Herodotus The History
Translated by George Rawlinson
Herodotus of Halicarnassus
Adapted from: Authors of Greece, By the Reverend T. W. Lumb
Greek historical literature follows the same course of development as Greek poetry; it begins in epic form in Ionia and ends in dramatic type at Athens.
Herodotus, "the father of History", was born at Halicarnassus in Asia Minor about 484 B.C. He travelled widely over the East, Egypt, North Africa and Greece. He was acquainted with the Sophoclean circle, joined the Athenian colony at Thurii in South Italy and died there before the end of the century. His subject was the defeat of the Persian attack on Greece and falls into three main divisions. In the first three books he tells how Persian power was consolidated: in the next three he shows how it flooded Russia, Thrace and Greece, being stemmed at Marathon in 490; the last three contain the story of its final shattering at Salamis and Plataea in 480 and of the Greek recoil on Asia in 479. It is thus a "triple wave of woes" familiar to Greek thought. His dialect is Ionic, which he adopted because it was the language of narrative poetry and prose.
His introduction leads at once into Romance; he intends to preserve the memory of the wonderful deeds of Greeks and Barbarians, the cause of their quarrel being the abductions of women, Io, Europe, Medea, Helen. A more recent aggressor was Croesus, King of Lydia, who attacked the Greek seaboard. The earlier reigns of Lydian kings are recounted in a series of striking narratives. Gyges was the owner of the famous magic ring which made its possessor invisible. His policy of expansion was continued by his son and grandson. But Croesus, his great-grandson, was the wealthiest of all, extending his realm from as far as the Halys, the boundary of Cyrus' Persian Empire. Solon's famous but fictitious warning to him to "wait till the end comes before deciding whether he had been happy" left him unmoved. Soon clouds began to gather. A pathetic misadventure robbed him of his son; the growing power of Persia alarmed him and he applied to Delphi for advice. The oracle informed him that if he crossed the Halys he would ruin a mighty Empire and suggested alliance with the strongest state in Greece. Finding that Athens was still torn by political struggles consequent upon the romantic banishments and restorations of Peisistratus, he joined with Sparta which had just overcome a powerful rival, Tegea in Arcadia.
Croesus crossed the Halys in 554. After fighting an indecisive battle he retired to his capital Sardis. Cyrus unexpectedly pursued him. The Lydian cavalry stampeded, the horses being terrified by the sight and odour of the Persian camel corps. Croesus shut himself up in Sardis which he thought impregnable. An excellent story tells how the Persians scaled the most inaccessible part of the fortress. Croesus was put on a pyre and there remembered the words of Solon. Cyrus, dreading a similar revolution of fortune, tried in vain to save him from the burning faggots; the fire was too fierce for his men to quench, but Apollo heard Croesus' prayer and sent a rainstorm which saved him. Being reproached by the fallen monarch who had poured treasure into his temple, Apollo replied that he had staved off ruin for three full years, but could not prevail against Fate; besides, Croesus should have asked whose Empire he was to destroy; at least Apollo had delivered him from death. The Lydian portion ends with a graphic description of laws, customs and monuments.
The rise of Persia is next described. Assyria, whose capital was Nineveh, was destroyed by Cyaxares of Media, whose capital was Ecbatana. His son Astyages in consequence of a dream married his daughter Mandané to a Persian named Cambyses. A second dream made him resolve to destroy her child Cyrus who, like Oedipus, was saved from exposure by a herdsman. Later, on learning Cyrus' identity, Astyages punished Harpagus whom he had bidden to remove the child. Harpagus sowed mutiny in the Median army, giving the victory to the Persians in 558. Cyrus proceeded to attack the Asiatic Greeks, of whom the Phocaeans left their home to found new states in Corsica and Southern Gaul; the other cities surrendered. Babylon was soon the only city in Asia not subject to Persia. Cyrus diverted the course of the Euphrates and entered the town in 538. In an attack on Tomyris, queen of a Scythian race, Cyrus was defeated and slain in 529.
His son Cambyses determined to invade Egypt, the eternal rival of the Mesopotamian kings. Herodotus devotes his second book to a description of the marvels of Egypt, through which he travelled as far as Elephantiné on the border of Ethiopia. He opens with a plain proof that Egypt is not the most ancient people, for some children were kept apart during their first two years, nobody being allowed to speak with them. They were then heard to say distinctly the word "bekos" which was Phrygian for "bread". This evidence of Phrygian antiquity satisfied even the Egyptians.
In this second book there is hardly a single leading feature of Egyptian civilisation which is not discussed. The Nile is the life of the land; being anxious to solve the riddle of its annual rise, Herodotus dismisses as unreasonable the theory that the water is produced by the melting snow, for the earth becomes hotter as we proceed further south, and there cannot be snow where there is intense heat. The sun is deflected from its course in winter, which derangement causes the river to run shallow in that season. The religious practice of the land are well described, including the process of embalming; oracles, animals, medicine, writing, dress are all treated. He notes that in Egyptian records the sun has twice risen in the west and twice set in the east.
A long list of dynasties is relieved with many an excellent story, notably the very famous account of how Rhampsonitis lost his treasures and failed to find the robber until he offered him a free pardon; having found him he said the Egyptians excelled all the world in wisdom, and the robber all the Egyptians. The Pyramids are described; transmigration is discussed and emphasis is laid upon the growing popularity of Greek mercenaries. The book closes with the brilliant reign of Amasis, who made overtures to the Greek oracles, allied himself with Samos and permitted the foundation of an important Greek colony at Naucratis.
The third book opens with the invasion of Egypt by Cambyses in 525 on account of an insult offered him by Amasis. A Greek mercenary named Phanes gave the Persians information of the one means of attacking through the desert. After a fierce battle at Pelusium Egypt was beaten; for years afterwards skulls of both armies lay around, the Persian heads being easily broken by a pebble, the Egyptian scarcely breakable by stones. In victory Cambyses outraged Psammenitus, the defeated King; a fruitless expedition against Ethiopia and the Ammonians followed. The Egyptians were stirred by the arrival of their calf-god Apis; Cambyses mockingly wounded him and was punished with madness, slaying his own kindred and committing deeds of impiety.
At that time Egypt was leagued with the powerful island of Samos, ruled by Polycrates, a tyrant of marvellous good fortune. Suspecting some coming disaster to balance it, Amasis urged him to sacrifice his dearest possession to avert the evil eye. Polycrates threw his ring into the sea; it was retrieved by a fisherman. On hearing this, Amasis severed his alliance.
In the absence of Cambyses two Magi brothers stirred up revolt in Susa, one pretending to be Smerdis, the murdered brother of Cambyses. That monarch wounded himself in the thigh as he mounted his horse. The wound festered and caused speedy death. Meanwhile the false Smerdis held the sovereignty. He was suspected by Otanes, a noble whose daughter Phaedymé was married to him. At great personal risk she discovered that the King was without ears, a manifest proof that he was a Magian. Otane thens joined with six other conspirators to put the usurper down. Darius, son of Hystaspes, warned them that their numbers were too large for secrecy, advising immediate action. The two pretenders had meanwhile persuaded Prexaspes, a confidant of Cambyses, to assure the Persians that Smerdis really ruled. Prexaspes told the truth and then threw himself to death from the city walls. This news forced the conspirators' hands; rushing into the palace, they were luckily able to slay the usurpers.
The next question was, who should reign? Herodotus turned these Persians into Greeks, making them discuss the comparative merits of monarchy, oligarchy and democracy. They decided that their horses should choose the next king; he whose steed should first neigh should rule. Darius had a cunning groom named Oebares; that evening he took the horse and his mare into the market-place; next morning on reaching the same spot the horse did not fail to seat his master on the throne in 521. A review of the Persian Empire follows, with a description of India and Arabia.
Polycrates did not long survive. He was the first Greek to conceive the idea of a maritime empire. He was foully murdered by the Persian Oroetes, who decoyed him to the mainland by an offer of treasure and then crucified him. In the retinue of Polycrates was a physician, Democedes of Croton, who was captured by Oroetes. His fame spread to Susa at a time when no court doctor could treat Darius' sprained foot. Democedes was sent for and effected the cure; later he healed the Queen Atossa of a boil. Instructed by him she advised Darius to send a commission of fifteen Persians to spy out the Greek mainland under Democedes' guidance.
After an exciting series of adventures the physician succeeded in returning to his native city. But the idea of an invasion of Greece had settled on Darius' mind. First, however, he took Samos, giving it to Syloson, Polycrates' brother who years before in Egypt had made him a present of a scarlet cloak while he was a mere guardsman. Darius consolidated his power in Asia by the capture of the revolted province of Babylon through the self-sacrifice of Zopyrus, son of one of the seven conspirators. The vivid story of his devotion is one of the very greatest things in Herodotus.
Persia being thus mistress of all Asia, of Samos and the seaboard, began to dream of subduing Greece itself. But first Darius determined to conquer his non-Greek neighbours. The fourth book describes the attack which Darius himself led against the Scythians in revenge for the twenty-eight years' slavery they inflicted on the Medes. A description of Scythia is relieved by an account of the circumnavigation of Africa by the Phoenicians and the voyage of Scylax down the Indus and along the coast of Africa to Egypt.
The war on the Scyths was dramatic and exciting, both sides acting in the spirit of chivalry. Crossing the Bosporus, Darius advanced through Thrace to the Danube which he spanned with a bridge. The Scyths adopted the favourite Russian plan of retreating into the interior, destroying the crops and hovering round the foe; they further led the Persians into the territories of their own enemies. This process at last wearied Darius; he sent a herald to challenge them to a straight contest or to become his vassals. The reply came that if Darius wished a conflict he had better outrage their ancestral tombs; as for slavery, they acknowledged only Zeus as their master. But the threat of slavery did its work.
A detachment was sent to the Danube to induce the Ionian Greeks to strike for freedom by breaking down the bridge they were guarding, thus cutting off Darius' retreat. To the King himself a Scythian herald brought a present of a bird, a mouse, a frog and five arrows, implying that unless his army became one of the creatures it would perish by the arrows. The Scyths adopted guerilla tactics, leaving the Persians no rest by night and offering no battle by day. At last Darius began his retreat. One division of the Scythian horsemen reached the bridge before their foes, again asking the Ionians to destroy it. The Greeks pretended to consent, breaking down the Scythian end of it. Darius at last came to the place; to his dismay he found the bridge demolished. He bade an Egyptian Stentor summon Histiaeus, the Greek commandant, who brought up the fleet and saved the Persian host which retired into Asia.
In 509 a second expedition was dispatched against Barca, a colony of Cyrene. The history of the latter is graphically described, the first king being Battus, the Stammerer, who founded it in obedience to the directions of Apollo. Cyrene was brought under Cambyses' sway by Arcesilaus who had been banished. He misinterpreted an oracle and cruelly killed his enemies in Barca. When he was assassinated in that town his mother Pheretima fled from the metropolis Cyrene to Aryandes, the Persian governor in Egypt. Backed by armed force she besieged Barca which resisted bravely for nine months; at the end of that term an agreement was made that Barca should pay tribute and remain unassailed as long as the ground remained firm on which the treaty was made. But the Persians had undermined the spot, covering planks of wood with a loose layer of earth. Breaking down the planks they rushed in and took the town, Pheretima exacting a horrible vengeance. Yet she herself died soon after, eaten of worms. "Thus," remarks the historian, "do men, by too severe vengeances, draw upon their own heads the divine wrath."
The fifth book begins the concentration on purely Greek history. Darius had left Megabazus in command in Europe, retiring himself to Sardis. In that city he was much struck by the appearance of a Paeonian woman and ordered Megabazus to invade the country. He subdued it and Macedonia in 506-4, but in the process some of his commanders were punished for an insult to Macedonian women, revenge being taken by Alexander, son of King Amyntas; a bride shut the lips of a party sent to discover their fate. In Thrace, Megabazus began to suspect Histiaeus, the Ionian who had saved Darius and in return had been given a strong town, Myrcinus on the River Strymon.
The King by a trick drew Histiaeus to Sardis and took him to the Capital, leaving his brother Artaphernes as governor in Sardis. But Histiaeus had been succeeded in Miletus by his nephew Aristagoras; to him in 502 came certain nobles from Naxos, one of the Cyclades isles, begging restoration from banishment. He decided to apply to Artaphernes for Persian help; this the viceroy willingly gave as it would further the Persian progress to the objective, the Greek mainland, across the Aegean in a direct line. The Persian admiral Megabates soon quarrelled with Aristagoras about the command and informed the Naxians of the coming attack. The expedition thus failed. Aristagoras, afraid to face Artaphemes whose treasure he had wasted, decided on raising a revolt of the whole of Ionia; at that very moment a slave came to him from his uncle in Susa with a message tattooed on his head, bidding him rebel.
Aristagoras first applied to Sparta for aid. When arguments failed, he tried to bribe the king Cleomenes. In the room was the King's little daughter Gorgo. Hearing Aristagoras gradually raise his offer from ten to fifty talents, the child said, "Father, depart, or the stranger will corrupt thee". Aristagoras received a better welcome at Athens. That city in 510 had expelled Hippias, the tyrant son of Peisistratus, who appealed to Artaphernes for aid. Hearing this, the Athenians sent an embassy asking the satrap not to assist the exile, but the answer was that if they wished to survive, they must receive their ruler back. Aristagoras therefore found the Athenians in a fit frame of mind to listen.
They lent him a fleet of twenty sail and marched with him to Sardis which they captured and burned in 501. The revolt speedily spread over all the Asiatic sea-coast. On hearing of the Athenians for the first time, Darius directed a slave to say to him thrice a day, "Sire, remember the Athenians". He summoned Histiaeus and accused him of complicity in the revolt, but Histiaeus assured him of his loyalty and obtained permission to go to the coast. Meanwhile the Persians took strong action against the rebels, subduing many towns and districts. The book ends with the flight of Aristagoras to Myrcinus and his death in battle against the Thracians in 496.
The next book opens with the famous accusation of Histiaeus by Artaphernes: "Thou hast stitched this boot and Aristagoras hath put it on." Histiaeus in fear fled to his own city Miletus; being disowned there, he for a time maintained a life of privateering, but was eventually captured and crucified by Artaphernes. The Ionian revolt had been narrowed down to Miletus and one or two less important towns. The Greeks assembled a fleet, but a spirit of insubordination manifesting itself they were defeated at sea in the battle of Lade in 495.
Next year Miletus fell but was treated with mercy. At Athens the news caused the greatest consternation; a dramatic poet named Phrynichus ventured to stage the disaster; the people wept and fined him a thousand talents, forbidding any similar presentation in future. Stamping out the last embers of revolt in Asia the Persians coasted along Thrace; before their advance the great Athenian Miltiades was compelled to fly from the Dardanelles to his native city. In 492 Mardonius was appointed viceroy of Asia Minor. He reorganised the provincial system and then attempted to double the perilous promontory of Athos, but only a remnant of his forces returned to Asia.
Next year Darius sent to all the Greek cities demanding earth and water, the tokens of submission. The islanders obeyed including Aegina, the deadly foe of Athens. A protest made by the latter led to a war between the two states in which Athens was worsted. Sparta itself had just been torn by an internal dissension between two claimants of the throne, one of whom named Demaratus had been ejected and later fled to the Persian court. The great expedition of 490 sailed straight across the Aegean, commanded by Datis and Artaphernes. Their primary objective was Eretria in Euboea, a city which had assisted the Ionians in their revolt. The town was speedily betrayed, the inhabitants being carried aboard the Persian fleet. Guided by Hippias the armament landed at the bay of Marathon, twenty-five miles from Athens. A vain appeal was sent to Sparta for succours; Athens, supported by the little Boeotian city of Plataea, was left to cope with the might of Persia.
It was fortunate that the Athenians could command the services of Miltiades who had already had some experience of the Persian methods of attack. The details of the great battle that followed depend upon the sole authority of Herodotus among the Greek writers. Many difficulties are caused by his narrative, but it seems certain that Miltiades was in command on the day on which the battle was actually fought.
He apparently clung to the hills overlooking the plain and bay of Marathon until the Persian cavalry were unable to act. Seizing the opportunity, he led his men down swiftly to the combat; his centre which had been purposely weakened was thrust back but the two wings speedily proved victorious, then converged to assist the centre, finally driving the foe to the sea where a desperate conflict took place. The Persians succeeded in embarking and promptly sailed round the coast to Athens, but seeing the victors in arms before the town they sailed back to Asia. The Spartan reinforcements which arrived too late for the battle viewed the Persian dead and returned after praising the Athenians.
A slight digression tells the amusing story how the Athenian Hippocleides in his cups lost the hand of the princess of Sicyon because he danced on his head and waved his legs about, shouting that he didn't care. The great victor Miltiades did not long survive his glory. His attempt to reduce the island of Paros, which had sided with Persia, completely failed. Returning to Athens he was condemned and fined, shortly after dying of a mortified thigh.
In the third portion Herodotus gradually rises to his greatest height of descriptive power. Darius resolved on a larger expedition to reduce Greece. He made preparations for three years, then a revolt in Egypt delayed his plans and his career was cut short by death in 485. His successor Xerxes was disinclined to invade Europe, but was overborne by Mardonius his cousin. A canal was dug across the peninsula of Athos, a bridge was built over the Hellespont, and provisions were collected. A detailed account of the component forces is given, special mention being made of Artemisia, Queen of Herodotus' own city, who was to win great glory in the campaign. The army marched over the Hellespont and along the coast, the fleet supporting it; advancing through Thessaly, it reached the pass of Thermopylae, opposite Euboea, in 480.
On the Greek side was division; the Spartans imagined that their duty was to save the Peloponnese only; they were eager to build a wall across the isthmus of Corinth, leaving the rest of Greece to its fate. But Athens had produced another genius named Themistocles. Shortly before the invasion the silver mines at Laureium in Attica had yielded a surplus; he persuaded the city to use it for building a fleet of two hundred sail to be directed against Aegina.
When the Athenians got an oracle from Delphi which stated that they would lose their land but be saved by their wooden walls, he interpreted the oracle as referring to the fleet. Under his management the city built more ships. The Council of Greece held at the Isthmus of Corinth decided that an army should defend Thermopylae while the fleet supported it close by at Artemisium. The Persian fleet had been badly battered in a storm as it sailed along the coast of Magnesia, nearly four hundred sail foundering; the remainder reached safe anchorage in the Malian gulf, further progress being impossible till the Greek navy was beaten or retired.
At Thermopylae the advance-guard was composed of Spartans led by Leonidas who determined to defend the narrow pass. A Persian spy brought the news to Xerxes that this small body of warriors were combing their hair. The King sent for Demaratus, the ex-Spartan monarch, who assured him that this was proof that the Spartans intended to fight to the death. After a delay of four days the fight began. The Spartans routed all their opponents including the famous Immortals, the Persian bodyguard. At length a traitor Ephialtes told Xerxes of a path across the mountains by which Leonidas could be taken in the rear. Learning from deserters and fugitives that he had been betrayed, Leonidas dismissed the main body, himself advancing into the open. After winning immortal glory he and his men were destroyed and the way to Greece lay open to the invader.
In three naval engagements off Artemisium the Greek fleet showed its superiority; a detachment of two hundred sail had been sent round the island of Euboea to block up the exit of the channel through which the Greek navy had to retreat, but a storm totally destroyed this force. When the army retreated from Thermopylae the Greek ships were obliged to retire to the Isthmus; in spite of much opposition the Athenians compelled Eurybiades the Spartan admiral to take up his station at Salamis, whither the Persian navy followed. Their army had advanced through Boeotia, attacking Delphi on the way.
The story was told how Apollo himself defended his shrine, hurling down rocks on the invaders and sending supernatural figures to discomfit them. Entering Attica the barbarian host captured a deserted Athens, Xerxes sending the glad news to his subjects in the Persian capital.
The Greeks were with difficulty persuaded not to abandon the sea altogether. Themistocles was bitterly opposed in his naval policy by Adeimantus, the Corinthian; it was only by threatening to leave Greece with their fleet that the Athenians were able to bring the allies to reason. By a stroke of cunning Themistocles forced their hands; a messenger went to Xerxes with news of the Greek intention to retreat; on hearing this the Persians during the night blocked up the passages round Salamis and landed some of their best troops on a little island called Psyttaleia.
The news of this encircling movement was brought to the allies by Aristides, a celebrated Athenian who was in exile, and was confirmed by a Tenian ship which deserted from the Persians. Next morning the Greeks sailed down the strait to escape the blockade and soon the famous battle began. Among the brave deeds singled out for special mention none was bolder than that of Artemisia who sank a friend to escape capture. The remainder of the Persian captains had no chance of resisting, being huddled up in a narrow channel. Seeing Artemisia's courage Xerxes remarked that his men had become women, his women men. The rout of the invaders was quickly completed, the chief glory being won by Aegina and Athens; the victory was consummated by the slaughter of the troops on Psyttaleia. The Persian monarch sent tidings of this defeat to his capital and in terror of a revolt in Ionia decided to retreat, leaving Mardonius in command of picked troops. He hurriedly passed along the way he had come, almost disappearing from Herodotus' story.
Mardonius accompanied him to Thessaly and Macedonia; he sent Alexander, King of the latter country, as an envoy to Athens, offering to rebuild the temples and restore all property in exchange for an alliance. Hearing the news the Spartans in fear for themselves sent a counter-embassy. The Athenian reply is one of the great things in historical literature. "It was a base surmise in men like the Spartans who know our mettle. Not all the gold in the world would tempt us to enslave our own countrymen. We have a common brotherhood with all Greeks, a common language, common altars and sacrifices, common nationality; it would be unseemly to betray these. We thank you for your offer to support our ruined families, but we will bear our calamities as we may and will not burden you. Lead out your troops; face the enemy in Boeotia and there give him battle."
The last book relates the consequences of the Athenian reply to Alexander. Mardonius advanced rapidly to Athens, which he captured a second time. The Spartans were busy keeping the feast of Hyacinthia; only an Athenian threat to come to terms with the foe prevailed on them to move. Mardonius soon evacuated Attica, the ground being too stony for cavalry, and encamped near Plataea. The Greeks followed, taking the high ground on Mount Cithaeron. A brave exploit of the Athenian infantry in defeating cavalry heartened the whole army. After eleven days' inaction, Mardonius determined to attack, news of his plan being brought secretly at night to the Athenians by Alexander.
The Spartans, afraid of facing the Persians, exchanged places with the Athenians; when this movement was discovered by Mardonius, he sent a challenge to the Spartans to decide the battle by a single conflict between them and his Persian division. Receiving no reply, he let his cavalry loose on the Greeks who began to retire to a place called the Island, where horse could not operate. This action took place during the night. When morning broke the battle began. The Persian wicker shields could not resist their enemies' weapons; the host fled and after Mardonius fell was slaughtered in heaps. The Greek took vengeance on the Thebans who had acted with the Persians, of whom a mere remnant reached Asia under the command of Artabazus.
The victorious Greek fleet had advanced as far as Delos, commanded by Leotychides, a Spartan of royal blood. To them came an embassy from Samos, urging an attack on the Persians encamped on Mycale. It is said that the battle was fought on the same day as that of Plataea and that a divine rumour ran through the Greek army that their brothers had gained the day.
In the action at Mycale the Athenians took the palm of valour, bursting the enemy's line and storming his entrenchments. This victory freed Ionia; it remained only to open the Dardanelles. The Spartans returned home, but the Athenians crossed from Abydos in Asia to Sestos, the strongest fortress in the district. The place was starved into surrender; with its capture ends the story of Persia's attempt to destroy European civilisation.
In this great Epic nothing is more obvious than the terror the Greeks felt when they first faced the Persians. The numbers arrayed against them were overwhelming, their despondency was justifiable. It required no little courage from a historian to tell the awkward truth--that Herodotus did tell it is no small testimony to his veracity. Yet only a little experience was needed to convince the Greeks that they were superior on both land and sea. Once the lesson was learned, they never forgot it. Mycale is the proof that they remembered it well. This same consciousness of superiority animated two other Greek armies, one deserted in the middle of Asia Minor, yet led unmolested by Xenophon through a hostile country to the shores of the Black Sea--the other commanded by Alexander the Great who planted Greek civilisation over every part of his conquests, from the coast to the very gates of Persia itself.
Modern history seems to have lost all powers of interesting its readers. It is as dull as political economy; it suspects a stylist, questions the accuracy of its authorities, tends to minimise personal influence on events, specialises on a narrow period, emphasises constitutional development, insists on the "economic interpretation" of an age and at times seems quite unable to manage with skill the vast stores of knowledge on which it draws.
To it Herodotus is often a butt for ridicule; his credulity, inability to distinguish true causes, belief in divine influences, love of anecdote and chronological vagueness are serious blemishes. But to us Herodotus is literature; we believe that he himself laughs slyly at some of the anecdotes he has rendered more piquant by a pretended credulity; this quick-witted Greek would find it paid him to assume innocence in order to get his informers (like his critics) to go on talking. Like Froissart, Joinville, de Comines and perhaps even like Macaulay he wishes to write what will charm as well as what will instruct.
Yet as a historian Herodotus is great; he sifts evidence, some of which he mentions only to reject it; the substantial accuracy of his statements has been borne out by inscriptions; in fact, his value to-day is greater than it was last century. If a man's literary bulk is measured by the greatness of his subject, Herodotus cannot be a mean writer.
His theme is nothing less than the history of civilisation itself as far as he could record it; his broad sweep of narrative may be taken to represent the wide speculation of a philosophic historian as opposed to the narrower and more intense examination of a short period which is characteristic of the scientific historian. He tells us of the first actual armed conflict between East and West, the never-ending eternally romantic story. As Persia fought Greece, so Rome subdued Carthage, Crusader attacked Saladin, Turkey submerged half Europe, Russia contended with Japan. The atmosphere of Herodotus is the unchanging East of the Bible, inscrutable Egypt, prehistoric Russia, barbarous Thrace, as well as civilised Greece, Africa, India; had he never written, much information would have been irretrievably lost, for example, the account of one of the "Fifteen decisive battles" in history.
Let him be judged not as a candidate for some Chair of Ancient History in some modern University, but as the greatest writer of the greatest prose-epic in the greatest literature of antiquity.
Of his inimitable short stories it is difficult to speak with
measured praise; it is dangerous to quote them, they are so
perfect that a word added or omitted might spoil them. His
so-called digressions have always some cogent reason in them;
they are his means of including in the panorama a scene essential
to its completeness. The narrow type of history writing has been
tried for some centuries; all that it seems able to accomplish is
to go on narrowing itself until it cannot enjoy for recording or
remembering. It is a refreshing experience to move in the broad
open regions of history in which Herodotus trod. If it is
impossible to combine accurate research with the ecstasy of pure
literature, be it so. Herodotus will be read with joy and
laughter and sometimes with tears when some of our modern
historians have been superseded by persons even duller than
Book Five: Terpsichore Book Six: Erato | Book Seven: Polymnia | Book Eight: Urania | Book Nine: Calliope