The Histories by Herodotus.

Relief of Herodotus 
by Jean-Guillaume Moitte (1806).
Herodotus (Ἡρόδοτος) is an Ancient Greek writer and he is regarded by some as the Father of History. His Histories (Ἱστορίαι), written around 440 B.C. is his only known surviving work, and in it he explores the history of Greece, Western Asia (or Eurasia), and Northern Africa. Herodotus is also known as the Father of Lies, with many critics pointing to apparent bias. Whatever the case, The Histories is one of the earliest examples of a history book we have.

It begins,
Herodotus of Halicarnassus, his researches are here set down to preserve the memory of the past by putting on record the astonishing achievements both of our own and of other peoples; and more particularly, to show how they came into conflict.
It's divided into nine books (the division was by Alexandrian scholars), and each book is named after one of the Nine Muses.

  • Book I: Clio (Muse of History)
  • Book II: Euterpe (Muse of Music, Song, and Lyrical Poetry)
  • Book III: Thalia (Muse of Comedy)
  • Book IV: Melpomene (Muse of Tragedy)
  • Book V: Terpsichore (Muse of Dance)
  • Book VI: Erato (Muse of Love Poetry)
  • Book VII: Polyhymnia (Muse of Hymns)
  • Book VIII; Urania (Muse of Astronomy)
  • Book IX: Calliope (Muse of Epic Poetry)

In Book I Herodotus writes on the events leading up to the Trojan War, which, he writes, can be dated to about 1250 B.C., beginning with Medea, Europa, and Io's abductions and rapes, and how the Greeks retaliated by abducting Helen, sparking the war, but noting he could neither verify nor falsify the myths. From here he goes on to write about the divisions and conflicts that led to the Greco-Persian Wars, and we see the rise and fall of the surrounding empires, Egypt for example, and the clashes of the different countries' ideals. 

Throughout The Histories Herodotus weaves together fact, politics, philosophy, and myth. There are descriptions of countries, their boundaries, and their rulers and politics, and the clashes of the various leaders. We also see the impact of the pagan religion on the Greeks: there are many stories of the gods and how the leaders were influenced by their beliefs. We also learn of the scientific thought of the time, especially in some of Herodotus' deviations. It is an immensely complicated book that describes not only the Greco-Persian Wars, but also the culture of the time and how events may be translated and given meaning. For this, I'd say it was valuable, however as to whether or not is reliable is another matter!

I did enjoy reading The Histories but it was very overwhelming. Had I have been sensible I'd have joined in with Cleo's long term plan on reading it! But time was against me; I read it, enjoyed it, was confused by it, and didn't take from it nearly as much as I would like to. If I had one piece of advice for reading The Histories it would be to do so with a pencil and notepad!

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Further Reading

Comments

  1. I am just starting Book IV and just love this book! I'm so glad to be doing "bookly" posts on it. I love writers who can communicate so clearly their uniqueness in their written words. Herodotus would certainly get an invitation to dinner at my house! :-)

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    Replies
    1. I'm glad you're enjoying it! "Bookly" posts are very sensible, I really ought to have done that. To be honest it didn't occur to me, but next time...!

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