“The Landmark Herodotus: The Histories” by Herodotus, Robert B. Strassler, Andrea L. Purvis (Pantheon, 2007)

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Readers are living in a great age.  Classical history through primary sources has never been so accessible, with the success of Robert Fagles’ translations of The Odyssey, The Iliad, and The Aeneid; Robert B. Strassler, editor of The Landmark Thucydides, now brings us The Landmark Herodotus.  Translated by Andrea L. Purvis, with a introduction by Rosalind Thomas, The Landmark Herodotus is a hefty tome that will delight any historian or fan of Herodotus and the classical Greek period.

Called “the father of history” by Cicero, Herodotus was an Ionian Greek historian who lived in the fifth century BCE.  In his Histories, he recounts the rise of the Persian Empire and its tumultuous war with the Greek city-states.  Filled with insights into the unique geography and anthropology of the time, Herodotus also delves into the human psyche, exploring the importance of religion, the costs of war, the sacrifice of life, and what it meant to be a free and independent state.

What makes The Landmark Herodotus unique over any other translation of The Histories, is its encyclopedia of knowledge.  The book begins with a comprehensive introduction of Herodotus and the period, leading to the editor’s preface, and seven pages listing the dates outlined in the text, where they take place, and a brief sentence on what is happening.  Then The Histories begins in an almost conversational meter, making it very inviting and compelling to any reader whose background may be well versed in the period, or not at all.  Split into “books,” each page is filled with footnotes and constant side notes that serve as reference points, as well as numerous maps detailing the events taking place, and where possible, photos showing the modern day reality of these renowned historical locations.  As one completes The Histories, the book is not finished, as the appendices begin, twenty-one of them written by renowned scholars, informing the reader on topics such as Egypt, Persian Arms and Tactics, Scythia, the Spartan State, and Trireme Warfare, to name a few.  Then there is a comprehensive glossary to help the reader with any terminology.  Finally there is a hundred-page index that will bring any specific term, person, place or event immediately to their fingertips.

The Landmark Herodotus is not just a book; it’s a journey, a voyage into the history of ancient Greece and its war with the Persian Empire, as told by someone who, while not there at the time, lived in a period much closer to it than you or I.  Questions will be answered, thoughts made, and wonders discovered.  Upon completing the book, the reader will feel compelled to travel to Greece to see these ancient sites with their own eyes, and in their hands will be The Landmark Herodotus, as the invaluable reference that it is.

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Originally written on December 29th 2007 ©Alex C. Telander.