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'Great historian or great liar' Which description best fits Herodotus?

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Introduction

'Great historian or great liar' Which description best fits Herodotus? A historian; one who writes or compiles a chronological record of events; a chronicler. So what makes a historian great? Surely this all depends on how the historian records history and then the individuals' view of how history should be recorded? As a form of literature or a branch science? According to Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Herodotus was the epitome of a great historian and a literary genius. So what distinguishes a liar from a story teller, an entertainer? A liar tries to pass falsehoods of as true whereas a storyteller never claims that their stories are anything other than that, a story. If Plutarch is taken in a certain way and believed, there isn't a difference between the two, when it comes to Herodotus' work. There are two perspectives of the "historian" Herodotus. He is both regarded as the father of history, his Histories, on the Persian wars, were the first commentary on historical events and fact that the world had ever seen in that format, he is therefore believed to be the world's first historian. However to some he is the father of lies, as sections of his work have been proven to have been completely fabricated, exaggerated through sheer impossibility or have no factual bases. To discover whether Herodotus was a 'great historian' a 'great liar' or neither, it is important to look at the different factors to understand why he was writing in the unique style that he did and why he has been criticized for it! ...read more.

Middle

University of California Press 1975.) And despite this criticism Dionysius still states that he Herodotus is "second to none" (On Thucydides:23, Dionysius of Halicarnassus trans Pritchett. University of California Press 1975.) Herodotus does use secondary sources and his work is often bias, on numerous occasions referring to the Persians as 'barbarians' but what has given him the name as the father if lies is his tendencies to exaggerate and refer to fictional, impossible events and figures. For example Herodotus claimed "In this battle of Marathon there died, of the barbarians, about six thousand four hundred men, and, of the Athenians, one hundred and ninety-two. Those were the numbers of the fallen on both sides." (The Histories:117, trans. David Grene, University of Chicago Press, 1987) It is obviously very difficult to believe these figures as they are, simply, impossible. Herodotus has a strong religious element to his recordings with no evidence based on fact which adds to his reputation as a liar. Herodotus insists that once the Persians had entered Athens, burnt the Acropolis they also burnt and totally destroyed a tree sacred to Athena. However the next day somehow a new shoot eighteen inches had grown from the stump. Spiritual miracles like this don't fit well in historical texts, but was there a reason for this bias and mythological element? His bias nature, the language used and the integration of religion and fantasy into his work suits the audience he aimed at. ...read more.

Conclusion

In contrast Dionysius of Halicarnassus preferred a well written, elegant piece of literature, and if it lacks in forensic qualities it didn't affect its genius. According to the dictionary Herodotus is, on the simplest level, a historian. He studied and recorded history. Using dictionary definitions again, Herodotus is not a liar, (someone who tries to purposefully and knowingly pass off falsehoods as truths) he never out rightly claimed that everything that he had written had defiantly taken place, he assumed that it had and wrote it down. Resulting in an account which has both definite truths, where there was prove and evidence, and assumptions of what happened, even when there was no strong evidence for the purpose of an interesting and education work. Herodotus has both fact and fiction in his recordings. This diverse content doesn't make him a great historian in the traditional sense of the word even though "the historian takes great liberties with facts."(Sir J. Reynolds) Nor does this make him a great liar, even though much of his work is fictitious. To satisfy both those who believe that he is the father of history and those who believe him to be the father of lies, I would class Herodotus as a great entertainer, a storyteller, as stories can both incorporate fiction and fact without criticism and ultimately that is what he did, told stories; of his travels, of the Persian war. He predominantly wrote for the purpose of entertaining his audience using many different techniques to do so and having great success. Herodotus is to some a great historian, to some a great liar but should be regarded as a great storyteller. Kate Baynham ...read more.

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