A moral historian is someone, who does not necessarily write their account from a terribly factual point of view, but instead writes in order to get across a point or a set of morals to their readers. Moral historians also tend to believe that there is an objective truth and may give an account in order to highlight a universal moral truth. This type of historian may also choose episodes from history that will illustrate their point, whilst conveniently ignoring those events that tell the opposite.
Herodotus it would appear tends to fit this description of a moral historian almost seamlessly. Herodotus’ writing is an account of the Persian wars, and its main theme is the heroic and successful struggle of a small and divided Greece against the aggressively expansionist empire of Persia. Herodotus was an Athenian by birth, and it comes as no surprise that his writing had its leanings towards the rest of Greece and Athens in particular and that his account is somewhat biased. However in the case of the Persians, Herodotus constantly throughout his account is attempting to emphasize their arrogance and ‘Hubris’ or lack of respect for the gods.
‘Having left none of them alive, they stripped the temple of its treasure and burnt everything on the acropolis.’
Herodotus constantly throughout his account gives the impression that the Persians are lacking in religious zeal, and emphasizes their worship and deification of their Kings, whereas the Greeks are largely portrayed as being very religiously conscious and as a result they are supported by the gods.
‘You know my lord that amongst living creatures it is the great ones that god smites with his thunder, out of envy of their pride. The little ones do not vex him.’
Herodotus is also continually emphasising the point that from his view the gods were on the side of the Greeks, and that one of the greatest factors in Greece’s victory was a result of divine intervention. Herodotus seems to want to stress the fact that in his account, the Greeks are the so-called ‘good guys’, who are righteous and backed by the gods, against the ‘evil’ Persian invaders. Herodotus also seems to state what he seems as universal moral truths throughout his account,
‘It was not a god who threatened Greece, but a man…. and the greater the man, the greater the misfortune.’
Herodotus makes these statements in order to illustrate his moral stance on the world, and this sort of moral outlining is done throughout the book.
Herodotus however is not just a fable teller, as he also gives a detailed and possibly quite accurate account of the Persian invasion of Greece. His writings are a historical yet narrative account and not full of complete myth. Herodotus however uses the factual events described in his account and twists their portrayal in order to illustrate a certain value or moral.
Herodotus’ account of the Persian wars is the oldest recorded historical account to date, and as a result not many other sources are available, thus it is difficult to fully ascertain whether or not Herodotus conveniently forgot to add certain details, or change fact into fiction. With evidence present such as Aeschylus’ ‘The Persians’, it is clear that Herodotus did create a relatively credible account of the Persian wars, but the truth behind all the details he gives cannot be concrete. Herodotus as a historian does intent to be didactic and moralizing, and this makes him firmly a moral historian.