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Herodotus: The Father of History

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Witness the "works and wonders" of the ancient world through the eyes of its first great historian in this sparkling series of 24 lectures from a much-honored teacher and classical scholar.

Herodotus (c. 484-420 B.C.E.) was a Greek who was born in what is now the modern Turkish resort town of Bodrum and who died, so tradition says, in the south of Italy. In between, his tirelessly inquiring mind took him from one corner of the known world to another. And he reported on or visited all of its continents (Europe, Asia, and Africa) to write about the vast array of subjects that captured his interest. These included the "great works" of the ancient land of Egypt; the remarkable kings who built the vast Persian Empire; and the strange customs and unlikely origins of the Scythians, a warlike, mounted people who lived beyond the Danube and whose repulse of Darius and the Persians in 513 B.C.E. made them the first Europeans to throw back an eastern invasion.

The book that emerged from these "inquiries" - The Histories - is Herodotus's only known work, yet it still made Herodotus one of the rare, landmark figures in the story of thought. In these lectures, Professor Vandiver introduces you to Herodotus and The Histories, tracing the influences he assimilated and the new methods he used in crafting this monumental work. You learn how that work looked at the past in new and fresh ways, seeing it not as a distant recess shrouded in legend and rumor, but as something that lies close at hand; as something that immediately affects the here and now, and as a subject whose great personalities and patterns of events can be studied in order to make the reasons behind them as clear as possible.

PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying reference material will be available in your My Library section along with the audio.

©2002 The Teaching Company, LLC (P)2002 The Great Courses

Ce que les auditeurs disent de Herodotus: The Father of History

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  • John
  • 07/10/2019

Vandiver + Herodotus = 2 Well-Spent Credits

Another reviewer likened the Histories to “story time with a grandparent”. I get what they mean, but for me Herodotus is more like the keeper of a vast antique shop describing the items (and the stories behind the items) as he guides us through his labyrinth of cabinets.

Of course, that can get confusing. Which is why I can’t recommend Professor Vandiver’s lectures too highly. Listening to both recordings in tandem (choose the Naxos edition of the Histories, with David Timson), Vandiver’s talks become your footnotes (and Cliff’s Notes), giving everything from illuminating details to the broader intellectual milieu in which Herodotus worked and the shape of the book he left us.

For example: College was a while ago, so I either forgot or never knew that Herodotus consciously echoes Homer. And that, for Herodotus, history is not the outcome of impersonal economic and social forces but of very personal likes and dislikes, friendships and vendettas. For that reason, the story of a king’s downfall can quickly evolve into a lengthy digression on the man’s great grandparents who fomented the grievance that is now inspiring his enemies. The experience is more than a little like listening to Ovid’s Metamorphosis; the synapses between stories—or, in this case, within them—can be very elusive. Lucky for us, Professor Vandiver can be very helpful.

Then there are moments—frequent with me—where you ask questions like, “Were the Persians really named after Perseus?” Again, Professor Vandiver has light to shed; while Herodotus purports to give us the inside story on how a city was founded or a custom established, the good professor gives us either the best scholarly guesses, recent archeological evidence, or both. This isn’t to ding Herodotus; as he reminds us, “Nothing is impossible in the long lapse of ages” (and many times the archeology backs him up). But to a modern sensibility it’s comforting to get both perspectives.

Maybe it’s just because the story of the Persian Wars is more familiar (and this is the account that made it so familiar), but in the final two-and-a-half books of his History, the garrulous antiquarian stops rummaging through his display cases and suddenly becomes something akin to a more modern historian. Yet even as the narrative focus sharpens, there are still plenty of digressions, detours and details for Professor Vandiver to illuminate.

Both recordings make for very easy listening. Professor Vandiver’s obvious love for her subject always makes her an engaging, entertaining teacher. And David Timson turns in his usual spectacular performance on the Histories.

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  • Betsy
  • 15/09/2013

Really Loved It

I thought this was completely informative and enjoyable. It does what courses like this do best by taking a topic you know a little bit about and just expanding it. At first, I was skeptical about the Professor but I was wrong. She was knowledgeable and easy to follow. But she also seemed to just genuinely enjoy the topic and have a lot of affection for Herodotus (as odd as that sounds by the end I did too), which really makes you get into it.

The Histories really were an amazing achievement from a person who seemed to be maybe naive maybe intentionally deceptive but, regardless, endlessly curious and inquisitive about just everything. Not just the wars but culture, religion, science. And the Professor conveys that along with conveying facts.

It obviously seems like a narrow and niche topic to pick up. But I really think it is worth it. It really covers a lot about the history of history and of the time. The Professor talks about how Herodotus influences others (even as they were disdainful of him) but I think that has never been more relevant. She doesn't get into it but at this point there is an "oral history" on every topic imaginable floating around. Some are considered classics (Please Kill Me, Live From New York and most of Studs Terkel). And some aren't. But the idea of learning about a topic and a place in time by just talking to a bunch of people and relating what they say word for word even if one contradicts the other has definitely come back into vogue in a very big way. That approach has a lot of flaws when it comes to relating facts and dates (so traditional history is of course important) but it often captures the mood, the feelings, the idea of a place (the real truth) in a way relating the facts can't. And, in that sense, Herodotus has truly never been more relevant.

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  • julio santiago
  • 17/06/2015

Utterly Fantastic!

I am a great fan of The Great Courses series and have built up quite a library. Listening to these great professors, experts and masters in their field, is for me a great investment of time. I find it difficult listening to anything else as I excercise, or go about my chores.
These lectures by Herodotian scholar, Professor Vandiver are my favorite. The Professor is an excellent orator and is passionate about her subject. Two ingredients that I believe, make for a great professor. This is my second time listening to the course and I intend to revisit it again. I definitely recommend this course to anyone interested in Herodotus and Greek - Persian history.

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  • Taylor Britton
  • 13/01/2020

a great course

i saved this one as my last of the available courses on greek history and mythology because Elizabeth Vandiver has been my fav Great Courses instructor so far. now that i am out of her courses i will have to find a copy of her book "Heroes in Herodotus: The Interaction of Myth and History"

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  • historygirl
  • 23/03/2016

Fantastic

I absolutely loved this course. Professor Vandiver has carefully constructed a wonderful series of lectures on Herodotus, his work, and in the world he lived in and wrote about. Highly recommended.

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  • Omar
  • 28/02/2016

Just What You Were Looking For

Professor Vandiver will ignite (or reignite) your love for the classics and open your eyes to the possibilities of historical writing

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  • William Suttle
  • 19/07/2020

Great course- literally.

I tboughly enjoyed this course. This is the second course I have listened to with this lecturer, and I truly hope I can find a third. I very much enjoy learning about or refreshing my knowledge of ancient Greece, and this truly fits the bill.

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  • Barilari
  • 03/07/2020

completely fair but in one aspect

powerful and fair scholarship about history but seemed to assume the rejection of African influence

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  • Jeff Lacy
  • 18/06/2020

Excellent lecture on Herodotus

Professor Vandiver gives us twenty-four enlightening lectures on Herodotus’ Histories. With a pleasant voice, she provides well organized lectures that probe and analyze Herodotus’ work, adding background information, and highlighting opinions by other scholars. Her years of experience with the work and the genre lend this Audible recording of this Great Courses series great value to the student and those interested in adding to their appreciation of The Histories.

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 15/06/2019

A brilliant lecture! I have learned so much.

I will come back to this lecture again and again for pleasure and research for my own writing.

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  • Katja
  • 22/07/2017

ich könnte gar nicht aufhören.

Tolles Buch. Spannend und strukturiert. Viel gelernt in kurzer Zeit. Beeindruckende Autorin.
werde wieder rein hören.