Guus Bosman

software engineering director

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Histories by Herodotus is a 700+ page book and I was daunted by it at times. It is not a difficult read but it does get repetitive to read about all the military campaigns. It was interesting to read about the customs and believes of all the various countries -- so many, such a variety.

Over-all, it describes a pretty terrible time to live -- so much cruelty. It's pretty horrifying to read how many wars there were. Pretty much all the time, it seems, and with gruesome outcomes too. Also, if you were invited to a "victory banquet" in those days, be careful -- lots of people got slaughtered after getting drunk, it seems.

Herodotus was familiar with a large geographical area. Interesting how he often he described connections to the Greek: "..they were descendants from the men of Troy" or that everyone believed in Zeus, he's clearly looking at the world from his own perspective.

War with Persia

The second half of the book, about the war between Persia and Greece, reads very nicely. Even though the characters are for the most part unsympathetic psychopaths ones gets a decent feeling for the time and era. Really cool that this book was written at that time -- and preserves so well. It was only at the very end of the book that I realized that a common meme, "this is Sparta", is related to the one of the battles described in the book, Battle of Thermopylae. We I watched the 300 film last night. The movie is not great but it was interesting to watch and see how they brought this ancient story to leave. King Xerces is depicted quite effeminate, one of the attributes assigned to him by Rawlinson.

I skimmed several scientific articles that spoke about the challenges of translating The Histories from the many manuscripts that were preserved (most from the 10th century). Pieces of papyrus that were more recently found indicate that the Medieval manuscripts were pretty faithful to the ancient editions.

I've learned quite a few things from this book. Now I understand the "law of Medes and Persians" expressions better as well as the linguistic connection between Philistines and Palestine. Pheidippides, the runner who ran the first marathon is mentioned in the book too, though not that particular story. I liked the story, apocryphal, about a tribe of barbarians who raise their kids communal and only when the kid turns 18 they all try to see who the father was.

Time travel
There was a part in the book that would fit in nicely in a time travel science fiction book where modern warriors go back in time: "...they also witnessed other supernatural sights. Two armed warriors, they said, of a stature more than human, pursued after their flying ranks, pressing them close and slaying them [Phylacus and Autonous]" (viii, 38-39). Later there was the following scene during a sea battle: "It is also reported, that a phantom in the form of a woman appeared to the Greeks, and, in a voice that was heard from end to end of the fleet, cheered them on to the fight [...]" (viii 84)


There were several references to Thracia in the book. When searching more about that, I learned that the old Greek name for the Maritsa river, which goes through Plovdiv, is Hébros -- perhaps a name-giver to Europe? A good story, even if not true. There's a reference to the Rodopi mountains also, and later Пердика -- a king of Macedonia makes an appearance. It said that many roses were growing there.

The edition I read was translated by George Rawlinson in 1858. As such it gives some insights in the outlook and biases of a 19th century man. The footnotes were a good source of information and cross-references, they really added value to the book.I didn't realize the age of the translation at first until I saw a a footnote about the Delphi oracle stating: "she was possessed by an evil spirit", with an reference to a Bible verse.


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