On the War for Greek Freedom: Selections from the Histories

On the War for Greek Freedom: Selections from the Histories

On the War for Greek Freedom: Selections from the Histories

On the War for Greek Freedom: Selections from the Histories


Designed for students with little or no background in ancient Greek language, history, and culture, this new abridgement presents those selections that comprise Herodotus' historical narrative. These are meticulously annotated, and supplemented with a chronology of the Archaic Age, Historical Epilogue, glossary of main characters and places, index of proper names, and maps.


“Those cities that were formerly great are now diminished, while those that are now great were once small.” If a single sentence can be said to sound the keynote of Herodotus' Histories, surely it is this one, privileged by its position at the end of the work's introductory segment. Change is the greatest of Herodotus' many themes and the one that, like the sun in Plato's famous metaphor, sheds illumination on all the others. A particular kind of change interested him most, moreover: Not mere instability or flux, but the movement that results in a leveling of extremes, like the reversal of a pendulum that has swung too far in one direction. Such changes reveal the hand of divinity at work in the world, for the gods dislike extremes and everywhere favor balance, proportion, and the mean. Human attempts to attain extremes—of power and wealth, for example—are doomed to fail in the long run; just as with the oscillation of boom and bust in finance, a “correction” must inevitably take its course.

The long run, however, may be very long indeed. While the ups and downs of economic cycles can be plotted on monthly charts, the rises and falls of nation-states occur over decades or even centuries, often too slowly to be perceived in the span of any one lifetime. Hence the need for historians, who can remind us of the larger perspective when we feel we have attained a stasis or a control of our destiny (“the end of history,” as the triumph of liberal democracy was famously dubbed at the end of the twentieth century). Herodotus was the first writer in the Western tradition to examine the ebb and flow of political power over such a vast time span, to capture not just a single war (as Homer had done) but the rise of a great empire, the cresting of its influence and might, and the beginnings of its inevitable lapse into decline. Although he has been called the father of history, he might be better hailed as the discoverer of the historical time scale, a breakthrough as significant for his era as the invention of the telescope was to the Renaissance.

The Scope of the Histories

Herodotus claims at 1.5 that he will begin his story with the rise of Croesus of Lydia (c. 560) , but this claim quickly turns out to be disin-

1. All dates in this volume are B.C.E. unless otherwise indicated.

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