At that time, oral preservation of historical events was still common. Inaccuracies occurred during the transfer of information across different generations and languages. Herodotus also recognized the influence of a person’s ethnic background and political perspective. In fact, he attempted to re-narrate certain events in his book depending on who told the story.
However, Herodotus wasn’t consistent. As a result, we read intimate conversations that cannot be verified and erroneous depictions of people, creatures and events.
This inconsistency is a weakness and flaw. But it also lends a fantastical dimension to the book: He tells of giant gold-digging ants and a race of one-eyed men. If Herodotus had been able to investigate further, they might have disappeared. Still, these fantastical features combined with factual history do make enjoyable reading.
Battle of Salamis
Herodotus also tells us about the role of women in ancient times. Greek, Assyrian and Persian women in his book appear to play critical roles in decisions and events related to war, peace, religion, and justice. We read about Artemisia the female commander of naval warships advising Xerxes, Queen Nitocris re-directing the Euphrates river for strategic defense, the priestess of Apollo at Delphi, the Pythia advising powerful figures ...
This fascinating work by Herodotus — part history, part entertainment — is a timeless masterpiece. For those who fantasize about time travel, the fact that a man from two thousand five hundred years ago is successfully communicating with us is quite astonishing. And our thanks do to those who preserved, protected and brought this treasure to us ...
I’m Haleh Ardebili at the University of Houston, where we’re interested in the way inventive minds work.
Herodotus, The Histories, Translated by R. Waterfield, Oxford World’s Classics, 1998 (with Introduction by Carolyn Dewald)
W. Wybergh How, J. Wells, A Commentary on Herodotus, V.1, Books 1-4, 1912
All images are from Wikipedia.
This episode was first aired on August 21, 2012
The Engines of Our Ingenuity is
Copyright © 1988-2012 by John H. Lienhard.