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Herodotus, Cato the Censor and Josephus: Understanding the Life and Times of Historians of the Ancient World

Thursday, October 20, 2016 9:26
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Herodotus, by Jean-Guillaume Moitte, relief 1806.

For thousands of years, we turned to history to explain the what, why and how an event happened. Although “historian” did not become a professional occupation until the late nineteenth century, the purpose of the investigation and analysis of history generally remains the same for ancient as well as for modern historians, which is to study the past in the hope that the knowledge can, in some way, assist us in the present and future.

However, the reality of life as a historian is that despite our best efforts, there will always be disagreements between one historian’s version of events with another. We are continually reminded that one’s perception of history, and indeed of life, is greatly influenced by one’s viewpoints, backgrounds and environment. This reality is also apparent for ancient historians. In fact, histories of their own lives are almost as intriguing as the events of which they have written. Herodotus had to struggle to break out of the tradition ingrained in his culture, Cato’s vocalized hatred towards Carthage led to its eventual destruction, and Josephus was branded as a traitor even long after his death. All these began as personal events which lent themselves to writings that are still studied, translated and analyzed to this day.

Herodotus: The Struggle between History and Storytelling

The Histories by Herodotus is the earliest Greek prose to have survived intact. Herodotus of Halicarnassus (c. 484–c. 425 BC), dubbed by many as the “Father of History”, was the first historian known to have broken from Homeric tradition of poetic storytelling and collected his materials critically to arrange them into a coherent narrative. The Histories is a record of Herodotus’ investigation on the origins of the Greco-Persian Wars which also includes a wealth of geographical and ethnographical information.

Section: – Reconstructing the story of humanity’s past


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