To read Herodotus or not to read him: That is the question. The answer for most people will be a resounding no! And I am certainly not going to sit here and say that everybody should. In the immortal words of Hilary Clinton, "What difference does it make?" Frankly, after the passage of 2500 years, who even cares? Admittedly, not many. However, I am one of the happy few who decided to take the plunge. I ended up making a project out of it. My curiosity about The Histories was stirred when, as a young teenager, I happened to open a copy of The Histories to a description of Egyptian embalming methods! This was a wholly new concept and I was ghoulish enough to want to keep reading. But I soon gave up because there were too many strange names and places and I had no background to really understand the whole of Herodotus' massive work which was primarily concerned with the history of the conflict between the Greeks and Persians during the 5th century BC. Herodotus was the first historian. No one before him had attempted a prose account of important events, and certainly not anything close to the scale of The Histories. In the course of reading I learned many reasons why a nonspecialist might want to undertake the project of plowing through the nine books of The Histories, some from Herodotus himself and some from various commentators'. It was those commentators that made all the difference. More about them later. First of all, it is interesting to see an ancient mind at work, attempting to assemble enough facts and stories and geographical descriptions - all based on oral tradition and first, second and even third-hand accounts -to paint a complete picture of the whys and wherefores of the wars between Persia and Greece. This indeed is the focus of The Histories, even though it is easy to get lost in the minutiae and forget that this is Herodotus' purpose. After all, what could Egyptian embalming practices have to do with the Persian wars? We see the seeds of the great man theory of history being sown by Herodotus, the theory that dominated historical discourse right down to the beginnings of the 20th century. Herodotus always tells us that individuals are the causes of events. We see how much Herodotus' approach to rhetoric and style and the structural considerations of The Histories influenced later writers of not only history, but travel writing, ethnographical studies, philosophy and even fiction. Indeed, some detractors - not the least of which was Plutarch - have called The Histories a tissue of lies. To get a proper perspective, think of someone in the year 2000 attempting to write a history of World War II - sixty years previous - based on nothing but interviews and personal observations and no documentary evidence! Herodotus was a boy at the time of the final battles between the Greeks and Persians, and his later reportage was more dependable than when he was reporting about three, four and five generations before his time. Yes, the work is filled with inaccuracies, as what oral history wouldn't be, yet even if it were entirely a work of fiction it would still be worth reading because a certain amount of "truth" is to be gleaned from even the most prosaic novel. And there is a lot of truth in The Histories. As mentioned above, I chose to make a project out of reading Herodotus. First of all, the edition one chooses is very important. Preferably, pick one with at least a good introduction and copious notes. The edition I chose was The Landmark Herodotus, which constitutes the equivalent of a college course. Not only does it have an introduction, but possibly - as the Austrian Emperor declared in Amadeus - it contains too many notes! It assumes that the reader has opened the book at random to any page and if a location is mentioned as recently as the previous page, a footnote cites a relevant map. The Landmark Herodotus contains 125 pages of maps. One can be found at the turn of every two to three leaves on average. And each map contains only what you need to see for the related discussion. There is a set of reference maps at the end, complete with gazetteer, which contain nearly everything. In addition to the introduction, notes and maps, The Landmark edition provides twenty-plus appendices which flesh out subjects too complex for footnotes. These appendices are short essays on subjects like Herodotus' geography; Athenian and Spartan government; the truth or fiction of Herodotus' account of Egypt; hoplite warfare and trireme warfare; converting Greek measurements into modern feet, miles, etc.; and many more. These appendices are written by scholars other than the general editor Robert B. Strassler. A chapter by chapter time line precedes the text. Taken altogether, The Landmark Herodotus is a treasure house. But like I said, I made a project out of this. Before I was finished, I had listened to a Teaching Company course (24 half-hour lectures) on Herodotus, and I had consulted the Oxford World Classics edition of Herodotus, which contains a wholly different approach than that contained in the Landmark edition both in the introduction and the notes. Both editions are extremely interesting, helpful and all-consuming. This project took up about two months of my life. I did read other books along the way as a respite from all this, and taken altogether, it was a very rewarding journey, one that I am almost certain to enjoy even more in retrospect. For many reasons, I have to give this whole effort five stars. I hope that I have given enough fair warning. But for readers who enjoy this sort of thing, you are in for a memorable experience.
The Landmark Herodotus : The Histories
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About This Item
From the editor of the widely praised The Landmark Thucydides, a new Landmark Edition of The Histories by Herodotus.
Cicero called Herodotus "the father of history," and his only work, The Histories, is considered the first true piece of historical writing in Western literature. With lucid prose, Herodotus's account of the rise of the Persian Empire and its dramatic war with the Greek city sates set a standard for narrative nonfiction that continues to this day. Illustrated, annotated, and filled with maps—with an introduction by Rosalind Thomas, twenty-one appendices written by scholars at the top of their fields, and a new translation by Andrea L. Purvis—The Landmark Herodotus is a stunning edition of the greatest classical work of history ever written.
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
|Number of Pages|
Robert B. Strassler
|Assembled Product Dimensions (L x W x H)|
9.11 x 7.35 x 1.65 Inches
If one must begin some...
If one must begin somewhere, they might as well begin at the beginning. The first true work of history, Herodotus' Histories has been poured over more times than anything in the West but the Bible, the Iliad and the Odyssey. Works like these can stand multiple re-readings, each time finding a gem left undiscovered prior, or reinterpreting something already known. So hats off to Herodotus for getting it so right the first time out of the gate. It's easy to picture Herodotus, perhaps at Thurii, late in life, reading from his Histories in the Agora-striding around, gesturing theatrically, slyly delivering asides to his audience, in stark contrast to his dour successor Thucydides, who I imagine delivering his work from a podium, serious as death. To me, at least, Herodotus' personality emerges from his work. He must have been a gregarious man, insatiably curious about things, something apparent time and time again in his work. As he reports, he traveled widely all over the Near East and North Africa to research his work. What he was doing for a living during these times is something he never makes clear, but perhaps he was a merchant or agent of one, which would explain his wide travels. The Histories are ostensibly about the Persian Wars, but famously includes numerous digressions on geography, culture, and religions of whatever seems to have caught his attention, most famous being those on Egypt and Scythia. Interesting as well, are the areas not mentioned. He only mentions Carthage in passing and Italy as it pertains to the Persian War, and doesn't mention at all the Jews, only recently returned from captivity in Babylonia. As he gets further from the eastern Mediterranean basin and the Near East, he gets less reliable, but always interesting. He reports on what he's heard, sometimes on multiple versions of the stories he's heard, and sometimes is wildly wrong (like the flying serpents) or is wrong for the right reasons (like his account of the Phoenician circumnavigation of Africa). His digressions on the ways and mores of foreign lands are sympathetic, particularly in respect to Egypt, which he sees as the font of all Greek religion. Herodotus most defiantly is a believer (maybe the founder) of the "great man" theory of history. In his work, the motivations for the actions of the great powers, like Lydia or Persia, are the personal quibbles or grudges of their leaders, wonderfully drawn characters like the haughty-then-humbled and wise Croesus, or the tyrannical Xerxes. He is a proud and patriotic Greek, but with a cosmopolitan world-view, probably due to his being half-Carian (a native of Halicarnassus). As for the central (oft broken) narrative theme of his history, Herodotus lays the blame for this on that most Greek of concepts "hubris", be it Croesus' overarching pride causing him to foolishly misinterpret the Oracle at Delphi's warning that if he fought the Persians, a great empire would fall, or Xerxes having the Hellespont shackled and scourged. The putative cause of the war was retaliation by the Persians for Greek support of the Ionian Revolt (an account curiously muddled by Herodotus, considering his origin in the region). Darius felt that he had to punish the Greeks behind this (especially the Athenians), leading to the failed invasion of Attica and the battle of Marathon. His son, Xerxes, set out to avenge this defeat with an enormous expeditionary force, bridging the Hellespont and driving into Greece proper. Here we have all the epic battles, Thermopylae, Salamis and Plataea and the legendary leaders, Leonidas, Themistocles and Pausanias. The story is well known, but this is where it's all from. What makes the History bear repeated re-readings are the wonderful stories. Amasis II and his breaking wind in response to a demand of Pharaoh Apries to surrender, Solon telling Croesus who the happiest man he ever heard of was-to Croesus' dismay, Darius and the other Persian plotters discussing the virtues of monarchy, oligarchy and democracy, or Dienekes cavalierly declaring that when the Persian arrows blot out the sun that the Spartans can fight in the shade. It reminds me of nothing more than the Bible in that way. Therefore, it becomes difficult to review. This was the second of the "Landmark" series of editions of ancient texts, edited by Robert Strassler and I can't recommend it highly enough. The translation by Andrea Purvis is very clear and flowing, capturing, for instance, the vagueness of the utterances of the Pythia, or the direct address of Herodotus to the reader. For the first time in my life, I am entirely satisfied; perhaps overjoyed is a better term, at the maps provided in the text. There is a map every few pages, which identifies the locales referenced in the surrounding text. It is sometimes repetitive, but that would be wonderful for students only dipping into parts of the text. The added appendices (there are 21) range from merely interesting to extremely helpful, covering topics from Geography to what Herodotus got right or wrong about Egypt. I would like to one day see Strassler give this treatment to all the great ancient historians. Frankly, I think that in Elysium, old Herodotus is quite happy with what Mr. Strassler has done with his work, and there can be no higher praise than that.
There are good reasons...
There are good reasons to refer to this edition as the "Landmark". To begin with it has 127 maps which I found invaluable. All of the places in the text are referenced to a specific map with location references where necessary. The maps are excellent and some pages contain three maps that are series of insets from the overview to detailed maps of smaller sections. The book also includes 21 appendices dealing with how specific topics are treated in the text. There are also a good number of photographs of relevant artifacts, monuments and places. For example there are three photos of the victory tripod, it looks like a column, erected by the Greeks at Delphi celebrating their victory over the Persians. It was moved to Constantinople and the inscription listing the states who participated in the war is still legible. These additions are not bells and whistles but integral parts of the book that add greatly to understanding and enjoying the text. Herodotus narrative centers around the Persian-Greek wars but that is only about one-third to one-half of the text. There are large sections on Egypt and Scythia and smaller sections that cover most of the civilizations of the eastern Mediterranean. There are discussions of a variety of topics from religion to clothing and everything in between. Some of the material is pure mythology and some is the best factual accounts we have of the topics discussed. Herodotus seems to have traveled widely and gathered information from many sources. He was obviously a person who was afflicted with a great curiosity about human affairs of all types. At the same time he was focused on the importance of the war and provides much detail on all of the battles and other events. I think that this book is essential for anyone with an interest in ancient Greece. Reading any other edition of Herodotus would not provide the reader with the richness of experience and knowledge contained in this edition. It will now sit on my bookshelf like an old friend waiting for another visit.
This is a superb editi...
This is a superb edition of the classic by the "Father of History", even (or maybe especially) for the non-specialist. I read the Kindle edition simultaneously with the print version (950+ pages), the first for ease of use, the second for the hundreds of maps, which don't show up well in e-ink. This edition, one of the Landmark translations of classical literature edited by Robert B. Strassler, begins with 50 pages of introductions and prefaces, a dated outline of the text, and then the 9 books, each heavily footnoted, sourced and laced with maps. The maps alone make the edition worth its hefty price tag, but following the text there are 23 appendices (each footnoted and sourced), a glossary and bibliography, a 100-page annotated index, and a directory to place names mentioned in the text. Appendices include: The Athenian Government in Herodotus The Spartan State in War and Peace The Account of Egypt: Herodotus Right and Wrong Herodotean Geography Herodotus and the Black Sea Region Rivers and Peoples of Scythia The Continuity of Steppe Culture The Ionian Revolt Classical Greek Religious Festivals Ancient Greek Units of Currency, Weight, and Distance Dialect and Ethnic Groups in Herodotus Aristocratic Families in Herodotus Herodotus on Persia and the Persian Empire Hoplite Warfare in Herodotus The Persian Army in Herodotus Oracles, Religion, and Politics in Herodotus Herodotus and the Poets The Size of Xerxes' Expeditionary Force Trireme Warfare in Herodotus Tyranny in Herodotus On Women and Marriage in Herodotus This will be "the" translation to read for many years to come.
Im not qualified to j...
I'm not qualified to judge the quality of the translation, but I found it very readable. I had read an earlier translation of Herodotus, and the Landmark version was much clearer. The true value of this book, however, and of the Thucydides volume as well, is that the maps, footnotes, and appendices are most helpful. The volumes themselves are attractive, well-made, and should last 200 years, unlike my Kindle which will be in a landfill by then.
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