Since antiquity, Herodotus has been proclaimed the Father of History and the Father of Lies. Still others have found in Herodotus the origins of western ethnographic writing. Through its primary topic, the wars between Greece and Persia in the early fifth century BCE, Herodotus’ Histories examines the distinctive social, political, and religious characters of the major cultures of the ancient mediterranean world: Greeks, Egyptians, Scythians, Libyans, and Persians. In our course, we will read and discuss the entirety of Herodotus’ Histories, with 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.
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?
Throughout our reading and discussion, we will return to questions of Herodotus’ continuing relevance to western ethnographic and historical writing, to the uses and pleasures of exilic thought, and to present possibilities for Herodotean—”mixed”—forms of inquiry and of writing.
Course ScheduleTuesday, 6:30 - 9:30 pm
October 17 — November 14, 2017
4 sessions over 5 weeks.
Class will not meet on November 7th.