'After the capture of Babylon, Darius invaded Scythia.' Thus commences book four of the Histories, and if these are the kind of words that set your pulse racing, your eyes going all dreamy, this book is for you.
The ancient Greek historian's famous opus has an impressive geographical and chronological spread, and this, together with its precedence over most recovered documents of its type, explains why it is regarded as so important. Herodotus relates over a century of Persian expansion, including the Egyptian and other conquests, from about 600 BC, and of Persian conflict with the Greeks, culminating in his compatriots' victories at Salamis and Platea. As it is explained in the notes and introduction, much of his account has been reaffirmed by modern historical and archaeological research, some of it over earlier condemnations, though much is also being questioned.
Indeed, intriguingly, this rings both as history as we understand it and as something else. Herodotus explicitly aims to make an objective and truthful account, unlike other chroniclers of antiquity (for example Egyptian) driven by religious, political or artistic imperatives. He traces facts to sources and steps back when sources conflict. This is familiar. But in other ways, his book is from a culture very distant from ours. Herodotus believes in oracles, in the premonitory value of dreams. It doesn't shock him that a queen might give birth to a lion, or a god strike down an army to protect a sanctuary. Hubris is always punished, and disregard for the warnings of fate, or the desecration of temples. And descriptions are inflated for effect. For example, Herodotus has five million Persian subjects crossing the Hellespont; this probably exceeded the adult male population of the Persian empire, and modern historians have the number at 100,000 to 200,000. In many ways, the Histories are myth, epic, as much as history, and they probably tell us as much about the ancient Greeks and their beliefs as about what happened in the Persian wars.
When students read Herodotus for the first time, they sometimes object that they are not reading real history, only entertaining stories: e.g., the tale of Gyges, a mere bodyguard who, after being forced by King Candaules to peek at his beautiful wife as she is undressing, murders the king, marries his wife and becomes tyrant of Lydia; or wealthy Croesus, King of Lydia, who keeps pestering the Delphic oracle, finally learning that if he attacks Persia, a Great Empire will fall, a riddle that Croesus does not understand until he has been ensconced on his own funeral pyre by Cyrus, King of Persia; or Cleisthenes, Tyrant of Sicyon, who throws a big engagement party for his daughter, Agariste, only to have one of her suitors, Hippocleides, shock the guests by performing gleeful handstands (in his little short skirt) on a table, when he loses out to Megacles of Athens. Such delightful antics cannot possibly constitute history, which ought to be a strict no-nonsense recitation of 'the facts'.
And yet, Herodotus of Halicarnassus both coined the term, 'historia,' and invented the genre. History can therefore be anything that he, the very first historian, pleases. And 'historia,' to Herodotus, meant 'enquiry' or 'investigation.' It is therefore fruitless to lament that Herodotus' account of the Persian Empire and the Greek City-States does not live up to some modern criterion. We are lucky to have this treasure-house of anecdotes. Herodotus, who travelled around the Greek and Persian city states, asked questions and wrote down answers. Thanks to Herodotus, we learn that the Egyptians hunted crocodiles, respected their elders, and ate outdoors [like the Italians]. We also learn why the Spartans--called the Lacedaemonians in this edition--have two kings; we learn about Leonidas and the legendary 300, who made their famous last stand at Thermopylae against Xerxes' forces: "Stranger, tell the people of Lacedaemon/That we who lie here obeyed their commands." These are only a few examples from Herododtus' treasury.
I assigned Robin Waterfield's excellent translation of Herodotus' "Histories" for the first time last year in an undergraduate introduction to Greek History/Civilization class, and my students found it as enjoyable as I did. In addition to an excellent introduction and bibliography, the book contains copious endnotes and appendices as well as maps. The only possible annoyance is in the index, which cites passages only by Herodotus' book and chapter number instead of by pages, a detail that requires some acclimation on the part of students.
I recommend Herodotus' "Histories" for their sheer exuberance. If you accept the adventures of Croesus and the host of other characters on Herodotus' terms, you will have the pleasure of following a master storyteller willingly, as he conducts you on a wondrous journey into an antique land.
Super read that provides an overview of the conflict between Greece and Persia.
Often described as the first historian, Herodotus is probably a little too accepting of the myths of the day and doesn't question too closely what his reseaches, be they oral or written, turn up.
It is however an easy read and the content is fascinating stuff. Ostensibly it is about Greek and Persian history leading up to the Persian War and indeed these two are covered in readable form, but he also touches upon many other areas of interest. Egypt is given a large chunk of the book looking at its history and traditions.
Herodotus gives great stories about the people involved, even if some of these tales are rather suspect. He brings the characters to life in a very accessible form.
Much more of an easier read than Thucycides Peloponnesian War which tends to be drier and more factually orientated.
on 11 May 2013
We can be sure that in the Ancient World, everyone knew Herodotus' work: Thucydides used it as a base and sharpened many minor parts (although he would not have seen them as minor); Cicero read him and conferred upon him the labels Father of History and Father of Lies; and Arrian, who wrote the campaigns of Alexander the Great, imitated Herodotus' ethnography, and incorporated in his own work Herodotus' geographical, religious and military details, for instance Xerxes' bridging of the Hellespont. If the Ancients knew their Herodotus, he has perhaps faded out of the modern picture, although not as much as Polybius or Xenophon. This translation, however, will do much to convert readers to become fans of Herodotus: as Waterfield notes, his aim is to translate the ancient Greek in to clear modern English. Added to this, Dewald provides a good introduction, especially regarding narrative technique, and very helpful footnotes. The only issue of I have is the poorly printed maps: since Herodotus' map of the world is a confusing one, it would perhaps be desirable to have many more maps, both at the front and back of the work, and divided into grid lines so that the cities and areas mentioned can be easily tracked. I must admit I have spent many fruitless minutes trying to find a place on the map...the index, too, is not as thorough as, for example, the indexes in the Oxford World Classics translations of Thucydides and Arrian: for instance if you look up Ionia you are give many references none of which are broken down or summarized in a few words, as is the case with the versions of Thucydides and Arrian.
The notes and excellent and leans on modern scholarship, such as the recent commentaries of Lloys and Asheri, as well as frequently assessing the accuracy of Herodotus' observations and marvels.
Well worth the money and investment in reading.
on 4 February 2013
I chose to rate this book at 3 stars because what it seriously needs is a map, or several maps, in order for us to locate all the various countries. A fold-out map would be good, otherwise one has to have a historical atlas which means the book cannot be read other than at a table. I usually read in a horizontal position, and shall have to position myself on a chair with a table nearby.
on 2 September 2011
I brought this book because I have a personal interest in the Ancient Greeks. I do not speak or read Ancient Greek and I am not an expert by any means.
Therefore, I found this translation very easy to read and the notes/appendix made the book even better. I'd highly recommend this book to anybody with an interest in Ancient Greece.
on 8 January 2013
The Histories is one of the classic books of western literature, and in this version it is brought helpfully into the information age. There is a detailed introduction which sets the scene, and then hyperlinks from many sections into the helpful notes which makes good use of the Kindle facilities.
The Histories is somehow a cross between a travel guide and a true history of the Persian invasions of Greece. In many ways the anecdotes on culture and customs are the substance of the book, but the final battles against the Persian under Xerxes still feature in our culture today - Thermopylae, immortalised by the stand of the Spartan 300 being the best example.
I read the first book before finding the Appendix with notes on the units of measure used by Herodotus - worth reading!
on 27 December 2015
This review is not for the Histories themselves (a book which can be read for pleasure nearly 2500 years after it has been written needs no recommendation from me!) but for Robin Waterfield's excellent translation and notes. The translation is not only scholarly but extremely readable. The notes are both extremely helpful and unobtrusive. It was a pleasure to read and I am looking for more translations by Waterfield.
on 17 June 2011
I am not a specialist in Greek or ancient history, but enjoy reading ancient texts as a lay person, albeit one who has a PhD and is well versed in academic criteria.
I'm afraid this edition did little but cause me immense frustration, as I found the reference systems adopted more than a little baffling. I'll give you an example.
On page 179 there is a passage about Ethiopians and coffins of transparent stone. Hmm, me thinks, that's interesting - visible death, decay - I'd like to find out more. I turn to the references at the back. It says "For the crystal coffins, see Strabo 17.3 and Diodorus 2.15" Strabo? I'm an ignorant reader, I don't recognise the name. But it can't be a reference back to the text as there isn't a book 17 - and there's no Strabo in the surrounding notes or listed in the bibliographies. What is the note referring to??? Same with Diodorus. I ended up having to Google to try and find what the options might be.
This has caused my first encounters with Herodotus to be horribly off-putting and head-bangingly irritating. Do the editors just expect me to know they are talking about "The Geography of Strabo", which I am just guessing is the text I have to buy (and that any edition of the work will have the same notation)? The object of the Diodorus reference still eludes me.
I'd also say a word about the translation - the translator mentions the difficulty of finding a balance between modern fluidity and Herodotus' lack of rhetorical flair. To me it comes across as a a bit stilted and a little too modern-day business like - but as I said, I don't speak Greek so am not really qualified to talk about linguistic fidelity. On the plus side, though, that at least makes me want to learn Greek to decide for myself! I am, however, off to try the Penguin edition and maybe another, like the Landmark, in the hope of finding a less frustrating experience with the referencing.
Herodotus, called the Father of History for inventing the term, (though in Ancient Greek it actually meant something closer to 'enquiry') takes us on a wonderful tour of the ancient Greek mind. Ostensibly his book traces the relations between the Greeks and the Persian empire, east and west, starting with the mythic beginnings of conflict such as the abduction of Io, Medea and Helen, and ending with the Persian invasion in 490-480 that made Athens the leader, temporarily, of the Greek world. In between Herodotus works through Egypt, Lydia, and Media taking in stories of Croesus, the richest man in the world, Midas, and Gyges.
The highlight for most readers today is probably the Persian invasion with the wonderful set pieces of Marathon, Salamis and, of course, Thermopylae (the original source of Pressfield's bestselling 'Gates of Fire').
Unlike some history books, this is rivetting reading as Herodotus writes like a dream and is so clearly fascinated by his story that he can't help but carry us along with him. Wonderful stuff!