Herodotus

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Do not speak of your happiness to one less fortunate than yourself.
Plutarch
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I am bound to tell what I am told, but not in every case to believe it.

Herodotus of Halicarnassus (Greek: Ἡροδοτος, Herodotos) (c. 484 BC- c. 425 BC) was a historian, known for his writings on the conflict between Greece and Persia, as well as the descriptions he wrote of different places and people he met on his travels.

The Histories

  • I know that human happiness never remains long in the same place
    • Book 1, Ch.5
  • Men trust their ears less than their eyes.
    • Book 1, Ch. 8
  • These races, Ionian and Dorian, were the foremost in ancient time, the first a Pelasgian and the second an Hellenic people. The Pelasgian stock has never yet left its habitation, the Hellenic has wandered often and afar. For in the days of king Deucalion it inhabited the land of Phthia, then in the time of Dorus son of Hellen the country called Histiaean, under Ossa and Olympus; driven by the Cadmeans from this Histiaean country it settled about Pindus in the partscalled Macedonian; thence again it migrated to Dryopia, and at last came from Dryopia to Peloponnesos, where it took the name of Dorian.
    • Book 1, Ch. 56
  • In peace sons bury fathers, but in war fathers bury sons.
    • Book 1, Ch. 87
  • It was a kind of Cadmean victory.
    • Book 1, Ch. 166
    • (Refering to a victory where both sides suffer extreme losses. Derived from the legends of Thebes, where the sons of Oedipus, and hence descendents of Cadmus, fought to the death.)
  • I am going to talk at some length about Egypt, because it has very many remarkable features and has produced more monuments which beggar description than anywhere else in the world.
    • Book 2, Ch. 35
  • From great wrongdoing there are great punishments from the gods.
    • Book 2, Ch. 120
  • If a man insisted always on being serious, and never allowed himself a bit of fun and relaxation, he would go mad or become unstable without knowing it.
    • Book 2, Ch. 173
  • It is better to be envied than pitied.
    • Book 3, Ch. 52
    • variant: How much better a thing it is to be envied than to be pitied.
  • Force has no place where there is need of skill.
    • Book 3, Ch. 127
  • The Scythians take kannabis seed, creep in under the felts, and throw it on the red-hot stones. It smolders and sends up such billows of steam-smoke that no Greek vapor bath can surpass it. The Scythians howl with joy in these vapor-baths, which serve them instead of bathing, for they never wash their bodies with water.
    • Book 4, Ch. 74
  • Tell your king (Xerxes), who sent you, how his Greek viceroy (Alexander I) of Macedonia has received you hospitably.
    • Book 5, Ch. 20, 4 (Loeb)
  • Now, that these descendants of Perdiccas are Greeks, as they themselves say, I myself chance to know.
    • Book 5, Ch. 22, 1 (Loeb)
  • But Alexander (I of Macedon), proving himself to be an Argive, was judged to be a Greek; so he contended in the furlong race and ran a dead heat for first place.
    • Book 5, Ch. 22, 2
  • It is the gods' custom to bring low all things of surpassing greatness.
    • Book 7 , Ch. 10
  • Haste in every business brings failures.
    • Book 7, Ch. 10
  • When life is so burdensome death has become a sought after refuge.
    • Book 7, Ch. 46
  • Circumstances rule men; men do not rule circumstances.
    • Book 7, Ch. 49
  • Great deeds are usually wrought at great risks.
    • Book 7, Ch. 50
  • It is better by noble boldness to run the risk of being subject to half of the evils we anticipate than to remain in cowardly listlessness for fear of what might happen.
    • Book 7, Ch. 50
  • I am bound to tell what I am told, but not in every case to believe it.
    • Book 7, Ch. 152
  • Although he had plenty of troops he did not have many men.
    • Book 7, Ch. 210
  • The Lacedaemonians fought a memorable battle; they made it quite clear that they were the experts, and that they were fighting against amateurs.
    • Book 7, Ch. 211
  • Before battle was joined they say that someone from Trachis warned him how many Persians there were by saying that when they fired their bows, they hid the sun with the mass of arrows. Dianeces, so the story goes, was so dismissive of the Persian numbers that he calmly replied, "All to the good, my friend from Trachis. If the Persians hide the sun, the battle will be in shade rather than sunlight."
    • Book 7, Ch. 226
  • Stranger, tell the people of Lacedaemon
    That we who lie here obeyed their commands.
    • Book 7, Ch. 228
  • From Peloponnesos (came) the Lakedaimonians..., the Corinthians..., the Sikyonians..., the Epidaurians..., the Troiezenians... All these (groups)... belong to the Dorian and Macedonian nation (and) had emigrated last from Erineus and Pindos and Dryopis.
    • Book 8, Ch.43
  • "It is sound planning that invariably earns us the outcome we want; without it, even the gods are unlikely to look with favour on our designs."
    • Book 8, Ch. 60
  • "At sea your men will be as far inferior to Greeks as women are to men."
    • Book 8, Ch.68
  • "My men have turned into women and my women into men!"
    • Book 8, Ch.88
  • It is said that as many days as there are in the whole journey, so many are the men and horses that stand along the road, each horse and man at the interval of a day’s journey; and these are stayed neither by snow nor rain nor heat nor darkness from accomplishing their appointed course with all speed.
    • Book 8, Ch. 98
    • variant: Not snow, no, nor rain, nor heat, nor night keeps them from accomplishing their appointed courses with all speed. (Book 8, Ch. 98)
      • Paraphrase: "Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds"
        • Appears carved over entrance to Central Post Office building in New York City.
  • The king's might is greater than human, and his arm is very long.
    • Book 8, Ch. 140
  • This is the bitterest pain among men, to have much knowledge but no power.
    • Book 9, Ch. 16
    • variant: Of all men's miseries the bitterest is this: to know so much and to have control over nothing.
  • Men of Athens... In truth I would not tell it to you if I did not care so much for all Hellas; I myself am by ancient descent a Greek, and I would not willingly see Hellas change her freedom for slavery. I tell you, then, that Mardonius and his army cannot get omens to his liking from the sacrifices. Otherwise you would have fought long before this. Now, however, it is his purpose to pay no heed to the sacrifices, and to attack at the first glimmer of dawn, for he fears, as I surmise, that your numbers will become still greater. Therefore, I urge you to prepare, and if (as may be) Mardonius should delay and not attack, wait patiently where you are; for he has but a few days' provisions left. If, however, this war ends as you wish, then must you take thought how to save me too from slavery, who have done so desperate a deed as this for the sake of Hellas in my desire to declare to you Mardonius' intent so that the barbarians may not attack you suddenly before you yet expect them. I who speak am Alexander the Macedonian.
    • Book 9, Ch.45 (ed. A. D. Godley)
      • (The speech of Alexander I of Macedonia when he was admitted to the Olympic games)
  • In soft regions are born soft men.
    • Book 9, Ch. 122

Misattributed

  • Call no man happy till he dies..
    • Herodotus actually attributes this to Solon in a conversation with King Crœsus.
    • Variants:
    • Deem no man happy, until he passes the end of his life without suffering grief
    • Many very wealthy men are not happy, while many who have but a moderate living are fortunate; and in truth the very rich man who is not happy has two advantages only as compared with the poor man who is fortunate, whereas this latter has many as compared with the rich man who is not happy. The rich man is able better to fulfil his desire, and also to endure a great calamity if it fall upon him; whereas the other has advantage over him in these things which follow: — he is not indeed able equally with the rich man to endure a calamity or to fulfil his desire, but these his good fortune keeps away from him, while he is sound of limb, free from disease, untouched by suffering, the father of fair children and himself of comely form; and if in addition to this he shall end his life well, he is worthy to be called that which thou seekest, namely a happy man; but before he comes to his end it is well to hold back and not to call him yet happy but only fortunate. Now to possess all these things together is impossible for one who is mere man, just as no single land suffices to supply all things for itself, but one thing it has and another it lacks, and the land that has the greatest number of things is the best: so also in the case of a man, no single person is complete in himself, for one thing he has and another he lacks; but whosoever of men continues to the end in possession of the greatest number of these things and then has a gracious ending of his life, he is by me accounted worthy, O king, to receive this name.
  • Knowledge may give weight, but accomplishments give lustre, and many more people see than weigh.
  • Some men give up their designs when they have almost reached the goal; while others, on the contrary, obtain a victory by exerting, at the last moment, more vigorous efforts than ever before.
    • Though widely attributed to Herodotus this in fact comes from the Histories of Polybius, Book 16, chapter 28: "Some men, like bad runners in the stadium, abandon their purposes when close to the goal; while it is at that particular point, more than at any other, that others secure the victory over their rivals". (Translation of Evelyn S Shuckburgh).
  • The only good is knowledge, and the only evil is ignorance.
    • The words of Socrates, as quoted by Diogenes Laertius.
  • Very few things happen at the right time, and the rest do not happen at all. The conscientious historian will correct these defects.
    • This statement is not to be found in the works of Herodotus. It appears in the acknowledgements to Mark Twain's A Horse's Tale (1907) preceded by the words "Herodotus says", but Twain was simply summarizing what he took to be Herodotus' attitude to historiography.

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