On Liking Herodotus

Peter Green

  • BuyThe Histories by Herodotus, translated by Tom Holland
    Penguin, 834 pp, £25.00, September 2013, ISBN 978 0 7139 9977 8
  • BuyHerodotus: Vol. I, Herodotus and the Narrative of the Past edited by Rosaria Vignolo Munson
    Oxford, 495 pp, £40.00, August 2013, ISBN 978 0 19 958757 5
  • BuyHerodotus: Vol. II, Herodotus and the World edited by Rosaria Vignolo Munson
    Oxford, 473 pp, £40.00, August 2013, ISBN 978 0 19 958759 9
  • Textual Rivals: Self-Presentation in Herodotus’ ‘Histories’ by David Branscome
    Michigan, 272 pp, £60.50, November 2013, ISBN 978 0 472 11894 6
  • BuyThe Invention of Greek Ethnography: From Homer to Herodotus by Joseph Skinner
    Oxford, 343 pp, £55.00, September 2012, ISBN 978 0 19 979360 0

When, as a vaguely anti-authoritarian ex-service undergraduate, I first studied Herodotus seriously in the years immediately following the Second World War, my overriding impression was of a man both broad-minded and cosmopolitan; fascinated by the infinite varieties of human nature; surprisingly alert to the influence of women in history, which I’ve always thought of as the subtext, by no means always sexual, of so much public action; appreciative of thaumata, marvels, wherever they might be found (parallels with the New World suggested themselves); and open-minded about religion. A curiosity about foreign beliefs and habits was combined with an ingrained respect, not only for these alien ethics, but also for the achievements of other nations generally regarded by Greeks as inferior (and thus despised), hostile (and thus hated) or both. He wanted, he said, to save from oblivion the ‘great and marvellous deeds’ not only of the Greeks, but also of the Barbarians – mainly the Persians, and their imperial subjects, whose barely defeated invasion is his main subject (one reason he was labelled philobarbaros by Plutarch). He also wondered, with typical Ionian curiosity, why they fought each other, and set himself the task of finding out, in a work twice as long as Homer’s Iliad.

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