I just spent the weekend listening to lectures, and discussing the The Histories of Herodotus with a sizable group of cohorts, all of whom were gathered to revel in this amazing classical text. During the fifth century B.C. Herodotus traveled the known world making inquiries and doing research on the origins and events of the wars between the Persians and the Greeks. This sizable text was the result and it includes what he referred to as enquiries but what encompasses much of what we would call history, sociology, anthropology, mythology and more. It is a wonderful narrative providing the essential background and events, including famous battles like Thermopylae and profiles of great leaders on both sides including Themistocles, Darius and Xerxes. Perhaps the best way to convey the import of this book is to let Herodotus speak for himself. He opens the book thus:
"Here are presented the results of the enquiry carried out by Herodotus of Halicarnassus. The purpose is to prevent the traces of human events from being erased by time, and to preserve the fame of the important and remarkable achievements produced by both Greeks and non-Greeks; among the matters covered is, in particular, the cause of the hostilities between Greeks and non-Greeks."
Herodotus does not shy away from opinions about the events that he narrates; one of these opinions is related early in Book One:
"I know that human happiness never remains long in the same place."
This becomes more and more evident as one reads on through this excellent work. Whether it was Croesus , who was at one time the richest man in the world, or the Persian emperors, whose realm extended to the ends of the known world, their respective happiness did not last. Reading this book was an adventure into the history of the known world in that time.
The Histories by Herodotus, trans. by Robin Waterfield. Oxford University Press, New York, 1998.