Encyclopedia

Herodotus

Herodotus, c. 484 – c. 425 BC) was an ancient Greek historian and geographer from the Greek city of Halicarnassus, part of the Persian Empire (now Bodrum, Turkey). Little is known about the man himself other that what he claimed in his writings. As a young boy he fled with his family to the island of Samos to escape the oppressive regime in his birth city; he is said to have later returned to lead a revolt against the tyrant. Herodotus claimed to have traveled to and within Egypt, and to Tyre in Lebanon, Babylon, Athens and other places, where he learned the history of the Persian-Greek wars and observed the geography, people and animals of the lands he visited.

His most well known work is the Histories, a nine book combination of Greek history with geography, ethnography and zoology. It is mostly about the wars between the Persians and the Greeks, and like other ancient war histories is usually brutal and bloody, with betrayals and massacres, arbitrary executions and murder. However, Herodotus was a keen observer of the lands he traveled in; his interest in geography is shown by the accounts of rivers, plains, mountains and deserts in in his book. He was also interested in the customs, lifestyles and religions of the peoples he observed or heard about, and the Histories includes accounts of many races and groups.

Of particular interest here is the accounts of animals in the Histories. Some animals are mentioned in passing and are described as though their characteristics were common knowledge (even if the animal was mythical). There are a few sections in the text where Herodotus concentrated on the animals in a particular geographic region, describing some animals in detail. He also included what locals told him about the animals they knew of, though Herodotus was often sceptical that such animals could exist. While he included reports of peculiar animals far away, his main interest seemed to be the nature of the animals and their environments.

Excerpts from the animal sections of the Histories can be found in the Sources page of several of the Beast entries on this site. Some more general text is included here; click on the Texts tab above to read it.