Herodotus is proclaimed both the “Father of History” and the “Father of Lies.” His Histories, the earliest surviving work of non-fiction, is the attempt to recount and “give the reasons” for the epic series of wars between the peoples of Greece and the invading Persian empire. It tells, however, of more than Greeks and Persians alone. A groundbreaking work of ethnography, the Histories examine the religions, politics, and cultures of a host of ancient peoples: Egyptians, Scythians, Libyans, Macedonians, and, even, Indians. Why, in relating an extended conflict between Greeks and Persian, is the Histories so ethnographically vivid and wide-ranging, and to what extent does Herodotus’ work resist reduction to the simple frame of “clash of civilizations”?
In this course, we will read and discuss the entirety of the Histories, paying particular attention to the dialogic variety of narratives—historical, anthropological, philosophical—that constitute the whole. We will take up both Herodotus’ ethnographic accounts and his historical narrative of the wars between Greeks and Persians, with its vivd array of tragic and democratic actors. We will ask: How does the perspective of the Histories contribute to, and complicate, contemporary notions of exoticism and “otherness”? Is Herodotus a usefully democratic thinker? How does Herodotus construct a history out of travel, hearsay, and participant-observation? What can we learn from Herodotus’ historical method? What is the relation of Herodotus’ Histories to Athenian tragedy?
The translation we’ll be using is Tom Holland’s, published by Penguin Classics.
Course ScheduleTuesday, 6:30-9:30pm EST
May 12 — June 02, 2020
Please email us to be placed on the waiting list.