Herodotus, the father of history: Iftu Ahmed

Herodotus, the father of history: Writer Iftu Ahmed

HERODOTUS (484 BC- 425 BC), the first Greek historian was born in Halicarnassus, Asia Minor, now known as Bodrum, the Turkish port town. He came from a rich family and learnt all the works of Homer at school. In his youth, Herodotus travelled extensively in Greece, the Middle East and North Africa to learn different peoples’ customs and religions. It helped him write history. Herodotus wrote nine famous history books on the rise of the Persian Empire, the Persian invasions of Greece in 490 and 480 BC, the heroic fight of the Greeks against the Persian invaders that gave Greek victory. Historians say the Greek victories saved Western civilization.  The first Greco-Persian war took place shortly before Herodotus was born. The second Greco-Persian war occurred when he was a child. He first learnt about the two wars from his elders, who provided the materials for his history writing. Herodotus wrote history in a manner that touched the readers of his time as it does even now. Roman orator Cicero (106 BC- 43BC) called him ‘the father of history.’  According to Herodotus a nation’s history, divided in three phases, includes its success, arrogance and downfall. He learnt it from the examples of Greco-Persian wars.  He did not believe many of the stories although he included them in his history books, as if he reported what the elder’s had told to him. As a result, he provided conflicting accounts of events based on gossip, myths, and rumors. The history, he wrote, is often criticized on the grounds of bias and inaccuracy. That is why critics considered him to be the ‘father of lies.’ But his eyewitness accounts are accurate. Only the stories he learnt from others may be questionable? Herodotus wrote that the Egyptians used to write from right to left and not from left to right. His accounts on India, though he never visited it, are among the oldest accounts of Indian civilization by an outsider.  Herodotus wrote that northern India was the 20th province of Darius, the Persian emperor. The most famous successor of Herodotus, Thucydides (460 BC-395 BC), is credited with writing the first scientific history on Peloponnesian war, an authentic account of the 27-year war between Athens and Sparta, in which Sparta finally defeated Athens in 404 BC. Ssu-ma Ch’ien (145 BC- 90BC), the first great Chinese historian wrote the earliest major history of China in 100 BC. He is known as Chinese Herodotus. It shows that history writing was there in ancient China.  But ancient India lacked in history writing. It was not in the Indian tradition to write history.Pundit Jawaharlal Nehru, the first primer of India and author of Glimpses of World History pointed out: “We have one great difficulty in studying the early history of India. The early Aryans here or Indo-Aryans, as they are called, cared to write no history.  Al-Biruni, the great eleventh century historian, wrote “Unfortunately, the Hindus do not pay much attention to the historical order of things, they are very careless in relating the chronological succession of their kings, and when they are pressed for information, they are at a loss, not knowing what to say and they invariably take to tale-telling.”  Echoing of Al-Biruni, historian Fleet wrote: “The ancient Hindus did not know how to write history and they had no historical sense. They could write small tales, but could not write scientific history books.” Invasions of Alexander, the Bactrian Greeks, the Sakas, the Kushans and the Huns got no attention from the inhabitants of ancient India. As a result, Indian nationalism awakened much later. Possibly, the ancient Indians gave more importance to fortune rather than to the reality of events. The reality of events failed to touch their hearts. So the ancient Indians could not write the authentic accounts of history. No historian like Herodotus and Thucydides appeared in ancient India. But the stone and bronze inscriptions of various royal dynasties in the ancient India became valuable inputs for history writing.  And India’s ancient epics do narrate tales of wars and intrigues. Kantilya’sArthashastra and Megasthene’s account of the court of Chandragupta Maurya (340 BC- 298 BC) provide valuable information of those days.India has to depend on biographies of ancient Indian kings, archaeological evidences, inscriptions, coins, monuments and foreign accounts for writing ancient Indian history. The writings of foreign travelers and writers, who visited India in early days, provide valuable information of those days.The techniques of scientific or authentic history writings were unknown to the ancient Indians. Dr. RC Mujumdar said: “The highest mistake of Indian cultures was that the ancient Hindus were skilled in the various divisions of literatures, but they were not interested in history writing.”

Date: 15/10/20