Biography of Heródoto (ca. 480-420 a.C.)

Greek historian born in Halicarnassus shortly before the expedition of Xerxes against Greece (480 BC). On the occasion of the revolt in which died Paniasis, Herodotus had to leave his homeland and go to Samos, where you might have a closer contact with the world of Ionian culture; He is thought that thence he returned to Halicarnassus and participated in the overthrow of Lygdamis (ca. 454 BC), son of Artemisia, representative of caria tyranny that dominated the political life of the colony at that time. The next date in its chronology is the Foundation of the colony of Thurii in 444-443 BC at the hands of Pericles beside the ruins of Sybaris. Don't know if Herodotus was part of the first founding expedition, but it obtained the citizenship of the colony. Some of his biographers report that between arrival at Thurii and the fall of Lygdamis, Herodotus made trips to several Greek cities, in which offered readings of his works; It is even said that he received ten talents for a reading in Athens, which now seems quite unlikely although it expresses the good reception that Herodotus had in the city. Their stay at the Athens of Pericles allowed him to contemplate the great political and cultural moment living city: Athens, Herodotus could meet Protagoras, flag bearer of the revolution of the sophistry, and Sophocles, the great tragic poet who would both influence his historical work. Also in the era prior to the Foundation of Thurii, Herodotus made those trips that speaks to us in his work: it is known that he was in Egypt for four months and, later, he went to Mesopotamia and Phoenicia. Another of his travels resulted in the country of the Scythians. All these trips were inspired by a desire to increase their knowledge and satiate your craving for knowledge, constant should of thought of Herodotus. This appears through his work as a man of curious, observant and always ready to listen, qualities which combined with a large encyclopaedic and erudite formation.

Parody that made the work of Herodotus Aristophanes suggests that it was already known around 425 BC Back to his work, recent events mentioned about Greece refer to 430 BC, date in which there was to conclude his story. It is thought that he died in Thurii ca. 420 BC



The historiographic method of Herodotus and his thought

The great work history of Herodotus, multiple and complex, is difficult to summarize: its purpose and its narratives are various and very different from each other, for what, at first, hard to see the unifying principle of diverse materials. To meet them, Herodotus resorted, as already mentioned, to his many travels throughout the known world; from there, extracted their sources of information and their data: sometimes, Herodotus collect what they have seen with their own eyes; others, that have counted you; many others, the result of its inquiries and investigations after contrasting the oral traditions met with the archaeological remains and monuments or resorting to the priests and scholars visited places: thus, for example, his research on the myth of Hercules led him up to Phoenician. Attention see how you are setting these as different elements together and how, sometimes, the collected even when, in his opinion, are not reliable: "my duty is to report everything that is said, but I am not obliged to believe it all equally" (lib. 7, 152). Ultimately, Herodotus was a great storyteller and an experienced compiler of ethnographic or geographic data, characteristics that make it akin to many other logographers; However, already ancient Herodotus honored with the title of "father of history" and a more in-depth analysis of its history reveals its new front of contemporary writers. Since the beginning of the play, which the scholars were distributed later in nine books (each of which bears the name of one of the nine muses), the author announces that its role is to narrate the events and achievements of the men and, more specifically, the war between Greeks and barbarians. The core of the story is, therefore the narrative of war medical, those faced to the East with the West, which gives rise to Herodotus to insert throughout his work numerous digressions; These allowed audiences approaching those strange and far away, countries that were linked to a greater or lesser extent with the Persians. That way, his narration is not unitary, but it breaks down following an associative principle, according to which different countries and regions appear in the moment in which relate in some way with the Persians.

However, if these digressions are especially frequent in the early books of the work, you will see that in the central part of it, that which is narrated the confrontation between Greece and Persia, these decreases. Thus, it appears a story much more concise and objective, with analysis and much closer investigation of the data. Is discovered in this way in the work of Herodotus a multitude of styles in direct dependence with their sources: for his description of exotic countries, Herodotus had to resort to his travels and second-hand information, oral either or written (like the stories of other logographers); on the other hand, narrating the war, Center of his story, Herodotus had documents more accessible and reliable on these events. Herodotus thus combines the skills of a great storyteller and a historian (i.e. research) in its attempt to elucidate the truth through the tangle of their multiple sources.

In this second appearance, his work was dwarfed by the genius of his successor, Thucydides, endowed with a talent much bigger. But it is necessary to analyze its work within the context of its time: Herodotus wanted to jump the barriers of mere scholarly information and capture their own impressions in a completely new and very ambitious story that was intended to carry out a much more strict analysis of the circumstances and causes. In the midst of their work are perceived, and in addition, two elements that acquire special relevance: the high esteem in which Herodotus has the freedom and exaltation of the figure of Athens, which is discovered as motor and head of struggles against the Persian enemy.

In terms of its attitude towards the myth, Herodotus is located in an intermediate position between the total rationalisation, skepticism and absolute credulity: what have you and even offers versions found on a same myth (with what has left to posterity a Grand testimony on the different beliefs of lands and cultures far removed from the Greek world), in the idea that there is a generic concept of the divinity that is independent of the different names that adopts according to peoples. Anyway, in its history there is a divine force that all chairs it: destiny (force which was also present in the tragedy), which explains all the behaviors and even is behind those acts which, in principle, might seem irrational. This way of interpreting the facts owes much, as he has said, the Greek tragedy: in all the excursos narrative of novelistic character there is always a hero, a man (Croesus Cambyses, Cleomenes, etc.), that sits against both favorable and adverse circumstances. Herodotus describes them and their voice, as the choir, can be felt with some appreciations of importance. There is definitely a certain balance that the gods remake when it has been broken and a recognition of the responsibility of men in their actions, although without forgetting the presence of that target, as he has been said, all heads it.


With reference to his style, the reader finds a clear contrast between the archaic character to some extent of some excursos, marked by the parataxis of short sentences, and others showing the period with a series of juxtaposed subordinate clauses, which get a good narrative effect with its articulation in large blocks. Another important element are discourses, left show through general ideas about human behavior, and that always transcend the scope of the individual. It is perceived in this way, an abundance of discourses of admonitory nature, loaded, in turn, of examples. On many occasions, Herodotus uses also the dialogue in a way that clearly reminds of the archaic tragedy and epic (something already perceived the ancients considered Herodotus with a Homeric writer in great degree). This influence of the two great poetic genres can be also seen in his use of language: here is served not only the Ionian but in his work introduced in addition a large number of terms from the poetry, with which the story acquires a more differentiated and high with clear literary pretensions air.


According to what was said, the first book begins with the story of the origin of the conflict between West and East, which Herodotus attributed to abduction of women: the Greeks kidnapped shooting Europe; again, the Greeks went to the Colchis and Medea kidnapped and, finally, Paris kidnapped Helen, giving rise to the first great war. These myths, narrated with rationalist aspirations, are the background of the second big clash between Greece and Asia, which Herodotus places the campaign of Xerxes. Then, Herodotus goes to speak of Croesus, the first King that underwent Greek cities, with also a digression about Lidia (lib. 1, 6-94) which starts and the remote origins of the Mermnada dynasty represented by Croesus. The confrontation of this King with Ciro puts the Persians in the foreground of the story. Again, Herodotus goes back to a very distant past to then tell the youth of Ciro and the contacts of the Greek cities of Asia minor with the sovereign, all with different stories about peoples and their customs (in all this plot or architecture of the story, you can see an ancient narrative technique, influenced by the stories of the logographers). The first book is closed, so, with the narration of the rapid expansion of the Persians: first on the Western provinces of Asia minor and then on Babylon, which gives rise to insert an digression on this region with descriptions of their cities, fields and history. In the midst of these campaigns, in particular in the campaign against the massagetae, Herodotus recounts the death of Ciro and also inserted a small story about the customs of this people.

The second book begins with the reign of Cambyses, who was subjected to Ionian and Aeolians, who led soldiers during his campaign against Egypt. Here begins one of the most extensive independent stories within the work of Herodotus, where he gives account of his travels in Egypt. For the elaboration of this extensive digression, Herodotus availed themselves of their own experiences as traveller and Hecataeus accounts with regard to the descriptions of the country and its people; on the contrary, in his study of the history of Egypt, resorted to the Egyptian traditions deposited in the temples and their priests, so his work goes beyond the mere description to become a real investigation of the past.

The third book takes up the conquest of Egypt by Cambyses; at the same time deals with the lacedaemonians fight against Polycrates at Samos, contemporary Egyptian expeditions. This book concludes with the death of Cambyses and the ascent to the throne of Dario. The fourth book focuses on the war of Dario and Scythians, with new digressions about this village. The fifth book concerns the subjugation of Thrace to the Persians and the Ionian revolt. In the sixth book is narrated campaign Dario against Greece and the Athenian victory at Marathon, with excursos on the heads (the Alcmaeonidae and MILTIADES) Athenians and Spartans (Cleomenes and Demaratus). At the beginning of the seventh book is narrated the death of Darius and the Ascension to the throne of Xerxes. The rest of the work (the seventh, eighth and ninth books) deal with the details of this war. The abrupt end of the story has made many critics think that the story was unfinished, although this form of conclusion, which narrates some Ciro reflections on the nature of the people, might be a deliberate end, because he keeps his prescient words related to the rest of the story.

Herodotus and the seed

Despite the enormous success achieved by Herodotus, soon began the criticism from later historians, who accused him of being lax with data. One of its early critics was Thucydides, who refers to his method as something ephemeral and valid only for an instant, i.e., suitable for reading and enjoyment only. Anyway, also the great attic orator did not recognize their findings. Indeed, Herodotus became an essential source for all historians of the ancient world, which were gradually rectifying some of its reports on countries distant and exotic. With Hellenism, the work of Herodotus acquired greater relevance thanks to the somewhat novel character of some accounts (something very much to the taste of the time); in fact, celebrated scholar Origen, Aristarchus, conducted a review of his works. Thus, the work of Herodotus was always, as stated, point of reference as a conscious model or simply as a counter-model.

The Romans also surrendered to the figure of the famous historian, he called, as Cicero, "father of history". Roman historians were many who availed themselves of it as a source and citations drawn from its history abound. However, during the middle ages, a period in which the Greek became a real arcane, Herodotus left to read, although in an indirect way through the Latin historians, yes met some of the anecdotes embedded in their stories. Its star returned to shine thanks to the achievements of humanism: was Lorenzo Valla first who dared to translate his work into latin and, at the beginning of the 16th century (in 1520) presses Aldo Manuzio the first edition of his history, which the original text of Herodotus went back to the flow of the erudition of the following centuries.



HUDE, c.-Oxford, 1927, 2 vols.

LEGRAND, PH. E Bude, 1932-1954, 11 vols. (with French translation) and reviews.

GODLEY, A.D-Loeb Class. LIBR., 4 vols. (with English translation) and reviews.

BERRENGUER AMENÓS, J-stories, Madrid, 1960-1961 (2 vols.: books I - II).

Estudio:JACOBY, f.-Griechischen Historiker, Stuttgart, 1956. ID., "Herodotus", in Pauly-Wisowa, RE, 1913.POHLENZ, m.-Herodot, Leipzig, 1937.POWELL, J. E.-The History of Herodotus, Cambridge, 1939.MYRES, J. L.-Herodotus: Father of History, Oxford, 1953.

Traduccion:Lida, Maria R. Lida, history, Buenos Aires, 1949.SCHRADER, c.-history. Books I-II, Madrid, 1977. History. Books III - IV, Madrid, 1979. History. Books v-VI, Madrid, 1981. History. Book VII, Madrid, 1985.

Teresa Jiménez Calvente