“the purpose is to prevent the traces of human events from being erased by time, and to preserve the fame of the important and remarkable achievements produced by Greeks and non-Greeks”
Whether this is a really good translation, or Herodotus’ style is just that easy to get into doesn’t really matter, the main thing is the readability of the fascinating history he composed.
The Histories is essentially the story of how a bunch of disparate Greek states came together in a barely united way and coalesced together to stop the might of the Persian army. This in itself would be an epic story but we are also treated to an in depth look around the peoples, geography, geology and ethnography of the Mediterranean as well as the known Africa and Asia of the time.
Straight from page one, you get launched into an alleged kidnapping and from then on it’s all history as they say. The names of people and places are thrown around willy nilly but not in a way that will cause confusion. It’s all neatly done in fact and is a lot less confusing than expected.
There are a lot of maps in the back, detailing everywhere from modern day Russia in the North to Ethiopia in the South, (and for fans of East and West, there is India, Spain and everything else in between) to orient yourself with all the places if needs be.
The whole book is a magnificent treasure trove of stories and a view of the world when things were mysterious and unexplained. Fun is perhaps not the right word to use but the stories of gold digging ants as big as foxes and the way the Persians (pre Cyrus) decide important matters, by first discussing them when drunk, then reviewing what they said sober (or vice versa) and if they still agree with what they said it becomes law, really add colour and constantly delighted me more than most fiction does.
Add in a whole Phoenician boat load of double crosses, battles, political intrigue, heroism, intervention of the Gods, sacrifices,omens (like horses eating snakes (a good omen)), treachery, rumour and propaganda. Not forgetting the one eyed people called Arimaspians who steal gold from griffins in Northern Europe which really brings home how unexplored the world really was at that time.
This is not to say that H is the sensationalist historian of his day, he grounds his work in really long and thoroughtly fascinating digressions and asides into cultures and their traditions, he tells the genealogy and important histories of major family . All this adds more colour and gives greater depth to what is already a fantastic history.
The most refreshing thing about Herodotus, is that he is happy to admit when he doesn’t have proper sources for things, when he listens to here say. If he has conflicting stories he tends to compare and contrast them then reason out the most believable through logic and knowledge. interestingly he frequently declines to mention Gods and persons in relation to anything sacrilegious or illegal.
If I had a slight problem, it was with Herodotus’ naturally greek way of referring to Egyptian deities and pharaohs, Osiris/Dionysos, Isis/Demeter and the pyramid builders: Khufu, Khafre and Menkaure/Cheops, Chephren and Mycerinus. This is a small concern though when you’re lost in the heady mix of scientific naïvety and political squabbles that defined the entire human race.