Mark Handley illustration -, Thucydides and Herodotus - Justin Marozzie on Herodotus, Histories

Travels with the Father of History

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You’d think, if you read History at university, that you might come across the man who invented it. These days, that would be a quaint hope. During my stint at Cambridge in the early Nineties, I encountered witches and deviants, demography and Dickens, consumer revolutions and the medieval kingdom of Aragon. I came across beggars and Bedlam, early Christian thought and the English Civil War. We had social and economic history, psycho-history, feminist history, oral history and micro-history. There was a brief stab at Rome from Augustus, but that was as ancient as we got. Of Herodotus, the Father of History, there was no sign.

I didn’t think much about it at the time. To be honest, I had barely heard of the man and was in any case new to History. I had gone up to read Arabic and French but quickly revolted, dillied with English, dallied with Social and Political Science and worked my way methodically if unsuccessfully around the entire corpus of the humanities until, after dire warnings of immediate expulsion, History was all that was left.

Had I read Carr and Elton, those feuding giants of English history, more closely, I might have understood why Herodotus was nowhere to be found. In Carr’s vituperative classic What Is History? Herodotus receives only a passing mention: ‘Herodotus as the father of history had few children.’ In his superbly vitriolic The Practice of History, Elton observes: ‘Herodotus may have been the father of history, but for a good many centuries the child he begot was to enjoy but a restricted and intermittent life.’ He continues: ‘History had barely begun when Thucydides attacked the methods and purposes of Herodotus.’ And that was that. For me, thereafter, his name had an inexplicably forbidding ring about it, never quite as menacing as that dreadful windbag Thucydides, but hardly a bundle of laughs either.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. When at last I did pick up the Histories,

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About the contributor

Justin Marozzi’s The Man Who Invented History: Travels with Herodotus has just been published.

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