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Book Title: The Histories|
The author of the book: Herodotus
Edition: Penguin Classics
Date of issue: September 1st 1954
ISBN 13: 9780140446388
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 7.31 MB
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Reader ratings: 7.9
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What I learned from this book (in no particular order):
1. Ancient Greeks are quarrelsome and love to waste each other’s city-states for the pettiest reasons.
2. From all forms of government known to man, democracy is the best. Tyrants and oligarchs suck.
3. The Persian Empire is a mighty barbarian nation, but being cowardly, effeminate and slavish, it is eventually defeated by the quarrelsome but brave and civilized Greeks.
4. Among the Greeks, the Spartans are the bravest. Gerard Butler with a six-pack King Leonidas and his 300 Spartans heroically perished in the battle of Thermopylae. They also have the particularly icky custom of marrying their own nieces.
5. The Delphic oracles are 100% accurate, except when someone manages to corrupt the Pythoness. The Gods are, however, a jealous sort and would strike any mortal who has the presumption of calling himself happiest on earth. Therefore, one should call no man happy until he is dead.
6. Egypt is a country of wonders, but its citizens’ customs and manners are exactly the reverse of the common practice of mankind elsewhere. For example, the women there urinate standing up, while the men sitting down. The country also abounds in strange fauna, among them the hippopotamus --- a quadruped, cloven-footed animal, with the mane and tail of a horse, huge tusks and a voice like a horse’s neigh.
7. The Scythians are a warlike nation that practices human sacrifice. The Scythian soldier drinks the blood of the first man that he kills in battle and cuts off all of his enemies’ heads, which he must show to the king to get his share of the war booty. They also like to saw off their enemies’ skulls, which they make into fancy gold-plated drinking cups.
8. The manners of the Androphagi, being cannibals, are more savage than those of any other race. Darius the Persian smote them.
9. The Atarantians, alone of all known nations, are destitute of names. The title of Atarantians is borne by the whole race in common, but the men have no particular names of their own. They also like to curse the sun because he burns and wastes both their country and themselves.
10. In the Indian desert live ants that are larger than a fox. They like to throw up sand-heaps as they burrow, which are full of gold. This is why India is so rich in gold. In Arabia, there are sheep that have long tails, so long that the shepherds have to make little trucks for their tails. Really.
Herodotus is a consummate storyteller who had a fine eye for the fantastical, although to his credit, he always qualified his more improbable assertions by stating that they are based on hearsay or other sources that he could not wholly verify. Much of the pleasure of reading his book is found in the lush descriptions of long lost nations and their exotic customs. His 'Histories' does not concern itself solely with history in the modern sense, but it is also a book of travelogue, ethnography, zoology, geography and botany. He is an excellent raconteur, almost always entertaining, except when he drones about speculative geography. We can easily imagine him, a man of seemingly inexhaustible curiosity, interviewing Marathon veterans for firsthand battle accounts, or interrogating Egyptian temple priests about their country’s history and religion. History for him is not a dry recitation of facts and dates, but an intensely human story acted by a vast cast of monarchs, queens, warriors, tyrants, gods and ordinary citizens. Regicides and rebellions are caused by personal passions, such as in the stories of Caudales and Gyges, and Xerxes and Masistes. Dreams compel Xerxes to invade Greece. Divine intervention decides the course of epic battles.
A skein of tragedy runs through the historical drama that he narrates. The gods are so capricious and jealous that “one should not call a man happy until he is dead.” Xerxes, on beholding his massive force on the Hellespont, laments that “not one will be alive when a hundred years are gone by.” Yet while man lives his short existence he is capable of epic deeds, and Herodotus chronicled them all.
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Read information about the authorHerodotus was an ancient Greek historian who was born in Halicarnassus, Caria (modern-day Bodrum, Turkey) and lived in the fifth century BCE (c. 484–425 BCE). He has been called "The Father of History", as well as "The Father of Lies." He was the first historian known to collect his materials systematically, test their accuracy to a certain extent, and arrange them in a well-constructed and vivid narrative. The Histories—his masterpiece and the only work he is known to have produced—is a record of his "inquiry" (or ἱστορία historía, a word that passed into Latin and acquired its modern meaning of "history"), being an investigation of the origins of the Greco-Persian Wars and including a wealth of geographical and ethnographical information. Although some of his stories were fanciful and others inaccurate, he claimed he was reporting only what had been told to him. Little is known of his personal history.
It was not until the time of Herodotus that gods began to have less influence upon history that was written, yet it was still implied because of the largely accepted view of the Greeks and the expectations that they may have had of how The Histories would be written. History was becoming more of a “knowledge” rather than an amusement. Because of Herodotus wanting people to accept what he had to write, he implemented stories that may have not directly correlated to gods, but rather implemented the idea that miracles or supernatural events took place. As was the story of Arion and the dolphin. While on a boat the men found out that Arion, who was a musician, was worth lots of money and decided to have him killed. The crew gave him two options, that either he jump ship or they kill him on the spot. Arion flung himself into the water and a dolphin carried him to shore.
Herodotus was more concerned with putting pleasure before knowledge, unless he did not believe that the gods had a dramatic influence on history and was rather just trying to please his audience. Like the story of the king having his servant look upon his naked wife, and when spotting him hiding, asked him to kill her husband. This, like many stories of Herodotus, are told in great detail, and for the simplicity of dramatic effect. This refers back to the way bards used to tell their poems or stories to their audience. Herodotus was accused by many because of such detailed accounts, and even called a liar by some. In his writing we can already see that there was no direct association with gods.
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