Herodotus’ view of gods and fate

By Glenda | February 20, 2009

Michael Grant, in his study The Ancient Historians, speaks of Herodotus’ remark that no nation knows more about religion than any other. Grant writes:

“He believed, that is to say, in a heavenly power that is common to all humanity. And, like the Ionian scientist Anaximander before him, he describes such a power by a neuter adjective ‘the divine’ (te theion), without any personal differentiation. When this agency spoke in oracles, it was convenient to departmentalise its activity by the bestowal of a name. Yet what keeps the balance in the universe and the world is deity undefined…

“Sometimes men have a tragic foreknowledge of their future destiny. And yet all Herodotus’ stories imply at least the illusion of free will, and much free will, too, that is not illusory but authentic. For it had now become clear that a historian’s very subjects, the actions of men in communities, presuppose that human decisions have some power. But they are hampered by fate. What is more, they are hampered by accident, since Herodotus, like the tragedians, was very conscious that this is another factor which widens and deepens the gap between real and ideal. Accordingly, at the beginnings of his threads of causation, there is often an unresolved, irrational strand. Greek nouns such as Chance (Tyche ) can mean anything between an abstraction and a goddess receiving worship. Chance had appeared in Greek literature as early as the post-Homeric epics, and had gradually taken shape until it was represented and portrayed by sixth-century sculptors. It was also occasionally personified in tragedy. Later Greeks would elevate it to a major deity, but its role in Herodotus, though vital, is not as great as that. The operations of Chance may be neutral, or catastrophic, or favourable. Its insertion into a story was a way of saying that some links in the course of events are not known. A complete understanding of causation is not claimed, and there is still room for the unique and decisive accident–a factor that is under-estimated by many modern historians.”

Leave a Comment


E-Mail :

Website :

Comments :

Subscribe for email updates

Enter your email address:

Blog Posts