The fitness of Herodotus for the task that he undertook is another question which has been vigorously debated. Even in antiquity the History was violently assailed. Plutarch wrote an essay “On the Malignity of Herodotus,” and a late grammarian, Aelius Harpocration, is said to have written a book entitled “The Lies in the History of Herodotus.” In modern times, the judgments passed upon the work have often been severe, and even the greatest admirers of the historian are forced to admit that it shows many serious defects. Like most of his contemporaries, Herodotus knew no language but his own, and he was therefore forced to rely on interpreters or on natives who spoke Greek. He himself is perfectly frank about the matter, and usually tells the source of his information. “This is what the Persians say,” “Thus the priests of the Egyptians told me,” are types of expressions which recur again and again. Even when Greek matters are involved, he seems usually to have relied on oral tradition, rather than on documentary evidence; he rarely mentions an inscription as the source of his information. It is not quite fair to call him entirely credulous and uncritical, for he often questions the truth of the statements he records and tries to weigh one theory against another, as when he discusses the inundation of the Nile. But in him, as in the majority of his contemporaries, the critical faculty was not developed, and his work suffers in consequence. He was, moreover, an inveterate story-teller, and it often seems as if he recorded stories for the mere love of telling them. Not a few of the tales he tells, like the story of the treasure chamber of Rhampsinitos, belong rather to the realm of folklore than to that of history.

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