The Histories Background

The Histories Background

The name Herodotus is almost invariably followed by the term “The Father of History.” That application is deemed deserving because prior to the collected volumes known as The Histories, most of what had passed for historical writing had been classified as the chronicling of minor events and creation of regional geo-biographies. What had been lacking in the paltry selections of historical documentation at the time Herdotus began to transform the nature of the genre are the aspects deemed essential to history writing today.

Herodotus introduced organization into a process; he also expanded into a systematic aggregation of known facts from a variety of sources. The Histories also sets the template for creating from those facts the concept of a grand theme that permeates throughout the assemblage of localized events.

Perhaps unavoidable with the context of essentially fashioning an entirely new genre was the reality that, in setting such an ambitious task of locating commonalities that provided thematic resonance, The Histories does indulge in more than a fair share of digression. Even within those digressions, however, are examples of why Herodotus is one of the few writers in history who can accurately be identified as the creator of something which did not exist before. Some of the digressions read more like annotations found in the appendix at the back of the book, while others are fully fleshed out background chapters. In the majority of cases, the digressive structure may come off like the rambling off-topic stories of Grandpa Simpson, but actually bear more of a striking similarity to the infamous interstitial “whaling chapters” which interrupt the narrative of Moby-Dick. While the narrative may be temporarily on the pause setting, however, Herodotus—like Melville—is also a great natural storyteller as well as a historian.

The Histories were collected into compendium of nine volumes by scholars at the Alexandrian Library. That number was not organically based upon content, but represented an attempt to imprint a certain poetic mythos on the sprawling and unwieldy collection: each of the volumes was named after one of the nine Muses.

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