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CJ-ONLINE  January 2009

CJ-ONLINE January 2009

Subject:

CJ Online 2009.01.01 CLAUGHTON, Herodotus and the Persian Wars

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Herodotus and the Persian Wars. By JOHN CLAUGHTON. Greece and Rome: Texts 
and Contexts. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008. Pp. 
vii + 152. Paper, $25.00. ISBN 978–0–521–68943–4.

Order this text for $25.00 from Amazon.com using this link and 
benefit CAMWS and the Classical Journal:

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/redirect-home/classjourn-20


Previously published CJ Online reviews are at 
http://classicaljournal.org/reviews.php

CJ Forum Online Exclusive 2009.01.01

Claughton’s collection of selections from Herodotus, narrowly arranged 
around Herodotus’ account of the Persian Wars proper (few digressions are 
included), is attractively produced and provides a very readable 
translation of excerpts that provide a good overview of Herodotus’ 
account of the Persian Wars. This collection is part of Cambridge’s new 
series Greece & Rome: Texts and Contexts, which is intended for secondary 
schools and undergraduates, with the aim of enabling students to engage 
with the primary texts and develop their own informed opinions. While this 
is a laudable goal, and while the most dedicated students may find that 
this edition piques their interest in Herodotus and encourages them to read 
more on their own, this edition provides little real help to the average 
student in understanding Herodotus or his Histories or the world and world 
view that shaped his work. These limitations reduce the value of this 
translation as a text for students.

Claughton’s translation has several strong points that will certainly 
prove attractive to students. The appearance of the book is appealing to 
the eye with its full color illustrations and well-chosen maps; the method 
of indicating footnotes is both visually striking and familiar (key words 
and phrases are printed in blue, reminiscent of links on webpages, 
indicating the presence of a footnote that is introduced with the lemma 
reproducing the highlighted words in the text; the use of footnotes rather 
than endnotes is to be applauded). Also useful is the inclusion of 
ancillary texts, which are helpfully placed in the main text rather than 
relegated to an appendix (e.g., Herodotus’ account of Croesus on the pyre 
is accompanied by a selection from Bacchylides’ Ode 11, although its 
number is omitted, as is any translation of Bacchylides in the recommended 
readings; students who find Bacchylides interesting are left to their own 
devices). On the whole, the resemblance to webpages will likely prove 
familiar and comfortable, potentially encouraging students to read the 
book.

Its eye-catching appearance and the readable translation aside, the narrow 
focus and the lack of sufficient help to the novice render this book of 
limited use to students who want to understand the Histories. There is no 
introduction, and while it is good to encourage students to develop their 
own opinions about ancient sources, these opinions need to be informed, and 
informed opinions do not spring fully formed from the heads of high school 
or undergraduate students. In addition, while each chapter and section ends 
with questions that can serve to guide students towards thinking more 
deeply about particular issues, these questions tend to be unanswerable on 
the basis of the student’s reading of the selection. For example, 
students are asked to consider what sources Herodotus had for the Battle of 
Marathon and how these sources affected his narrative (p. 48). This is not 
a question a student can answer simply from reading the text, and the 
question of Herodotus’ sources has not been discussed in an introduction 
or footnotes, nor is a source for further reading suggested. An 
introduction that set out the background for Herodotus and his methodology, 
the Greek world on the eve of the Persian Wars, the Persians themselves, 
the nature of Greek warfare, etc. would have helped the student immensely. 
Engagement with scholarly issues requires familiarity with the scholarly 
background to those issues. A book aimed at students ought not to leave 
them floundering about on their own, attempting to make sense of aspects of 
the text that they are in no position to know about on their own and have 
been given no help in understanding.

The majority of the footnotes are also of limited value in understanding 
and appreciating Herodotus. Instead, they tend to be idiosyncratic and in 
the earlier sections are often uninformative, enigmatic and undisciplined. 
(Those to the sections dealing with Xerxes and his invasion are more 
useful). While it is interesting to learn (in connection with 
Philippides’ run) that the distance of the modern marathon is that used 
in the 1908 London Olympics (with a few extra yards tacked on to ensure 
that those in the royal box had a good view of the finish, this information 
did not broaden my understanding of the Histories and is probably of 
limited interest to North American students. The frequent references to 
Shakespeare, Marco Polo and modern politics may allow for a cross-cultural 
look at specific themes, but they illustrate little about Herodotus or his 
Histories. When the footnotes are geared towards Herodotus, they are too 
often of limited use to a student reader. For example, a footnote on 
“laughed” (p. 19), generated in response to Cyrus laughing at 
Croesus’ suggestion that he send his shackles to Delphi, informs us that 
“laughter is not always the right response to advice nor is it the only 
response in Herodotus”—but to what end? What is the intended audience 
of high school students and undergraduates supposed to make of this? Why is 
Cyrus’ laughter correct here? Why is laughter incorrect elsewhere? And 
where else is laughter used, correctly or incorrectly, and how do we 
determine this?

The Recommended Readings section is useful in providing a starting point 
for students interested in secondary literature. All suggestions are all in 
English, which is reasonable given the target audience, are relatively 
up-to-date (although nothing earlier than 1989 is mentioned), and include a 
brief description of the work in question. But what use is it to a student 
to learn that Claughton is “deeply antipathetic” to Fehling’s 
argument (in Herodotus and his Sources)? What is Fehling’s argument, and 
why is Claughton not convinced? If students are to develop their own 
informed opinion, it might be more useful to illustrate the specific 
weaknesses of Fehling’s argument (or simply omit the comment) rather than 
present an enigmatic ipse dixit statement.

Claughton’s selections cover mainly episodes from the Persian Wars 
themselves, and digressions from this topic are kept to a minimum. But much 
of the text has been omitted (including important thematic sections), and 
since there is no introduction to give a sense of the overall scope and 
purpose of the work, students will thus not get the full impact of the 
Histories. In a translation that consists of selections, choices need to be 
made, but concentrating so heavily on the Persian Wars proper compromises 
an understanding and appreciation of Herodotus’ achievement. Where is 
3.80–2, the discussion of the various forms of government, which is an 
inherent element in the Histories’ central theme of freedom vs. autocracy 
or Greeks vs. the Persians? Certainly, not all of the Egyptian and Scythian 
narratives had to be included (Claughton omits the Scythians entirely), and 
the selections from Book 2 do illustrate Herodotus’ interest in 
ethnography, but again the student is given little help in understanding 
this interest. (Claughton’s comment that “Herodotus wants to show us 
something that is timeless, that the customs of people differ, but that 
doesn’t mean that one is superior to the other” [p. 23] is again 
misleading; regardless of Herodotus’ views on the customs of the 
Egyptians, he is clear on the superiority of the Greeks and their customs 
over the Persians and theirs.)

Overall, the translation is sound and readable, its presentation is 
attractive and appealing, and this book will likely stimulate interest in 
Herodotus in the more disciplined student. All the same, the limited help 
it offers in understanding the Histories and their larger significance mean 
that instructors may get more bang for their buck with Waterfield’s 
complete translation in the Oxford World Classics series ($10.95). If only 
a selection is desired, Shirley’s translation with Hackett (Herodotus on 
the War for Greek Freedom; $8.95) provides both more text and more context.

KELLY A. MACFARLANE
University of Alberta					


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