Harrison, Thomas & Elizabeth Irwin (eds.). 2018. Interpreting Herodotus. Oxford University Press.
Charles W. Fornara’s Herodotus. An Interpretative Essay (1971) was a landmark publication in the study of Herodotus. It is well known in particular for its main thesis that the Histories should be read against the background of the Atheno-Peloponnesian Wars during which Herodotus wrote. However, it also includes penetrating discussion of other issues: the relative unity of Herodotus’ work; the relationship between Herodotus’ ethnographies and his historical narrative; and the themes and motifs that criss-cross the Histories, how ‘history became moral and Herodotus didactic’. Interpreting Herodotus brings together a team of leading Herodotean scholars to look afresh at the themes of Fornara’s Essay, in the light of the explosion of scholarship on the Histories in the intervening years. What does it mean to talk of the unity of the Histories, or Herodotus’ ‘moral’ purpose? How can we reconstruct the context in which the Histories were written and published? And in what sense might the Histories constitute a ‘warning’ for his own, or for subsequent, generations?
The latest issue of Phoenix, the journal of the society Ex Oriente Lux, has been just published. Here is R.J. (Bert) van der Spek‘s summary of this special issue, ‘Herodotus en het Perzische Rijk’, Phoenix 63.2 (2017):
Focus is on Near Eastern information that puts Herodotus in a more balanced perspective. Wouter Henkelman presents Egyptological (and other) information on the famous story of Cambyses and the Apis (III 27-9; 33; 64). He shows how early researchers of the Apis burials were deceived by taking Herodotus’ story at face value. It is better not to, rather to consider Herodotus’ agenda of defamation of Cambyses, which Henkelman defines as ‘character assassination’. He places the story in an Egyptian tradition of defamation of foreigners, of ‘Chaosbeschreibung’. Olaf Kaper discusses the excavations in the Dakhlah oasis, which was once a settlement of revolting king Petubastis IV. The mysterious story of an army sent by Cambyses to the Ammonians, that disappeared in the desert (III 25), might well simply reflect an annihilation by that army by Petubastis, followed by a damnatio memoriae by the Persians. CAROLINE WAERZEGGERS discusses the modern prejudices on Xerxes, exemplified by the film ‘300’. Western knowledge and interpretation of Xerxes is based on Herodotus, who has a very biased picture of Xerxes. Herodotus suggests to have visited Babylon, but who is not very reliable. He does not know anything about an important revolt in the second year of Xerxes’ reign, i.e. about the year of birth of Herodotus. Karel van der Toorn discusses ‘the long arm of Artaxerxes II’ by recognizing the Jewish community in Elephantine in Egypt, which caused tensions. In the fifth century, the time of Herodotus, this setting apart of the Jewish community was not yet so much clear, so that for Herodotus the Jews (in Elephantine and in Palestine” simply counted as “Syrians” (all spoke Aramaic).
Fitzpatrick-McKinley, A. (ed.). (2015). Assessing Biblical and Classical Sources for the Reconstruction of Persian Influence, History and Culture. Classica et Orientalia 10. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag.
This volume brings together the views of biblical scholars, Achaemenid historians and classicists in relation to the problems of reconstructing the history of the Persian empire. It addresses the ways in which scholars of each of these disciplines have struggled with the complexity and limitations of the ancient sources. Some of the essays in this volume discuss issues surrounding the identification of authorial biases and evaluate what – if anything – remains as possible ‘historical’ evidence, while others examine the scholarly consensus on the question of Persian policy on the religion and laws of its subjects. What unites the essays in this volume is the commitment of their authors to recognise the difficulties with the sources and to constantly engage in new appraisals of them in dialogue with scholars in their own fields, but also in dialogue with scholars in related fields.
For more information, see the Table of Contents of this volume.
Herodotus: Histories, Books 1-4 (Herodoti Historiae: Libri I-IV), Edited by N. G. Wilson, 2015, Oxford Classical Texts.
New edition of 1902 original text, last revised in 1927
Accompanied by extensive commentary volume, Herodotea
New to this edition
Features extensively revised apparatus criticus
Incorporates new findings and research, including the readings of over 80 papyri and two medieval manuscripts
In this new edition of Herodotus’ Histories, Nigel Wilson has revised the original Oxford Classical Text by the Danish scholar C. Hude, published in 1906 and last revised in 1927. As well as incorporating much of the valuable work on the text that has been conducted since the original edition, in particular that of J. Enoch Powell and Paul Maas, Wilson has taken into account new readings from over 80 papyri. In addition, clarity in the apparatus criticus has been improved by the collation of two previously neglected medieval manuscripts, which belong to the so-called Roman family.
A number of passages remain puzzling, and Wilson proposes new solutions and provides plausible emendations wherever possible. This new edition is accompanied by a commentary, Herodotea, written by the editor, in which he explains many of the editorial decisions he made while revising this key classical text.
Stoneman, Richard. 2015. Xerxes: A Persian life. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Xerxes, Great King of the Persian Empire from 486–465 B.C., has gone down in history as an angry tyrant full of insane ambition. The stand of Leonidas and the 300 against his army at Thermopylae is a byword for courage, while the failure of Xerxes’ expedition has overshadowed all the other achievements of his twenty-two-year reign.In this lively and comprehensive new biography, Richard Stoneman shows how Xerxes, despite sympathetic treatment by the contemporary Greek writers Aeschylus and Herodotus, had his reputation destroyed by later Greek writers and by the propaganda of Alexander the Great. Stoneman draws on the latest research in Achaemenid studies and archaeology to present the ruler from the Persian perspective. This illuminating volume does not whitewash Xerxes’ failings but sets against them such triumphs as the architectural splendor of Persepolis and a consideration of Xerxes’ religious commitments. What emerges is a nuanced portrait of a man who ruled a vast and multicultural empire which the Greek communities of the West saw as the antithesis of their own values.
About the author:
Richard Stoneman is Honorary Visiting Professor, University of Exeter, and the author of numerous books. He lives in Devon, UK.
Provencal, Vernon L. 2015. Sophist kings: Persians as other in Herodotus. Bloomsbury Academic.
Sophist Kings: Persians as Other sets forth a reading of Herodotus’ Histories that highlights the consistency with which the Persians are depicted as sophists and Persian culture is infused with a sophistic ideology.
The Persians as the Greek ‘other’ have a crucial role throughout Herodotus’ Histories, but their characterisation is far divorced from historical reality. Instead, from their first appearance at the beginning of the Histories, Herodotus presents the Persians as adept in the argumentation of Greek sophists active in mid-5th century Athens. Moreover, Herodotus’ construct of the Sophist King, in whom political reason serves human ambition, is used to explain the Achaemenid model of kingship whose rule is grounded in a theological knowledge of cosmic order and of divine justice as the political good.
This original and in-depth study explores how the ideology which Herodotus ascribes to the Persians comes directly from fifth-century sophists whose arguments served to justify Athenian imperialism. The volume connects the ideological conflict between panhellenism and imperialism in Herodotus’ contemporary Greece to his representation of the past conflict between Greek freedom and Persian imperialism. Detecting a universal paradigm, Sophist Kings argues that Herodotus was suggesting the Athenians should regard their own empire as a betrayal of the common cause by which they led the Greeks to victory in the Persian wars.
About the author: Vernon L. Provencal is Professor of Classics at Acadia University, Canada.