Another quality in Herodotus which resulted disadvantageously for his History was his strong religious bent. His was still the age of faith, when men saw the hand of the gods revealed in all human affairs, and Herodotus was deeply imbued with this belief. In the History, therefore, much attention is paid to oracles and signs, and the chapters that treat of foreign lands are filled with attempts to correlate the gods of the barbarians with the gods of Greece. The Second Book, with its constant striving to prove an Egyptian origin for many of the Greek divinities, is only the most striking example of a general tendency.

Regarded as history, therefore, the work of Herodotus suffers from grave defects, and it is not to be wondered at that ancient and modern critics have vied with one another in pointing them out. The attitude of many of these critics is well expressed by an Oxford rhyme: The priests of Egypt humbugged you, A thing not very hard to do. But we won’t let you humbug us, Herodotus! Herodotus!

Yet it must be said that in spite of much adverse criticism, few people have been led to believe in any bad faith on Herodotus’s part. The defects which his work betrays are defects of his race and his time; and to offset them he has many merits. Few Greeks of any age showed themselves so fair-minded in dealing with barabarian nations. He is as ready to praise what seems good in the customs of foreign races as he is to praise the customs of the Greeks. If he is too fond of stories to be a good historian, at least he is a prince of story-tellers. His style is lucid, simple, and straightforward, showing everywhere the “art which conceals art”—a wonderful achievement, when one considers that this is the first literary prose that was written in Europe. Finally, few writers of any age have succeeded so well in impressing on their work the stamp of personality. As we read the pages of the History, the picture of the author rises vividly before us. We can almost see him as, tablet and stylus in hand, he follows the interpreter or the priest through the great cities of the Persian Empire or the temples of Egypt, eagerly listening and questioning, quick to notice differences from his own Greek way of doing things, courteous, sympathetic, always on the watch for the story that will adorn his narrative. Quite apart from its value as a record of facts, the History of Herodotus is intensely interesting as a human document, as a record of the beliefs and the impressions of a remarkable member of a remarkable race at the period of its highest development.

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