Monday, July 16, 2012

Essay on Herodotus

Essay on Herodotus

At the beginning of the development of human civilization history was foremost the genre of artistic prose, connecting in itself two heterogeneous sides of human activity: science and art. Due to the latter fact, Greek and Roman historians’ works attract readers’ attention. The special place in history of European science occupies Herodotus’s masterpiece, which is the first sample of historical idea and simultaneously the first sample of artistic prose.

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Analyzing his historical methods, it is necessary to point out that basically he used empirical method since he traveled a lot and attempted to notice historical events he observed in his travels. At the same time, he amply used the “narrations of his contemporaries as well as myths and legends” which he carefully documented in his work from a historical perspective.

As for the question of sources, which the text of Greek original depends on, they are basically manuscripts related to the X-XV centuries which reflect the continuous handwritten tradition. According to Kurth (2004), these manuscripts, taken out by Byzantine scientists to Western Europe, are kept presently in the libraries of Rome, Florence, Milan, Madrid, Paris, Oxford, Cambridge and other cities. The number of them is considerable. For instance, in the critical edition of G.Stein (Berlin, 1869-881) 46 manuscripts are taken into account (Stern 2006).

However, when Herodotus began to write his work, the “birth of historical science was already an accomplished fact” (Kurth 2004, p.78). It arose up in the first half of the VI century B.C. in Ionia. The main reason of late development of historical narration genre consisted in the fact that terms for its development appeared only on the border of VII-VI centuries B.C., when deep social transformations, being the result of bitter class struggle in Greek policies, take place in Hellas (Kurth 2004). And that is why it is in that moment, when literary process stops to be the form of collective self-expression of the community.

The examples of the most ancient ionic prose were the historical, mythological, ethnographic, geographical, moralizing and natural-science works, and also collections of different sort of anecdotes and stories from the life of prominent people. It is necessary precise that Herodotus’s works principally did not differ from works of his predecessors and contemporaries, some specialists argue that the distinction consisted only in the “level of literary gift and breadth of project” (Kurth 2004, p.82).

It is already in antiquity, when Herodotus’s works was attributed to the most remarkable works by historiography (Stern 2006). It is possible to presuppose that reasons were not only his scientific merits but also brilliant talent of a teller, master of artistic prose managed from the most various materials - own supervisions and researches, legends, myths, historical anecdotes, verbal stories, documentary information, works of the predecessors, etc. to create bright and whole character work. It was the matter of all his life, and he described the events of the greatest world value - Greek-Persian wars, “predetermining the motion of the historical process in Hellas” (Kurth 2004, p.87). At the same time, the work of Herodotus seems to be able to surprisingly fully reflect Greek national character of those ancient times. No wonder, it is possible to estimate that his life and especially vast and long trips produced a profound impact on his work.

From the artistic point of view, it is accepted to name Herodotus’s style novelistic (Kurth 2004). This means that a historical fact, legend, fairy-tale and even fable, could take a form of a novel. Its historical framing, conciseness of form, sharp-cut, well-aimed and often gnomic speech, logical and artistic full valency of details belong to the personal traits and characteristic features of Herodotus’s novels.

The unusual variety of information, related to the most different spheres of the life of human society, artistic value of exposition, plenty of stories, fantastic details, taken by author from folk-lore of the most different people of antiquity, everything this very early incurred the accusation on Herodotus about distortion of real historical facts. In this respect, it is possible to refer to the example of the legendary cavalry of tribes, inhabiting Northern coast of the Black Sea, constituting of virgins (Kurth 2004) since this was often viewed as an unreal myth.

On the other side, many researchers, aiming to get into the spirit and sense of this surprising work, paid the attention to a generous amount of inaccuracies and mistakes in the work of Herodotus: the most ancient history of Egypt in the exposition of Herodotus contains very little reliable facts, though and it is impossible to deny the values of information, reported in it, for example, about building of pyramids. Herodotus was demanded to give information that he notoriously could not give by virtue of objective reasons. The sources which he used (mainly verbal stories of casual people; if he socialized with the Egyptian priests, only the lowest grade, least informed) were, extremely imperfect. At that time the level of source study and criticism the universal history with encyclopedic character, created by Herodotus, could only absorb the great number of folk-lore subjects along with actual facts.
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