Herodotus , a Greek historian, styled the father of history, born in Halictirnassus, Asia Minor, about 484 B. C, died probably in Thu-rii, Italy, about 420. The statement of Suidas that he belonged to an illustrious family is con-firmed by the indications of wealth furnished by his high education and abundant means for frequent and distant travel. Suidas states further that he was exiled from Halicarnassus by Lygdamis, grandson of Artemisia, and that he took up his residence at Samos. He returned, however, to Halicarnassus about 455, and took part in the political movements which ended in the expulsion of the tyrant. He removed soon after to Athens. He visited Babylon, Ar-dericca near Susa, the remoter parts of Egypt, Cyrene, Colchis, Scythia, Thrace, Zante, Do-dona, and Magna Graecia, thus ranging over a space more than 1,700 m. from E. to W. and 1,600 m. from N. to S. Within these limits his knowledge of scenery, cities, temples, manners and customs, and various wonders, is generally so minute and full that it could have been acquired only by a leisurely examination.
In Egypt, for instance, he visited the great capitals Memphis and Heliopolis, the smaller towns, Sais, Bubastis, Buto, Papremis, Chemmis, Croco-dilopolis, and Elephantine, the labyrinth, Lake Moeris, the line of the canal from the Arabian gulf to the Nile, the borders toward the desert of Sinai, and the whole region of the Delta. It is related on uncertain authority that in 446 the Athenian assembly decreed a reward to him for his history, which he had read publicly; that he made known his work by recitation not only at Athens but in other cities, travelling from place to place as a sort of prose rhapsodist; and that at the recital of it before the collected Greeks at the great Olympian festival the young Thucydides was moved to tears. Herodotus while at Athens was at least acquainted with Thucydides, Sophocles, and some of the other intellectual lights that distinguished the age of Pericles, and it was doubtless from association with them in the centre of literary Hellas that he received the impulse to that wonderful elaboration of his work which he carried on for many years after his departure. Herodotus went about 440 to Thu-rii, a colony newly founded by the Athenians near the site of the former Sybaris, where he is said to have passed the remainder of his life.
Suidas's statement that Herodotus lived for a while in Samos, and composed there some portions of his work, is quite probable; and from several passages in the work it appears that he left Thurii several times and went out on short voyages. At Thurii he is supposed to have applied himself only to the perfection of his history, retouching the narrative and interweaving parenthetical passages and accounts of later events. The abruptness of its close and occasional traces of incompleteness indicate that, notwithstanding he had been constantly improving it, it was not entirely finished at his death. Many critics believe that he composed also the separate treatise on Assyrian history, to which he twice refers in his general history, but which has not been preserved. The time and place of his death are not altogether certain, his life being prolonged according to some to 394, and Pella and Athens, instead of Thurii, being made his abode in his latest years. - It is a question whether there were Greek histories in the century before Herodotus. Niebuhr absolutely denies the existence of any such works. What is more certain is, that before the work of Herodotus was written, there was no writing in Greece which could properly be called historical.
Herodotus is habitually minute in referring to his authorities, but the only Greek with whose works he seems to have been familiar is Hecataeus, who, however, can lay no claim to the title of a historian. The main subject of Herodotus's history is the Persian war of invasion, the contest which began with the expedition of Mardonius and terminated with the discomfiture of Xerxes. Yet he not only relates as an introduction the growth of the Persian empire and the previous hostilities between Greece and Persia, but takes every opportunity of diverging from his principal subject in order to introduce his various historical, geographical, and antiquarian knowledge. Thus he interweaves accounts of Croesus and of the Lydian kingdom, of the Babylonians and Assyrians, of the Egyptians, of the Greek colonies of northern Africa and the native Libyan races, of the Scythians and Hyperboreans, apropos of whom he gives an episode on universal geography. For the later and more important portion of his history, abundant living testimony was easily accessible to him, besides which there were in most of the countries monumental records of antiquity, and oral traditions even in Seythia and Libya. Thus in Greece more or less accurate lists of the kings, priests, and victors at the games were preserved in cities and sanctuaries, and dedicatory inscriptions on offerings in the temples; the Babylonians had sculptured documents, many of which have recently been discovered, tracing their history back for more than 2,000 years; the monuments of the Egyptians reached to a still earlier date; and in Persia there were not only memorials on pillars, tombs, and palaces, but more copious writings on parchment preserved in the archives of the empire.
Herodotus was evidently unable to read or speak the Egyptian language, and was therefore dependent on his interpreters. In Egypt the priests took advantage of his ignorance to magnify the antiquity of their nation, to conceal from him their dark ' period of subjection under the invading shepherd kings, and to modify other inglorious portions of their history. In Babylon he probably obtained but little of his information from the Chaldean priestly caste, who possessed the most exact and extensive knowledge; and though his accounts are correct in outline, they lack the fulness and precision of the narrative of the priest Berosus, who wrote more than a century later. Being born and bred in a Greek city subject to Persia, he doubtless came frequently into contact with Persian soldiers and officials, and he seems to have had access also to some of the most important documents in the royal archives, perhaps by means of Greek transcripts. His Persian history is, therefore, based in the main on authentic national records, diversified especially in the earlier part by circumstances and adventures from romantic chroniclers.
Thus for the most important portions of his work Herodotus had more or less trustworthy monumental records; and his diligence, honesty, and impartiality in employing the materials that were open to him, have been generally admitted. His chief defect as a historian is an undue love of the marvellous; but he is truthful and accurate whenever he speaks from his own observation. The skill with which he has interwoven his episodes, and the prevailing idea of a divine Nemesis which he constantly presents, gives to his history the unity essential to a work of art. The peculiarity of his theory of divine retribution is, that he regards mere greatness and good fortune, apart from any impiety or arrogance, as provoking the envy of the gods. This theory was the great moral which he had drawn from his survey of mundane events; and perhaps the chief attraction of his main theme, and the principle which guided him in his choice of episodes, was that he might present signal illustrations of greatness laid low, of monarchs and patriots who gradually rose to the pinnacle of glory and prosperity only to experience a most calamitous reverse.
The simple beauty of his style, the grandeur of his historical combinations, the amiability of his temper, and the entertainment which his narrative furnishes, have never been questioned, and he is esteemed by scholars the earliest and best of romantic historians. - The best editions are those of Schweighauser (6 vols., Strasburg and Paris, 180C; reprinted in London, 1818), Gaisford (4 vols., Oxford, 1824), Bahr (4 vols., Leipsic, 1830-'35; new ed'., 1855-'61), Abricht (2d ed., Leipsic, 1869), Stein (3d ed., Berlin, 1870), and H. G. Woods (London, 1873). The best English translation is that of the Rev. G. Raw-linson, assisted by Sir Henry Rawlinson and Sir J. G. Wilkinson (4 vols., London, 1858-'60), with copious notes and appendices embodying the chief historical and ethnographical illustrations that have been obtained in the progress of cuneiform and hieroglyphioal discovery. See also Budinger, Zur agyptischen Forschung He-rodots (Vienna, 1873).