Herodotus Book I Update – The writing of History

Thoughts from How to Read a Book by Adler & Van Doren

These are some of my favorite quotes about writing/reading history.  Please look them over and let’s think about how they might or might not apply to Herodotus as we read through Book I.

Notes & Quotes
Herodotus (c. 484-425 B.C.E)

Excerpts from How to Read a Book:

Ch. 16 pp. 234-244
p. 235 – History as narration:  “We think…that the essence of history is narration, that the last five letters of the word – ‘story’ – help us to understand the basic meaning.”

p. 238 – Historian’s basic approach to the narrative:  “Nevertheless, it is important to remember that the historian must always make up something.  He must either find a general pattern in, or impose one on, events…he is likely to be forced to to assign causes for events and motivations for actions.  It is essential to recognize which way the historian you are reading is operating.”

p. 240 – Thucydides example:  an historian may not be accurate about the events he/she narrates but his/her influence afterward on history can be tremendous:  “Leaders in later eras read Thucydides [and Herodotus]…thus we read Thucydides [and Herodotus] not because he described perfectly what happened before he wrote his book, but because he to a certain extent determined what happened after.  And we read him, strange as this may seem, to know what is happening now.” (my underline)

p. 241 – The facts themselves of the History are not necessarily the end goal in reading a great work:  “If your view of history is limited, if you go to it to discover only what really happened, you will not learn the main thing that [Herodotus], or indeed any good historian, has to teach.  If you read [Herodotus] well, you may even decide to give up trying to discover what really happened in the past.”

p. 242 – What limitations does the author set for him/herself?  how has the historian chosen to tell his/her story?

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