Monday, August 04, 2008

Herodotus in a Flowered Shirt

Was just pointed to this New Yorker article on Herodotus:

Herodotus, by contrast, always seemed a bit of a sucker. Whatever his desire, stated in his Preface, to pinpoint the “root cause” of the Persian Wars (the rather abstract word he uses, aitiē, savors of contemporary science and philosophy), what you take away from an initial encounter with the Histories is not, to put it mildly, a strong sense of methodical rigor. With his garrulous first-person intrusions (“I have now reached a point at which I am compelled to declare an opinion that will cause offense to many people”), his notorious tendency to digress for the sake of the most abstruse detail (“And so the Athenians were the first of the Hellenes to make statues of Hermes with an erect phallus”), his apparently infinite susceptibility to the imaginative flights of tour guides in locales as distant as Egypt (“Women urinate standing up, men sitting down”), reading him was like—well, like having an embarrassing parent along on a family vacation. All you wanted to do was put some distance between yourself and him, loaded down as he was with his guidebooks, the old Brownie camera, the gimcrack souvenirs—and, of course, that flowered polyester shirt.

Will continue reading The Histories this weekend - because right now, I have no time.

6 comments:

Doc Martian said...

herodotus is a lot like reading press on the middle east... flights of fancy... egocentric lunatics... outright propaganda... and nationalistic feats of derring-do that should be taken with at least a grain of salt.

still... he rambles a lot so its more like reading the national enquirer than it is the new york times... which makes him a really good introduction to source material historical accounts... follow this with gibbon's decline and fall of the roman empire... maybe in conjunction with the 11 vol. story of civilization by will and ariel durant... both shouldn't be read in a single sitting... much like proust... took me about 5 years to read the durant and about 20 years to read the gibbon. both are like trying to take in the ocean... i know i'll be reading them again.

stefanie said...

Goody! I can't wait to read that article! So Herodotus is working his was back to the top of your pile then? I began Travels with Herodotus over the weekend and I am loving it!

Dark Orpheus said...

Doc Eh, if it took you 20 years to get through Gibbon, how long is it going to take you to re-read them? Another 20 years?

That said, I still have my Gibbon on the bookshelves. Still unread. But I intend to live forever so I'll get to it eventually. :)

Just let me get through Herodotus first. I have my whole life to read.

Stefanie That crack about the "erect phallus" just made me laugh. :p

Your finishing Herodotus is making me feel all competitive. So, yes, Hero has made resurfaced on the top of the pile!

I'll get there with Travels with Herodotus. Good for you on the head-start.

Doc Martian said...

dunno. i try to let books set their own pace... the durant had an academic pace... the gibbon was more leisurely though. took him 20 years to write. maybe that's why.

finnegans wake is another one i'm not rushing through. i mean why push the river.

Carl V. said...

I don't know about anyone else, but that description makes me really, really want to read this now! Sounds quite interesting.

J.D. said...

For some reason, I felt Herodotus noticed all the details I would have noticed and asked all the questions I would have asked. Even if some of his sources are simply repeating folk tales they've known all their lives, what could be more interesting than that?--not only does Herodotus give us a picture of what people thought and what they thought of one another 2,500 years ago, he taps into what they thought even before that.

I really enjoyed Herodotus, especially once I accepted the fact that he was going to tell his story in his own sweet time and by his own method--though he owes something of his ambition to Homer.