HERODOTUS

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HERODOTUS, the oldest Greek historian, whose works have come down to us, was born at Halicarnassus in Caria, in the 4th year of the 73d Olympiad, B. C. 484. If by the title father of history, which has been bestowed upon him by the general consent, be meant that he was the first who wrote history in a more elevated manner (or, according to Cicero, historiam ornavit), he fully deserves that title. Many authors, some of them with success, had entered this difficult career before him, Hellanicus of Lesbos, Charon of Lampsacus, and Dionysius of Miletus, had even, in a great measure, anticipated Herodotus in the subject of his work. His love of learning was early enkindled by his youthful studies, and by examples in his own family. The celebrated epic poet, Panj^asis, who was regarded by several ancient critics as inferior only to Homer, was his uncle. His genius was animated by the works of the writers just mentioned: they excited in him the desire to visit the countries which were described in such glowing colors, and his circumstances permitted him to gratify his inclinations. Whether he had conceived the plan of his history, in which the results of his travels are preserved, before his long journey, is uncertain. Egypt, so celebrated for the wisdom of its institutions, seems to have been one of the most constant subjects of his attention. This country had long been rendered inaccessible to the rest of the world, by the jealousy of its rulers, and the prejudices of its inhabitants against foreigners. But a short time before Herodotus commenced his travels, it had been opened to the Greeks; and, although it was then almost entirely unknown, and eveiy part of it has since been examine^ by crowds of travellers, and described ir almost every language, yet no author, ancient or modern, has given so accurate and instructive an account of it as He rodotus. He did not content himself with a knowledge of places ; he investigated, likewise, the productions of the soil, the manners, customs and religion of the people, the history of the last princes who reigned before the conquest of the country by the Persians, and many interesting particulars concerning the conquest itself. The second book of his history, which is devoted to the description of Egypt, is still our richest store of information, concerning its ancient history and geography. From Egypt he proceeded to Libya, concerning which he collected a mass of information, equally new to his contemporaries, and valuable to us. His description of the country, from the frontiers of Egypt to the straits of Gibraltar, is so consonant with the accounts of the most intelligent travellers, in particular of doc tor Shaw, that we cannot for a moment believe it founded on the relations of others. He asserts himself, that he resided some time in Tyre. He visited the coasts of Palestine, and thence continued his route to Babylon, then opulent and flourishing. His visit to Assyria has been doubted; but if we consider the different passages of his description of Babylon, we must be convinced that none but an eyewitness could have given so exact an account of that great city and of the manners of the inhabitants. Having arrived in Scythia, then little known to the Greeks, although the primitive inhabitants of Greece were from that country, he penetrated into its immense wilds by the routes which had recently been opened by the Grecian colonies on the Euxine, and thence passing through the Getse into Thrace and Macedonia, he reached Greece by the way of Epirus. Herodotus expected to find at home that honor which was due to his labors, and leisure to arrange the information which he had collected. But Lygdamis, who had usurped the supreme authority in Halicarnassus, and put to death the noblest citizens, among others, Panyasis, forced him to seek an asylum in the island'* of Samos. Here, in quiet retirement, he wrote the first books of his history; in which, abandoning the Doric dialect of his own country, he employed the Ionic, which was spoken in the island of Samos. This labor, however, did not so entirely occupy him, as to prevent him from concerting plans for the relief of his oppressed country and the expulsion of the tyrant. Having formed a conspiracy with several exiles who entertained similar sentiments with himself, he returned to Halicarnassus, and drove out the usurper, but without much advantage to his country. The nobles who liad acted with him, immediately formed an aristocracy, more oppressive to Halicarnassus than the arbitrary government of the banished'tyrant. Herodotus became odious to the people, who regarded him as the author of their aggravated sufferings, and to the nobles, whose proceedings he opposed, so that, bidding an eternal farewell to his unhappy country, he embarked for Greece. He arrived at the time of the celebration of the 81st Olympiad, when the noblest spirits, from every corner of Greece, were collected at Olympia. In the presence of the assembled multitudes, he read the beginning of his history, and such extracts as were peculiarly calculated to kindle the enthusiasm and to flatter the pride of his countrymen. His success was complete. His animated description of the contest of the Greeks with the Persians, and of the triumph of liberty over despotism, was renerved with universal applause. But the influence of his recitation was not limited to this deep impression upon a whole nation. Thucydides, then scarcely 15 years of age, was present at the Olympian games. He shed tears of admiration,*as he looked upon him to whom all eyes were directed. Herodotus perceived it and ventured to foretell to his father th" brilliant destiny which awaited him. En couraged by the applause which he re ceived, Herodotus devoted the 12 follow ing years to the completion of his work he travelled over all the countries of Greece : he collected accounts of the most important affairs from the archives of every nation, and corrected from the original documents the genealogies of the most distinguished families. While travelling through Greece, he probably read, in the public assemblies of each people, those portions of his histoiy which most nearly concerned it, not merely to elicit their applause, but to obtain useful information. The assertion of Dio Chrysostom, that Herodotus, having read before the Corinthians a description of the battle of Salamis, highly flattering to their pride, and having been refused the reward he had demanded, wrote another account, representing things in a wholly different light, is unworthy of credit. 12 years after his first recitation at Olympia, he read his work, then probably just completed, at the festival of the Panathensea, B. C. 444 The Athenians did not limit their gratitude to empty praise ; they bestowed or, the author, who had so well described the achievements of their countrymen, the sum of 10 talents (about 10,000 dollars). Herodotus, however, did not remain in Athens; he attached himself to a colony, which the Athenians founded some years after at Thurium, in Italy, near the ruins of the ancient Sybaris. His long residence there led several ancient writers to suppose this was his native city. He devoted his leisure to the revision and extension of his histoiy, and probably died at Thurium, at an advanced age. Herodotus, in ancient times, was attacked by jealous critics, who impeached the credibility of his work. But time and the most careful investigation have completely refuted their attacks. The history of Herodotus is one of the most valuable monuments of antiquity which has come down to us. It consists of nine books, which were early distinguished by the names of the nine muses. < From the travels of Herociotus, before he commenced his work, from the laborious researches in which he engaged, for the purpose of col lecting materials, we may infer that he conceived an elevated idea of the duty of a historian, and how much more important he considered it to be impartial and correct, than interesting and eloquent. When he relates any occurrence of which he doubts the truth, he honestly expresses his doubts. He has been accused of credulity ; but we ought to be thankful to him for having preserved a crowd of traditions, which, however marvellous they may be, are characteristic of the genius of antiquity. We are indebted to him alone for the history of the origin and growth of the Persian monarchy, and of those of the earlier Medes and assyrians. The origin of the kingdom of Lydia ; its destruction by Cyrus, and the different expeditions of that celebrated conqueror ; the conquest of Egypt by Cambyses, and the most minute and exact description of that country and its inhabitants ; the constant wars of the successors of Cyrus ;. and, particularly, the expedition of Darius against the Scythians, which leads the author to a highly instructive and faithful account of all the people then known in the north of Europe and Asia;these are the principal topics of his introduction to the history of the war between the Greeks and Persians. This war, so rich in great events and great characters, in the course of "Which the powers and defects of the most illustrious nations of antiquity were strongly developedall this is united in one of the most magnificent and masterly pictures which the human mind has ever conceived. The style and execution of the work excited the admiration of the ablest critics of antiquity ; and we also, although to us so many charms are necessarily lost, are powerfully struck with a style so full of nobleness and grace, of energy and simplicity. Besides this history, there is also a life of Homer, attributed to Herodotus, which is valuable, and which was generally regarded as genuine, by the ancients. Most modern critics, however, agree that he was not the author of it. The best editions of the history of Herodotus, are by Wesseling (Amst. 1763, folio), and Schweighauser (Strasburg, 1816, 6 vols.). The work has been translated into German, by Degen, Jacobi and Lange. The works of Larcher, Volney, Bottiger, Heyne, and Creuzer (Commented. Herod. Leipsic, 1819), on Herodotus, are veiy valuable ; translated into French by Larcher, into English by Beloe. KennelPs Geography of Herodotus (London, 1800) is a very important work. HEROES ; a name applied by the Greeksto persons of the earlier periods, who were distinguished for wisdom, strength or courage. They formed an intermediate link between men and gods. They were demigods, whose mortal nature only was destroyed by death, while the immortal ascended to the gods. In mythology, these demigods are styled heroes in a peculiar sense. The heroic age of Greece terminated with the return of the Heraclidse into the Peloponnesus (B. C. 1100), and forms the transition from the brazen to the iron age. We find the following heroic races:1. the Prometheides, from Prometheus, called also the Deucalionides, from Deucalion; % the Inachides,from Inachus ; 3. the Agenorides, from Agenor ; 4. the Dcmaides, from Danaus ; 5. the Pelopides, or Tantalides, from Pelops or Tantalus ; 6. the Cec?vpides, from Cecrops. Individual families, as, for instance, the Macida, Persidce, JUridce, Heraclidce, belong to one or another of these races. The heroic age is the age of romantic courage, of adveh ture and wonders. The heroes are dis tinguished into those who flourished be. fore the Argonautic expedition, and those who flourished after it. The most distinguished among the latter are the heroes of the Trojan war. Those of the former class are more iUustrious than those of the latter; for the remoter events afforded greater scope for the embellishments of the imagination. The heroic age, therefore, properly ends where the poetical traditions of history cease. But the later heroes, removed by time to a greater distance, survived in poetry, and became clothed with godlike attributes ; yet hardly any of them received the same homage which was paid to the earlier race. Great sacrifices were not offered to the heroes, as they were to the Olympian deities ; but groves were consecrated to them, and libations poured out on their sepulchres. According to Plutarch, the Greeks worshipped the gods on the day of the newmoon, and the heroes on the day after, and the second cup was always mingled in honor of them. The residence assigned to them after death is different. Bacchus, Hercules, Pollux and some others entered the abodes of the eternal gods ; others inhabited the islands of the blest; and others were placed among the constellations. The ideas relative to this part of the heroic history, however, have continually varied. The heroes of tlie Greeks corresponded to the lares of the Romans.