One of the masterpieces of classical literature, the "Histories" describes how a small and quarrelsome band of Greek city states united to repel the might of the Persian empire.
But while this epic struggle forms the core of his work, Herodotus' natural curiosity frequently gives rise to colorful digressions - a description of the natural wonders of Egypt; an account of European lake-dwellers; and far-fetched accounts of dog-headed men and gold-digging ants.
With its kaleidoscopic blend of fact and legend, the "Histories" offers a compelling Greek view of the world of the fifth century BC.
- Format: Paperback
- Pages: 736 pages, bibliog , chronology, notes, glossary
- Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
- Publication Date: 30/01/2003
- Category: Literary essays
- ISBN: 9780140449082
Showing 1 - 5 of 7 reviews.
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Review by MrsLee
I found this interesting and amusing to read, but by the time I reached Book Six, I was finished. Not being a scholar, I feel no compulsion to finish, having read enough to know who Herodotus was, how he wrote and what he wrote about. At this point in my life, I believe I would prefer a straight forward history with lots of photographs and detailed maps.
Review by 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.”<br><p>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:<br><p>"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.'"<br><p>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.<br><p>And Xerxes looks over his war mans in rows like waves and starts to cry. And he explains:<br><p>"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."<br><p>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:<br><p>"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."<p>It is to weep, <i>non</i>? But at least--Zeus be praised--there are those moments of Wonder; and Herodotus is their Father.
Review by 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.
Review by 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.
Review by 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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