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Gallery of reconstructed portraits


Created: 2004
Published: 2004
Modified: 2012


The reconstructed portrait of Herodotos

Herodotos

During his life Herodotos (*484–†425 bce, ‘Herodotus’ is the Latin version) saw much of the world that was known to the Greeks at that time. He was born in Halikarnassos (present-day Bodrum in Turkey), lived temporarily on Samos, visited Athens, Delphi, and Sparta, travelled to Egypt, Babylon, and the northern shores of the Black Sea, and eventually settled in Thourioi, in Southern Italy, where he died. He was inquisitive about the wars that the Greeks waged with barbaroi (= ‘non-Greeks’), particularly about the backgrounds and causes of the current conflict in those years: the collision of east (Persians) and west (Greeks). Herodotos set himself up as a researcher and wrote — from his own observations, interviews with informants, tales, and written sources — an extensive account that would become known as Historiai (= ‘Inquiries’). It covers the then recent past and the customs of Greeks, Persians, Egyptians, and Scythians. Because Herodotos was among the first to try to report the past scientifically, he's often regarded as ‘Father of History’.

How should we picture the appearance of Herodotos? Nothing is known about his looks, but it's possible to presume some facts. Herodotos must have been a rich man, for the voyages that he made were expensive and, apparently, he had no responsibilities that kept him from being occupied with his time-consuming research. He may have had some influential friends under whose protection he could travel freely and safely around the world. Further, he had received sufficient education to be able to read and write. So Herodotos obviously belonged to the upper class of society and his appearance must have been a matching one. Depictions of this appearance are frequently present on decorated ceramics from his time. A man of distinction in Classical Greece usually wore a himation: a thin, long cloak that was loosely wrapped round the body. Often, the cloak left a part of the upper body exposed, but sometimes he wore a chiton underneath: a long, pleated shirt that reached until the ankles, with a girdle round the waist. In addition, he wore (being an older man) a moustache, a full beard, and half-long hair with a headband. Complex plaiting had just fallen out of fashion in the fifth century bce.

Which style was generally accepted at the time of Herodotos? The decorations on the previously mentioned ceramics from the fifth century bce were mostly produced in the so-called ‘red figure style’. This style is characterized — besides the orange–red basic colour of the figures (the colour of the clay) — by a fairly realistic representation of life, created with black and partly purplish–red or white, smooth brush strokes. The depicted postures of humans are occasionally somewhat unnatural though and parts of the body were often (but not always) somewhat compulsively reproduced in side view. A straight nose was clearly the aesthetic ideal. The images suggest hardly any depth and they never contain perspective. The background is always solid black.

The following details were included in the reconstructed portrait. The clothing and the hairdo of Herodotos were reproduced from the examples on the decorated ceramics from the Classical Age. In addition, he has two objects that fit a traveller: the petasos — a wide brimmed, straw hat that could be hung over the back by its cord — and a walking stick. Further, Herodotos was displayed as if he's about to take a note on a wax tablet (no, it's not a laptop!) with a stylus — a pointed writing tool made of reed, bone, or metal.


Do you have a suggestion or remark concerning this reconstruction? All comments are much appreciated. Are you curious about what this portrait would look like today, if it had existed and if it had been preserved? One of the forgeries was based on this reconstruction.


Sources

  • Herodotos, Historiai (450–430 bce).
  • Some suitable examples of decorated ceramics in the ‘red figure style’:
    • The ‘Hermaios Painter’, kylix (drinking cup) with an image of the god Dionusios dressed in a chiton and a himation, Rossija: Sankt-Peterburg: The State Hermitage Museum, B 2021 (Attika ca. 520 bce). This is an early example of the ‘red figure style’: still very wooden and less realistic.
    • Douris, kylix (drinking cup) with education scenes, Deutschland: Berlin: Staatliche Museen zu Berlin: Antikensammlung, F 2285 (Attika ca. 480 bce). On this drinking cup some teachers and students were depicted (all in himation), occupied with musical instruments, a papyrus scroll, and a wax tablet with stylus.
    • Lekythos (oil flask) with an image of two men in chiton and himation, Nederland: Amsterdam: Allard Pierson Museum, apm 00698 (Attika ca. 465 bce). The image shows an older man with moustache and beard, laurel wreath, and staff, and a younger man without moustache or beard, with a woollen cap.
    • The ‘Kleophon Painter’, stamnos (wine jar) with a representation of a hoplite and his family, Rossija: Sankt-Peterburg: The State Hermitage Museum, B 1148 (Attika 440–435 bce). The representation of the hoplite (hoplites = ‘warrior’, derived from hoplon = ‘weapon’), who says good-bye to his wife and parents, shows that the ‘red figure style’ eventually developed into an elegant and natural style. The father wears a himation.
    Many other examples have been included in the collections of The British Museum (London), the Musée du Louvre (Paris), The Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York), and the Kunsthistorisches Museum (Vienna), among others.

Alternatives for ‘Herodotos’: Herodot / Hérodote / Heródote / Herodoto / Herodotus.

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