Maybe Herodotus isn’t actually a Historian

I have been writing obsessively about Herodotus for weeks now, but I’m not finished yet.

I’ve come to the conclusion that Herodotus is wrongly viewed as any of those labels that we moderns seem to think presuppose accuracy. Ethnographer, anthropologist, historian, etc. He is far more of an inveterate storyteller than a real “scholar” in the sense that we would take him.

Herodotus seems to have no trouble stretching the facts to fit his narrative, and that’s exactly the problem: he has a narrative and he cares about the narrative more than he cares about the facts, in many cases. His narrative is one that categorizes all of the nations of the Mediterranean in contrast with each other and with the Persians.

Perhaps this is because he takes a different view of how truth can be acquired. If we are inclined to view mythological stories as containing moral lessons, or wisdom, maybe Herodotus views his work as a similar project. It is supposed to project greater truths about cultures and people, through his narrative that has been made to adhere more closely.

I think this might be a general inclination in ancient thought in general when it comes to this sort of thing, especially without access to a plethora of evidence and eyewitness testimony, or films, or audio recordings, or accurate transcription. So rather than obsessing about finding perfectly accurate information, they try to glean larger philosophical and moral lessons from it. Perhaps this is why Cicero and other philosophers depend so heavily on mythological stories; not because they actually happened, but because they illustrate a larger concept.


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