‘Guide to the classics: The Histories by Herodotus‘, The Conversation, 23 May 2016
For his pioneering critical enquiry into the past [Herodotus] was named “father of history” by Cicero. His love of stories and storytelling, however, was notorious already in antiquity: Plutarch called him the “father of lies”.
Herodotus is big on the epic themes of travel and warfare. He asks the crucial ‘why?’ questions and delves deep to find the answers. He is concerned ‘to establish himself as a credible researcher and narrator’ and is meticulous about the sources he uses and how he decides between them. But he gives readers a chance to come to their own conclusions.
Herodotus stumbles around some fanciful bits of evidence but returns to the eternal themes of power, greed and fate, particularly as they affect top people (who often fall).
The most subtle feature of the Histories, perhaps, is the profound sense of balance that pervades all aspects of the cosmos. In the world of Herodotus, any excess is ultimately corrected: what goes up must come down. This applies to individuals, to empires and to peoples … What makes the work stand out above all is the Histories’ sense of wonder and discovery. Herodotus’ Histories remain a classic testament to the pleasures of researching and learning.