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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 155

Histories, by Herodotus, is an ancient Greek text that tells the history of the wars between Greece and Persia. Simultaneously, it tells the story of the growth of the Persian Empire. It is the longest text in the Greek language and contains nine books. Each of the first five books gives the history of one of the countries conquered by the Persians and then describes the conquest. Books 1–5 provide background information to explain the circumstances that led up to the invasions and conquests, and Book 5 ends with the invasion of Greece by the Persian king Xerxes, the Ionian revolt against the Persians, and the Greek victories at Salamis, Plataea, and Mycale. Books 6–9 contain a history of the wars themselves. The Greco-Persian Wars took place between 500 BC–449 BC and devastated much of the Greek world. Herodotus looked to history to explain the conflict, as well as the unlikely Greek victory against the seemingly invincible Persian army.

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Summary

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1314

Herodotus wrote and compiled a history of the wars of the Grecians and Persians of the fifth century b.c.e. The famous first sentence of the work reads I, Herodotus of Helicarnassus, am here setting forth my history, that time may not draw the color from what man has brought into being, nor those great and wonderful deeds, manifested by both Greeks and barbarians, fail of their report, and, together with all this, the reason why they fought one another.

As the first to use the word “history,” Herodotus deserves Cicero’s title, “father of history.” To be sure, this son of wealthy upper-class parents did not have the critical attitude toward his sources that would be the hallmark of the later historian. Interesting anecdotes of the wars between the Greeks and the Persians found their way into his pages whether he could verify them or not, but he does sometimes hedge and tag certain items as hearsay. Judging from his quotations, he must have read widely. From the details in his descriptions and the comments such as “this I saw,” he must have visited most of the places he mentions.

The true greatness of Herodotus lies in the fact that he was the first important writer to depart from the verse of Homer and others, to produce Europe’s first prose literature. Some predecessors chronicled the beginnings of their small communities or states, but the writings of Herodotus embrace a vaster panorama: not only Greece, but also Egypt, Sardis, and Babylon. He looked for the reasons for the events. His aim was to trace the early rivalries between Greek and barbarian; in the process he recounted the stories of many tribes, described the lands they inhabited, and reported many of their interesting customs. Those who want greater accuracy can consult Thucydides (c. 455-c. 400 b.c.e.), who wrote more than a generation later. His work is more objective, but it lacks the color of Herodotus’s account.

The Persians maintained that the Phoenicians originally started the quarrel by kidnapping women from Argos. Later the Hellenes raided the port of Tyre and abducted Europa, the king’s daughter. The wars actually started, however, when Croesus, whose magnificent court was visited by Solon, desired to enlarge his empire by conquering some of the Ionian cities of Asia Minor. When he consulted the oracles, he was persuaded at Delphi to gather his allies for an attack on the mainland. The invasion resulted in a stalemate, however, and Croesus returned to Lydia, where his capital, Sardis, was surprised and captured by the Persians. Only a rainstorm, sent by the gods, saved him as he was being burned to death. The same miracle persuaded Cyrus to free his captive after taking possession of some of his vassal states. With them,...

(The entire section contains 1469 words.)

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