In the fifth century BC, the Greek historian Herodotus changed how we think about ourselves. He wrote The Persian Wars, and our modern understanding of history—that of a unified narrative characterized by cause and effect—was born.
Herodotus: father of history
The Persian Wars examines not only the Greco-Persian Wars, but also the rise and rule of the Persian Empire and the history and cultural background of Scythia and Egypt. These volumes, Herodotus’ only works, have had such a vast influence that Cicero called Herodotus the “father of history.” For George H. Chase, writing in vol. 51 of the Harvard Classics, “what distinguishes [Herodotus] from his predecessors and gives him a unique place in the history of literature is the fact that he was the first writer to undertake the narration of a series of events of world-wide importance upon a comprehensive plan and to trace in those events the relations of cause and effect” (emphasis added). Herodotus was also among the first writers to assess historical stories for truthfulness, though not without certain oversights.1 He wrote in a clear, simple style—“a wonderful achievement,” notes Chase, “when one considers that this is the first literary prose that was written in Europe.” [Read more…]
- His fact checking, though a major step forward, overlooks some delightful fables: Herodotus famously describes “ants, not as big as dogs but bigger than foxes,” and notes that “the sand which they carry from [their] holes is full of gold.” These gold-digging ants chase down and kill camels. [↩]