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The History of Herodotus (Histories)

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The History of Herodotus (Histories)
By Herodotus. Translated by George Rawlinson. (Wordsworth Editions Ltd: 1999. Pg. 768.) ISBN: 1853264660.

Reviewed by Rochelle Caviness - February 3, 2002

Herodotus is generally referred to as the "father of history" in many books. While some may disagree with the notion that Herodotus was the first historian, in part because his works lack the chronological cohesiveness of modern historical works and because he is not beyond adding some tall tales to his history to enliven the narrative, no one will disagree with the fact that he greatly contributed to our knowledge about the Ancient Greeks. The History of Herodotus is written in a folkloric, storytelling style that is a joy to read and to read aloud. Throughout this narrative, Herodotus presents his first hand-account of what life was like in Ancient Greece. He not only discuses the customs, culture, and day to day life in Ancient Greece, but he also describes the history of Greece. As well, he chronicles the military actions that Greece engaged in during his lifetime, in particular the Persian War, and he also takes an intimate look at the political situation in Greece as well as in surrounding areas. In addition, he also provides critical insights into the underpinnings of Greek civilization.

George Rawlinson's paramount translation of Herodotus' work was first published in 1858, and Rawlinson's translation has never been surpassed, making it the quid essential translation of Herodotus.

The History of Herodotus begins with a detailed introduction that traces the development of the Persian Empire, as well as detailing various aspects of Greek development. This 'introduction' takes up a major portion of the nine books that comprise The History of Herodotus. Herodotus chose this tack in order to ensure that his readers were familiar with both sides of the conflict, before actually getting involved in the actual story of the war. In these introductory books, Herodotus not only details the political and social development of the two parties, but he also explores the actual events that lead up to the Greek and Persian war. He also examines the main players involved in the conflict. The remaining books cover the actual war.

The History of Herodotus was written by Herodotus of Halicarnassus (ca. 484-425 B.C.). He was a Greek historian who wrote from a unique perspective in that he was not a mainland Greek, although he is thought to have lived in Athens for a period of time. Herodotus was born in Halicarnassus, a Dorian Greek colony that was located in what is now Modern Turkey, and he is thought to have died in Thurii, a Greek colony that was located in Southern Italy. As well, he traveled extensively around the ancient world, thereby gaining a wider perspective, both intellectually and geographically, than was the norm. Having lived his life primarily in Greek colonies, Herodotus had the ability to look at Greek affairs with an outsider's perspective, but with insider's information. This, perhaps, allowed him to give a more honest appraisal of Greek political motives than may have been possible for someone proverbial looking 'from the inside out'.

The historical and political information contained in this work is fascinating, and it has provided substantial grist for the mills of countless academic historians. However, what most readers will find most appealing is the literary quality of Herodotus's writing, and his knack for capturing the essence of everyday life. As well, Herodotus obviously enjoyed chronicling the customs, traditions, and oddities associated with just about everything he encountered - ranging from various people, to towns, and even politics. He also delights in relating obscure tidbits of information about Greece and her neighbors, ranging as far away as India and Egypt. Herodotus was an eyewitness to many of the events discussed in this volume, and much of the narrative focuses on the people, places, and customs that he observed while on his travels. In many regards, Herodotus was more of an anthropologist than a Historian. He was first, and foremost, a people watcher. He spends a great deal of time discussing the different cultures that he visited, and how customs and traditions differed from region to another. He also highlights the impact that these different traditions and mores had on the relationships between different peoples and the misunderstandings that often arose due to these differences.

This work has something to offer every reader, whether you are a student of Greek history or classic literature, or simply someone looking for an intriguing book to read. The History of Herodotus has all the mythic grandeur associated with the literary works of Homer, combined with a National Geographic styled geographical and ethnographical overviews of Herodotus's travels. This work represents one of the surviving pinnacles of classic literature. And it is a work that should be required reading for anyone interested in the study of history. Both in the realm of being an historical work, in its own right, as well as for the role that it has played in our understanding of the ancient world and in the development of history as a distinct field of study.

Related Reviews:

Games and Sanctuaries in Ancient Greece: Olympia, Delphi, Isthmia, Nemea, Athens, by Panos Valavanis.
A lavishly illustrated coffee-table book that chronicles the history and archaeology surrounding the Ancient Greek Games and the Sanctuaries at which they were held.

History of the Peloponnesian War, by Thucydides.
This book is based on Richard Crawley's masterful English translation, and it provides a historical overview of the first 21-years of the 27-year Civil War between Athens and Sparta.

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