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On Liking Herodotus

Peter Green, 3 April 2014

The Histories 
by Herodotus, translated by Tom Holland.
Penguin, 834 pp., £25, September 2013, 978 0 7139 9977 8
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HerodotusVol. I, Herodotus and the Narrative of the Past 
edited by Rosaria Vignolo Munson.
Oxford, 495 pp., £40, August 2013, 978 0 19 958757 5
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HerodotusVol. II, Herodotus and the World 
edited by Rosaria Vignolo Munson.
Oxford, 473 pp., £40, August 2013, 978 0 19 958759 9
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Textual Rivals: Self-Presentation in Herodotus’ ‘Histories’ 
by David Branscome.
Michigan, 272 pp., £60.50, November 2013, 978 0 472 11894 6
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The Invention of Greek Ethnography: From Homer to Herodotus 
by Joseph Skinner.
Oxford, 343 pp., £55, September 2012, 978 0 19 979360 0
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... 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 ...

Among the Barbarians

James Romm: The Other, 15 December 2011

Rethinking the Other in Antiquity 
by Erich Gruen.
Princeton, 415 pp., £27.95, January 2011, 978 0 691 14852 6
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... Custom is king of all things,’ Herodotus proclaimed, arguing that if customs were like goods in a marketplace, set out alongside other such goods, each people would choose its own above all others. An experiment conducted by the Persian king Darius proved the point for Herodotus ...

Crashing the Delphic Party

Tim Whitmarsh: Aesop, 16 June 2011

Aesopic Conversations: Popular Tradition, Cultural Dialogue and the Invention of Greek Prose 
by Leslie Kurke.
Princeton, 495 pp., £20.95, December 2010, 978 0 691 14458 0
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... Empire. At the very top were Homer and the epic poets; and a little lower down, the historians Herodotus, Thucydides and Xenophon, along with the tragedians Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides, and (less congenial to modern taste) those bombastic orators Lysias and Demosthenes. What’s more, as Menippus’ answer to Apollonius shows, judgments of literary ...

At the British Museum

Nick Richardson: The Scythians, 19 October 2017

... Herodotus​ tells us that when Darius’ Persian army invaded Scythia, in the late sixth century bce, the Scythians ran away. The Persians followed them over the steppeland north of the Black Sea until, tiring of the pursuit, Darius sent a messenger to the Scythian king to tell him to make a stand or bend the knee ...

At the Movies

Michael Wood: ‘300’, 26 April 2007

directed by Zack Snyder.
December 2006
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... Memory is a large part of it. Herodotus tells us the name of Leonidas, the king of Sparta who died at Thermopylae in 480 BC, not exactly holding the multitudinous Persians at bay but at least showing how it might be done. Herodotus also says he has ‘learned the names of all the three hundred’ Spartans who fell with their king ...

Cleopatra’s Books

Mary Beard, 8 February 1990

The Vanished Library: A Wonder of the Ancient World 
by Luciano Canfora, translated by Martin Ryle.
Radius, 205 pp., £14.95, November 1989, 0 09 174049 5
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by John Gould.
Weidenfeld, 164 pp., £14.95, October 1989, 9780297793397
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... turning to re-examine the history writers of the ancient world themselves. John Gould’s Herodotus is just one example of this current interest. It is, of course, a hard job to take on the ‘Father of History’. But Gould does extraordinarily well in avoiding all the old stereotypes which have surrounded ...

Hot Flanks and Her Sisters

James Romm: Amazons, 22 October 2015

The Amazons: Lives and Legends of Warrior Women Across the Ancient World 
by Adrienne Mayor.
Princeton, 512 pp., £19.95, October 2014, 978 0 691 14720 8
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... ride horses; we know nothing of woman-ly tasks,’ the Amazons said of themselves, according to Herodotus. He had learned the legends of the women warriors on a trip to the southern outskirts of their territory – the region the Greeks called Scythia, the vast steppe lands to the north and east of the Black Sea. ...

When Demigods Walked the Earth

T.P. Wiseman: Roman Myth, Roman History, 18 October 2007

Caesar’s Calendar: Ancient Time and the Beginnings of History 
by Denis Feeney.
California, 372 pp., £18.95, June 2007, 978 0 520 25119 9
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... back on the pendulum before it gathers too much momentum’. I think his effort is in vain. Herodotus created the discipline of history (as opposed to telling stories about the past) when he began his ‘inquiries’ into the origin of the Persian Wars with Croesus, ‘the man who I myself know was the first to act unjustly against the ...


Adrienne Mayor: Carthage, 24 June 2010

Carthage Must Be Destroyed: The Rise and Fall of an Ancient Mediterranean Civilisation 
by Richard Miles.
Allen Lane, 520 pp., £30, March 2010, 978 0 7139 9793 4
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... and eyewitness to Carthage’s destruction, were Flaubert’s chief sources, but he also relied on Herodotus, Xenophon, Cornelius Nepos and Procopius. For geography and fortifications, he turned to Appian and Diodorus of Sicily, and to Aelian for military tactics. He mined Pliny, Theophrastus and others for Carthaginian magical lore and religion. Athenaeus ...

When Things Got Tough

Peter Green: The Sacking of Athens, 7 September 2017

Athens Burning: The Persian Invasion of Greece and the Evacuation of Attica 
by Robert Garland.
Johns Hopkins, 170 pp., £15, February 2017, 978 1 4214 2196 4
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... planned and unified opposition notably lacking in the sole narrative account of it we possess, by Herodotus, which presents the two instigators as little more than local opportunists with strongly pro-Persian backgrounds. In 499 a small force from Athens and Euboean Eretria joined the revolt, advanced fifty miles inland to Sardis (Sart in modern Turkey) and ...

Class War

Peter Green: Class War in Ancient Athens, 20 April 2017

Democracy’s Slaves: A Political History of Ancient Greece 
by Paulin Ismard, translated by Jane Marie Todd.
Harvard, 188 pp., £25.95, January 2017, 978 0 674 66007 6
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... to come, and nothing that he and the Alcmaeonids had offered held any noticeable attraction. Herodotus’ account is infuriatingly vague: he claims, in an ambiguous verb, that Cleisthenes took uncertain action for the benefit of the demos (a generic term for ‘people’, leaving their political status indeterminate). This action could mean forming any ...

They might be giants

Richard Fortey: Classical palaeontology, 2 November 2000

The First Fossil Hunters: Palaeontology in Greek and Roman Times 
by Adrienne Mayor.
Princeton, 361 pp., £22, May 2000, 0 691 05863 6
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... stretch of barren, mountainous country extending through Tien Shan to the Gobi Desert. Herodotus, writing in about 430 BC, gives details of the lives and legends of the nomads who populated these remote steppes, and some of his observations have been borne out by recent archaeology – the ‘father of lies’, as he was once known, is proving to ...


Richard Jenkyns: George Grote’s ‘A History of Greece’, 9 August 2001

A History of Greece: From the Time of Solon to 403 BC 
by George Grote, edited by J.M. Mitchell and M.O.B. Caspari.
Routledge, 978 pp., £60, September 2000, 0 415 22369 5
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... lived, he is a difficult source for the modern historian to use, because for the most part, unlike Herodotus, he did not cite his sources. Should we start from a presumption that Thucydides is likely to be right, at least most of the time? Or should we suspect that he is no more likely to have been unbiased than anyone else? The answer is not obvious, and ...

Great Kings, Strong Kings, Kings of the Four Quarters

Peter Green: The Achaemenids, 7 May 2015

Ancient Persia: A Concise History of the Achaemenid Empire, 550-330 BCE 
by Matt Waters.
Cambridge, 252 pp., £19.99, January 2014, 978 0 521 25369 7
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... as the Achaemenid dynasty. That the prize Darius won was worth fighting for hardly needs saying. Herodotus, who spent the first half of his Histories exploring the many nations under Achaemenid rule, tells us that the annual tribute they paid was the equivalent of 14,560 talents; since the bulk of the sum was paid in gold and silver, with the talent set at a ...

The European (Re)discovery of the Shamans

Carlo Ginzburg, 28 January 1993

... had, in turn, transferred onto the Thracians the description of a Scythian custom furnished by Herodotus (IV, 73-75). The point of this digression is to allow us to reconstruct the cultural filter which permitted Oviedo (and not only him, as we shall see) to tame the natural and cultural otherness of the North American continent. Thanks to Pomponius Mela ...

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