The Landmark Herodotus: The Histories

Robert B. Strassler (editor)

translated from the Ancient Greek by Andrea L. Purvis
Quercus 2007
A book review by Danny Yee © 2014
The Landmark Herodotus is a stupendously annotated and enhanced edition of Herodotus' Histories. For those of you unfamiliar with that work, it is often considered the first work of history, though it includes much that might now be classified as ethnography or even travel writing. In it Herodotus gives an account of the Greek-Persian wars, of the battles of Marathon and Thermopylae and Salamis and Plataea among much more, but the buildup to that includes a history of the Persian empire — and the background to that includes lengthy descriptions of ancient Egypt and Scythia. It is a fun read, one of the more accessible of the classical greats. (Andrea Purvis' translation stays out of the way, never seeming strained or unidiomatic.)

This Landmark edition is an attractive hardcover. Its margins contain running summaries and pretty much anything anyone might want to know more about is footnoted, with references to elsewhere in the text or to the appendices or to the ubiquitous maps. The note markers are tiny and don't interfere with reading, but the footnoting and mapping do seem excessive, if not actually redundant. There is, for example, a note for every occurrence of a place name, pointing at the map it appears in, when all one has to do is look at the nearest map, at most a page or two ahead. More useful are a thirty page introduction, focusing on Herodotus as a historian, and a hundred and twenty pages of appendices, providing background on various aspects of Herodotus' world and comparing his account with other sources. There are also a few black and white halftones of artifacts and landscapes, a timeline, a glossary, and a good quality index. This is then, a fairly comprehensive reference, reminiscent of the fancier bible editions.

The packaging in such a large, heavy volume, however, means The Landmark Herodotus is, if not actually unreadable elsewhere, uncomfortable to handle except at a desk or in a comfortable chair. And it's not clear that this kind of intensely detailed print reference makes sense any more: the cross-referencing and maps, however nicely done, simply can't compare with the potential of digital media, where one might have one-click access to maps and notes and colour photographs and the original Greek text as required. For casual reading I'd prefer a lightweight paperback — I have fond memories of De Selincourt's translation in the Penguin Classics, which has since been revised.

June 2014

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%T The Landmark Herodotus: The Histories
%E Strassler, Robert B.
%M Ancient Greek
%F Purvis, Andrea L.
%I Quercus
%D 2007
%O hardcover, appendices, glossary, index
%G ISBN-13 9781847246868
%P 953pp