Themes

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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 217

Herodotus introduces his Historia of 440 BC (alternately translated into English as The History or Histories) by saying he wishes to memorialize noteworthy deeds of the past, those of both Greek heroes and valiant barbarians (by which he means non-Greeks). In doing so, he introduces one of his major themes: namely, the universal qualities of human existence. People behave in similar ways, he suggests, and have similar ambitions and foibles, whether they're Greek or hail from what Herodotus and his fellow Greeks considered barbarian backwaters.

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In his own 1906 history, The Life of Reason: The Phases of Human Progress, George Santayana famously wrote, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." Herodotus seems to anticipate this theme in his own writings, some 2,346 years earlier. He says history repeats itself from generation to generation, century after century, and only by facing it honestly can this dehumanizing cycle be broken. Destiny is a powerful force largely beyond our control, he admits, but patterns can be discerned within human behavior, and some events from the past can be interpreted as cautionary tales for present readers. Among the recurring conditions Herodotus warns his readers about are fractiousness between Greeks, hubris, and the eventual futility of empire building. "Human prosperity," he warns his readers, "never abides long in the same place."

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