Herodotus—Father of History, Father of Lies
I came late to writing. I often said I wanted to be a writer, but few words flowed and those had not much direction. It was as if I said I wanted to travel but had no idea of any particular place I wanted to go. Also, the internal demons that would plague me whenever I tried to write were fierce. They pointed and laughed at my tentative efforts, drowning them in scorn.
I began, finally, to have a more generous desire to write, one with a destination. It grew on me as an urgency to stop things from slipping away that were worth recording. I wanted to respond, as we say here at Respondeo Books. Faced with this, the demons slunk sulkily away and words rushed forward.
I was mystified about what slow-working evolution had gotten this result until one day my memory, working in the unpredictable way it does, presented me with the first time I had encountered someone who gave that reason for writing. I was eighteen and traveling through Greece and the Middle East. I was already planning to go to St. John’s College to read the classics of Western literature so I was pleased to discover that there was a classic book about Greece and Persia. Close enough, I thought, so I lugged in my backpack a copy of the Greek historian Herodotus’ Histories. Herodotus invented history, some say, although others say that he mostly invented lies. Either way he is immensely entertaining. What I remembered, though, was that he begins his book like this:
I, Herodotus of Halicarnassus, am here setting forth my history, that time may not draw the color from what humanity has brought into being, nor . . . great and wonderful deeds . . . fail of their report . . .
It’s the best reason for writing I know. Set forth your history so that time may not draw the color from what has been brought into being. Give your witness of your time. No one else can do it.