Date of Award
The final clause of the proem to Herodotus’ Histories promises that the work to come will, among other things, set out “the reason for which [the Greeks and the Persians] fought against one another” (δι᾽ ἣν αἰτίην ἐπολέμησαν ἀλλήλοισι), a story which will be told through the gradual expansion of the Persian empire, its encounters with foreign lands and their peoples, and its eventual conflict with the Greek states. Throughout this narrative, a key theme becomes that of the rise and fall of arrogant kings who, driven by past successes and overconfidence in the course of future events, go a step too far in their ambitions and experience some form of disaster or setback. In this thesis, I follow along with Herodotus’ pattern, positing that the fates of these hubristic rulers are connected by the idea of human limitations and arguing that each of them demonstrates some aspect in which life is limited and even unstable. In doing so, I emphasize the importance of retrospective explicability to demonstrate that events which would have appeared unpredictable to the historical actors themselves are perfectly intelligible to the narrator and his audience. Ultimately, while I shall not attempt to suggest that the Histories are intended to convey a prescriptive moral lesson, I do contend that the text reveals Herodotus’ overall worldview, a perspective which privileges restraint and the value of “looking to your own” rather than pursuing boundless desires and ambitions.
Brinkman, Alex Christopher, "Look to Your Own: Human Limits and the Danger of Overambition in Herodotus’ Histories" (2022). Undergraduate Honors Thesis Collection. 656.