10. Herodotus (ca. 484 – ca. 425 BC)

The Histories

Original language: Greek.

I read the David Grene translation, published 1987 by the Univ. of Chicago Press.

Interesting: Grene says in his Acknowledgments that the text was intended largely for reading aloud. Makes sense, printed books didn’t exist yet.

I enjoyed Grene’s introduction.

From the Introduction:

"[Herodotus] believes (with some good evidence) that Homer knew that Helen had gone to Egypt and had in fact been there all through the Trojan War." 

More from the Introduction:

"The medium that is most fertile in showing the true nature of reality is the human mind, remembering, reflective, and fertile most of all when its memory and reflection are put at the service of its dreaming and fantastic side."

As to the Histories proper. I also really enjoyed it. Herodotus’s writing, and the translation, really bring alive those times and places. They were people just like me, with loves and hates and passions just like mine. It’s a great lesson in geography too. Geography and history are always intimately linked. I made my own maps (two of them) to keep all the places straight.

Clifton Fadiman in The Lifetime Reading Plan says to read Herodotus for the stories and the characters. And those are really enjoyable. One thing that really strikes me is that city-states often consulted the oracle at Delphi for very serious matters – should they go to war? Should they ally with the Greeks against the Persians?

From Wikipedia’s article on the Delphi high priestess (the Pythia) :

The Pythia was established at the latest in the 8th century BC, and was widely credited for her prophecies inspired by being filled by the spirit of the god (or enthusiasmos), in this case Apollo. The Pythian priestess emerged pre-eminent by the end of 7th century BC and would continue to be consulted until the 4th century AD.[4] During this period the Delphic Oracle was the most prestigious and authoritative oracle among the Greeks, and she was without a doubt the most powerful woman of the classical world.   (Emphasis mine)
[4] Delphi: A History of the Center of the Ancient World by Michael Scott

Herotodus’s book really is enjoyable. It’s closer to art than what we consider history today.

I loved the play-by-play description of the Plataea battle.

The stories, the characters, all the outrageous behavior. It reminded me of Game of Thrones.


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