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Saturday, December 20, 2008

Herodotus - The Histories

Read of the TBR 2008 Reading Challenge.

I don’t read classic texts in translation very often anymore, and I could really feel that while reading through The Histories. I feel like I’ve been reading this book forever, but it’s really only been since some time in November.

Herodotus lived in the 5th century BC, in one of the Greek kingdoms of Asia Minor (Turkey). He was fairly widely traveled for his time, having been to Greece itself, Egypt, and other parts of Africa. His book relates the history of these regions, but especially the history of the Persian invasions of Greece under Cyrus, Darius and Xerxes.

Herodotus is called the father of history, but it’s a history you have to take with a grain of salt. He’s sometimes very fair in his methods – for instance, he refuses to believe in the actual existence of the Tin Isles (Britain) because he can’t find anyone that’s ever actually been there to satisfy him of their existence. On the other hand, he often resorts to here say about the various native peoples of lands he’s not actually visited.

Still it’s an engaging, if extremely dense, narrative, and manages to convey a surprising amount of personality, even through the translation. I’m definitely not going to ever need to read this again, but I enjoyed my one run through.

My one criticism of this particular addition (Penguin Classics, first published in 1954), is the introduction. I normally enjoy introductions to historic texts, but this one was a real yawn. I actually ended up skipping most of it. I’d definitely recommend finding a different edition if you’re into good contextual introductions.

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