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The Landmark Herodotus: The Histories

by Herodotus

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: The Landmark Series (2)

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Why should anybody not a student of Ancient History be bothered reading Herodotus? Good question, and my answer is, for fun.

This is not what I would have said back in the days when I was studying Classics at the University of Melbourne. Classical Studies was not actually my initial choice for a second major: it was more a matter of what lectures were available as evening classes. However I soon fell in love with the subject because I had some wonderful lecturers to ignite my interest – notably Professor Michael Osborne, and Denis Pryor who took us for Greek and Roman Lit. I ended up spending many happy weekends absorbed in the books and journals in the Classics Library but keen as I was, I only browsed and read the required sections of Herodotus and his successor Thucydides. (I never got to Xenophon at all).

When one reads these key texts as a student, there’s an academic agenda underlying that reading. We had no personal computers or laptops in those days, much less an iPad, but the pen was always busy taking notes for the impending essay or exam. When one reads these histories for fun, at leisure, and spread over weeks and months of reading only when the mood strikes, one can enjoy the gossipy bits, the quirky details and the observations that remind us that the Ancients were not so very different to us after all. So any student dropping by to find erudite quotables will be disappointed with my thoughts here – this post is strictly frivolous. Serious scholars who’ve stumbled here should abandon this site immediately…

The HistoriesThe other point to note is that there’s no way I could have afforded these lovely annotated editions with their bountiful maps and illustrations, even if they’d been available back then. These are handsome investment editions, and even though they are now much cheaper than they were when first published, (and you can get them in paperback) they’re still more expensive than the Penguin versions equivalent to the edition that I still have from all those years ago. (It’s just called The Histories). The Landmark Series is an indulgence.

To read the rest of my thoughts please visit https://anzlitlovers.com/2012/05/25/the-landmark-herodotus-edited-by-robert-b-strassler/ ( )
  anzlitlovers | Aug 15, 2016 |
To read Herodotus or not to read him: That is the question. The answer for most people will be a resounding no! And I am certainly not going to sit here and say that everybody should. In the immortal words of Hilary Clinton, "What difference does it make?" Frankly, after the passage of 2500 years, who even cares? Admittedly, not many.

However, I am one of the happy few who decided to take the plunge. I ended up making a project out of it. My curiosity about The Histories was stirred when, as a young teenager, I happened to open a copy of The Histories to a description of Egyptian embalming methods! This was a wholly new concept and I was ghoulish enough to want to keep reading. But I soon gave up because there were too many strange names and places and I had no background to really understand the whole of Herodotus' massive work which was primarily concerned with the history of the conflict between the Greeks and Persians during the 5th century BC.

Herodotus was the first historian. No one before him had attempted a prose account of important events, and certainly not anything close to the scale of The Histories. In the course of reading I learned many reasons why a nonspecialist might want to undertake the project of plowing through the nine books of The Histories, some from Herodotus himself and some from various commentators'. It was those commentators that made all the difference. More about them later.

First of all, it is interesting to see an ancient mind at work, attempting to assemble enough facts and stories and geographical descriptions — all based on oral tradition and first, second and even third-hand accounts —to paint a complete picture of the whys and wherefores of the wars between Persia and Greece. This indeed is the focus of The Histories, even though it is easy to get lost in the minutiae and forget that this is Herodotus' purpose. After all, what could Egyptian embalming practices have to do with the Persian wars?

We see the seeds of the great man theory of history being sown by Herodotus, the theory that dominated historical discourse right down to the beginnings of the 20th century. Herodotus always tells us that individuals are the causes of events. We see how much Herodotus' approach to rhetoric and style and the structural considerations of The Histories influenced later writers of not only history, but travel writing, ethnographical studies, philosophy and even fiction. Indeed, some detractors — not the least of which was Plutarch — have called The Histories a tissue of lies.

To get a proper perspective, think of someone in the year 2000 attempting to write a history of World War II — sixty years previous — based on nothing but interviews and personal observations and no documentary evidence! Herodotus was a boy at the time of the final battles between the Greeks and Persians, and his later reportage was more dependable than when he was reporting about three, four and five generations before his time. Yes, the work is filled with inaccuracies, as what oral history wouldn't be, yet even if it were entirely a work of fiction it would still be worth reading because a certain amount of "truth" is to be gleaned from even the most prosaic novel. And there is a lot of truth in The Histories.

As mentioned above, I chose to make a project out of reading Herodotus. First of all, the edition one chooses is very important. Preferably, pick one with at least a good introduction and copious notes. The edition I chose was The Landmark Herodotus, which constitutes the equivalent of a college course. Not only does it have an introduction, but possibly — as the Austrian Emperor declared in Amadeus — it contains too many notes! It assumes that the reader has opened the book at random to any page and if a location is mentioned as recently as the previous page, a footnote cites a relevant map.

The Landmark Herodotus contains 125 pages of maps. One can be found at the turn of every two to three leaves on average. And each map contains only what you need to see for the related discussion. There is a set of reference maps at the end, complete with gazetteer, which contain nearly everything.

In addition to the introduction, notes and maps, The Landmark edition provides twenty-plus appendices which flesh out subjects too complex for footnotes. These appendices are short essays on subjects like Herodotus' geography; Athenian and Spartan government; the truth or fiction of Herodotus' account of Egypt; hoplite warfare and trireme warfare; converting Greek measurements into modern feet, miles, etc.; and many more. These appendices are written by scholars other than the general editor Robert B. Strassler. A chapter by chapter time line precedes the text.

Taken altogether, The Landmark Herodotus is a treasure house. But like I said, I made a project out of this. Before I was finished, I had listened to a Teaching Company course (24 half-hour lectures) on Herodotus, and I had consulted the Oxford World Classics edition of Herodotus, which contains a wholly different approach than that contained in the Landmark edition both in the introduction and the notes. Both editions are extremely interesting, helpful and all-consuming.

This project took up about two months of my life. I did read other books along the way as a respite from all this, and taken altogether, it was a very rewarding journey, one that I am almost certain to enjoy even more in retrospect. For many reasons, I have to give this whole effort five stars.

I hope that I have given enough fair warning. But for readers who enjoy this sort of thing, you are in for a memorable experience. ( )
12 vote Poquette | Oct 7, 2014 |
I beg you to trust me and let yourself be swept away by this tsunami of information whose epicentre was two and a half thousand years ago. The Landmark Herodotus provides ample life-vests and oxygen for you to ride this high and mighty wave of innumerable characters, places and customs without drowning. You'll be fine.

Designed to satisfy scholars as well as interested amateurs, this is the ride of your life. Trust me, you will never ever read anything remotely like this again. It ought to be essential reading for everyone everywhere at some point in their education as it is one of the greatest works of history and literature ever created.

No reason to read any other printed version I say. In fact you would be stupid to even use Wikipedia or "the internet" as it puts them in the dust. I am positive this very edition will still be in print in another 2500 years.

You could study literature and history and geography and all the sciences as a complete polymath, but if you haven't read Herodotus, and especially this edition, you would be missing the very bedrock of western civilization.

So trust me, take this drug and swallow all of it, all will be fine. Just open your eyes and your mind will follow ... there you go. Now swallow ... and lets meet on the other side.

We'll all be here when you come back. Trust me. ( )
  StefanConradsson | Oct 11, 2013 |
The illustrations and maps add a tremendous amount of information and understanding to Herodotus' Histories. Regardless of the edition, the warm and remarkably modern and humane voice of Herodotus will bring a new friend into your world. ( )
  Ron_Peters | Aug 22, 2013 |
I've studied Herodotus pretty extensively as he is the basis of a historical novel I just published.

Herodotus is known as the 'father of history' as his The Histories is the oldest history on record (excluding the Bible). The word historie in Greek means 'to inquire.' Herodotus lived about 50 years after the events of the Persian War, which at the time was probably like the World War II of its era. Herodotus was the first person we know of to travel around Greece methodically interviewing veterans who'd been taken part in the war (the same way Ken Burns interviewed WW2 vets for his documentary The War.)

Where Herodotus gets knocked around by modern historians is that he did not check his facts. A lot of what he records were out-right exaggerations and folklore. The classic example of this was his claim that Xerxes' Persian army number one million men. Modern historians claim it would have been impossible to feed that many people that far from home. Odds are, the ex-vets told him it was a million men, simply because it was a huge force and a million was the biggest number they knew. It's pretty much excepted that Xerxes' army was probably closer to 250,000 men. Still a huge force, compared to what Greece could muster.

The folklore comes into play when Herodotus talks about stories from places like Persia, Egypt and Libya. For instance, the stories that in Egypt there were flying snakes, in India there were ants the size of dogs that dug up gold, or that it was impossible to travel north of the Danube River because of all the bees. Some people try explaining these stories, but odds are, Herodotus simply inquired among people who dished out folklore rather than facts.

Still, Herodotus has a lot of good stories to tell. He's the one responsible for giving us the tale of King Leonidas and the last stand of the 300 Spartans at Thermopylae. He also reports about the Battle of Marathon, Battle of Plataea and the naval engagement at Salamis. When you read them, it's obvious Herodotus was not a mititary man as his descriptions are rather vague and confusing. He was more of a moralist than a true historian.

Thucydides is actually the better historian, and is known as the 'father of scientific history.' He was a general at Athens during the Peloponnesian War, so his knowledge of warefare is more detailed and a lot more accurate, as it seems he went to greater lengths to check his facts. Unfortunately, he did not complete his work. He stopped short of the end of the Peloponnesian War. Thankfully, Xenophon picked up the story and finished it in his Hellenica.

The Landmark Herodotus is a great edition, superior to the many other translations on the market as it includes maps on nearly every page, oft times of places that no longer exist, and it includes copious commentary. If you're going to pick up a copy of Herodotus' work, I'd go with this one. ( )
1 vote Euryanax | May 17, 2013 |
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» Add other authors (21 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Herodotusprimary authorall editionscalculated
Purvis, Andrea L.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Strassler, Robert B.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Thomas, RosalindIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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TO
GEORGE L. CAWKWELL
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Herodotus of Halicarnassuss here presents his research so that human events do not fade with time.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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This Landmark edition contains original annotations and appendices. Please do not combine with other editions.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0375421092, Hardcover)

From the editor of the widely praised The Landmark Thucydides, a new Landmark Edition of The Histories by Herodotus, the greatest classical work of history ever written.

Herodotus was a Greek historian living in Ionia during the fifth century BCE. He traveled extensively through the lands of the Mediterranean and the Black Sea and collected stories, and then recounted his experiences with the varied people and cultures he encountered. Cicero called him “the father of history,” and his only work, The Histories, is considered the first true piece of historical writing in Western literature. With lucid prose that harks back to the time of oral tradition, Herodotus set a standard for narrative nonfiction that continues to this day.

In The Histories, Herodotus chronicles the rise of the Persian Empire and its dramatic war with the Greek city-states. Within that story he includes rich veins of anthropology, ethnography, geology, and geography, pioneering these fields of study, and explores such universal themes as the nature of freedom, the role of religion, the human costs of war, and the dangers of absolute power.

Ten years in the making, The Landmark Herodotus gives us a new, dazzling translation by Andrea L. Purvis that makes this remarkable work of literature more accessible than ever before. Illustrated, annotated, and filled with maps, this edition also includes an introduction by Rosalind Thomas and twenty-one appendices written by scholars at the top of their fields, covering such topics as Athenian government, Egypt, Scythia, Persian arms and tactics, the Spartan state, oracles, religion, tyranny, and women.

Like The Landmark Thucydides before it, The Landmark Herodotus is destined to be the most readable and comprehensively useful edition of The Histories available.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:21:15 -0400)

"Herodotus was a Greek historian living in Ionia during the fifth century B.C.E. He traveled extensively through the lands of the Mediterranean and the Black Sea and collected stories, and then recounted his experiences with the varied people and cultures he encountered. Cicero called him "the father of history," and his only work, The Histories, is considered the first true piece of historical writing in Western literature. With lucid prose that harks back to the time of oral tradition, Herodotus set a standard for narrative nonfiction that continues to this day." "In The Histories, Herodotus chronicles the rise of the Persian Empire and its dramatic war with the Greek city-states. Within that story he includes rich veins of anthropology, ethnography, geology, and geography, pioneering these fields of study, and explores such universal themes as the nature of freedom, the role of religion, the human costs of war, and the dangers of absolute power." "Ten years in the making, The Landmark Herodotus gives us a new translation by Andrea L. Purvis that makes this work of literature more accessible than ever before. Illustrated, annotated, and filled with maps, this edition also includes an introduction by Rosalind Thomas and twenty-one appendices written by scholars at the top of their fields, covering such topics as Athenian government, Egypt, Scythia, Persian arms and tactics, the Spartan state, oracles, religion, tyranny, and women."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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