Herodotus and Thucydides, the odd couple of Greek history

The following is a fictional, anachronistic conversation between Herodotus (regarded as the “Father of History”) and Thucydides (regarded as the “Father of Scientific History) on how history should be recorded and it’s importance to society.


Herodotus: I’m writing this down. There was a great number of battles, a lot of people died or were injured, many more were displaced and moved far from home. Since it was a war with Persia, I’ll call it the Persian wars.


Thucydides: Ok ok, but let’s not talk about all the help the gods gave them or how it was just a silly random group of events that all happened one after another without any semblance of causality. Seriously, that’s not history.

Herodotus: You would say that, although I don’t disagree. Mostly though, I think its good to celebrate the heros and talk about the Persian people as a thoughtful and morally centered civilization. There’s no need to be completely dry and boring about something that truly was not.

Thucydides: The only reason I require facts and dismiss romance is as a means to show how it really doesn’t matter who is fighting. Man is going to conquer, man is going to take things from others, and the demagogue will only work to limit the reach of the statesman. You for some reason, have to find something interesting or entertaining in order for it to be historical.

Herodotus: If history was only the dimensions of the oars on the ships in the harbor, no one would care. I know this may seem weird to you, but 99% of our audience can’t read.  The only way for this information to be passed from one to another is if they tell each other or hear it from an entertainer.

Thucydides: I get it. In fact I too value information about the past to be used in the present and future – with one caveat, that it be used to teach and inspire.  There’s no point in forwarding the story of a hero who slain dozens of enemies if the story doesn’t somehow provide value to the polis. Measurements, tactics, laws, things of intrinsic value are all useful pieces of the past that can help us move forward.  Otherwise, every year we would discover gold.

Herodotus: True, but you’re seriously limiting your audience to people who are able to use that information, and even within that group, to the people who care to look to the past whilst thinking of the future. Not everyone does that.  My point is, if you can tell stories of greatness and examples of high morals, they will be more useful to the polis because they will apply to more of it.  The future is a waste of effort if it is duplicated on the premise that the only things learned from the past is weights and measurements.

Thucydides: It’s not that simple, and we are both saying so. I only wish that my history be devoid of the romance and hyperbole that sacks truth and replaces it with nonsense. We’ve come a long way from Homer, but let’s not go backwards.

Herodotus: I think history will tell us we are both right.

Thucydides: Agreed.