The Histories of Herodotus (450 BCE)
translated by Aubrey de Selincourt
revised, introduction by A. R. Burn
In his introduction, Burns gives an outline and some background for Herodotus’ work; there is little biographical fact about Herodotus. The work is nominally about Greece and Persia, and the conflict between them. This war ended in 479 BCE, when Herodotus was about five years of age, and he had no personal experience of it. He relied on others who had witnessed it or heard of it. The actual conflict makes up only a small part of the book, however, which is largely occupied in digressions that describe the various lands and peoples involved. In this way, a nominally short narrative is expanded into a work of much greater scope, much as Homer’s works did. The division into books was more or less arbitrary, based on physical size of the scrolls, rather than an organization conceived by the author.
The first book describes the Greeks of Europe and Asia, and the rise of Cyrus as king of Persia, and his conquest of the Lydians and Medes, ending with his death. It has the story of Croesus, the king of the Lydians, with an aside on the meaning of happiness. It includes a gruesome legend of Cyrus’ birth and rise to power. Herodotus describes the customs, in particular marriage and sexual customs, of several of the peoples and tribes of western Asia and Asia Minor.