Cultural Bias and Structure in Herodotus

Topics: History, 5th century BC, Homer Pages: 3 (753 words) Published: March 30, 2007
Herodotus' writes his Histories for Greeks. Specifically for Greeks living in Herodotus' own time. The statement of purpose which begins the work seems to contradict this hypothesis. Herodotus claims to wish to "prevent the traces of human events from being erased by time, and to preserve the fame of the important and remarkable achievements…" [Herodotus, 1.0]. The underlying assumption here is that the author is preserving these events and achievements for future generations and perhaps even future civilizations. The text however does not does not follow these guidelines. Herodotus assumes that his reader will have certain amount of common knowledge.

When discussing geographical distances, Herodotus often gives them relative to distances that Greeks would be familiar with. "The journey inland from the coast to Heliopolis is more or less as long as the journey from the Altar of the Twelve Gods in Athens to the temple of Olympian Zeus in Pisa." [Herodotus 2.7]. Herodotus assumes that his readers will have an innate feel for the Greek distances he provides otherwise he would not offer them.

Herodotus does not describe anything that Greeks are familiar with. He makes this clear by stating "I will not describe the shape of a camel, because the Greek already know what one looks like." [Herodotus 3.103]. This attitude might be entirely indiscernible if not for this statement for the simple fact that we have no idea what the ‘average' Greek knew. With this statement though we can extrapolate that all of the exotic animals, peoples, and lands which Herodotus describes are unknown to the average Greek. Herodotus does not take into account that what is common knowledge for a fifth century Athenian might not be common knowledge for a fourth century Athenian or a twentieth century American.

Herodotus organizes his work in a dual structure. The primary structure is a domino-like succession of events. Tacitly beginning with the Trojan War but more firmly beginning...
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