Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 383
In 440 BC, Herodotus wrote what many scholars consider to be the foundational work of history in Western culture. His Greek title Historia has been represented in English as both Histories and The History. Events that very likely did happen are blended together with anecdotes we'd now be more likely to classify as mythological, but there's enough truth in the account to make it of interest to present-day historians.
Perhaps the most important quote from Historia is Herodotus's justification for writing it:
This is the showing-forth of the inquiry of Herodotus of Halicarnassus, so that neither what has come to be from man in time might become faded, nor that great and wondrous deeds, those shown forth by Greeks and those by barbarians, might be without their glory; and together with all this, also through what cause they warred with each other.
In other words, he purports to secure the events of the past in human memory and give proper due to heroes of old. One marked contrast from the histories of, say, the Egyptians is Herodotus's insistence on praising valiant deeds by people outside the culture from which he himself hails and writes. Herodotus seems to understand every writer and thinker is constrained by cultural bias and should be cautious about heeding its pernicious influence. He writes (in book 3):
If anyone, no matter who, were given the opportunity of choosing from amongst all the nations in the world the set of beliefs which he thought best, he would inevitably—after careful considerations of their relative merits—choose that of his own country. Everyone without exception believes his own native customs, and the religion he was brought up in, to be the best.
In book 1, Herodotus writes a memorable line for King Croesus:
Nobody is mad enough to choose war whilst there is peace. During times of peace, the sons bury their fathers, but in war it is the fathers who send their sons to the grave.
Here are a few other pithy nuggets of wisdom from Historia:
Men trust their ears less than their eyes (book 1).
It is better to be envied than pitied (book 3).
Circumstances rule men. Men do not rule circumstances (book 7).
Of all men's miseries the bitterest is this: to know so much and to have control over nothing (book 9).
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