3. Herodotus


1.TEXT: A copy of The Histories has been ordered at Paperback Exchange.  You may access Book I here, if you have not been able to secure a copy.

Herodotus, The Histories,  Book 1

2. Study Guide.SGHerodotus

9 thoughts on “3. Herodotus

  1. (A) Chris(Group leader), Nancy, Sarah
    (B) What principle moral message does Herodotus convey? What rhetorical devices does he use to convey it?
    Herodotus introduces his moral message through the interaction of wise Solon and Croesus discussion of what it means to be truly happy.
    The interaction began with the two men in the palace garden of Croeus with Croeus rhetorically asking Solon, the visiting Athenian philosopher, who is the happiest man he has ever met in hopes of getting the response that he is the happiest man due to his abundant riches and his prosperous nation. However, Solon deliberately ignores him and tells the story of Tellus and the two brothers Cloebis & Bito. Upon hearing the stories Croesus grew increasingly annoyed and demanded why he was not deemed the happiest man despite his riches. Solon responds “he [the happiest man] is whole of limb, a stranger to disease, free from misfortune, happy in his children, and comely to look upon. If in addition to all this, he end his life well, he is of a truth the man of whom thou art in search, the who may rightly be termed happy.” In essence, Herodotus explains that a man is rightly termed happy if he, upon his death, has fulfilled his duty to his nation, his parents and his children. In comparison to Croesus, who intentionally demands the recognition of people for his materialistic happiness, Tellus and the brothers are far superior to him in that they are recognized for their good deeds in death which means that their reputation and happiness are forever sealed eternally. To Herodotus death is not fearful but rather it is honorable in that it symbolises fulfillment of one’s duties in life and acts as the definite seal of a wholesome and meaningful life. Herodotus’ morals preach humbleness, honor and true happiness proven by time.


  2. Herodotus uses myths, fables, fictions, oral testimonies, material documents, and physical objects as sources to write his histories of the ancient world. Herodotus utilizes myths in his reference to the stealing of Helen from Menelaus. While during Herodotus’ era, the Trojan War was an accepted truth, there is a lack of evidence to back it up and H. provides no source . Also, since the story involves godly figures, it is now classified as myth. Herodotus shows Candaules’ hubris through the use of the fable of how Gyges becomes king of Lydia and establishes the blood line that leads to Croessus. Herodotus could also be referencing the poem by Archilochus the Parian because he wrote of the tale of Gyges around the same time that H. was writing his histories. Herodotus uses the fictional meeting between Solon and Croessus in his histories to convey a life lesson about happiness, legacy, and hubris. Herodotus also frequently uses oral testimony as a source in his writings. He claimed to have traveled the “known world” and gotten first hand accounts about the historical events that he describes in his histories. For example he mentions that he is given oral testimony from Delphians on the war between the Lydians and the Milesians. When Herodotus describes the prosperity and the beauty of Babylon he claims first hand account of seeing the city and its grand walls.

    When it comes to sources, Herodotus keeps his distance and describes history the best he can from his knowledge. For example he rarely directly quotes sources and just mentions their existence. In his oral testimonies he doesn’t provide actual dialogue but instead he tells of the people and their customs. When he describes Scythian customs of non agriculture, fishing, horsemanship, and shameless open sexuality he does so from his knowledge and not from any given testimony or direct source from Scythia itself. Herodotus makes reference to sources at times but he rarely literally quotes his sources. He deliberately separates his sources from his knowledge and prefers to rely on his own knowledge in his writings.


  3. Logan, Yidun and Monica, Group leader: Yidun, Topic: question#1
    Herodotus publishes his work The Histories approximately in 450 B.C. This time period is following the epic The Illiad written by Homer. This is important to understand because before Herodotus had published this work, there was no form of objective storytelling. Unlike his counterparts such as Homer, who use figures and symbols such as divine intervention and writing with one point of view, Herodotus expands the telling of factual occurrences from many aspects and attempts to be as neutral as possible. The introduction states that “Herodotus gives every indication in his work of having travelled widely throughout the Mediterranean. He claims explicitly to have journeyed as far south as Elephantine at the first cataract of the Nile..”
    The purpose of Herodotus’ Histories is to preserve the deeds of great men in the past. More specifically, in the first paragraph of Book 1 the text states “Herodotus of Halicarnassus here displays his inquiry, so that human achievements may not become forgotten in time, and great and marvellous deeds-some displayed by Greeks…” Thus, instead of honing on his present-day audience Herodotus wished for his works and the content within his stories to be solidified in time. David Green, a historian and professor at the University of Chicago once stated that, “Time is the destroyer, Herodotus is the preserver, of what man has created.’’ He not only desired people in the present day to remember what occurred between the Persians and the Greeks, but also their children, and great-grandchildren to have the ability to recount the past. Herodotus refers to time as a destroyer because as life progresses, and new actions and events occur, people tend to forget. The flaws of human nature tempt them to repeat the same mistakes like their obsessions with resources like land and slaves.
    Herodotus’ viewpoint on the role and function of history is an attempt to end the recurring aspect of the old saying that goes “History is bound to repeat itself”. Furthermore, It’s only bound to repeat itself based on the fact that humans, like it was stated before tend to forget the mistakes or decisions of their ancestors. Recounting history reveals its importance in the sense that even though it occurred in the past, if we heed to the morals of what happened, not only will progression as a society occur but a legacy of figures of the past will be remembered.


  4. Group: Sarah R (group leader), Tucker R, Jack G, Brittaney C

    Discussion Question 2:

    How does he handle them/How much distance does he put between himself and his sources?
    -He puts himself as a secondary source
    -States what he believes/ denies
    -States if he thinks one source is more reliable than another

    a/b/c. The story of Solon’s visit with Croesus has been proven to be a fictitious based on the dates of Croesus’ reign (mid 6th century BCE) which predates Solon’s travels (which took place in the late 6th century BCE) [Herodotus, pp. 627, footnote 18]. However, Herodotus treats this fable as historical fact because it directly ties into Croesus’ relationship with Cyrus and the advice that he gives him.

    b. All these details about the happiness of Tellus, Solon doubtless intended as a moral lesson for the king; Croesus, however, thinking that he would at least be awarded second prize, asked who was the next happiest person who Solon had seen.

    d. This is just what happened. The messenger, having seen the merry-making and delivered his master’s message to Thrasybulus, returned to Sardis, and, so far as my information goes, peace was concluded for no other reason that because Alyattes, expecting to find the Milesians reduced to extremities by famine, was told by the herald on his return to Sardis that this was not so: that the Milesians, in fact, were by no means hungry but very much in reverse.

    e. So they went through all Milesia, and on their way, whenever they saw in the waste and desolate country any land that was well farmed, they took down the names of the owners in their tablets;

    f. All the spears and javelins, and weapons used in the wars, he removed out of the male apartments, and laid them in heaps in the chambers of the women, fearing lest perhaps one of the weapons that hung against the wall might fall and strike him.

    Discussion Question 3:

    Herodotus constantly analyzes the facts and testimonies he has gathered to decide the legitimacy of what he is told. Since most of his information is passed on orally from person to person, it is highly probable that stories were twisted by human error and imagination. To pull the fact out of the myth, Herodotus interprets these testimonies and comes to his own conclusions about their truth. An example of this is when he is explaining how Croesus and his army crossed the Halys. One of his recounts says that Thales parted the river so the army could cross, since there was no bridge. Another recounting says that the river bed was dry at the time. He tells both of these stories without favoring one or the other until the end, where he states his opinion on which story holds more truth. “Some say that the original river-bed was completely dried up; but I do not believe this- for had it been so, how would they have crossed on their return journey?” (Herodotus, i.75). Some stories Herodotus chooses not to include, but mentions in passing in the text. “She herself, they say, having formed an intimacy with the captain, while his vessel lay at Argos, and perceiving herself to be with child, of her own free will accompanied the Phoenicians on their leaving the shore, to escape the shame of detection and the reproaches of her parents. Whether this latter account be true, or whether the matter happened otherwise, I shall not discuss further.” (Herodotus, online text). Herodotus does not take a hands off approach to describing history, instead giving his opinions on the stories he has heard and summarizing facts while omitting the primary source from which he received these facts.


  5. Diya, David, Natalie, Paul, Frances

    How does H account for historical causation? Name instances where H’s text discusses causation specifically. What causes historical events to occur: human hubris, fate, the Gods, something else? Also, look for examples where H suggests that major historical proceedings result from very small—seemingly trite and mundane— human acts and events.

    Herodotus’ account of history shows that most events are caused by human hubris. There is a theme of destiny and fate throughout The History, but it’s the way in which the “fate” is interpreted by the humans that ultimately change the course of history.

    “Nevertheless the Priestess of the Shrine added that the Heraclids would have their revenge on Gyges in the fifth generation: a prophecy to which neither the Lydians nor their kings paid any attention, until it was actually fulfilled” (I.13). This was the punishment given to Gyges for looking at his queen naked (on command of his king) and then carrying out his queen’s revenge. This payment for a seemingly small act, the command of a perverted, ill-fated king, would, 100 years later, manifest in the form of Croesus. Fated long before he was even born to destroy his line, his hubristic existence brought about an end not only to his family’s power, but to his entire empire, starting the Persian War and with it the divide between the east and west we see even to this day. If Croesus had not asked for his fate at every turn in his life, he would not have made the choices that he did. Therefore, the oracles do play an important role in the histories, but it is not the oracles that cause the events to happen. The causation shows Croesus’s hubris in thinking that he can escape his own fate, as well as in his choice to interpret the oracles in ways that are to his advantage.

    Elsewhere in Asia Minor, Astyages, the king of the Medeans, sees in a dream that his newborn son, Cyrus, will eventually overthrow him. He attempts to escape this by giving Cyrus to a servant and instructing him to kill the baby. But Cyrus avoids death, rises up against Astyages, and defeats him, eventually becoming ruler over all of Persia. Astyages believed that he could change his fate; by acting the way he did, the survival of Cyrus assured that he would eventually be overthrown. Astyages had a vision of his future and attempted to influence it but “god has shown a glimpse of happiness to many men, then destroyed them root and branch”(1.32). Astyages was not given a glimpse of his fortune but rather the future of his grandson. His hubris made him believe that he could alter the outcome but his son ordered his men to “fling off the yoke of Astyages” (1.126) as revenge for Astyages’ attempt to do away with him.

    This is an important theme throughout fate-centric literature. In Oedipus Rex, Oedipus believes that he can escape the prophecy that is set out for him. But in attempting to escape the prophecy he only falls directly into it, and kills his father and marries his mother. We determine the ultimate course of our lives when we try to escape our fate. Herodotus makes this very clear in The Histories with the dream about Croesus’ son dying and the oracles about his doomed empire and the mule. He also suggests that major historical proceedings result from very small human acts as opposed to resulting from the will of gods. This can be seen when the Lydian cavalry decides to use camels in order to scare off Croesus’ horses. In this scene, Croesus’ hubris leads him to rely on his horses for military success, but “the ruse succeeded, for when the battle began, the horses turned tail the moment they smelt and saw the camels -and Croesus’ chief ground of confidence was cut from under him” (1.34). Here, human hubris, as well as human wit, is responsible for the outcome of events; even a small human decision has a meaningful impact in the course of history.


  6. Ethan, Erin , Ollie, Damariz, Josh

    What principal moral message does Herodotus convey? What rhetorical devices does he use to convey it?

    Herodotus writes The Histories with the purpose of not only shedding a light on the past conflicts between the Persians and Greeks but also to teach mankind a lesson through the mistakes of others. The moral message, which is the core of The Histories, is noted in a scene between the Lydian ruler, Croesus, and the Persian ruler, Cyrus, where they confront one another after Cyrus has laid siege to Croesus’s kingdom. The two rulers, once enemies now allies, reflect on the idea that we, as the human race, cannot take good fortune for granted. As Croesus takes his wealth for granted and wishes for worldly recognition leading to his own demise, Herodotus teaches the reader to live in the way of Solon the wise who does not dwell in vapid human desires and materialistic wants. Solon states: “For assuredly he who possesses great store of riches is no nearer happiness than he who has what suffices for his daily needs, unless it so hap that luck attend upon him, and so he continue in the enjoyment of all his good things to the end of life.”

    Herodotus teaches that happiness should not be confused with good fortune, because until life is over we do not know how long good fortune will last. This is introduced in the dialogue between Solon and Croesus. It also introduces the foolish need for acknowledgement, and how one can live an entire life happily without it. With this lesson the reader understands the difference between superficial desires and true happiness as materialistic wants leave the potential for future wars between nations due to a need to be recognized as superior. Herodotus creates a morality fable through the use of dialogue in his work and through the use of conflict conveys themes that teach others to live life selflessly.


  7. Group 1- Chiara, Sariah, Brittany

    Herodotus is writing in 440 BCE, which is after the Persian War. This is significant because he was the first person to write about human events that transpired and affected the generations to come, thus creating the discipline of history. Although Herodotus primarily is focused on documenting the causes and effects of the Persian war, he also incorporates myths, fables, oracles and actions of the gods; thus illuminating the lifestyle of the Greeks at that time, making them his predominant audience. However, Herodotus strives to maintain an objective and unbiased voice to ensure that his work could be read by anyone affected by the conflict as well as future generations.

    In book I, Herodotus publishes his works to “prevent the great and wonderful actions of the Greeks and the Barbarians from losing their due meed of glory.” It is evident through Herodotus’ positive diction in describing the actions of the Greeks and Barbarians that he views the war as something that should be glorified. Herodotus also wants future generations to learn from his accounts and understand the cyclical nature of humans and nations. Herodotus also views the function of history to correct misconceptions about the cause of the war, evident when he states, “to put on record what were their grounds of feuds.” From Herodotus’ investigation, he learns that Croesus’ hubris leads to the destruction of his empire and the lives of many others. Here we see a reoccurring theme in history, the idea that human emotion or error can have catastrophic and enduring repercussions.

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  8. Group Leader: Lucy
    Group Members: Emma, Francesca, Lucy, Ishmael, Ursula

    Question 4. How does H account for historical causation? Also, look for examples where H suggests that major historical proceedings result from very small—seemingly trite and mundane— human acts and events.

    –How does H account for historical causation?

    H believes that all events are caused by the will of the gods. In histories, H repeatedly shows us how man tries to combat the prophecies set for him by the oracles and fails. His goal in doing so is to show us that it is impossible to change one’s fate. Although fate is always predetermined, human hubris is part of the attainment of this fate for many characters in Herodotus. Croesus, for instance, initially proves he suffers from hubris by insisting to Solon he is the happiest man alive. He further enforces this idea and actually changes the course of events when the oracle of delphi tells him a great nation will fall and he automatically believes it is not Greece, and thus decides to attack Persia. Had the Gods not cursed Croesus with the burden of Hubris, he may not have chosen to attack, and the course of events could have been dramatically different.

    The will of the gods but the actions of the humans, trying to “out run” their prophecies- leading to the fulfilment of the prophecies.

    fate: 1.86: “The oracle was fulfilled; Croesus had destroyed a mighty empire—his own.”
    the Gods: 1.32: “’I know God is envious of human prosperity and likes to trouble us.’”

    –Also, look for examples where H suggests that major historical proceedings result from very small—seemingly trite and mundane— human acts and events.

    The stealing of Io and Helen are what caused the tensions between the Greek and Persian empires.
    Gyges, Candaules, and wife’s story→ this is what eventually leads to the fall of the Lydians to Cyrus and the Persians.

    When Candaules demanded that his servant Gyges see the former’s wife, the queen, naked (in order to prove that he has the most beautiful wife in all the land), he inadvertently causes a string of historical events to occur. The queen catches Gyges spying on her, demands that he either kill himself or kill Candaules and marry her; Gyges chooses the latter, and consequently the fifth generation of his descendents is cursed. This curse leads to the fall of Lydia to Cyrus of Persia, a crucial historical event.

    Fate and the Gods are central causes for the course of history, whether it be in the story of Croesus and the oracles or Astyages and his dream. If something is destined to happen, no amount of human intervention could possibly change the outcome. In fact, human hubris often gets involved when the historical figures think that they can change their fate, and then every action they take ends up aiding in the fulfillment of the prophecy.

    A very small event that changed the course of history between the Persians and the Greeks was, at the very beginning of the Histories, when Gyges sees the Queen naked–this leads him to kill the king, marry the queen, and have a curse put on his fifth succeeding generation: Croesus (who loses everything to Cyrus in a military defeat).


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