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Tuesday, January 12, 2021

[Kinda Book Review] Herodotus - The Histories

If you ever take an interest in the history of Western Civilization, one name returns as a reference for others: Herodotus. Herodotus is the Father of History because he is the first who recorded history was a series of events based in the "real world" and not a series of events inspired by a divine source.

Now reading Herodotus is not like reading later historian like the drier Thucidydes, or even Plutarch. Neither is it a case of "1914 Start of WWII. 1915 Battle of Verdun. 1916 Battle of the Somme."

From the foreword, he was a travelling scholar, someone who talks about these things and is very adept at making side steps, then bringing himself back. For example, starts talking about Darius' campaign beyond the Ister (the Danube), all around the Black Sea. He then side-steps to give geographical information about the terrain, particuarly the rivers and their main tributaries, then goes on to talk about the origin of the people and their relations to others, before returning to his original point. (see. see what I did there?)

Many of the tales are quite sensational and it feels like Herodotus is reading from the National Enquirer sometimes, with tales of forced cannibalism, wife-trading, and mythological involvement. Definitely entertaining stuff, one funny thing is that the more far-fetched the story, Herodotus tells us he does not believe it himself.

Other times, he tells us of a few alternate stories and different version of the same tale. For example, he tells us the body of the Persian general Mardonius is lost after the battle Plataea. He gives one version, then an Athenian version of the story.

The core of the content is really the reign of the Persian kings written over nine books, including Darius, Cyrus, and Xerxes with a focus on their involvement in the Greek world. The book is filled with interesting details, a great resource indeed! I mean as near a first-person resource as we have on battles like Thermopylae (the 300 Spartans), Artemisium, Salamis, Plataea, and Mycale. Even if Herodotus is more interested in the story than the gritty military details, this book gives us insight into the way of life of the Spartans, the Athenians, the Persians, the Egyptians, and groups like the Scythians.

So, what did I think of the book? I will say I prefered the style of Plutarch over Herodotus but the size and quantity of material here is quite phenomenal. It dragged in parts. To rate this one, I waffled between a 3 and 4, in the end, I went with a 3.5, rounded up to a 4/5. I can get behind that, mostly because I think a 3 would not do it justice...

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