“This is a publication of the researches of Herodotus of Halicarnassus, in order that the actions of men may not be effaced by time, nor the great and wondrous deeds displayed both by Greeks and barbarians deprived of renown; and among the rest for what cause they waged war upon each other.” So begins The Histories of Herodotus and what is considered the founding work of history in Western literature.
The word history actually derives its modern meaning from Herodotus’ only work, and rightly so. Devoting his life to the recording of the Greco-Persian Wars, Herodotus took down “histories,” Greek for “inquiries,” and told the story of his travels through the Persian territories, recording myths and legends as he went. Funnily enough, Thucydides, the author of The History of the Grecian War and considered the father of “scientific history,” was born about twenty years after Herodotus. He scorned his predecessor for using myths, legends, and morality to spin his tale, and yet more credence has been lent to Herodotus in recent years as archaeology has revealed the truth in his writings.
Divided into nine parts after his death, each one dedicated to one muse, The Histories of Herodotus begins by describing the Persian Empire – its peoples, customs, cultures, and geography. It then moves into a discussion of the war itself: how the Greeks defeated the Persians and freedom conquered slavery (at least in Herodotus’ eyes).
Herodotus was born in Halicarnassus, a commercial hub in Asia Minor. His family were wealthy merchants until the city became a province of the Persian Empire under the tyrannous rule of Lygdamis. Because Herodotus’ family opposed Lygdamis’ rule, they were exiled to the island of Samos. It then became Herodotus’ life mission to take down the histories of the Greco-Persian Wars and depict the fight between freedom and slavery. By taking his stories and threading them together into a narrative, Herodotus revolutionized historical writing and turned a dry piece of fact into literature.