The Greek “fathers of History” – Part II – Herodotus (continued and concluded)

A central question since antiquity that remains unresolved to this day is: can we trust Herodotus and his marvellous tales? In antiquity he was attacked and denounced as the “father of lies”, and this view of Herodotus – as an ancient Baron Münchausen, a teller of tall tales and a fabricator of his alleged travels and sources of information, still has currency today (see particularly the German scholar Detlev Fehling in Die Quellenangaben bei Herodot). The weight of modern scholarship, however, gives more credit to Herodotus’ attempts to resolve the exceptionally difficult problem he was grappling with Continue reading

The Greek “fathers of History” – Part I

Who was the “father of History”?

It seems certain that, as long as people have been able to talk, they have talked about events that occurred in the past, and as long as people have been able to record their thoughts in permanent marks, they have written about the past also. But writing history is something different, as I hope to show, and its origins (at least in western Eurasia – I must profess ignorance about other historiographical traditions, inter alia that of China) can be sought in the cities of ancient Greece in the latter half of the 5th century BCE – specifically in the work of two men, Herodotus and Thucydides, our two contenders for the title of “father of History”.

But let us first examine some examples of “pre-historical history” from the same cultural world as Herodotus and Thucydides – the great monarchies of the Near East in the first millennium BCE – in order to illuminate what was new about the historical enterprise of these two Greeks. Continue reading