Friday, March 23, 2012

Why read Herodotus?

I have some experience with the Iliad and the Odyssey so I decided to begin my reading with the second book in the Great Books set, The History of Herodotus. The first questions I asked myself were, "Who is he? And why should I bother reading this book?" I really had no answers and was not looking forward to it at all until I began my preliminary research this morning.

I always tell my students to study the author and learn about a book before they read it. This doesn't have to take long- I have only been researching Herodotus for about half an hour. I tell them to read about the who the author was, what they did and what they believed and then to research how the book came into being, what it is about and what it contains. The purpose of acquainting yourself with a book is to find a WHY for reading that book. Going into a book with a purpose makes all the difference! It helps you want to read it and makes the reading more fun.

I discovered a lot this morning that peaked my interest in Herodotus and his history. Here's what I found out about Herodotus:
  1. Herodotus had a fabulous self-education. He knew Homer thoroughly and 'had an intimate acquaintance with the whole range of Greek literature.' Travel and discussion were also critical parts of his education. He went everywhere and met many important people. He was always questioning and trying to learn.
  2. He lived in a time of great political turmoil and many of his moves were politically motivated. Tyrants suppressed the people and he had personal experience with their wrath when a close relative was executed by Lygdamis. 
  3. He gave public readings of his history in Athens and the people loved it. Plutarch said he was even awarded a large sum of money for his writings.
Interesting facts about this book:
  1. The title 'histories' comes from the Greek word that means 'inquiry' or 'research.' This is the origin of our modern word for history. We actually get this word from Herodotus and it means inquiries or researches!
  2. Wikipedia says,  "He has been called the "Father of History", and was the first historian known to collect his materials systematically, test their accuracy to a certain extent and arrange them in a well-constructed and vivid narrative."
  3. They were later separated into 9 books and named for the 9 muses.
  4. Herodotus "traces the way the Persians developed a custom of conquest and shows how their habits of thinking about the world finally brought about their downfall in Greece."
It was this last point, the downfall of the Persians, along with his self-education, that peaked my interest in this work. I have studied government a lot and I believe that there are cycles of history and America is losing its freedom. Knowing that this book is about the downfall of another nation makes me want to see what Herodotus can teach me about how people and nations lose their freedom. MY WHY!!

Herodotus created maps based on his travels and included them in his history. Here's one of them:

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