Thursday, July 1, 2010

Eight reasons why not to read Herodotus' Histories or Plutarch's Lives.

1. The length.  Why read 40,000 words about a dead guy who did nothing to influence our country's government or culture?  How about 700,000 something words describing the Persian War and the events that led up to it?

2. The amount of detail.  Herodotus, do your readers really want to know about every single pit stop the Persians made on their trek to Greece?  Do you really need to lay out the every position of the forces of each army and describe to us the tactical advantage of each position?  Plutarch, do you really have to tell us every single detail about Cimon's (who?) education, childhood, goverment...

3. These books are BORING.  And they don't try to hide it.  Who enjoys reading about a primitive civilization that bickers constantly about a field or spot of land (Herodotus makes sure his readers know exactly which land they're fighting over every single time).

4. Lack of life lessons (my CW poetry teacher would be awed by my awesome alliteration).  About every 55,000 words in the Histories, there is a good one-liner or thought-provoking moment.  55,0000 words is more than half my book.

5. Presence of better resources.  There are hundreds of history books out there that will take the 700,000 words in the Histories and condense it into a nice, 10,000 word summary.  And still gives you all the good one-liners.

6. You can just watch the movie, which gives all the graphic representation and powerful dialogue which the book DOESN'T.  300 is rated R for "rescue" to Great Books students slugging through Herodotus.

7. It's summer.

8. The new Twilight movie is out, and judging by the commercials, the special effects and sound mixing are dazzling.

July 2 update: 9.  Herodotus and Plutarch were pagan writers but never in the Histories or Lives did I really see them describe their religion and why they follow it.  There was  a brief moment when Herodotus tried to describe the origin of the Greek gods (he said they were based off the Egyptian deities...weirdo), but never do they pay much regard to matters of philosophy or religion.  The Histories and Lives are solely about the history of two civilizations and their people of influence (Greece&Rome in Lives, Greece&Persia in Histories).  Very few times do either classical writers endeavour to provide commentary on their subjects.  They just "lay out the facts".  I would rather read a thought-provoking book on philosophy or religion than try to fill my head with knowledge of all the squabbles and wars a long extinct civilization had.


  1. is that a tiny hint of sarcasm in #8?
    because that would so NOT be like you ... ;-)

  2. I guess your reasons are valid, but to a point. The Histories is not an action-packed fast read, but, as the name implies, a history. This book was not written for entertainment, but for information. Boring? Long? Too detailed? What's your point? If you're comparing it to such trash as Twilight or any of the other crap literature that is written and read these days, you're one hundred percent right.
    But get this. You shouldn't be comparing it to that. You should be comparing it to other, more noteworthy and valuable works such as the Odyssey, the Lord of the Rings, and the Iliad. They are also long, detailed, and in some parts a tad boring, but are far superior to just about everything written these days.
    I'm trying to say that the Histories is not a book written for fun and for anybody to just skim through it. Herodotus wrote it with lots of detail and length because he wanted to portray as fully as he could the events that took place. It's not supposed to be full of one-liners and thought provoking moments! Are any modern history books written like that? No, I don't think so.
    And better resources? Or resources written in easy, modern language so that the dumbed-down people of this generation can understand what is supposedly going on? DON'T read the "better resources". Read what Herodotus wrote, and push yourself to try and understand his writing.
    The movie? What the heck do you get out of a movie that you can't get out of a book ten times over? Nothing. Sure, the movie provides an image for characters and puts in cool dialogue and action, but it's all exaggerated, and 90% of the lines are fake and were never said by the actual historical figures.
    And this book is called The Histories. It's not supposed to be about religion. That's what the Bible's for. And anyway, who cares if Herodotus wasn't Catholic or Christian or whatever. That's not the point, nor is it significant. If you're looking for some thought-provoking book on philosophy or religion, try reading something like Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis or maybe something written by Socrates.
    And you know what else? If you don't like this book, don't read it! It was written for people who are interested in the "squabbles and wars a long extinct civilization had". All your reasons say indirectly that you don't want to try and understand this book, and you don't want to enjoy it. Okay, that's cool, you don't have to. But don't post all this about how horrible it is. Perhaps you should go and do Legos or something you can understand a bit better. But please, don't talk bad about a book like this that is written purely for information, not for aiding our government or culture, and not for immense entertainment and action. Okay? And please don't take anything I've said the wrong way. I'm not trying to be mean or anything, but to question what you've said about this book. Thanks for reading. :)

  3. How I wish I could have had this argument in my Great Books class last year. Actually, because you post yourself as anonymous, I could be talking to my GB teacher for all I know.

    Let's open our copy of the Histories to books 7. Now let's plop 300 into the dvd player. You think that the book gives you ten times over what the movie offers. I say the movie gives you just as much in a quarter of the time. Where 300 excels is in showing us the fortitude and strength of the Spartan nation and exhibiting completely their nature as a fighting country. You'd have to search pretty hard to find direct explanations of the Spartans' character and strength in the Histories. Mostly, he leaves those details for the reader to figure out. And even if 300 is inaccurate in laying out the plot and battle details, it doesn't much matter as long as it had the narrow canyon. The Spartans survived as long as they did because of the canyon, and most of the other details Hero points out are irrelevant. Very, very few of the details Hero gives on the battle of Thermopylae can be used much by our military today. There's a reason we don't fight with sticks and stones anymore. I think who the Spartans and Persians were matters many times more than details. If you had no previous knowledge of the ancient Greeks or their culture, and you had 2 hours to learn about them, 300 would be more helpful (and accessible) than the Histories.

    Not all "better resources" are written in easy, modern language; I'm sure you understood that when you commented. And of course I'm not recommending that anybody read the dumbed-down versions of Hero's account. But there are still hundreds of "mini-classics" out there that do exactly what I mentioned, super-condense Herodotus' Histories. Helene A. Guerber's "Story of the Greeks" is one example of such a book.

    Ultimately, my point is that people have lives (pun intended). We all have enough work to do without trying to read Hero's 700,000 word history. I do admit that it is important to know who the Greeks, their foes, and allies were, but knowing every single event that led up to and happened in the Persian war won't really make you a better or more capable person. I like to pull a line from Fahrenheit 451.

    "Peace, Montag. Give the people contests they can win by remembering the words to more popular songs or the names of of state capitals or how much corn Iowa grew last year. Cram them full of noncombustible data, chock them so damned full of 'facts' they feel stuffed, but absolutely 'brilliant' with information. Then they'll feel they're thinking, they'll get a sense of motion without moving. And they'll be happy, because facts of that sort don't change. Don't give them any slippery stuff like philosophy or sociology to tie things up with. That way lies melancholy..."

    Ray Bradbury's point is that most "facts" like the sort that Hero gives are really sort of useless. Little of Hero's info challenges the mind or encourages it to think. It's just data. In today's world, most people have places to go and things to do. There's no room for the Histories. If people must learn about ancient Greece and Rome, and they should, there are fare more accessible and less time-consuming resources than the Histories. I think it used to be an important book, but not as much anymore, now that dozens of other documents have taken only the essentials and made them readable and enjoyable to this world's readers.

    Phew. Is it summer? I feel like I just wrote an entire essay.


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