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The Histories of Herodotus

The Histories of Herodotus by Herodotus is considered the first work of history in Western literature. Written about 440 B.C., The Histories tells the story of the war between the Persian Empire and the Greek city states in the 5th century B.C. Herodotus traveled extensively around the ancient world, conducting interviews and collecting stories for his book. At the beginning of The Histories, Herodotus set out his reasons for writing it:

Herodotus of Halicarnassus here displays his enquiry, so that human achievements may not become forgotten in time, and great and marvellous deeds - some displayed by Greeks, some by barbarians - may not be without their glory; and especially to show why the two peoples fought with each other. (Aubrey de Selincourt translation)

The Histories is divided into nine books, each named after one of the Muses. The rise of the Persian Empire is chronicled, and the causes for the conflict with Greece. Herodotus treats the conflict as an ideological one, frequently contrasting the absolute power of the Persian king with the democratic government of the Greeks. The Histories contains a famous account of the Battle of Marathon, of which Herodotus wrote:

So when the battle was set in array, and the preliminary sacrifice promised success, instantly the Athenians, so soon as they were let go, charged the barbarians at a run. Now the distance between the two armies was little short of eight furlongs. The Persians, therefore, when they saw the Greeks coming on at speed, made ready to receive them, although it seemed to them that the Athenians were bereft of their senses, and bent upon their own destruction; for they saw a mere handful of men coming on at a run without either horsemen or archers. Such was the opinion of the barbarians; but the Athenians in close array fell upon them, and fought in a manner worthy of being recorded. (unknown translation)


Book I (Clio)

View of Delphi, looking down from the theater.
View of Delphi, looking down from the theater.
  • The rulers of Lydia (on the west coast of modern Turkey): Candaules, Gyges, Alyattes, Crœsus
  • How Gyges took the kingdom from Candaules
  • The singer Arion's ride on the dolphin
  • Solon's answer to Crœsus's question about who was the happiest person in the world
  • Crœsus's efforts to protect his son Atys
  • Crœsus's test of the oracles
  • The answer from the Oracle of Delphi concerning whether Crœsus should attack the Persions (famous for its ambiguity): If you attack you will destroy a mighty empire
  • Crœsus's defeat by Cyrus, and how he later became Cyrus's advisor
  • The rulers of the Medes: Deioces, Phraortes, Cyaxares, Astyages , Cyrus
  • The rise of Deioces over the Medes
  • Astyages 's attempt to destroy Cyrus, and Cyrus's rise to power
  • The culture of the Persians
  • The history and geography of the Ionians
  • The culture of Assyria, especially the design and improvement of the city of Babylon and the ways of its people
  • Cyrus's attack on Babylon, including his revenge on the river Gyndes and his famous method for entering the city
  • Cyrus's ill-fated attack on the Massagetæ

Book II (Euteré)

Statue of the Egyptian goddess Hathor
Statue of the Egyptian goddess Hathor
  • The proof of the antiquity of the Phrygians by the use of children unexposed to language
  • The geography of Egypt
  • Speculations on the Nile river
  • The religious practices of Egypt, especially as they differ from the Greeks
  • The animals of Egypt: cats, dogs, crocodiles, hippopotamuses, otters, phœnixes, sacred serpents, winged snakes, ibises
  • The culture of Egypt: medicine, funeral rites, food, boats
  • The kings of Egypt: Mên , Nitocris (queen), Mœris , Sesostris, Pheron , Proteus
  • Helen and Alexander's stay in Egypt during the Trojan war
  • More kings of Egypt: Rhampsinitus (and the story of the clever thief), Cheops (and the building of the Great Pyramid), Chephren, Mycerinus, Asychis , Anysis , Sethôs
  • The line of priests
  • The Labyrinth
  • More kings of Egypt: the twelve, Psammetichus (and his rise to power), Necôs , Psammis , Apries, Amasis (and his rise to power)

Book III (Thalia)

The ruins of , Capitol of the Persian Empire.
The ruins of Persepolis, Capitol of the Persian Empire.
  • Cambyses's (son of Cyrus and king of Persia) attack on Egypt, and the defeat of the Egyptian king Psammenitus
  • Cambyses's abortive attack on Ethiopia
  • The madness of Cambyses
  • The good fortune of Polycrates king of Samos
  • Periander, the king of Corinth and Corcyra, and his obstinate son
  • The revolt of the two Magi in Persia and the death of Cambyses
  • The conspiracy of the seven to remove the Magi
  • The rise of Darius king of Persia
  • The twenty satrapies
  • The culture of India and their method of collecting gold
  • The culture of Arabia and their method of collecting spices
  • The flooded valley with five gates
  • Orœtes 's (governor of Sardis) scheme against Polycrates
  • The physician Democêdes
  • The rise of Syloson governor of Samos
  • The revolt of Babylon and its defeat by the scheme of Zopyrus

Book IV (Melpomene)

  • The history of the Scythians (from the land north of the Black Sea)
  • The geography of Scythia
  • A comparison of Libya (Africa), Asia, and Europe
  • The rivers of Scythia
  • The culture of the Scythians: religion, burial rites, xenophobia (the stories of Anacharsis and Scylas), population
  • The beginning of Darius's attack on Scythia, including the bridge over the Bosphorus
  • The brutal worship of Zalmoxis by the Getæ
  • The customs of the surrounding peoples
  • The wooing of the Amazons
  • Darius's attack on Scythia
  • The story of the Minyæ (descendants of the Argonauts) and the founding of Cyrêné
  • The rulers of Cyrêné: Battus, Arcesilaüs, Battus the lame (and the reforms of Demônax), Arcesilaüs (his revolt and death)
  • The peoples of Libya from east to west
  • The revenge of Arcesilaüs's mother Pheretima

Book V (Terpsichore)

Book VI (Erato)

Book VII (Polymnia)

Book VIII (Urania)

Book IX (Calliope)

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Last updated: 05-07-2005 03:41:03
Last updated: 05-13-2005 07:56:04