HERODOTUS DISCUSSION QUESTIONS
"Herodotus of Halicarnassus here presents his research so that human events do not fade with time. May the great and wonderful deeds -- some brought forth by the Hellenes, others by the barbarians -- not go unsung; as well as the causes that led them to make war on each other."
--Herodotus, The Histories (Proem)
SOME QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER
How would you describe Herodotus as an historian? Some have described Herodotus not as the "Father of History" but as the "Father of Lies." Others have celebrated him as a remarkably modern historical anthropologist. Where would you place Herodotus on this spectrum?
How would you compare and contrast Herodotus' Histories to the Greek tragedies you have read?
How would you compare and contrast Herodotus' approach to that one would find with a more contemporary historian? What are the advantages and challenges associated with reading a primary historical text from the ancient world such as Herodotus rather than a secondary account?
To what degree does Homer seem to be in the background as Herodotus writes the Histories? What parallels and differences would you highlight?
What most surprised you about Herodotus?
What is the story of Croesus and why does Herodotus devote so much space to it? What is interesting about the manner in which Herodotus tells this story? What themes are highlighted? Why do you think he chose to begin by placing a particular emphasis on this one individual? To what extent may the story of Croesus foreshadow what is to come later in Herodotus' Histories?
What are the Histories about?
To what extent does Herodotus realistically portray different cultures and civilizations?
How does Herodotus portray the Persians?
What is most distinctive about his representation of the Egyptians?
Are there any individuals who jumped off the pages of Herodotus for you?
To what extent do the early chapters of the Histories frame the war to follow? How does Herodotus link up the 6th century BCE with the 5th century to come?
What meaning does Herodotus attach to the Persian Wars themselves?
How do the battles of Marathon, Thermopylae, and Salamis fit within Herodotus' account?
How does Herodotus define what it means to be Greek?
What role do the gods play in Herodotus' account? To what degree does he seem devout and to what extent is he a religious skeptic? How do oracles come into his story?
How are women portrayed in Herodotus' Histories?
Herodotus wrote at least part of the Histories during the early years of the great conflict between Athens and Sparta, the Peloponnesian War, which began in 431 BCE and ended with the defeat of Athens in 404 BCE. It is often thought that the playwright Euripides used the Trojan War legends to at least indirectly comment upon the Peloponnesian War and his own time. To what extent do you think that Herodotus is using the Persian Wars in a similar way? What might he be implying about the Peloponnesian War? What is said about Athens and Sparta in the Histories and how is the relationship between them portrayed?
How can Herodotus be compared and contrasted with Thucydides, the great chronicler of the Peloponnesian War and Herodotus' historian successor?