(first published on 8-20-2004) at this location
The Histories – Herodotus (484-428 BC)
Original Language: Greek
Written: 5th century BC
Translation: George Rawlinson
Volume: Great Books of the Western World, Volume 6 (copy. 1952)
Pages: 314 (roughly 700 paperback-sized pages, as the text is condensed)
Difficulty (from 1 to 10, with 1 being the easiest): 4
This work is considered the world’s first work of history, and is a fantastic introduction to Ancient Greek literature. This isn’t your standard academic history book, however; Herodotus gives very interesting accounts of the various cultures spread across Europe and Asia along the way.
I heartily recommend having a map of the known world circa 450 BC handy when reading The Histories, as you may become lost in some places. Most editions include maps of Greece, the Persian Empire, and Africa with the text, which help immensely with the myriad of place names mentioned by Herodotus. Besides that, the book is pretty accessible without any prior knowledge of ancient history. The book relates mainly the histories of the Greeks and the Persians, with the climax being the two crucial battles between the two; The Battle of Marathon, and the Battle of Salamis. The last three “books” are the most entertaining of the work, as it concerns the clash between the clash of Xerxes’ great invasion force with the (mostly) united Greeks in one of the most pivotal times in the history of civilization. After the conflict with the Persian Empire ended, one of the most remarkable intellectual periods in history began in Athens, judging by who followed Herodotus on my list.
The major difficulty in reading this book is keeping track of place names and people (this site should help). Herodotus sometimes shuttles people in and out and leaves the main storyline for pages at a time in examining side stories. But if you contain your frustrations, by the last third of The Histories, you won’t be able to turn the pages fast enough.