Herodotus: The History

by Herodotus

Paperback, 1988

Status

Available

Publication

University of Chicago Press (1988).

Description

Herodotus the great Greek historian was born about 484 BCE, at Halicarnassus in Caria, Asia Minor, when it was subject to the Persians. He travelled widely in most of Asia Minor, Egypt (as far as Assuan), North Africa, Syria, the country north of the Black Sea, and many parts of the Aegean Sea and the mainland of Greece. He lived, it seems, for some time in Athens, and in 443 went with other colonists to the new city Thurii (in South Italy), where he died about 430. He was 'the prose correlative of the bard, a narrator of the deeds of real men, and a describer of foreign places' (Murray). Herodotus's famous history of warfare between the Greeks and the Persians has an epic dignity which enhances his delightful style. It includes the rise of the Persian power and an account of the Persian empire; a description and history of Egypt; and a long digression on the geography and customs of Scythia. Even in the later books on the attacks of the Persians against Greece there are digressions. All is most entertaining and produces a grand unity. After personal inquiry and study of hearsay and other evidence, Herodotus gives us a not uncritical estimate of the best that he could find. The Loeb Classical Library edition of Herodotus is in four volumes.… (more)

Media reviews

OVER the course of the past decade Tom Holland, a British popular historian, has produced a succession of highly readable works of fiction and non-fiction about the classical world. He has adapted Homer, Virgil and Thucydides for the radio and, as a labour of love and at a rate of a paragraph a day, he has translated Herodotus, the man Cicero called “the Father of History”. Mr Holland’s preface states that “Herodotus is the most entertaining of historians”, indeed “as entertaining as anyone who has ever written”. This lively, engaging version of the “Histories” provides ample support for what might otherwise appear to be a wild exaggeration.

User reviews

LibraryThing member MeditationesMartini
Father of History? Not in the modern sense of the word, and certainly he wasn’t the first to desire to record great deeds for prosperity. “Father of Lies”? Maybe according to some lights, but how douchey to call him that. No, Herodotus’s tale-spinning is as accurate for my purposes as Thucydides’s conscientious citing of sources, because they both make history great. Which is all I’m in it for—good times. And Herodotus gives us Marathon and Thermopylae and Salamis and Plataea, and tells us a story about mighty events with bluff Greek heroes and moustache-twirling Persian villains (the degeneration of the Persian royal house from Cyrus to Xerxes is one of humanity’s great decline-and-fall narratives), and one that may occasionally self-contradict and not dot its t’s, but it doesn’t matter, because it’s powerful and plausible and we WANT it to be the way it was. Herodotus is the Father of Wonder, here deployed in the service of the narrative, so we say “Amazing! They truly were the Greatest Generation.”


And that’s not all that Herodotus gives us. When he leaves his central story behind, which is often, he becomes the father of geography, ethnography, anthropology and much more besides. And he does it with such joyful savoir faire, all of it, the true and the false and the how could you possibly say. Without him we wouldn’t have the Scythian corpse sculptures, or the great birds from whose nests the Arabs pluck cinnamon bark, which comes from parts unknown. We wouldn’t have the Androphagi, or the man who had his son served up to him at banquet, or the people who eat their compeers when they reach the ripe old age, and in general we would have no idea how totally absurdly rife with cannibalism the non-Greek world is, which would be to our disadvantage. (We also wouldn’t have a hundred instances of horrible and unnecessary death inflicted by humans on their fellows to remind us just how awful these ancients could turn at the drop of an oracular censer.) And that is just as important as the story of the seven conspirators and the rise of Darius, or of the relationship that sprung up between Cyrus and Croesus the king of Libya, the crotchety guardian angel for all his captor’s endeavours. Or the Spartans throwing the envoys in the well, or "come and get them!" or “if their arrows block out the sun, then at least we’ll be fighting in the shade!” (We certainly wouldn’t have the movie 300, is what I’m saying.) It’s a different kind of wonder that the epideictic sort of above: it’s what the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows called:


"la cuna, n. a twinge of sadness that there’s no frontier left, that as the last explorer trudged with his armies toward a blank spot on the map, he didn’t suddenly remember his daughter’s upcoming piano recital and turn for home, leaving a new continent unexplored so we could set its mists and mountains aside as a strategic reserve of mystery, if only to answer more of our children’s questions with "Nobody knows! Out there, anything is possible.'"


And so the wonder of the unexplored-becoming-explored contends with sadness; and the wonder of great deeds too contends with the sorrow of a life that always threatens to turn brutsih and short, where wonder is temporary and suffering is infinite. There is that stunning, gut-wrenching conversation between Xerxes andhis uncle Artabanus as they sit by the Hellespont watching the construction of the pontoon bridge, ready to invade Europe and inflict unthinkable horror on millions.


And Xerxes looks over his war mans in rows like waves and starts to cry. And he explains:


"I was overcome with pathos, sadness at the thought that even among all these thousands of men I behold, in one hundred years, not one will be alive."


And his wise uncle Artabanus, the only one to advise against the invasion (until some prophetic dreams scared him into error) and a model for uncles everywhere, replies:


"In one’s life we have deeper sorrows to bear than that. Short as our lives are, there is no human being either here or elsewhere so fortunate that it will not occur to him, often and not just once, to wish himself dead rather than alive. For misfortunes fall upon us and sicknesses trouble us, so that they make this life, for all its shortness, seem long."

It is to weep, non? But at least--Zeus be praised--there are those moments of Wonder; and Herodotus is their Father.
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LibraryThing member aaronbaron
A milestone in European thought. A combination travelogue and history of the ancient world, rife with fascinating commentary. A lot of the bookk is complete fantasy, with gold digging ants and winged serpents, but a good deal more consists of astute observations and almost scholarly research. This is one of the primary historical sources for the Persian Wars, superbly described and analyzed. Herodotus also does well by Egypt and Scythia, the former admired, the latter feared. It is difficult to say which aspect is the more entertaining: the kingdoms, people and events described or the complex mind of the author and the culture that produced him.… (more)
LibraryThing member jwhenderson
During the fifth century B.C. Herodotus of Halicarnassus traveled the known world making inquiries and doing research on the origins and events of the wars between the Persians and the Greeks. This sizable text was the result and it includes what he referred to as enquiries but what encompasses much of what we would call history, sociology, anthropology, mythology and more. It is a wonderful narrative providing the essential background and events, including famous battles like Thermopylae and profiles of great leaders on both sides including Themistocles, Darius and Xerxes. Perhaps the best way to convey the import of this book is to let Herodotus speak for himself. He opens the book thus:

"Here are presented the results of the enquiry carried out by Herodotus of Halicarnassus. The purpose is to prevent the traces of human events from being erased by time, and to preserve the fame of the important and remarkable achievements produced by both Greeks and non-Greeks; among the matters covered is, in particular, the cause of the hostilities between Greeks and non-Greeks."

Herodotus does not shy away from opinions about the events that he narrates; one of these opinions is related early in Book One:

"I know that human happiness never remains long in the same place."

This becomes more and more evident as one reads on through this excellent work. Reading it was an adventure into the history of the known world in that time.
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LibraryThing member saturnloft
Written in the 5th century BC, this is a fascinating snapshot of ancient Greek life and beliefs. Herodotus's narrative of the Persian War and the famous Spartan stand at Thermopylae are worth the price of admission alone, but where he really shines is in his many passages of sheer made up nonsense. For instance: his description of the hippopotamus - highly creative, highly wrong. Also, his ideas about the practices of other cultures are fairly ridiculous in some places, but this is what makes it so fun. He must have been a real hoot to hang out with, the kind of fellow who told fireside tales that kept listeners hanging on every improbable word.

"And there are these flying snakes, right?"

Right, Herodotus, right.
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LibraryThing member gbill
It's been awhile since I read it, but I absolutely loved this book at the time, and in picking it up recently I still find it fascinating. "The Histories" culminates in Xerxes invasion of Greece, but before doing so sets the stage by providing a history of Lydia, Egypt, the Persian empire under Darius, and of course Athens and Sparta.

The book is absolutely chock-full of interesting events, culture, and perspectives that are either long gone ("Until their fifth year they are not allowed to come into the sight of their father, but pass their lives with the women. This is done that, if the child die young, the father may not be inflicted by its loss"), or just as true today, 2000+ years later ("No one is so foolish as to prefer war to peace, in which, instead of sons burying their fathers, fathers bury their sons.") It's hard to do the book justice in a review; as I flip through it there is just way too much to extract. The section on Egypt with accounts of the building of the pyramids and mummification was wonderful, as were the classic stories of the Persian invasions into Greece. By the way, forget the awful movie "300" which tells of Thermopylae, read Herodotus!

Many have drawn attention to the fact that in some cases the "History" provided is almost certainly not factual and plays between reality and lore. Herodotus is often criticized for this but I found the book all the more interesting as a result. To those who would harp on this point, I would recall Mark Twain's comment about history and question how much else of what we read as "history" is a truly objective recounting of events. :-) I am also reminded of a coincidence that occurred as I read Herodotus for the first time: I came across an article in Time Magazine that explained the discovery of the giant gold-digging "ants" he described in modern-day Pakistan, which turned out to be marmots, and indeed burrowed in gold-bearing soil.

The translation by Rawlinson is superb, as are the footnotes provided with the text. I highly recommend this particular version of the "The Histories".

One quote for the road; Xerxes while watching his massive army on the move: "'There came upon me', replied he, ' a sudden pity, when I thought of the shortness of man's life, and considered that of all this host, so numerous as it is, not one will be alive when a hundred years are gone by.'"
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LibraryThing member crystallyn
One of the most fascinating history books I've ever read. Herodotus tries his best at being unbiased and doesn't always succeed, which makes this history even more intriguing. That's forgivable, however, because this is really one of the world's earliest attempts at creating a book of history. Herodotus had no rules by which to write. So when he includes heresay and myth it makes the book all the more exciting.… (more)
LibraryThing member booksontrial
Herodotus was hailed as "The Father of History" by Cicero; To me, he might as well be the Father of Humanism.

I've read a few war epics, Homer's Iliad, Hugo's Les Misérables and Tolstoy's War and Peace, The Histories excels them all in terms of scope, structure, richness of content, intricacy and theatrical grandeur. The main theme / storyline is the Persian Wars, i.e., the conflicts between the Persian Empire and Greek nations, culminating in the invasion of Greece by Xerces I; the underlying theme is the struggle between tyranny and freedom, between the inexorability of fate and the triumph of the human spirit.

Like threads in a beautiful Persian tapestry, Herodotus weaves together numerous elements in his narratives, the histories and geographies of the many nations in Asia and Europe, the customs, cultures and achievements of the peoples, the remarkable characters and lives of individuals, and the oracles foreshadowing their fates, from kings to slaves, heroes and thieves, men, women and children, their words and deeds all distinct and memorable.

Some accused Herodotus of making up fanciful stories rather than recording the facts. I'm reminded of Thomas Mann's comment on War and Peace, "Seldom did art work so much like nature; its immediate, natural power is only another manifestation of nature itself; " If the best art is but a manifestation or imitation of nature, why make up stories when the facts themselves are much more wondrous and glorious?

You live many lives when you read this book. A masterpiece.


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LibraryThing member bhowell
the first great prose work in European literature, a history
LibraryThing member whjensen
Really 2 books in 1, Histories gives an overview of both the Persian/Greek conflict and the cultures surrounding it. To fully appreciate this book, it is important to be able to divide it in your mind - a Fodors Guide for the Ancient Mediterranean and a History 101.

Although most would agree that Herodotus had a problem with facts, it is important to look at it contextually. Herodotus was one of the revolutionaries in history - he set out to make an honest book, comparing different versions of history and ethnography and explaining why he believed a version was true.

Worth reading but remember - categorize it in your mind as you read!
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LibraryThing member antiquary
Much the most readable ancient historian, for me. It may not all be true, but I believe Herodotus put down what his informants told him.
LibraryThing member pickwick817
I have this in two volumes. I give the first a 5-star rating and the second a 3 to 4 star rating. The first was very interesting because it described the way of life in the parts of the world Herodotus had vistied as it was 2500 years ago and earlier. The second described Persian invasions of Greece during his lifetime. Very detailed, a little slow. Now I want to see the movie "300".… (more)
LibraryThing member jpsnow
It's all in here -- facts, battles, espionage, emotion, sex, beauty, culture, religion, and atrocity. The main characters: Xerxes, Cyrus, Darius, Croesus, Solon, Alexander. This is as enjoyable reading as any modern history. In addition to providing the facts, Herodotus conveys the sometimes contemplative nature affecting his choice of what was "worthy to be recorded." The people and events seem very real because he balances major events with everyday details. The latter include the customs of the people involved, from their marriage rites to their favorite insults ("worse than a woman" was apparently quite popular with the Persians). Though not the primary theme of the work, I was greatly affected by a number of events that were remarkably comparable to Biblical stories. Assuming we know the earliest writing date, the Old Testament scenarios could at least be claimed as the source for the parallel in other cultures -- not so with New Testament events. Among the examples: parting waters at Thales (Book I, #75); a child to reign unless a king kills him; prophecy and gifts from the Magi (I, #107); a new baby from Petra being the rock that will one day make right the city of Corinth (V, #92); referring to Neptune as the "savior" (VII, #192); the parting of the sea due to an ebb tide that flows back and kills those crossing (VIII, #129); "he who seeks his life will lose it..." (Book VII, #39). We also see similarities related to cultural beliefs and legends: In II, #50-53, Herodotus explains how the Greek god names came from the Egyptian; Egypt had a Helen story; Egypt had a Jupiter; 12 cities (I, #12); Persia named for Perses (son of Perseus) (VII, #61); the sun darkened by arrows (VII, #226); Croesus to be overthrown by a mule (I, #31-#93). Customs: burying alive (Book VII, #114), two different incidents regarding Greeks who didn't make it to the battle in time and were scorned by their countrymen. Herodotus covers more common details: grain boats, dress, marriage, the sick. And he covers epic moments: the 10,000 "immortals," a secret message on the tablet beneath the wax, and uses of water for defense (and turned against). In Book III, #72, Darius provides a very pragmatic stance on lying, claiming that a man lies or tells the truth both for the same purpose of achieving something. In situations where there is no value in maintaining trust, lying is an effective means to an end. Darius is chosen as king by his horse being the first to neigh at a certain point on the trail. Two versions are given of how he made that happen, both involving the scent of a mare. Book IX, #98: "Nothing mortal travels so fast as these Persian messengers. The entire plan is a Persian invention; and this is the method of it. Along the whole line of the road, there are men (they say) stationed with horses, in number equal to the number of days which the journey takes, allowing a man and a horse to each day; and these men will not be hindered from accomplishing at their best speed the distance which they have to go, either by snow, or rain, or heat, or by the darkness of night. The first delivers his dispatch to the second..." In Book VIII, #118, Xerxes and men are crossing in an overloaded boat. The helmsmen mentions the best strategy is to lighten the load. The king's guards jump out. The king reward the helmsman with a crown and beheads him for costing him his men.… (more)
LibraryThing member Fledgist
Still intriguing after two and a half millenia.
LibraryThing member Tara714
This was a really great read! I don't know if it was the translation and the way Herodotus actually wrote, but it felt like he was there having a conversation with you. A must read for anyone interested in ancient history, especially the persian conquests. Word of advice though, read the notes as you are reading the book. I didn't do that, but I wish I did. Next time I read it I will.… (more)
LibraryThing member riskedom
I suppose we don't need another review of such a well known work, but since I just finished rereading it I thought I might put down some thoughts. For one, here is a book whose tangents tend to be its most redeeming qualities. Everytime Herodotus goes off storyline, my mind gets more engaged rather than less engaged. This I find to be quite a unique feature. A condensed version of Herodotus, say with only main points about the rise of the Persian Empire and the Persian War would be not nearly as interesting and possibly not worth rereading unless you were a professional historian.… (more)
LibraryThing member Helenliz
I loved this, it kept me gripped right the way through the 4 volume edition I borrowed from the library. He sets out to tell the history for the Persian wars, only he gets a bit sidetracked! Takes a whole book to describe Egypt, for example. Full of action, fine descriptions of places and tells tales. And he's so interested in anything and everything that it is full of little details, a real magpie of a mind at work. I can quite see how he comes to be called the father of history and the first writer of literature, because this doesn't actually fall into either category neatly - it is probably best described as a history embroidered with literature. It isn't all entirely factual, the men with eyes in their chests probably never existed, except in heresay, but that's how he gained his information - visit places and ask everyone about what's just over the horizon.… (more)
LibraryThing member thrama
for many years, this has been my bedside book; I could always pick it up and read a story or two at random when I woke in the night. It is full of wonderful stories. I am now using Ammianus in much the same way; his is a little more serious but with robin seager's studies on the side, Ammianus doesn't need to be read strictly in order in the usual way. At any rate, I find it more fun this way.… (more)
LibraryThing member RcCarol
Who am I to write a review of Herodotus’ The Histories? I am not a classicist, a historian, or a scholar. I wouldn’t know the difference between translations, which one is “most true” to the original, which one provides the most accurate analysis of the texts and its accuracies and inaccuracies. So, I have decided that the only way I could review this book is to express how readable it is for a non-scholar who wants to read one of the most ancient of histories, of a time and place far removed from our own, about alien cultures and beliefs, and a complicated war between the ancient Greeks and Persians.

The only reason I read this version is that when I mentioned to my brother once that I had never really read any of the Greek historians, he said I had to read this one and then loaned me his copy. It took me a couple of years, but I finally got around to it. And I found that what he told me is true. The Histories is extremely readable and interesting. Herodotus spent a lot of time giving a background of the conflict, and mixes the historical with what we would call the mystical or fantastic. A lot of time is spent describing the cultures of the Egyptians, the Persians, and the various Greek city-states. If I forgot the significance of a name, I could just look him (rarely a her) in the index, where a short description could be found. If I became confused about where the Thracians were from, I could look at several helpful maps in the back.

There were several times that I became overwhelmed by the details (I guess I didn’t appreciate knowing what colors and costumes each people wore during battles). I also had difficulty following from one battle to another, but I’m not sure if that was the fault of the text.

I therefore recommend this for the casual, armchair historian who just wants to learn more about the ancient Greeks while reading a good story. I suspect the book would also work for the more serious scholar who wants to study the text.
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LibraryThing member datrappert
My Barnes & Noble edition read well and I soon sunk into the magic of Herodotus's history of the Persian Wars (and whatever else was on his mind!) A better read than Thucydides.
LibraryThing member mikebridge
This is a very clear and readable modern English translation of Herodotus. The notes at the end are more complete than anything I've ever seen before, and the introduction is a good guide for someone like me who has very little background in ancient Greek history.
LibraryThing member rboyechko
Definitely a must read for anyone interested in ancient history. There is no doubt that much of the book is fiction, yet it's great for what it is.
LibraryThing member Floratina
READ IN DUTCH/GREEK

This was our final assignment in my Greek class. So I read passages in Greek, translating them in Dutch. Some of the stories of the Histories are very famous, but I'd never realised they came from Herodotus.
LibraryThing member TrgLlyLibrarian
Herodotus is my homie.
LibraryThing member Beholderess
Herodotus paints a fascinating picture of the ancient world - full of colour and wonder. His wild (and I mean wild) inaccuracies only make him more enjoyable to read.
LibraryThing member DinadansFriend
These are the reasons for the Persian invasions of Greece, in 490 and 481 -79 BCE, and the methods used to defeat them. A good deal about the Persians, not many Greeks being mentioned by name.
Herodotus probably died about 429 BCE. He was a believer in setting out the evidence for a disputed point in the text, and sometimes left the reader little doubt as to which version of the facts he preferred. His account demonstrates an early stage in the development of historical methodology, and we are certainly much in his debt for his methods. I think he was the "Father of history" for his courage in placing alternatives before his readers.… (more)

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