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Herodotus' New Kind of Historical Writing

Sophists were not the only thinkers to emerge with new ideas in the mid-fifth century. In historical writing, for example, Hecataeus1 of Miletus2, born in the later sixth century B.C., had earlier opened the way to a broader and more critical vision of the past. He wrote both an extensive guide book to illustrate his map of the world as he knew it and a treatise criticizing mythological traditions of the past. Most Greek historians who came after him concentrated on the histories of their local areas and wrote in a spare, chronicle-like style that made history into little more than a list of events and geographical facts. Herodotus3 of Halicarnassus (c. 485-425 B.C.), however, building on the foundations laid by Hecataeus, made his Histories 4 a ground-breaking work in its wide geographical scope, its critical approach to historical evidence, and its lively narrative. To describe and explain the clash between East and West represented by the wars between Persians and Greeks in the early fifth century, Herodotus searched for the origins of the conflict both by delving deep into the past and by examining the cultural traditions of all the peoples involved. His interest in ethnography recognized the importance and the delight of studying the cultures of others as a component of historical investigation.

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