The accounts of what happened in the past are known as history. People who recorded history in any way are called historian. As early as 5th millennium B. C, ancient Sumerians already recorded their history, making them the earliest historians. Many great historians were produced as history was being made. But simply writing history will not produce good historians.
Good historians are not only producing written accounts of what they believed happened just for the sake of recording something, but can also provide genuine material or testimonial evidences of what they claimed happened which can be inspected, tested, reviewed, or retraced by others , can accurately record the facts without incorporating their own ideas or beliefs, can effectively transmit their recorded works through succeeding generations, and can bring their reader back to the past when the event actually happened (Simkin 1).
The two most common ancient historians whom works are always being compared are Herodotus of Halicarnassus and Thucydides of Athens. Herodotus of Halicarnassus was known from his work entitled “The Histories” which was divided into nine volumes and was given the name of a muse- Greek mythology Goddess- for each.
In his books, Herodotus recorded mainly the events happened during the Persian and Greek wars and the accounts of his journey throughout the Mediterranean and Black sea including the place he reached, describing the geography, faunas, and floras, and the people he met, taking into accounts of the stories, claims, ideas and beliefs of each individual (Zarit 1). With his early written descriptions of history, Herodotus has been known as the “Father of History” (“Herodotus Compared with Thucydides” 1).
On the other hand, Thucydides of Athens was an Athenian military general known from his work entitled “History of the Peloponnesian War” which describes the battle between the Peloponnesian Alliance- led by the Spartans- and Delian Alliance- led by the Athenians (Maxwell 1). Thucydides escaped death caused by the plague that spread in Athens. This plague killed many famous philosophers and scholars, including the elite and common Athenians. Thucydides obtained fame and respect from his fellow Athenians with less effort since he came from an aristocrat Athenian family.
He served in the military and later became a general which gave him easy access to account accurate information (Zarit 3). Thucydides has been known as the “Father of Scientific History” due to the historical accounting method he used, and has been called the “Father of the School of Political Realism” due to his unbiased account of different political views in his book (Maxwell 1). Herodotus and Thucydides were both Greek historians but both wrote history on different historical perspective, analysis, and purpose as seen in the contents of their works.
Herodotus wrote his book mainly for his fellow Greeks. He intended not only to inform but also to entertain them by infusing his literary writing capabilities. If some information he gathered was not too appealing and would cause disinterest to his audience, Herodotus would sometimes exaggerate or use some “artistic” words to his work to attract the attention of the audience (“Herodotus Compared with Thucydides” 1). Since Greeks considered their selves direct descendant of Gods and Goddesses, they accepted Greek God mythology as fact, believing the will of their Gods and Goddesses as valid and true.
Furthermore, the Greek oracles was considered the link between them and their immortal Gods, therefore anything that the oracle said was also considered an absolute truth (Maxwell 1).. Herodotus included the prophecies and advises made by the Greek oracles in his work. He explained things or events, relying to Greek God mythology as his reasons. He usually used the prophecies and advises of the oracle to predict the outcome and to explain the consequence of a historical event. The influence of his religion and his artistry to his works could be seen when he named his book after the nine Greek God deities (Zarit 2).
Herodotus took into account all information, data, and facts available to him whether these said information, data, and facts was directly connected to his subject being discussed in his book or unnecessary information. He recorded detailed account on his subject matter, sometimes too detailed descriptions that create several degrees of sub-subjects which may lead to confusion or comprehension difficulties for some readers. Furthermore, if the first hand information is not available for his access, Herodotus used second hand information.
Even if the source of the second hand information was not certain with the details, Herodotus was obliging the source to pick the closest information he could remember. In some instances, Herodotus let his reader choose the most likely conclusion of an event if unexpected outcome or opposing result can occur (“Herodotus Compared with Thucydides” 1). The focus of Herodotus in writing his work was to find the cause that led to the Greek-Persian war. He tried to include all possible reasons including but not limited to religions, topography, culture, animals and beliefs of different places involved (Zarit 2).
Herodotus’ “The Histories” can be summarize as a history book written in a literary way. Despite of biased and inaccurate accounts, readers still prefer to read Herodotus’ work than Thucydides’ because it was presented in an amusing way. Thucydides wrote his book mainly for the purpose of educating future generations. Unlike Herodotus, Thucydides accounted history using inductive approach. He deduced the outcome of a phenomenon based on what the accessible evidences were dictating. He was unbiased when recording information, keeping out his personal ideas and beliefs to influence his work.
Despite of being a military general of Athens, he still presented his works fairly, without being impartial to Athenians or Spartans point of view (“Herodotus Compared with Thucydides” 1). Although Thucydides was raised as Greek, nurturing strong Greek ideas, beliefs, and norms, he did not let this influence him. He tried to explain phenomenon and conclude the outcome of events using logic as reason not divine intervention which was contradictory on what Herodotus did. Thucydides’ written accounts were concise and direct.
His descriptions on his subject were detailed and straightforward which were usually supported by several evidences he gathered including his own observations. He did not include information or description without supporting evidences to back them up. He made sure that the proof he used can be tested, viewed or examined again by others (Maxwell 1). If proofs were not available, he preferred not to record the event. This approach of Thucydides’ explanation was similar to the method used now in scientific inquiries and investigations- the scientific method-, hence giving Thucydides the title “Father of Scientific History”.
Thucydides’ perspective to history is mainly about politics as seen in his work the “History of the Peloponnesian War”. In his work, Thucydides clearly and accurately recorded facts. Thucydides described the sites where the war had taken place. He introduced the people involved in the war, their roles and goals. He accounted the outcome of several military campaigns. But most importantly, he discussed the political aspects, morals, and decisions behind each event and their corresponding consequences that led to the outcome (Zarit 3).
He used these facts to synthesize theories why men go to war. He tried to explain the cause of war in the context of human reasons. Furthermore, he concluded that if man would prefer reasons to settle conflicts, war could be prevented. Thucydides’ conclusions, political perspective and analysis to history are still widely used today (Maxwell 1). Today, the validity of his ideas is still applicable and is still being taught. With this perspective and analysis to history, Thucydides was named “Father of the School of Political Realism” (Zarit 3).
Herodotus’ and Thucydides’ approach in writing history were very different. Regardless of whom the audience is and what the purpose is in writing history, the historical contents should be valid, accurate, precise and true. This could be supported by evidences such as written documents, geographical validity or verbal accounts. Furthermore, the continuing relay and availability of historical facts through succeeding generations is equally important as its truthfulness, since history is written to be read by others.
Since both works of Herodotus and Thucydides satisfied the successful transmission through generations, only its truthfulness could be questioned. Many evidences proved the validity of Thucydides claims. On the other hand, some claims of Herodotus were also proven valid. But in this race of who is better historian between the two, Thucydides of Athens gave more valid and accurate claims in his account, therefore making him the better historian.
“Herodotus Compared with Thucydides. ” Free Essays. 21 November 2001. 23 August 2008 <http://essays.org. uk/classical-studies/herodotus-thucydides/2paper/>. Maxwell, Michael. “Herodotus Thucydides. ” StudentsFriends. 2001. 23 August 2008 <http://www. studentsfriend. com/historians. html>. Simkin, John. “What makes a good historian? ” The Education Forum. 1 January 2005. 23 August 2008 <http://educationforum. ipbhost. com/index. php? showtopic=2777>. Zarit, Ben. “Herodotus and Thucydides Through the Lens of Aristotle. ” The Perseus Project. 9 May 1995. 23 August 2008 <http://www. perseus. tufts. edu/GreekScience/Students/Ben/aristotle. html>.
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