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Reinaldo B. Pérez

Reviews of Herodotus, The Histories. Trans. G.C. Macaulay. Rev. & ed. Donald Lateiner. New York: Barnes & Noble, 2004. Pp. xxxvi, 584. ISBN 978-1-59308-102-7, and Thucydides, The History of the Peloponnesian War. Trans. R. Crawley. Rev. & ed. Donald Lateiner. New York: Barnes & Noble, 2006. Pp. xlvi, 605. ISBN 978-1-59308-091-4.

Also discussed in this review:

Grene = Herodotus, The History, trans. D. Grene (Chicago, IL: U Chicago Pr, 1987).
Rawlinson/Thomas = Herodotus, The Histories, trans. G. Rawlinson, rev. R. Thomas (NY: Knopf [Everyman's Library], 1997).
Sélincourt/Marincola = Herodotus, The Histories, trans. A. de Sélincourt, ed. J. Marincola (NY: Penguin, 1996; rev. 2003).
Waterfield/Dewald = Herodotus, The Histories, trans. R. Waterfield, ed. C. Dewald (NY: Oxford U Pr, 1998).

Crawley/Strassler = The Landmark Thucydides, trans. R. Crawley, ed. R.B. Strassler (NY: Simon & Schuster, 1996).
Lattimore = Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War, trans. S. Lattimore (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 1998).
Warner/Finley = Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War, trans. R. Warner, ed. M.I. Finley (NY: Penguin, 1972.)

Such is the wealth of accessible knowledge that all but the specialist set out to their benefit with guidebook in tow to visit such sites as Marathon, Chartres, and Castle Hedingham, or with good editions in hand to read Homer, Herodotus, Thucydides, or Shakespeare. Maps, a plan and elevation, a list of dates, a reflective commentary, notes that are informed but not intrusive, that discuss the controversies and allow new travelers to make their own discoveries and returning pilgrims to renew afresh their faith in inspired human achievement—these things can speed the traveler along on a satisfying journey. A good edition with good notes of a classic work will provide that come-along-with-me sharing of knowledge and experience that new readers need, as well as those signposts which can guide even the returning traveler.

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The Barnes & Noble Classics editions of Herodotus' Histories and Thucydides' Peloponnesian War were both prepared by Donald Lateiner, John Wright Professor of Humanities and Greek at Ohio Wesleyan University. The many excellent features of each can be illustrated by comparing them with several other easily available and inexpensive editions (see box above).

For his edition of Herodotus, Lateiner, author of The Historical Method of Herodotus,[1] revises G.C. Macaulay's 1890 translation and equips it with an introduction and numerous explanatory footnotes. Also included are eight maps, four pages of comments on books, poems, and paintings inspired by the Histories, a section of comments and questions, and a detailed bibliography. The volume concludes with the two extensive indices ("proper names" and "general") from Macaulay's original edition.

Aubrey de Sélincourt's 1954 Penguin Classics translation of Herodotus has been revised and updated (1996/2003) with an introduction and notes by John Marincola, author of Authority and Tradition in Ancient Historiography[2] and professor of Classics at New York University. The 1998 Oxford World's Classics edition features a new translation by Robin Waterfield with an introduction and notes by Carolyn Dewald, Herodotean scholar and professor of classics and history at Bard College.

The 1997 Everyman's Library edition uses George Rawlinson's translation (first published 1858–1860), as revised and updated with an introduction by Rosalind Thomas, author of Herodotus in Context: Ethnography, Science and the Art of Persuasion[3] and lecturer in ancient history at Royal Holloway, University of London. This durable hardcover, with a sown cloth bookmark, reprints the footnotes from the 1910 Everyman's edition; there are no maps. David Grene's 1987 Herodotus is valuable as that of a well-known translator of Greek verse; it includes footnote comments and eight maps.

The five editions of Herodotus thus present five different translations. A brief selection from the folktale story of the clever thief (2.121e), which Herodotus heard from Egyptian priests, can illustrate each translator's style and word choice:

When it came to the king's ears that the thief's body was stolen away, he was sorely vexed. Wishing, therefore, whatever it might cost, to catch the man who had contrived the trick, he had recourse (the priests said) to an expedient, which I can scarcely credit. He sent his own daughter to the common stews, with orders to admit all comers, but to require every man to tell her what was the cleverest and wickedest thing he had done in the whole course of his life. (Rawlinson/Thomas; three sentences)

Upon this the king, when it was reported to him that the dead body of the thief had been stolen, displayed great anger; and desiring by all means to find out whoever devised these things, did this (so at least they said, but I do not believe the account),—he caused his own daughter to sit before a house, and enjoined her to have sex with all equally, and before having sex with any one to compel him to tell her what was the most cunning and what the most unholy deed which he had ever done in all his lifetime. (Macaulay/Lateiner; one sentence)

The king was very angry when he learnt that the thief's body had been stolen, and determined at any cost to catch the man who had been clever enough to bring off such a coup. I find it hard to believe the priests' account of the means he employed to catch him—but here it is: he sent his own daughter to a brothel with orders to admit all comers, and to compel each applicant, before granting him her favours, to tell her what was the cleverest and wickedest thing that he had ever done …. (Sélincourt/Marincola; two sentences)

The king, as soon as he heard that the body of the thief had been stolen, was in a fury. He wanted more than anything in the world to find out who it was that had played the trick, and so he did something—though I myself do not believe it. He set his daughter in room and ordered her to consort with all the men that came to her, alike. But before they enjoyed her, she must compel each to tell her what was the cleverest and wickedest thing he had ever done in his life. (Grene; four sentences)

When news of the theft of the thief's corpse reached the king, he was furious.  There was nothing he wanted more than to catch whoever it was who had pulled the trick off. So what he did—so the story goes, but I find it unbelievable—was install his daughter in a room with instructions to accept all men indiscriminately; she was not to sleep with them, however, until she had got them to tell her the cleverest and the worst things they had ever done in their lives. (Waterfield/Dewald; three sentences)

While the translators render the passage into the language and idiom of their respective times, Macaulay puts it all in one long sentence, as the Greek text of Herodotus has it. The different choices made by the translators are justifiable. The words stews, house, brothel, and room, for example, are different renderings of οἴκημα, which admits all these meanings. Careful reading of the selections above will bring out other stylistic differences among the five translations. Noteworthy is the abbreviated version by Rawlinson, who wrote in his original edition, as noted by Thomas, that "occasional passages offensive to modern delicacy have been retrenched, and others have been modified by the alteration of a few phrases" (xxxvi)—Thomas indicates that "those passages thought indelicate have been reinserted" into Rawlinson's translation in her edition.

A short, abbreviated quotation from Book 7.39—the words of an angry Xerxes—illustrates the level of formality adopted by each translator. Rawlinson uses formal, literary, traditional English: "Thou wretch! darest thou speak to me of thy son?" Macaulay's choice of words is neutral: "Wretched man ... do you dare to make any mention of a son of yours?" Grene's purpose is to use an English that is "traditional, literary, and a little archaic" (31):  "Vile creature ... you dare to speak of your son?" Sélincourt/Marincola uses a modern, literary style: "You miserable fellow ... have you the face to mention your son?" Lastly, Waterfield uses contemporary standard idiom: "Damn you! ... How dare you mention a son of yours?"

Thomas provides three footnotes to the folktale, while Grene and Lateiner have none; Marincola has one endnote, keyed to a footnote number on the page, rather than to the page of the edition or the standard book and section divisions of Herodotus. Dewald has one longish endnote, keyed to book and section; the running header of the endnote section also helpfully gives the page of the edition to which the footnotes refer.

Rawlinson/Thomas reprints a well-known translation. With the briefest of the five introductions, no maps, and notes dating to 1910, it offers few aids to the reader. Grene provides a modern translation that succeeds in capturing Herodotus' narrative of the spoken word; it offers fewer notes than Rawlinson/Thomas and no bibliography, but includes eight maps. Macaulay/Lateiner, Sélincourt/Marincola, and Waterfield/Dewald, with fuller notes and other aids, are examples of how good modern books can be produced by competing publishers.

Lateiner's Herodotus offers fewer annotations than his edition of Thucydides, in this respect being outdone by the 142 pages of notes in Waterfield/Dewald, which make the latter the most fully annotated of the books examined. Lateiner's chronological table is strangely un-Herodotean, giving few dates and events for Herodotus' early books dealing with Lydia, Assyria, Egypt, and Persia. Marincola's chronology is fullest here, and best. The strength of Grene's edition is in providing a very readable traditionally literary translation. Only Grene and Lateiner include battle maps, an odd and regrettable lacuna in the other editions of what is, after all, a work culminating in two important military campaigns whose major battles—Marathon, Thermopylae, Salamis, and Plataea—were historical turning points and have long been bywords for courage, sacrifice, and historical consequence. Lateiner furnishes a repertory of English translations of Herodotus, a section on books, poems, and paintings inspired by Herodotus, another of comments and questions, and an extensive bibliography followed by two superbly detailed indices that make this much the most useful edition for consulting The Histories in English translation. Taken altogether, it provides serious readers with a very accurate translation and a full array of useful ancillary material.

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Lateiner's Thucydides, like Strassler's, uses a lightly revised version of Richard Crawley's 1876 translation. Warner (1954) and Lattimore (1997) offer new translations. A selection from the famous passage (3.82) where Thucydides analyzes how the corruption of moral values was manifested in the corruption of words and public discourse illustrates the differences among the three translations:

Words had to change their ordinary meaning and to take that which was now given them. Reckless audacity came to be considered the courage of a loyal ally; prudent hesitation, specious cowardice; moderation was held to be a cloak for unmanliness; ability to see all sides of a question inaptness to act on any. Frantic violence became the attribute of manliness; cautious plotting, a justifiable means of self-defence. The advocate of extreme measures was always trustworthy; his opponent a man to be suspected. (Crawley/Lateiner)[4]

To fit in with the change of events, words, too had to change their usual meanings. What used to be described as a thoughtless act of aggression was now regarded as the courage one would expect to find in a party member; to think of the future and wait was merely another way of saying one was a coward; any idea of moderation was just an attempt to disguise one's unmanly character; ability to understand a question from all sides meant that one was totally unfitted for action. Fanatical enthusiasm was the mark of a real man, and to plot against an enemy behind his back was perfectly legitimate self-defence.  Anyone who held violent opinions could always be trusted, and anyone who objected to them became a suspect. (Warner)

And in self-justification men inverted the usual verbal evaluations of actions. Irrational recklessness was now considered courageous commitment, hesitation while looking to the future was high-styled cowardice, moderation was a cover for lack of manhood, and circumspection meant inaction, while senseless anger now helped to define a true man, and deliberation for security was a specious excuse for dereliction. The man of violent temper was always credible, anyone opposing him was suspect. (Lattimore)

Warner's more expansive version uses modern idiom to convey Thucydides' conclusions on the moral corruption of the times. His translation is elegant, accurate, and very readable; this, more than the now somewhat dated introduction and appendices by M.I. Finley, is ample reason for the contemporary intelligent reader to be glad of its continued availability. Crawley's fidelity to the Greek original better serves the reader interested in a closer reading of Thucydides as a classic text. While conveying Thucydides' penetrating intellect, his translation better captures Thucydides' antithetical style, use of contrasting and juxtaposed nouns, and the severely incisive distillation of his moral judgment.  

Lattimore's fresh translation (1997), the most recent in English, takes into account scholarship unavailable to Crawley in 1876 or Warner in 1954. For example, his translation of the last clause in the penultimate sentence of the sited passage provides a different sense from Crawley's and Warner's renderings. In this he agrees with the interpretation given in A.W. Gomme's indispensable Historical Commentary on Thucydides.[5] The Greek text, as Gomme explains, continues the passage's contrast of opposing virtue and vice; this is what Lattimore translates. His is a fine example of a careful, thoughtful attempt—even the best translation can only be an attempt—to convey the meaning of the text while doing justice to Thucydides' unique style.

Warner's edition provides few aids to the reader, having, for example, no notes or comments at all on the whole of the target passage (3.82). Neither does Strassler's edition, but Lateiner provides nine separate footnotes of information, comment, and analysis. Lattimore has two notes, one provides a bibliographical reference, the other explains some matters of phraseology, including the clause mentioned above. This illustrates Lattimore's stated aim "to give the reader the most accurate information possible about what is in the text" with the motivation "to convey to the reader with little or no knowledge of Greek a comparably accurate impression of Thucydides as an artist…" (xix).

Strassler's much-praised Landmark Thucydides is a very handsome book, replete with maps, extensive cross-references of biblical proportions, generous marginal summaries, and running headers with book, chapter, chronological, and narrative pointers. The edition includes a superb chronological and geographical overview of the war in a twenty-page section entitled "Theaters of Operation in the Peloponnesian War." Eleven appendices by various American and British scholars follow, providing the modern reader with very helpful background information such as would be familiar to a knowledgeable fifth-century Greek. The comprehensive and readable index, with each name, place, or topic, each entry and subentry in a separate paragraph (separate line), makes it easy to spot what one is looking for. Strassler's index entry under speeches, for example, lists each speaker in a separate line, with indented subentries for each of his speeches. In short, The Landmark Thucydides sets a very high standard for editorial judgment, attention to detail, and recognition of what readers need, as translated into book design and layout, extending to plentiful maps, cross-references, learned appendices, and other aids. It is surely destined to live up to Strassler's proud declaration that, like its original, it will become "a possession for all time."

Lateiner's edition excels in its comprehensive running analytical commentary. Notes or comments appear on almost every single page, sometimes using almost half the page. Lateiner's bibliography lists about five times as many items as Strassler's edition. His introduction, like his abundant notes, is the product of long reflection on his author. It provides more than important background material to the Peloponnesian War and its times; it is rather in itself a Thucydidean analysis of contrasting approaches to the author and an informed assessment of the historian's craft in general and of Thucydides' achievement in particular, as well as his merits and defects. The virtuoso introduction alone more than justifies this new edition. A comprehensive index of names, places, and topics features subentries listed in one paragraph and separated by commas.

Strassler's Landmark Thucydides has the best layout and format as a physical book for the reader to hold, read, use, and understand. It has by far the most and the best maps and a detailed system of cross-references to both text and maps which gives immediate assistance to the reader of any given passage or section. Lattimore's translation merits and will reward close reading by those interested to see how Thucydides' sometimes difficult text is understood and rendered in a careful, contemporary translation that aims to do justice to his language and his style, while making use of modern research on Thucydides as a writer. Many of his notes address matters of language, meaning, and style; others provide historical commentary. Lateiner's Thucydides is the only one with a detailed, almost a running, commentary, mostly historical, and provides the best introduction and bibliography. Strassler takes the reader into Thucydides' history and provides many aids to reading his work, following the course of the war, visualizing where it was fought, and allowing readers to draw their own conclusions. Lateiner takes the reader both into the history and outward to the world of commentary; his profuse notes supply appropriate supplementary information, as well as his own and other scholars' views and assessments. No other one-volume edition of Thucydides provides such abundant and thoughtful commentary. Its annotated, carefully chosen bibliography draws the reader to further investigation and reflection. At $9.95, this sturdily bound paperback Thucydides, edited by a major scholar of the Greek historians, fully achieves the stated goal of the Barnes & Noble Classics series to offer "readers quality editions of enduring works at affordable prices. Each edition presents new scholarship with commentaries, viewpoints, chronologies, notes, and discussion questions." In short, the publishers have made an outstanding choice in Donald Lateiner to edit Herodotus and Thucydides. Both new and experienced readers are sure to have a very satisfying journey indeed who take along his excellent editions in their satchels.

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University of Michigan—Dearborn


[1] Toronto: U Toronto Pr, 1989.

[2] Cambridge: Cambridge U Pr, 1997.

[3] Cambridge: Cambridge U Pr, 2000.

[4] Lateiner retains Crawley's original British spellings, e.g., "defence." As indicated in his introduction (xxx), Strassler Americanizes Crawley's spellings (so "defense" here) and sometimes alters wording: hence, "loyal supporter" for Crawley's "loyal ally" and "inability" for "inaptness" in the present passage.

[5] Specifically, vol. 2 (Oxford: Oxford U Pr, 1956) ad loc.