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A brief overview of the topic. The history is one of the vaguest concepts that can be interpreted as one considers it appropriate. In this way, we currently have different versions of the same events explained and described from a number of different perspectives that often contradict each other in all possible ways. As such, the historians that are supposed to tell truth as it appears in the real world should summarize the events without making inappropriate conclusions.
However, some historical notes are written in the form of short stories that contain many stylistic devices that add other meanings and moods to the history even if the author does not give his own account of the event. Moral and religious issues are also of primary concern as they are recorded from the perspective of contemporary vision whereas the beliefs and values change and perception of history may change as well.
Aim of discussion, Histories written by Herodotus are interesting and captivating but do not resemble the history books usually taught in class. What was the purpose of writing history in this manner and how did the author benefit from such narration are the burning issues enlarged on in the present paper.
The Histories by Herodotus
Morality and ‘philosophy’ of life. As moral obligations can be more referred to as subjective issues unique for every individual, it is impossible to judge a person due to lack of morality in his/her actions. Besides, the historical narration should include plain narration, description, and summary of events, people, and battles instead of becoming a novel about romantic affairs of main characters of the story.
In this respect, morality of life in the Histories authored by Herodotus is a subjective issue that should also be assessed using a cultural perspective. It has been claimed that culture is a unique concept that has many dimensions and cannot be measured by one person or using the same scale as for calculating the number of objects.
Example of immoral behavior can be seen in the story about Gyges who gained the kingdom of Lydia (Herod. Histories pp. 113-114 McK) but the audience would split into two or more parts supporting this or that character: was it the kings wife who acted immorally or she can be considered a victim of immoral behavior of him and his servant, a servant can be labeled as a criminal or as a victim as well.
Immoral behavior is the concept that is typical of one person and goes beyond all rules for another. A crew that betrayed a man who hired hem can be considered either the one consisting of immoral men or the one consisting of businesslike men who saw a naïve person and took advantage of him (Herod. Histories p. 114 McK). Every person can use a situation for benefit but another person, in this case, can judge him/her of doing so and label this manner of behavior as immoral.
Cultural perspective is the best way for considering this concept appropriate or inappropriate. Anyway, history cannot be changed but it can be learnt and taken into account in order not to make similar mistakes. If one wants to believe in other’s immoral actions instead of treating them as courageous men who dared to challenge the destiny, it is personal business of every individual.
Moral issues can often be intertwined with religious ones, especially when the religious concepts regulate the way different situations are perceived in society. In this respect, the Book II written by Herodotus (Herod. Histories p. 117 McK) can be considered a good documentary evidence of the process of embalming though morality of this process can be questioned by the contemporary audience taking into account the variety of religious rites and traditions spread in the world and ethics of embalming and the last will of the dead.
The more a person thinks about the morality as a pure philosophical substance, the less applicable it becomes to the environment of the real life where people do a lot of things forbidden by the church. At the same time, one church in a specific period of time allows something the same church may forgive similar actions in the next century due to the changes that take place in society and perception of life and moral codes.
The variety of cultures and traditions make the religious principles more adjusted to the contemporary society and rules and regulations typical of it regardless of the historical development of moral principles and religious concerns. Using the circumstances by one person can be considered immoral while nobody accuses the one who believed him/her in being too naïve and spineless.
Every person can find himself in a situation similar to those described by Herodotus with a contemporary design and theoretical decisions may strongly contradict the practical application of actions in this or that situation. For instance, the king offered his daughter as bait to see who is wiser than he (Herod. Histories pp. 118-119 McK) which cannot be considered moral in a contemporary society but seem to be quite appropriate for the period when this story was written.
The way history is written by Herodotus. Herodotus could have chosen a more formal approach to description of historical events and processes that cannot be encountered in the contemporary world if he knew about journalism and style applied in scholarly articles. However, the stories would not be as captivating as they are now if they would have been written in a dull formal language of a historical report.
In this respect, Herodotus can be considered not only as a good historian who managed to share his knowledge and experience of what he saw and heard but also the one who wields a skillful pen. Though the structure of historic narrations resembles more the collection of the most exciting and appealing stories about different characters that took place in approximately the same period of history, there is no reason not to believe Herodotus and his narration because we cannot claim that he was telling the truth or was not.
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Cultural values are described clearly so that the readers can understand the ambitions and motives of the characters and compare the situations as they are presented by Herodotus and a hypothetical situation when these stories are presented in news or other sources of modern era.
In this respect, every reader can see what was the difference for people to either leave a person to be found by the guard or to behead him and save his dignity (Herod. Histories p. 118 McK). However, the sorrow and grief are not perceived as those due to the style used by the author because he uses simple language and does not emphasize irrelevant details but tries to give a true account of the events and people’s actions.
Every person in the story is described as the one with specific features and traits that do not contradict his/her lifestyle and the rules typical of contemporary society. So, the way Herodotus introduces his characters and lets the readers know about the things that happen in their lives is very delicate and tactful which makes the readers believe that they eye-witnessed all those events.
Summary of discussion. The style used by the author for describing historical events is interesting and attention-grabbing. Once you read a passage, you want to read it up to the end which can be considered one of the most important evidence of the effectiveness of this style and overall manner applied to historic narration.
Though we cannot claim that Herodotus either exaggerated or diminished importance of some features, events, or people’s influence, all stories seem to be full of cultural coloring which contributes greatly to the entire mood of the Histories. Moral issues are no perceived directly as if they were disclosed in a real story but are more referred to as myths.
Other perspectives of the problem. If Herodotus was an ordinary person not interested in history and its value for successive generations, he would not try to capture every moment, emotion, and cultural cue in his books. The importance of taking the cultural approach while considering the moral issues still remains the main key to effective analysis of stories because values change as well as people who use them.
MacKendrick, Paul Lachlan (Trans.). “Selection from Herodotus’ the Histories” in Paul Lachlan MacKendrick and Herbert M. Howe, Classics in Translation, Volume I: Greek Literature, 111-129. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1959.