HERODOTUS: Histories Book V

Ed. with intro., trans. and comm. by P.J. Rhodes

Liverpool University Press: Aris and Phillips (2019) p/b 264pp £22.99 (ISBN 9781789620153)

Book V opens with Persian operations to get a foothold in Macedon and the Aegean. Herodotus then turns to the beginnings of the Ionian revolt, with Aristagoras first supporting Persia’s thrust into the Aegean with an attempt to take Naxos, but when that failed, deciding to lead a rebellion against Persian rule—the beginning of the Ionian Revolt. He was unable to persuade Sparta’s king Cleomenes to support the scheme, but had better luck in Athens, the ‘beginning of evil for Greeks and barbarians alike’, as Herodotus comments (after describing how Athens’ commitment to isegoria – ‘equal voice in government’ – had enabled it to expel the tyrants and flourish). The insurgents set fire to Sardis, Persia’s regional capital of Ionia, but were forced to retreat and defeated in battle.  However, the Ionians persevered and spread rebellion north and south, from Byzantium to Caria and, a matter of greater concern for Persia, Cyprus. 

The Persians quickly regained control of Cyprus and most of the Empire’s western frontier, but Caria and Miletus held out, and the Ionian fleet was still intact. The book ends with the death of Aristagoras, an unsatisfactory decision on the part of the librarian or scribe who divided the historia into its nine books since the conclusion of the revolt, including the sea battle of Lade and the fall of Miletus, takes up the first quarter of Book VI. (Separating the battles of Thermopylae and Artemisium, the two interdependent components of the Greek defensive strategy, at the break between books VII and VIII was equally unsatisfactory.)

This edition sits comfortably alongside Simon Hornblower’s 2013 text in the Cambridge ‘green & yellow’ series. Students below advanced undergraduate level will be well served by it, especially if their teachers have Hornblower available for their own and students’ reference and deeper study. Professor Rhodes’ Introduction and Commentary are, in the words of his Preface, ‘particularly but not exclusively concerned with the subject matter: the history which Herodotus relates… ’. Hornblower’s edition, as implied by its intended readership, is more comprehensive in scope, not only dealing fully with the historical narrative at the heart of the work but also giving generous space to linguistic, textual and literary issues.

The main body of Rhodes’ Introduction, ‘Herodotus and his History’, begins with a compact account of the author’s life; the sparse evidence for it in the historia itself and other sources is well-referenced. An overview of the historia as a whole follows, and then a description of Herodotus’ research method and predominantly oral sources. The next two sections usefully explore his narrative technique and personality as an author. Next come a couple of pages on the Greek text as transmitted, with good thoughts on the effect of dialectal variations and the balanced view which needs to be taken when considering questions of emendation and accuracy. A section on the language of the historia opens with further discussion of dialect, but mainly explores sentence and narrative structure, and the various methods of presentation. Rhodes highlights the powerful influence of Homer on a work which was much more widely disseminated in its author’s lifetime by oral performance than by publication in manuscript. A closing section covers reception of the historia from the 5th century to the modern era. The Introduction continues with ten brisk pages of historical background and concludes with a summary of Book V. A fairly short bibliography details ‘modern books which are cited frequently…and a few other fundamental books.’ If that proves insufficient, Hornblower offers 26 pages of works cited!

The ‘parallel’ English translation is often uncannily so, with word order identical and line closely matching line. Rhodes’ aim is ‘to express the meaning accurately in good English’ and he achieves this, though ‘plain’ might reasonably be exchanged for ‘good’ on the grounds that this is a version that does not aspire to communicate the storytelling fluency of the original (that ‘peaceful stream’ admired by Cicero). Here the main purpose of both translation and commentary is to present the text as historical source material, which they do well, rather than as an inspired work of literature. In the usual fashion of many Aris and Phillips editions, they do not give much incentive to engage with the Greek.

William Shepherd

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