The Histories: The Complete Translation, Backgrounds, Commentaries

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W.W. Norton, 2013 - History - 647 pages
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Herodotus's history is the earliest continuous prose narrative in Western literature. His long narrative—longer than either of the Homeric epics—continues to hold us spellbound because of the author's storytelling powers and intelligent curiosity.

The perfect introduction to Herodotus, this Norton Critical Edition includes the complete text of The Histories. The translation is fully annotated and is accompanied by an introduction, a chronology of events, and a note on the Persian Wars. Seven maps—all new to the Second Edition—give readers a visual understanding of events and places, 490–479 B.C.E.

“Backgrounds” includes a rich collection of historical works by Aeschylus, Bacchylides, Thucydides, Aristotle, and Plutarch. New to the Second Edition are contrasting accounts, by Diodorus of Sicily and Strabo, of the Amazons who were believed to be living in the mountainous regions.

“Commentaries” is divided into two sections. Early modern interpretations are represented by Isaac Taylor, John Stuart Mill, and Thomas Babington Macaulay. Seventeen modern assessments—three of them new to the Second Edition—focus on historical origins and backgrounds, Herodotus's place in history, and central issues concerning both the Persian Wars and Herodotus's reckoning of them. The new contributors are François Hartog, James Redfield, and Siep Stuurman.

A Glossary, Selected Bibliography, and Index are also included.

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About the author (2013)

Herodotus was the inventor of universal history. Often called the Father of History, his histories are divided into nine books named after the nine muses. A native of Halicarnassus on the coast of Asia Minor (modern Bodrum, Turkey), he traveled extensively, writing lively descriptions of the lands he saw and the peoples he encountered. Herodotus set out to relate the story of the conflict of the Greeks of his own time against the "barbarian" Asiatic empire of Achaemenid Persia. His long narrative, titled by modern convention The Histories, begins with the earliest traditions he believed reliable. It ends with a highly colored account of the defeat of the Persian emperor Xerxes and his immense army of slaves by a much smaller number of Greeks fighting to preserve their freedom. Herodotus wrote history, but his methods and assumptions were not those of a modern historian, and his work was unjustly rejected by his successor Thucydides as factually highly unreliable and full of inappropriate romance. By his own admission, Herodotus retold the stories of other peoples without necessarily believing them all. This allowed him total artistic freedom and control to create a picture of the world that corresponded entirely to his own view of it. The result is a picture of Herodotus's world that is also a picture of his mind and, therefore, of many other Greek minds during the period known as "late Archaic." During this period, the Greek mind was dominated by reason, the domain of the first philosophers and the observant and thoughtful medical theorists of the Hippocratic school. Traditional beliefs in the gods of Homer and in their Oracles, especially the Oracle at Delphi, also dominated during this period. The literary genius of Herodotus consisted in the art of the storyteller. The stories he chose to tell, and the order in which he told them, provide his readers with a total view of his world and the way in which the will of the gods and the ambitions of humans interacted to produce what is known as history. For this reason the ancient critic Longinus justly called Herodotus "the most Homeric of all authors." Like Homer, Herodotus strove to understand the world theologically---a goal that makes his work difficult for the reader to understand at first. But, in place of Homer's divine inspiration, Herodotus used his eyes and ears and wrote not poetry but prose. Rejecting what is commonly known as myth, he accepted instead "oral tradition" about remembered events. For example, although he believed that the Trojan War had been fought, he could not investigate it beyond what the poets had said. In his view this "ancient history" of the Greeks and the peoples of Asia was not like contemporary history, because the heroes of old who had created it were beings of a different and superior order who had had a different, direct, and personal relationship with the gods. In recognizing this distinction, Herodotus defined for all time the limits of the historian's discipline.

Walter Blanco is Associate Professor of English at the City University of New York.

Jennifer Tolbert Roberts is Professor of Classics and History at the City College of New York and the CUNY Graduate Center.nbsp; Her books include Accountability in Athenian Government and Athens on Trial: The Antidemocratic Tradition in Western Thought.

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