CG311 Greek Prose: Herodotus' Histories

Prof. Michael Arnush Ladd 209 x5462
marnush@skidmore.edu Hours: MF 12-1
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Herodotus' Histories consisted of one long text written originally on papyrus rolls in antiquity; the librarians in Hellenistic Alexandria in Egypt divided the text into nine books, named for the Muses (the daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne - "Memory"). The contents in general are as follows:
  Muse Summary of Contents
      Prooimion the opening paragraph that precedes book I
  Clio History of Lydia, Persia, and the rise of Persian power
  Euterpe Egyptian customs and the reign of Cambyses
  Thaleia History of Egypt; Cambyses' death; Darius' reign over Persia
  Melpomene Darius' expedition against the Scythians
  Terpsichore Persia's reduction of Thrace; Ionian revolt
  Erato Persian invasion of Greece (1st War); Marathon
  Polyhymnia Xerxes' reign; invasion of Greece (2nd War); Thermopylae
  Urania Battles of Artemisum and Salamis
  Calliope Battles of Plataea and Mycale; end of the war

Nagy's passages include excerpts from all nine books of Herodotus' work. We will begin with the prooimion (also called the proem or prologue) and then proceed to selections from books 1-9, including the story of Gyges, Egyptian customs, and the wars between the Persians and the Greeks. We may also take brief, Herodotean-like digressions and read chapters that particularly interest you. This will depend on you reading all of the text in English so that you can suggest passages we can examine more closely in the Greek.


We will also read all of the work in English as presented in the Landmark Herodotus. Strassler's edition, with a translation of Herodotus' Histories by Andrea Purvis, is notable for a number of reasons:

  • The translation is generally precise, provides a minimum of footnotes (usually to other parts of the text) and is amply illustrated.
  • The Introduction by Rosalind Thomas takes the reader through many of the most critical issues relevant to reading Herodotus' work. We will read and discuss the Introduction during the second week of the semester.
  • The Appendices are brief and specific: they add insight into individual aspects of Herodotus' subject matter.

Plan to read one book of Herodotus' Histories each week, so that by mid-November you will have read all of the work. If time permits, we may do some readings of other genres of Greek literature - e.g., for the Persian wars, we might read Aeschylus' Persians - as well as examine material remains relevant to our studies - e.g., the "cityscapes" of Athens, Sparta and Persepolis at the time of the Persian wars. We will also examine Frank Miller's graphic novel 300 and screen the 2006 film of the same name on Monday, November 7th, at 7pm in Davis Auditorium.

The scholarship on Herodotus is vast - indeed, the very select bibliography in the Cambridge volume runs to more than 20 pages of entries - and we can't expect to make much of a dent in it in one brief semester. We are fortunate to have The Cambridge Companion to Herodotus, for it brings together a rich representative sample of recent thinking about the author, the genre of historiography, and the intersection of both within the broader context of intellectual pursuits in 5th century Greece. Over the course of the semester we will read many of the articles contained therein, which will help shape our discussions and serve as the basis for your own exploration of Herodotean issues in your final project. The twenty articles in the Companion are listed below, so that you can get a taste of things to come; we will read those tagged with an * during the first half of the semester, while the rest are available for you to peruse and perhaps incorporate in your research. See also the page on Scholarship for how we will integrate these readings into our classroom conversations.
*Herodotus and the poetry of the past
Location and dislocation in Herodotus
*Herodotus and his prose predecessors
*Herodotus and the natural world
Herodotus and tragedy
*Herodotus and Greek religion
*The intellectual milieu of Herodotus
Warfare in Herodotus
Meta-historiê: Method and genre in the Histories
*Herodotus, political history and political thought
The syntax of historiê: How Herodotus writes
Herodotus and the cities of mainland Greece
*Speech and narrative in the Histories
An alternate world: Herodotus and Italy
Herodotus, Sophocles and the woman who wanted her brother saved
*Herodotus and Persia
*Stories and storytelling in the Histories
*Herodotus and foreign lands
Humour and danger in Herodotus
Herodotus' influence in antiquity