Herodotus reading questions


Hi everyone,

For next week we move to our second part of historiography and read Herodotus. The readings for next week are:

Monday: Book 1:1-94 (note that these are the paragraph sections, actual page numbers are pgs. 3-56)

1.) Pay attention to the first three paragraphs of the text. As Prof. Mayer explained in lecture, the Greek “historiē” means “inquiry” and Herodotus is considered the “father of history” in Western civilization. How does his opening posture position himself in relation to the epic tradition? How is historical narrative different from epic narrative?

2.) “These are the stories told by the Persians and Phoenicians. I myself have no intention of affirming that these events occurred thus or otherwise.” You will notice that Herodotus takes great pains to gather and organize different competing accounts of events. What then is his role as narrator?

3.) What does the Gyges story tell us about what we are permitted to see and what we are not?

4.) Our first reading is predominately interested in the ambitions of Croesus. How does his rise and fall demonstrate the moral principle that “human prosperity never remains constant” (1.5, pg. 5)

5.) Oracles. What does Herodotus make of them? (Compare with the omens and auspicious signs in the Biography of Gao-tzu)

6.) What does Herodotus think about kingship?

7.) The primary goal of Herodotus’ history is to explain the causes of the Persian war. How does he do this through a constructed dichotomy between “Europe” and “Asia”?


Thursday: Book 1:131-140; 2.35-57; 2.85-90; [extra: 3.38 p. 224—I will provide photocopy on Monday] 4:59-75 (pgs. 71-75, 133-57, 152-3, 224, 306-311)

 8.) These sections are concerned with Herodotus’ “anthropology”—the study of different cultures and his examines the practices of the Persians, Egyptians, Scythians. Pay attention to those who are more xenophobic and those who are more xenophilic.

9.) What is the relationship between culture and geography in Herodotus’ world?

10.) What do you make of the fact that Herodotus reports that “the names of the gods came to Hellas [Greece] from barbarians . . . specifically from Egypt”? What does this tell us about the nature of the gods?

11.) “Custom is the king of all” (p. 224). Discuss.

12.) How does Herodotus explain cultural conflict?

13.) How does Herodotus’ account of the “barbarians” different and similar to that of Sima Qian’s?


Good luck on the completion of your second papers! I look forward to reading them.



Andrew Hui

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