Book 4, Ch. 73 - 74
  14. Book 7, chs. 226 - 228