Friday, March 28, 2003

Historical Causation in Herodotus

By Carol Abernathy, Tulane University

The ancients themselves criticized Herodotus methods. Thucydides snidely dismissed his predecessor by refusing to include to mythodes, "mythical lore," in his history of the Peloponnesian War. Aristotle is well known for giving Herodotus the title "father of history," but in his Poetics it is clear Aristotle meant this honor as a dubious one. Aristotle relegates Herodotus to the company not of historians in the modern sense but rather of mere chroniclers. He intimates that the creative process, poiesis, is lacking in Herodotus and in history in general so that "poetry is something more philosophic and of graver import than history, since its statements are of the nature rather of universals, whereas those of history are singulars" (Poetics 51a36). Aristotle set the academic approach to Herodotus for centuries. Scholars, even though fascinated by the wealth of information in the Histories, largely agreed with the assessment of Herodotus as expressed by Thucydides and Aristotle.

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