The Dawn of History

“Herodotus (484-425 BC), the father of history, wrote about the Persian war, which lasted from 499BC to 449BC. He went beyond the mere gathering of facts. He explained the Greek’s war against Persia by giving us multiple angles to view it by. Furthermore, myth and mores came secondary to his telling of facts. He did gather the major events, dates and what occurred with ferver, but he also wrote about the causes of the war and whirr, so that the brave men who fought in this garish war would not be forgotten or written in just legend and lore. He writes:

Herodotus of Halicarnassus here presents his research so that human events do not fade with time. May the great wonderful deeds—some brought forth by Hellenes, others by barbarians—not go unsung; as well as the causes that led them to make war on each other.” (Book 1, Pg. 3, Translated by Robert B. Strassler).

Even further, he didn’t let the divinity belittle these brave soul’s dignity. He is not just writing about the conflict between the Greeks great peaks, or the Persian’s mass produced infantry, but our common humanity. It speaks to something universal and enduring about mankind. David Hume, a philosopher and historian, believed that, “History’s chiefest use is only to discover constant and universal principles in human nature.” We can now forever find principles of the past thanks to Herodotus’ genius mind. The more we learn the better human beings and citizens we become. The lamp of history illuminates our very nature and the very reason that inclines us to go to war in the first place. Why do soldiers fight in war with every movement in haste? Is it because they are thinking about the opposing side they so hate? No. They are moved by devotion to their peoples, to their nations, to their very ideals, even if it means stepping on each other’s heals. Just take a step back and let history reveal. Herodotus records that the Athenians would never enter into an agreement with the Persians. The Athenians reply to the Persian empire with these strong words:

We ourselves are already well aware that the forces of Mede (Northern Iran then ruled by Persia) are many times greater than our own, so there is no need to admonish us about that. Nevertheless, we shall defend ourselves however we can in our devotion to freedom. So do not attempt to seduce us into an agreement with the barbarians, since we shall not be persuaded. Report back to Mardonios that the Athenians say: ‘As long as the sun continues on the same course as it now travels, we shall never come to an agreement with Xerxes. (Book 8, Pg. 662)

So you see, it wasn’t hatred of the Persians but the Athenians devotion towards the ideal of freedom. The whole point of history’s dealings is to give an account of what we do as human beings. To dilate on the purpose of history:

[H]istory is ‘for’ human self-knowledge. It is generally thought to be of importance to man that he should know himself; where knowing himself means knowing not his merely personal peculiarities, the things that distinguish him from other men, but his nature as man. Knowing yourself means knowing, first, what it is to be a man; second, knowing what it is to be the kind of man you are; and thirdly, knowing what it is to be the man you are and nobody else. Knowing yourself means knowing what you can do; and since nobody knows what he can do until he tries, the only clue to what man can do is what man has done. The value of history, then, it that it teaches us what man has done and thus what man is. (R. G. Collingwood, Idea of History, pg. 10)

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