Answer by Tom Harrison
So, the name ‘Herodotus Helpline’ in fact predates by some time the lockdown seminar of 2020 when the Herodotus Helpline seminar began. If you look closely at the Herodotus Helpline YouTube channel, you’ll see that it was set up almost three years earlier, in July 2017. I’d played around making some videos with colleagues at Liverpool, where I then worked, and my younger son thought I should start a channel dedicated to Herodotus and make my fortune as a YouTuber. (Sadly, that dream never came to anything.) The idea for the name came from my children too. There are different versions of who had the idea. But the inspiration was a children’s programme called Hana’s Helpline , a cartoon in which a duck, Hana, runs a kind of detective agency for other animals in trouble. (You can find the theme tune online: ‘moo-bah double quack, double quack’ is the helpline number!)
When Jan Haywood and I started the seminar in 2020, we were initially a little shy about using the name. Looking back, I see that we used ‘herodotushelpline’ for an email address, but initially referred to the seminar as ‘Herodotus Online’. Then, as people said they liked ‘Helpline’ we lost our embarrassment.
But in what sense is it a helpline, we were asked. In an obvious way, the idea was for a forum where we could ask questions of one another about Herodotus and his world. (When we eventually set up the Herodotus Helpline website, I was foolishly keen on the red telephone symbol too.) But I think the reason that people liked the name had a lot to do with the special circumstances of 2020. During lockdown, it served (for me, certainly) as a source of mutual help in other ways also. So the name came into its own in unexpected ways! And, like Herodotus’ description of Babylonian medicine (where everyone pools their knowledge of symptoms) the help doesn’t come from some central authority; it comes from all of us to one another.