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Living for ever

Mary Renault, 18 September 1980

The Cult of the Immortal 
by Ange-Pierre Leca.
Souvenir, 304 pp., £8.95, July 1980, 0 285 62393 1
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... did not preserve like the dry sands. Thus began the elaborate processes described in detail by Herodotus, which in the costly full treatment took 70 days. Dehydrated in natron, eviscerated – the organs carefully preserved for the subject’s later use in separate pickle-jars – the emptied thorax stuffed with rags, the shrunken limbs often padded with ...

Short Cuts

Sadiah Qureshi: Black History, 22 November 2018

... Yoruba and Urdu, instead of, say, German and French? Academics ask students to read Tacitus, Herodotus, Max Weber, Karl Marx, Michel Foucault, Antonio Gramsci, Jacques Derrida and, more rarely, Judith Butler. But how many are also required to read Audre Lorde, Stuart Hall, Frantz Fanon, Jasbir Puar, Sara Ahmed, Kim TallBear or Kimberlé Crenshaw? What if ...

Versailles with Panthers

James Davidson: A tribute to the Persians, 10 July 2003

From Cyrus to Alexander: A History of the Persian Empire 
by Pierre Briant, translated by Peter Daniels.
Eisenbrauns, 1196 pp., $79.50, January 2002, 1 57506 031 0
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Ancient Persia from 550 BC to 650 AD: reissue 
by Josef Wiesehöfer, translated by Azizeh Azodi.
Tauris, 332 pp., £35, April 2001, 1 85043 999 0
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... the episode is fully documented, how Iraq fell is the subject of much debate. According to Herodotus, Cyrus diverted enough of the Euphrates to enable his troops to wade into Babylon. ‘The Babylonians themselves say that, owing to the great size of the city, the outskirts were captured without the people in the centre knowing anything about it.’ He ...

Re-reading the Bible

Stephanie West, 12 March 1992

The Unauthorised Version: Truth and Fiction in the Bible 
by Robin Lane Fox.
Viking, 478 pp., £20, October 1991, 0 670 82412 7
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... of a continuation or that the work is unfinished or has lost its conclusion; Homer, Hesiod, Herodotus, Lucretius, and Virgil’s Aeneid could be cited. Kings comes to a very abrupt ending; Jonah and Acts would be easily extensible. Modern readers take too much for granted the well-finished ending. Having thus alerted us to the dangers of interpretation ...

Art’ll fix it

John Bayley, 11 October 1990

The Penguin Book of Lies 
edited by Philip Kerr.
Viking, 543 pp., £15.99, October 1990, 0 670 82560 3
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... falsifying a historical fact.’ Today science can appear just as much ‘the father of lies’ as Herodotus himself: not because of our appetite for wonders, but because the scientist has become much more aware of the possibilities of propaganda, whether personally or ideologically motivated. ‘You’re lying’ is still a possible accusation, but perhaps ...

The Rule of the Road

Sanjay Subrahmanyam: What is an empire?, 12 February 2009

After Tamerlane: The Rise and Fall of Global Empire 
by John Darwin.
Penguin, 592 pp., £10.99, March 2008, 978 0 14 101022 9
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... historians have insisted on a global view of the past: that tradition, after all, goes back to Herodotus.’ Did Herodotus, who was not aware of the earth as a globe, ever speak or even reflect on a ‘global view of the past’? I rather doubt it. As for Gallagher, his vision remained confined to the British Empire of ...

I want to be a star

Peter Green: Bedazzling Alcibiades, 24 January 2019

Nemesis: Alcibiades and the Fall of Athens 
by David Stuttard.
Harvard, 380 pp., £21.95, April 2018, 978 0 674 66044 1
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... empire – itself a product, ironically, of their earlier victory over Xerxes’ invasion. As Herodotus foresaw, the Athenians soon acquired those habits of imperial domination that they had won praise for putting down in the Achaemenid Persians. It was in this context, after a decade that had seen Spartan invasions of Attica and a plague that killed ...

Beasts or Brothers?

J.H. Elliott: When Columbus Met the Natives, 3 July 2008

The Discovery of Mankind: Atlantic Encounters in the Age of Columbus 
by David Abulafia.
Yale, 379 pp., £25, April 2008, 978 0 300 12582 5
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Hans Staden’s True History: An Account of Cannibal Captivity in Brazil 
edited and translated by Neil Whitehead and Michael Harbsmeier.
Duke, 206 pp., £12.99, September 2008, 978 0 8223 4231 1
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... of their travels. Still others were known through the writers of classical antiquity, above all Herodotus and Pliny, whose mixture of fact and fiction had peopled the world indiscriminately with real races and tribes, like the Scythians, and monstrous peoples, always just over the horizon, like the headless Blemmyae and the dog-headed Cynocephali. It ...

Against Hellenocentrism

Peter Green: Persia v. the West, 8 August 2013

Trouble in the West: Egypt and the Persian Empire, 525-332 BC 
by Stephen Ruzicka.
Oxford, 311 pp., £45, April 2012, 978 0 19 976662 8
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King and Court in Ancient Persia 559 to 331 BCE 
by Lloyd Llewellyn-Jones.
Edinburgh, 258 pp., £24.99, January 2013, 978 0 7486 4125 3
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... The Spartans, notoriously shy of overseas commitments, refused their request; but they did, Herodotus tells us, send a diplomatic mission to Sardis. Its purpose was ‘to deliver a proclamation of the Lacedaemonians, warning Cyrus against harming any city on Hellenic soil, since this they would not overlook’. Cyrus’s reaction, when the diktat ...

Throw your testicles

Tom Shippey: Medieval Bestiaries, 19 December 2019

Book of Beasts: The Bestiary in the Medieval World 
edited by Elizabeth Morrison, with Larisa Grollemond.
Getty, 354 pp., £45, June 2019, 978 1 60606 590 7
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... its beak: presumably one of the ‘Arimaspians’ who, according to Milton (borrowing both from Herodotus and from Pliny’s Natural History), robbed the griffins’ hoards of gold. Shortly after there is a full-page plate of a mild-looking elephant, with a green and white striped trunk and a tower on its back from which soldiers with crossbows, pikes and ...

Reflections on International Space

Neal Ascherson, 24 May 2001

... book on this subject is the strange and brilliant work by François Hartog called The Mirror of Herodotus. Hartog discusses the contrast, as observed by Herodotus, between the Scythian pastoral nomads of the Black Sea steppe and the trudging infantry battalions of the Persian Empire under the command of Darius. When ...

Imperial Dope

Alan Hollinghurst, 4 June 1981

Creation 
by Gore Vidal.
Heinemann, 510 pp., £8.95, April 1981, 0 394 50015 6
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... books. Cyrus is initially persuaded to relate his history when he expresses his outrage on hearing Herodotus lecture on the Persian Wars. Though the point is not made explicit, the posthumous arrangement of Cyrus’s alternative historical text is presumably an imitation of the way Herodotus’s history was posthumously ...

Downward Mobility

Linda Colley, 4 May 1989

The Blackwell Dictionary of Historians 
edited by John Cannon, R.H.C. Davis, William Doyle and Jack Greene.
Blackwell, 480 pp., £39.95, September 1988, 9780631147084
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Edward Gibbon, Luminous Historian, 1772-1794 
by Patricia Craddock.
Johns Hopkins, 432 pp., £19, February 1989, 0 8018 3720 0
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Gibbon: Making History 
by Roy Porter.
Palgrave, 187 pp., £14.95, February 1989, 0 312 02728 1
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Macaulay 
by Owen Dudley Edwards.
Trafalgar Square, 160 pp., £5.95, October 1988, 9780297794684
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Acton 
by Hugh Tulloch.
Trafalgar Square, 144 pp., £5.95, October 1988, 0 297 79470 1
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... entries to French, German and Italian historians, and thirty more to Classical writers like Herodotus, Livy and Tacitus. But the bulk of biographical essays are about Anglo-American scholars. As a result, this book supplies something of a prosopography of the Transatlantic historical profession. And a very bizarre profession it is too. It is, first of ...

Hayden White and History

Stephen Bann, 17 September 1987

The Content of the Form: Narrative Discourse and Historical Representation 
by Hayden White.
Johns Hopkins, 248 pp., £20.80, May 1987, 0 8018 2937 2
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Post-Structuralism and the Question of History 
edited by Derek Attridge, Geoff Bennington and Robert Young.
Cambridge, 292 pp., £27.50, February 1987, 0 521 32759 8
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... has been implicit in the process of historical reconstruction since the pioneering achievement of Herodotus: he is subscribing to the belief that ‘history itself consists of a congeries of lived stories, individual and collective, and that the principal task of historians is to uncover these stories and to retell them in a narrative, the truth of which ...

Littoral

Misha Glenny, 9 May 1996

Black Sea 
by Neal Ascherson.
Cape, 306 pp., £17.99, July 1995, 0 224 04102 9
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... peoples drift effortlessly from their ancient history into our millennium and back, from Herodotus to Lermontov, and from the Zaporozhe Sich of the Cossacks to the loners on the Oregon trail. He possesses a great ability to distinguish real meaning, however obscured by surface detritus, from stories which dazzle on the outside but on deeper ...

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