Essential passages from the works of four "fathers of history"—Herodotus's History, Thucydides' History of the Peloponnesian War, Xenophon's Anabasis, and Polybius's Histories....
|Title||:||The Portable Greek Historians: The Essence of Herodotus, Thucydides, Xenophon, Polybius|
|Number of Pages||:||501 Pages|
|Status||:||Available For Download|
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The Portable Greek Historians: The Essence of Herodotus, Thucydides, Xenophon, Polybius Reviews
A mix of selections from Greek historians between the 5th and 2nd century BCE. This book is mostly devoted the the history of the Persian, Peloponnesian wars and Sicilian campaigns chronicled by Herodotus and Thucydides, with the last hundred pages or so devoted to smaller excerpts from Xenophon and Polybius. I felt the intrigue of the book wore off as I continued reading; the more interesting and lucid writings are in the first half of the book and then the number of new names and quick summaries of their contributions become too much and take place too rapidly to retain. Also, the imitation of the Homeric style by these historians where the narrative is interrupted by a long speech seems massively overdone by Thucydides, making him much more difficult to establish a rhythm with than Herodotus. This is probably about half of The Histories by Herodotus and a third of The History of the Peloponnesian War by Thucydides, and while my interest is now sparked to read the rest of Herodotus' work it may be a while (if ever) that I finish the rest of Thucydides work. He seems too devoted to telling "history" through overuse of long speeches that he strains the limit and believability of his genre. Herodotus, on the other hand, I found to be humorous, lucid, and an enjoyable storyteller. His work is really more of an inquiry into the sayings of locals on past events (mostly events their grandparents or great-grandparents witnessed or took part in), so should be understood as much a collection of the true memory of some events as the fantastic hearsay of embellishing villagers. Whatever mix it may be, it is interesting to read.I can't say either that I found the excerpts from Xenophon's Anabasis to be significantly interesting. Part of that is it feels like either the selection excludes important information or it is just insufficiently prefaced for a reader to jump in and feel they understand what is going on and what the context is for the events being described. But also, the lack of interest for me was partly the material didn't seem as interesting on its own merit as others of Xenophon's works, such as his Symposium, Apology and Memorable Thoughts of Socrates. The final author, Polybius, has his histories segmented into fifty pages or so but is an odd mix of overly summarized events, angry rants about the ineptitude of historians who preceded him (and his moral dilemma over how they whitewash certain immoral characters), and a comparative look at forms of government in the various countries and city-states of the past and the then-present Mediterranean world. The history he relayed wasn't told (I felt) in a manner that is easy to digest, having too many names introduced in too short a space and then concluding a commentary on the events while they still feel they could be developed further. The portion that was interesting was his comparative analysis of government in Rome to the preceding Greccian city-states. It was thoroughly descriptive concerning the various offices in the Roman world, why they worked better and why their empire is lasting longer and remaining stable over its Greccian counterparts. There is much more that can be added to the question of the Roman empire's unusually long span of existence, but nonetheless he presented his points well and I felt I learned something about the material.I enjoyed portions of what I read and though I can't speak with authority since I haven't read all the works being shortened herein, I wonder if they could have been better edited. Even if not, the short book introduction and the two page prefaces to each ancient historian certainly could use more detail and context.
At some point, it seems to me that twenty-first century translations ought to be widely available for the works of Herodotus, Thucydides, etc. The language of this volume is nineteenth century English, and as time flows on it only becomes more archaic and unreadable to average twenty first century readers (to say nothing of our descendants in the twenty second). If this history is worth knowing about, it ought to be maximally accessible.That is only an idle thought, however, from someone with an already fair grasp on archaic diction and some familiarity with the Ancient Greeks and their histories. Though I'd never "read" Herodotus, I was certain I recognized the wording of key passages from their quotation in other books. And while I was not already familiar with every military campaign recorded here, I knew enough about ancient wars in general to get a good picture in my mind.On the whole, I think it would be better to read each (or some) of these collected authors individually, than to try and distill their "essence" into a book like this. The content is good, but the abridgements leave stories feeling unfinished. The history of the ancient Greeks thus recedes from focus, and the reader mainly has to deal with the personalities of the authors, as filtered through the nineteenth century translators. That is a fascinating subject in its own right, but not really what I was looking for here.
http://nwhyte.livejournal.com/1980032.html[return][return]A Penguin collection of extracts from Herodotus, Thucydides, Xenophon and Polybius, showing the start and early evolution of historical writing. As I am less familiar than I would like with the historical background, a lot of this sailed over my head (I would have liked more footnotes and maps), but I appreciated the raw approach of Herodotus, the critical attitude of all of them to other writers (not that this stopped them making stuff up themselves) and the closing passage from Polybius comparing the Roman constitution with the constitutions of less successful states (he singles out Rome's institutionalisation of religion as a key factor).
I originally purchased this book when I started college to prepare for my Senior Oral Exam, I skimmed but didn't really retain much of each writer's style save perhaps Herodotus. After thoroughly reading the excerpted selections for these four writers, I can say the my decision to skim it originally was the correct one. If M. I. Finley, the selector of this volume, gave an accurate representation of each writer through the excerpts he chose then Herodotus and Xenophon are the best readings while Thucydides gets bogged down in speeches and Polybius in the discourse of governmental comparisons. However if the excerpts aren't representative of each writer than the fault is with Finley.
A great start to reading Greek history, this book covers some of the most important parts of Greek history from Herodotus' writeup of Xerxes' invasion of Greece and his crossing the Hellespont to Thucydides' more accurate history of the Persian war.
Evillll boooooookkkk :PPPPP
Essential readings creating a snapshot of ancient Greek history.