Thursday, June 03, 2010

An Olympic victory of his own

"Herodotus sometimes writes for children and sometimes for philosophers”
- Edward Gibbon, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire

Herodotus has generated responses, positive and negative, over the years. Here is the opening of “Herodotus” by Lucian of Samosata (translated by H. W. Fowler and F. G. Fowler):
I devoutly wish that Herodotus's other characteristics were imitable; not all of them, of course--that is past praying for--, but any one of them: the agreeable style, the constructive skill, the native charm of his Ionic, the sententious wealth, or any of a thousand beauties which he combined into one whole, to the despair of imitators. But there is one thing--the use he made of his writings, and the speed with which he attained the respect of all Greece; from that you, or I, or any one else, might take a hint. As soon as he had sailed from his Carian home for Greece, he concentrated his thoughts on the quickest and easiest method of winning a brilliant reputation for himself and his works. He might have gone the round, and read them successively at Athens, Corinth, Argos, and Sparta; but that would be a long toilsome business, he thought, with no end to it; so he would not do it in detail, collecting his recognition by degrees, and scraping it together little by little; his idea was, if possible, to catch all Greece together. The great Olympic Games were at hand, and Herodotus bethought him that here was the very occasion on which his heart was set. He seized the moment when the gathering was at its fullest, and every city had sent the flower of its citizens; then he appeared in the temple hall, bent not on sight-seeing, but on bidding for an Olympic victory of his own; he recited his Histories, and bewitched his hearers; nothing would do but each book must be named after one of the Muses, to whose number they corresponded.

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