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SKETCH OF THE LIFE
Ir may be observed of biography, that few things confessedly so useful have been so much perverted or so frequently abused. Perhaps it is neither unjust nor uncandid to We have seen add, that this has been in a peculiar manner the error of modern times. the lives of men remarkable neither for the splendour nor the extent of their accomplishments displayed in formidable volumes, and obtruded on the world with a confidence which private partiality could not justify, and which a reverence for the public might well have moderated: we have seen the minute occurrences of domestic life, I had almost said betrayed, and the little weaknesses of exalted and amiable minds ostentatiously enumerated, from the mistaken idea of satisfying a curiosity beneficial neither to science nor to virtue. In writing ancient lives, this fault indeed cannot be committed; but even that species of biography has been much disfigured by the ambition of collecting every trifling hint that antiquity has left, and swelling out the rest by vague and often very arbitrary conjectures. For my own part, I should little suppose that I treated the English reader with becoming respect, if, in professing to give a Life of Herodotus, I did not immediately inform him that my materials were not only very dubious but very scanty: such however as they are, it would be no difficult task to imitate the example of many who have preceded me, and expand my observations into a serious volume. Were I to glean all that has been said of my Historian, from the different books which I have necessarily read; were I to obey the suggestions of fondness and the impulse of fancy, rather than those of my cooler judgment and my regard for the correctness of historic truth, I have a subject before me which might be protracted at pleasure. To me it seems acting a more consistent part, once for all to declare, that there is no regular account of Herodotus, either more ancient or more authentic than that of Suidas; and this is comprised in a very narrow compass. What all modern editors of his works have said of him rests chiefly on the relation of Suidas as a basis, and I might labour in vain to find a better guide. I wish therefore my readers to understand, that what I shall produce will be derived from the same authority, with a few additional remarks suggested by passages produced in the Bibliotheca Græca of Fabricius, or the Prolegomena of Wesseling.
It appears that the father of history was born at Halicarnassus, the metropolis of Caria. At what particular period may be collected from Aulus Gellius, book xv. chapter 23, who informs us that the three celebrated historians, Hellanicus, Herodotus, and Thucydides, flourished nearly at the same time. "At the commencement of the Peloponnesian war," says he, "Hellanicus was sixty-five years old, Herodotus fifty-three, and Thucydides
forty." The Peloponnesian war began in the second year of the eighty-sixth Olympiad. Herodotus must consequently have been born in the first year of the seventy-fourth Olympiad. This was four years before Xerxes invaded Greece, and four hundred and forty-four years before the Christian era.
The name of his father was Lyxes, of his mother Dryo: and we are told also, that his family was illustrious. At this time Lygdamis was prince of Halicarnassus, and, as it should seem, universally detested for his insolence and tyranny. It is certain that when he grew up, Herodotus left his native place and removed to Samos: Suidas says, on account of Lygdamis; but it does not appear whether he was violently expelled by his arbitrary master, or whether, in abhorrence of the tyrant, he voluntarily withdrew himself. At Samos he studied the Ionic dialect; but as this subject may be less intelligible to the English reader, I shall digress a little upon it. By birth Herodotus was a Dorian, and the dialect of his country was, comparatively speaking, so rude and dissonant, that, even in later times, we hear the other Greeks reflecting on those who used it, for their broad and inharmonious pronunciation.
See Theocritus, Id. xv. ver. 88.
Τρυγόνες εκκναίσευνται πλατυασδοισαι απαντα.
The meaning of which is, "They make a noise like pigeons, pronouncing every thing with a broad dialect." To which remark, as a kind of vindication, it is replied, in the verse which follows:
Λωρισδεν δ' εξεστι δοκώ τους Δωριέεσσι.
Which is, Surely Dorians may speak Doric.
Hesychius also, at the word Bagßagopwvor, tells us that the inhabitants of Elis, as well as the Carians, were so named on account of their harsh and indistinct pronunciation. Herodotus himself, book i. chapter 56, informs us, that the Greek language properly so called, is divided into two dialects, the Doric and the Ionic; the first, the language of the Pelasgi, the last of the Hellenes. Strabo also, in his eighth book, observes, that the Ionic was the language of Attica, and the Doric of Eolia. The Æolic and the Doric did not materially vary from each other, and the Attic was the Ionic more refined. Herodotus therefore having learned the Ionic dialect, as more pleasing than his native Doric, composed his history in it. To collect materials he travelled through Greece, Egypt, Asia, Colchis, Scythia, Thrace, and Macedonia, &c.; and it is sufficiently evident that he personally visited most of the places he describes.
Of the ardour with which he was inspired in the cause of liberty, we have strong and unequivocal testimony. First, in his exile from his country, whether voluntary or not; in various animated expressions to this effect, scattered through his books; but best of all in his subsequent conduct. Understanding that a party was formed against Lygdamis, he left Samos, and joined the friends of freedom. By their common exertions, the tyrant was expelled, and the public liberty restored. But, as not unfrequently happens on similar occasions, contentions arose, factions were formed, and Herodotus was a second time compelled to leave his country. He now visited Greece again, which became the noble theatre of his glory. It was then the time of celebrating the Olympic games, and he did not omit the favourable opportunity of reciting his history to so illustrious an audience. Probably it was only the introductory parts, or certain particular and selected portions; but there must have been something very captivating in his style, some regular and connected series of interesting history, some superior and striking character of genius: for we are informed that he was listened to with universal delight and applause; and we are
farther gratified with the curious anecdote of Thucydides, which has so often been related. He was present at this great solemnity, with his father Olorus, and on hearing the composition of Herodotus, discovered the seeds of those exalted talents which afterwards made his name immortal. After listening to the father of history with the most composed and serious attention, he burst into tears. He was then no more than fifteen years old; and Herodotus, observing his emotion, exclaimed to Olorus, ogy ʼn QUOIS TOU υίου σου προς τα μαθηματα-Your son burns with an ardour for science. This is said to have happened in the eighty-first Olympiad. Twelve years afterwards the Historian read a continuation or second portion of his work to the Athenians, at the feast of the Panathenæa. The people of Athens, not satisfied with heaping praises upon him, presented him with ten talents, which gift was solemnly ratified by a decree of the people.
The next incident of our author's life of which we have to speak, may at first sight appear inconsistent and extraordinary. Honoured as all illustrious strangers were at Athens, and favourable as the opportunity must have been to have prosecuted his studies, and to have indulged his ardour for science, he might reasonably have been expected to have fixed his residence at Athens; but this we find was not the case. In the beginning of the following Olympiad, he joined himself to a colony sent by the Athenians to form a settlement in Magna Græcia. Whether he was prompted on this occasion by that fondness for travelling, which always distinguished him, or whether he was induced to take this step from motives of private connection and attachment, is totally unknown. It is certain that Lysias, who afterwards became so famous as an orator, was one of those who accompanied him. At Thurium,' which was the place then colonized, it is more than probable that he spent the remainder of his days, though there are some who assert that he died at Pella in Macedonia. Pella however gave no name to Herodotus, but became aftewards famous for being long the residence of Euripides, who from this circumstance has frequently been called the Bard of Pella; an appellation which our poet Collius happily introduces in his beautiful Ode to Pity:
By Pella's bard, a magic name,
By all the griefs his thought could frame,
Long, Pity, let the nations view
Thy sky-worn robes of tenderest hue,
Herodotus, in like manner, from his long continuance at Thurium, obtained the epithet of the Thurian. This appellation is no where to be found more early than in the works of Aristotle. Avienus, Julian, Pliny, and others, call him the Thurian; while Strabo, of greater antiquity than any of these, Aristotle excepted, in his fourteenth book, expressly calls him the Halicarnassian, adding however, that he was afterwards named the Thurian, because he removed with a colony to that place.
Pliny has an expression relating to Herodotus, which many have misinterpreted. "Auctor," says he, "ille Herodotus historiam condidit, Thuriis in Italia;" which has been understood as asserting that he wrote his history at Thurium. But this is impossible in fact, because I have shown, that many years before he went to Thurium at all, he had publicly recited his work, or certain portions of it, on two very memorable occasions; at the Olympic games, and at Athens. It is therefore more reasonable and consistent to understand by this expression of Pliny, that he revised, corrected, and perhaps enlarged his history at Thurium. Suidas positively declares, that Herodotus died at Thurium; and
1 Written also Thurii and Thuriæ; and founded almost upon the spot where formerly had stood Sybaris, so infamous for effeminate manners.
though he mentions, as I have before intimated, that some affirmed him to have died at Pella, he produces no authority, which he would probably have done, if there had been any that deserved much notice. This assertion therefore appears not to claim any great degree of confidence; but an argument against his having died at Thurium rests on a passage which occurs in the life of Thucydides, by Marcellinus, who affirms, that the tomb of Herodotus was to be seen at Athens, among the monuments of Cimon. The President Bouhier has from this concluded and asserted that he died at Athens. Of this the question of M. Larcher, as he has applied it from Dodwell, seems a sufficient and satisfactory refutation. How can it be proved, says the learned Frenchman, that this was not a cenotaph, one of those marks of honour frequently paid to illustrious characters, without regarding the place where they might happen to die? Stephen of Byzantium gives an inscription, said to have been found at Thurium, which asserts unequivocally, "This earth contains in its bosom Herodotus son of Lyxes, a Dorian by birth, but the most illustrious of the Ionian historians."
Of the works of Herodotus we have remaining these nine books, to which the names of the Nine Muses have been respectively annexed; upon which subject have spoken somewhat at large, in a note at the beginning of the third book. Whether he ever wrote any thing else, has been a matter of much controversy among scholars. Certain allusions and expressions, to be found in the Nine Muses, seem at first sight to justify the opinion, that we do not possess all his works. But this must ever remain a matter of extreme uncertainty; yet it becomes me to add, that there are no references pointed out by the learned to any other of his works, in any ancient author. Aristotle, in his History of Animals, book viii. chap. 18, censures Herodotus for saying, that at the siege of Minos an eagle was seen to drink, when it is notorious that all birds yμxes, having crooked claws, never do drink. Now it is certain, that no such expression occurs in what we have remaining of Herodotus. "Probably," says Fabricius, in reply to this, might have a more perfect copy of the Nine Muses than has come down to us."
The style of Herodotus might well demand a separate dissertation: this, perhaps, is not the properest place to speak at any length upon the subject. It has been unviersally admired for being, beyond that of all other Greek writers of prose, pure and perspicuous. Cicero calls it fusum atque tractum, at the same time copious and polished. Aristotle gives it as an example of the ĝis goμn, which is literally, the connected style, but as he explains it, it means rather what we should call the flowing style; wherein the sentences are not involved or complicated by art, but are connected by simple conjunctions, as they follow in natural order, and have no full termination but in the close of the sense. This he opposes to that style which is formed into regular periods, and rather censures it as keeping the reader in uneasy suspense, and depriving him of the pleasure which arises from foreseeing the conclusion. The former, he says, was the method of the ancients; the latter of his contemporaries (Rhet. iii. 9.) His own writings afford an example of the latter style, cut into short and frequent periods, but certainly much less pleasing than the flowing and natural smoothness of Herodotus. Plutarch, who wrote a treatise expressly to derogate from the fame and authority of Herodotus, in more places than one speaks of his diction with the highest commendation. Longinus also, as may be seen in various passages which I have introduced, and commented upon in the progress
of my work, added his tribute to the universal praise.
Every one knows, who has made the experiment, how difficult and almost impossible it is to assimilate to the English idiom, the simple and beautiful terseness of Greek composition. If any scholar therefore, who may choose to compare my version with the
original Greek, shall be inclined to censure me for being occasionally diffuse, I would wish him to remember this.-I would desire him also to consider, that it was my duty to make that perspicuous to the less learned reader, which might have been conveyed in fewer terms to the apprehensions of the more learned or the more intelligent.
On the subject of translations in general, I entirely approve of the opinion of Boileau. In a preceding publication, I have before referred to this, but I see no impropriety in its having a place here, in the words of lord Bolingbroke.
"To translate servilely into modern language an ancient author, phrase by phrase, and word by word, is preposterous: nothing can be more unlike the original than such a copy; it is not to show, it is to disguise the author. A good writer will rather imitate than translate, and rather emulate than imitate: he will endeavour to write as the ancient author would have written, had he wrote in the same language."
Letters on History.
Perhaps I ought not to omit, that many eminent writers, both of ancient and modern times, accuse Herodotus of not having had a sufficient regard to the austere and sacred dignity of historic truth. Ctesias, in Photius, Strabo, Diodorus Siculus, Aulus Gellius, and, above all, Plutarch, have made strong and violent objections to many of his assertions. To many general censures which in this respect have been aimed against the fame of our historian, I have made reply in various parts of my notes; and the plausible but unjust tract of Plutarch, on the Malignity of Herodotus, has been carefully examined, and satisfactorily refuted, by the Abbé Geínoz, in the Memoirs of the Academy of Inscriptions and Belles Lettres.
It is my intention, if what I here offer the public be deemed worthy of encouragement, to translate this tract of Plutarch, and with it the learned Abbé's three Dissertations. As these last are alike remarkable for their learning, their acuteness, and their efficient answer to all that Plutarch has alleged, the whole will, I think, make a very necessary and useful supplement to my present work.
I have little to say concerning the life of Homer, imputed by some to Herodotus, and in more modern editions published with his works. It seems generally determined among scholars, that though undoubtedly of great antiquity, it must have been written by some other hand. Vossius, Faber, Rykius, Spanhemius, Berglerus, Wesseling, and others, are decidedly against its authenticity; which has nevertheless been vindicated by Fabricius, by our countryman Joshua Barnes, and lastly by the President Bouhier. It must strike th most careless and indifferent observer, that the style of the Life of Homer, whoever was the author, does not bear the smallest resemblance to that of the Nine Muses. "In the life of Homer," says Wesseling, "that unvaried suavity of the Ionic dialect, so remarkable in the Muses, never occurs at all." The great and the most satisfactory argument against its being genuine seems to be this:-Of all the ancient writers, who have taken upon them to discuss the birth, the fortunes, or the poems of Homer, not one has ever, by the remotest allusion, referred to this work, which bears the name of Herodotus.
Almost every European language has to boast of a translation of Herodotus. There is one in Dutch, German, Italian, and more than one in French. My work appeared in 1791, not long after which a single volume was published by Mr Lempriere, the learned compiler of the Classical Dictionary, who has not been pleased to favour the public with his continuation.
And here my account of the historian must conclude; but when I consider the great admiration which for successive ages he has deservedly obtained, when I reflect on the instruction he communicates in the most pure and delightful style, I cannot but regret,