- Herodotus and the War for Greek Freedom: Selections from the Histories
This volume presents a translation, with brief footnotes, of about a third of Herodotus's Histories. Romm uses a translation by a retired British schoolmaster, with a few additions of his own. The editor provides a brief introduction, divided into "Scope of the Histories," "Persians," "Greeks," "Herodotus" (his life, to the limited extent we know of it), and " The Histories in Its Time" (background and audience). There is a "Chronology of the Archaic Age," which actually sorts dates for events in Greece, Egypt (although Romm includes none of Book Two), and the Near East from 3400 to 425 B.C.E. There are five maps, and the volume ends with a glossary of the most important personal and place names and a more inclusive index of proper names.
This book's relatively high price and limited contents make it less attractive (especially for students) than a number of cheaper competitors. Chief among these is the Norton Critical Edition ($11.90), edited by Walter Blanco and Jennifer Roberts with a translation by Blanco (1992). The Norton edition, 250 pages longer than the Hackett, not only includes substantially more Herodotus, but provides a wider range of aids for the reader, including related ancient texts like Aeschylus and Bacchylides and a number of modern essays, from Lord Macaulay to Donald Lateiner. Blanco and Roberts also include a good annotated bibliography, sadly lacking in the Romm edition. [End Page 947]
Romm's longer introduction and more numerous footnotes might recommend his book to some readers, but these features are in no way remarkable. The introduction makes some confusing statements about Herodotus's failure to distinguish between fact and fiction, gives only a limited account of hoplite warfare, and perpetuates some outdated notions about Herodotus's composition and "publication." The footnotes too often explain the obvious or make off-the-wall speculations, such as that Themistocles' threat to decamp to Italy and not fight the Persians (8.62) was "desperate." What Romm fails to do with the notes is to identify for the reader some of the major repeated themes in Herodotus's work, such as the well-known "wise advisor" motif.
Recent years have seen a number of unnecessary new translations of Herodotus, when what we needed was more in the vein of a distillation of the noble Mondadori commentary (1988-) , which is now forthcoming in English from Oxford, or perhaps an English version of Legrand's excellent Introduction (Paris, 1966). In the meantime, George Rawlinson's great translation (originally 1861, but widely reprinted) will surely do. Rawlinson is even available for downloading (classics.mit.edu) for teachers who want to make up their own selections and their own notes for a course pack.
St. Peter, Minnesota