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The Essential Herodotus

Translation, Introduction, and Annotations by William A. Johnson

William A. Johnson

Publication Date - 22 July 2016

ISBN: 9780199897957

288 pages
6-1/2 x 9-1/4 inches

In Stock

The first collection of its kind, this volume provides fresh, new translations of essential selections from Herodotus


Breathing new life into the writings of the West's first historian, The Essential Herodotus combines balanced selections of his work with succinct commentary and notes. The first collection of its kind, this volume presents Herodotus's well-known writings on politics and war alongside his research on folk traditions, foreign cultures, and natural wonders. William A. Johnson's clear and lively translations make the original texts accessible in all their richness. Ideal for novices and historians alike, The Essential Herodotus reminds a 21st-century audience why these texts have stood the test of time.


  • Brings together, for the first time, the essential selections from the West's first historian
  • New, clear, and lively translations preserve the charm of the original Greek
  • Notes and annotations provide helpful context for understanding passages
  • Thirty-two photos and more than fifty maps and diagrams enhance the original texts
  • A list of central characters, a time line, and an index of place names enhance the book's utility
  • The book's compact format makes it ideal for students and general readers

About the Author(s)

William A. Johnson, Professor of Classical Studies at Duke University, works broadly in the cultural history of Greece and Rome. His books include Readers and Reading Culture in the High Roman Empire: A Study of Elite Reading Communities (OUP, 2010), Ancient Literacies (OUP, 2009), and Bookrolls and Scribes in Oxyrhynchus (2004).


"Abridged editions...are intended for use in the classroom, so the target audience is teachers who would rather not bother culling passages from lengthier texts. Convenience, therefore, is a real selling factor, even if the editorial decisions are sometimes questionable-even frustrating...Johnson's edition has clear advantages (though it is slightly more expensive). For one thing, it includes a larger selection from Herodotus than the Shirley/Romm edition. In addition, unlike Shirley/Romm, Johnson supplements the text with a number of pedagogically useful figures, tables, and maps. Johnson's translation is clear and engaging, and his footnotes...supplement well Herodotus's historical narrative. All in all, The Essential Herodotus is a very nice edition of the Histories. It will appeal mainly to classicists and humanities instructors seeking a compact, translated edition of Herodotus for classroom use." --F. A. Grabowski, CHOICE

"This well-judged selection and charming translation splendidly brings out the variety and delights of Herodotus's text. It embraces not only the famous battle accounts (Marathon, Salamis) but also the less familiar, equally captivating ethnographic narratives, from the marvels of Lydia to the romantic liaisons of Amazons and Sauromatae and the Scythians' cannabis use. Helpful subtitles and introductions to each section will prove invaluable to the general reader who is encountering Herodotus for the first time."--Emily Baragwanath, University of North Carolina

"The Essential Herodotus allows the reader to travel the ancient world with a Greek storyteller, investigator, and historian, whose range of interests was all encompassing, and who was a keen observer of the human condition in its physical and cultural environment. Johnson's sensitive comments justify his selections from Herodotus's history and show its unity of themes and literary richness."--Joseph Roisman, Colby College

"The selections reflect the wide-ranging nature of Herodotus's inquiries; the notes are concise, on-point, and informative, especially regarding major themes and historical method; and the lively and engaging translation retains the archaic storytelling features, the conversational tone, and the narrative brilliance of the original. This book will be extremely useful for anyone who teaches ancient Greek history or culture courses."--Christoper A. Baron, University of Notre Dame

"Professor Johnson succeeds in presenting the full range of Herodotus's interests (not just history as we know it, but history juxtaposed with and informed by ethnography, geography, primeval legend, and contemporary scientific debate) in a translation that is accurate, clear, and engaging."--Charles C. Chiasson, University of Texas at Arlington

"William A. Johnson's The Essential Herodotus is a pleasurable and honest alternative for anyone not at leisure to read the massive original. It exposes the reader to the same marvellous variety of materials while remaining completely faithful to the historian's overarching concern, the Greco-Persian War and its causes. Thus, the reader experiences all the domains of Herodotus's research: foreign customs, folk traditions, storytelling, natural wonders and human marvels, divine forces obscurely present in human affairs, reflections on historical method, and of course wartime deeds both glorious and terrible. And Johnson's translation preserves all the charm of the Greek--its elegance, its frequent conversational tone, and its sly naïveté."--James Andrews, Ohio University

"Johnson has chosen his selections from the Histories very well; readers will gain from these selections an excellent impression of the content and nature of Herodotus's work as a whole. The comments that Johnson offers on Herodotean motifs, themes, and recurring patterns, moreover, are outstanding--some of the best such comments I have ever read in a translation of the Histories. Armed with a knowledge of such patterns, readers should be well-quipped to appreciate Herodotus' achievement as a historian, thinker, and literary artist."--David Branscome, Florida State University

Table of Contents

    About the Translator
    Central Persons in Herodotus
    The Great Kings of Persia (The Achaemenids)
    Time Line
    BOOK 1
    Proem: The Opening Sentence
    The Snatchings of Women
    Croesus and Tales of Lydia
    Gyges and the Wife of Candaules
    Early Kings of Lydia: Ardys, Sadyattes, Alyattes, & the War against Miletus
    Periander at Corinth: Arion and the Dolphin
    Croesus and Solon
    Atys and Adrastus
    Croesus Tests the Oracles
    Croesus Seeks an Ally
    Background: Athens
    Background: Sparta
    Croesus Attacks Cyrus
    Cyrus Counterattacks: The Siege of Sardis
    Croesus on the Pyre
    Cyrus and Croesus
    The Marvels and Customs of Lydia
    Tales of Cyrus and the Rise of the Persians
    Cyrus the Great
    Background: Deioces, and the Rise of the Medes
    The Birth and Upbringing of Cyrus
    The Punishment of Harpagus
    How Cyrus Became King
    Cyrus's Last Campaign
    The Land of the Massagetae
    Cyrus Attacks the Massagetae
    The Marvels and Customs of the Massagetae
    BOOK 2
    Cambyses and Tales of Egypt
    Psammetichus and the Antiquity of Egypt
    Physical Geography of Egypt
    The Nile River
    The Marvels and Customs of Egypt
    The Kings of Egypt
    BOOK 3
    Cambyses Invades Egypt
    The Causes for the Invasion
    Preparations for the Invasion
    The Attack on Egypt
    Cambyses and the Apis Bull
    The Madness of Cambyses
    Crisis and Constitutional Debate
    A False Smerdis Declares Himself King and Cambyses Dies
    The Seven Overthrow the Magi
    The Constitutional Debate
    BOOK 4
    Darius Invades Scythia
    Why Darius Attacked Scythia
    Origins of the Scythians
    The Marvels and Customs of Scythia
    Darius Prepares to Invade
    Darius Crosses the Ister
    Physical Geography of Scythia and Its Neighbors
    Excursus: Sauromatae and the Amazons
    The Neighboring States Take Counsel
    The Scythians Lead and the Persians Follow
    Darius Challenges the Scythians to Fight
    Darius Retreats and the Scythians Give Chase
    The Ionians at the Bridge and Darius's Arrival
    BOOKS 5 AND 6
    The Ionian Revolt
    Aristagoras Visits Sparta
    Athens and the Burning of Sardis
    Histiaeus Hoodwinks Darius
    The Persians Move to Reestablish Control Even as the Revolt Spreads
    Histiaeus Joins the Revolt
    Sea Battle at Lade and the Fall of Miletus
    The Fate of Histiaeus
    The Final Subjugation of Ionia
    BOOK 6
    The First Invasion of Greece: Mardonius and Marathon
    The Invasion of Europe: Mardonius's Misadventure
    Subjugation of the Cyclades
    Subjugation of Eretria
    The Battle of Marathon
    BOOK 7
    Xerxes Invades Greece
    Darius Decides upon a Full-Scale Invasion
    Council of the Persians
    Xerxes and the Dream
    Xerxes Prepares to Invade
    Bridging the Hellespont
    Xerxes Marches into Europe
    Xerxes Counts and Reviews the Host
    Xerxes and Demaratus
    Artemisium and Thermopylae
    Council at the Isthmus
    The Greek forces
    Xerxes and Demaratus
    BOOK 8
    The Greeks Evacuate Athens
    The Greek Fleet
    The Persians Occupy Attica and Burn Athens
    The Greeks Deliberate. Themistocles Tries to Persuade Eurybiades
    Signs from the Gods
    The Persians Deliberate. Artemisia Tries to Persuade Xerxes
    The Greek Resolve Wavers. Themistocles' Message to Xerxes
    The Battle of Salamis
    Xerxes Decides to Return to Susa
    BOOK 9
    Note on the Selections
    Note on the Text
    Photo Credits
    Pronouncing Glossary/Index