Herodotus: The Father of History

Course No. 2353
Professor Elizabeth Vandiver, Ph.D.
Whitman College
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Course No. 2353
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Course Overview

Witness the "works and wonders" of the ancient world through the eyes of its first great historian. Herodotus became the first person we know of to see the past in new and fresh ways—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.

Given the number and the superb quality of the courses on classical literature that Professor Elizabeth Vandiver has contributed to The Great Courses, we knew that we had to bring her into our studio to lecture on Herodotus.

His monumental work, the Histories, was the subject of her doctoral dissertation and first book. And it remains one of her great loves among Greek and Roman writings.

An Exceptional Teacher

If you've enjoyed any of Professor Vandiver's previous courses on the epics of Homer and Virgil, Greek tragedy, or classical mythology, you will surely want to add this one to your library of recorded learning.

If you are new to Professor Vandiver or The Teaching Company, however, this course is still a great investment in learning.

She presents the material to you as a self-contained unit that is readily accessible and requires no special background knowledge.

Herodotus (c. 484–420 B.C.E.) was a Greek who was born in what is now the modern Turkish resort town of Bodrum (called Halicarnassus, in his day) and who died, so tradition says, in the south of Italy.

A Tireless Mind

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, including:

  • the "great works" (erga megala) of the ancient land of Egypt
  • the remarkable kings who built the vast and mighty Persian Empire
  • 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.

These lectures introduce you to the book—Herodotus's only known work—that came out of these "inquiries." (The title Histories, by the way, is a now-common mistranslation of the original title, as Professor Vandiver explains.)

You learn what makes Herodotus one of those rare, landmark figures in the story of thought as Professor Vandiver traces the influences Herodotus assimilated and the new methods he used in crafting this monumental work.

A New Way of Seeing the Past

Herodotus became the first person we know of to see the past in new and fresh ways:

  • 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
  • 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.

What You Will Learn

In Professor Vandiver's characteristically comprehensive and systematic treatment, you learn:

Essential background and context ... including what we know about the life of Herodotus, the key influences on him, his intended audience and possible reasons for writing the book, and the general task that he set himself (as explained in his all-important first sentence).

The scope, design, and organization of The Histories itself ... including both the tantalizing digressions on Egypt and Scythia, and the dramatic Persian War narrative (490–479 B.C.E.) that lies at the heart of the story Herodotus tells.

The key interpretive issues that scholars have long debated include:

  • Herodotus's focus on individuals as the makers of history
  • his use of and departures from Homeric models
  • his handling of materials from myth and legend
  • his attitude toward facts and verification
  • his relationship to the new scientific, political, and artistic currents of his day, including Sophism, Periclean democracy, tragic drama, and the Peloponnesian War.

The light shed on The Histories by modern research ... including rock carvings left by the Persians, and even the recently discovered traces of one of the military canals that the Emperor Xerxes dug to facilitate the movement of his massive invading forces into Greece.

The continuing influence and significance of Herodotus from his own time to ours ... including the renewed appreciation that scholars developed for him in the 20th century and the lasting place he enjoys in the Western imagination.

Stirring Episodes, Unforgettable Characters

Of course, there is much more to Herodotus than grand themes and scholarly debates, interesting as all those are.

His pages overflow with vividly described events and human beings whose deeds, whether good or ill, deserve to be remembered and reflected upon by generations to come.

A partial list includes:

  • the intrepid Persian ruler Cyrus (the first great Persian conqueror), his mad and doomed son Cambyses, and the brilliant Darius, who won the struggle to succeed Cambyses and proved to be the administrative genius the empire needed in order to grow and consolidate into the most powerful state the world had ever seen
  • the Lydian king Croesus, the world's richest man, and his encounter with the Athenian lawgiver Solon, one of the world's wisest; in the skilled hands of Herodotus, the description of this meeting reveals much about the differences between East and West and the very nature of human knowledge and happiness
  • the astute Athenian general Miltiades, whose bold and innovative plan enabled his army of 10,000 citizen-soldiers to win their improbable victory over the much larger Persian host of Darius at Marathon in 490 B.C.E.
  • the cruel and arrogant Emperor Xerxes, who had the waters of the Hellespont Strait lashed for daring to destroy one of his pontoon bridges during the second Persian invasion of Greece in 480 B.C.E.
  • the wily Athenian admiral and statesman Themistocles, without whose stratagems the epoch-making naval victory at Salamis—and with it the golden age of Greece—would have been impossible
  • the redoubtable Spartan king Leonidas, whose last stand at the head of his outnumbered band in the narrow defile of Thermopylae is given undying fame by the literary brilliance of Herodotus.
An Invitation to Join a Remarkable Journey

This should give you some idea of what it is like to follow Herodotus on his journey through what he calls the erga megala te kai thômasta ("great and astonishing works or deeds") of the ancient world.

Always he seeks the aitiê (cause or reason) of the essential human things.

Courage and cruelty. Wisdom and folly. Love and hate. Greed and generosity. Nobility and baseness. None of these escapes Herodotus's probing mind or urge to bear witness.

With his work set before you with skill, subtlety, and an eye for telling detail, he can become a companion for life, stimulating reflection with every page.

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24 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    Herodotus and History
    This scene-setting talk ushers you into the course by identifying key issues of definition and terminology; explaining what is known about the life of Herodotus; providing background on the ancient Greek world; and summarizing the momentous events, particularly the Persian Wars, that spur Herodotus to write. x
  • 2
    "Inquiry" and the Birth of History
    Herodotus is not the first Greek to write about the past. What, then, makes him original? How does he explain—in the very first sentence of his work and one that richly rewards close reading—the "what, why, and how" of his monumental effort? x
  • 3
    Myth, Legend, and Oral Tradition
    How does Herodotus deal with the vast and complicated body of traditional narratives that informed the Greek world? How do his subject matter and his angle on it both resemble and differ from older accounts of the ways and causes of things? x
  • 4
    Homeric Epic and the East-West Conflict
    For all ancient Greeks, Homer was a pervasive influence. How does Herodotus model his work on the Iliad and the Odyssey? How and why does he depart from the Homeric and give us the uniquely Herodotean? x
  • 5
    The Ionian Enlightenment
    In 6th century B.C., in coastal cities of Greek-speaking Ionia (today's western Turkey), flourishes radically new thinkers known as Pre-Socratics or Ionian scientists. They blaze a trail Herodotus follows. x
  • 6
    Athens in the Archaic Age
    Because Athens is integral to the story of the Persian Wars, your study of Herodotus must include a survey of the political and cultural developments that pave the way for the rise of Athenian democracy in the 5th century. x
  • 7
    Politics and Culture in Fifth-Century Athens
    This lecture completes your historical background. You examine the political and intellectual climate of Athens after the Persian Wars, an age of rising empire, disturbing new institutions and ideas, and new modes of interpretation such as tragedy. x
  • 8
    Scope, Design, and Organization of the Histories
    In this lecture, you ask about the interpretive task that Herodotus sets for himself and about how it guides the larger design of his work—if indeed there is such a design. (Some scholars think not. Learn why.) x
  • 9
    The Beginnings of the Conflict
    The war between the Greeks and Persians belongs to a larger struggle of Europe versus Asia. How did it all start? To answer that question Herodotus must tell the story of Croesus, the almost unimaginably wealthy king of the land of Lydia in Asia Minor. x
  • 10
    Croesus, Solon, and Human Happiness
    In a passage that breathes the spirit of the Athenian tragic stage, Herodotus tells us the story of Croesus, his ancestor Gyges, his meeting with the wise Athenian Solon, and his final reversal of fortune. x
  • 11
    Cyrus and the Foundation of the Persian Empire
    Weaving fact and legend inextricably, Herodotus turns from Croesus to Persia's emperor or "great king" Cyrus. The conqueror of the Medes, the Lydians, and the Babylonians, he is the first great captain of Western recorded history. x
  • 12
    Herodotus' Account of Egypt
    Why does Egypt occupy the longest digression in the book? How does Herodotus' report compare to the findings of modern Egyptology? How does he reconcile his view of Egypt as a source for Greek culture with his view of it as a land of topsy-turvy, where Greek ways are oddly reversed? x
  • 13
    The Ascension of Darius
    Continuing to probe into the causes of great events, Herodotus recounts the origins of the mighty Persian Empire. Thanks to surviving Persian records, this key section in the work can be checked against other sources. x
  • 14
    Darius and the Scythians
    What accounts for Herodotus' interest in the Scythians? They get the most extensive treatment of any non-Greeks except the Egyptians. How does his discussion of the Scythians' origins, customs, and history compare to the findings of modern scholarship? x
  • 15
    Sparta and the Spartan Way of Life
    Athens's greatest rival in Greece—and greatest ally against Persia—is the warrior state of Sparta. Who are the Spartans? What causes their extraordinary social system, perhaps one of the most unusual in human experience? x
  • 16
    The Ionian Revolt and the Battle of Marathon
    The "men of Marathon"—improbable victors over a vastly larger Persian force and the saviors of Greece—are Athens's "greatest generation." Herodotus tells us why in lines that have stirred readers and puzzled scholars for centuries. x
  • 17
    Xerxes and the Threat to Greece
    Ten years after the defeat of the expedition his father had sent to Marathon, the new Persian emperor Xerxes assembles one of the largest armies and fleets ever seen to crush the Greeks by land and sea. How will the Greeks meet this awful threat? x
  • 18
    The Battles of Thermopylae and Artemisium
    Herodotus' account of the last stand that the Spartan king Leonidas and his vastly outnumbered band make in the pass called Thermopylae stands to this day as one of the most moving battle narratives ever written. Here is history that rivals anything in Homer. x
  • 19
    The Victory of Greece
    The crucial naval battle of Salamis, and the intricate military and diplomatic moves leading up to it, are among the highlights of the Histories' last part. The story that Herodotus tells in this section is fascinating as usual, and is also one that can be compared to other sources. x
  • 20
    Persons, Personalities, and Peoples
    Do individuals make history? Herodotus thinks so, and he peoples his pages with unforgettable portraits. His inquisitive eye takes in whole peoples, too, and looks for custom (nomos) as a key to understanding both the Greeks and their neighbors. x
  • 21
    The Gods, Fate, and the Supernatural
    Even as he casts his narrative in terms of human responsibility for events, Herodotus takes matters of the divine seriously. If you want to understand him, you must consider the importance of divine beings and divine agency in his work. x
  • 22
    History or Literature-Or Both?
    This lecture brings together several points made in earlier lectures about the nature of history and the historian's role. Are there aspects of the Histories that reveal a literary plan? Does the work end as Herodotus wants it to? x
  • 23
    Herodotus, the Peloponnesian War, and Thucydides
    For whom, and amid what circumstances, is Herodotus writing? Does he take sides in the conflict between Athens and Sparta? How does knowing his work shed light on the very different project that his younger contemporary Thucydides undertakes in writing on the Peloponnesian War? x
  • 24
    Aftermath and Influence
    Is it fair to call Herodotus, as Plutarch did, the "father of lies" rather than the "father of history"? How can you evaluate the differing perspectives on Herodotus that have been around ever since he wrote and arrive at an informed assessment of his influence and significance as a student of human affairs? x

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Your professor

Elizabeth Vandiver

About Your Professor

Elizabeth Vandiver, Ph.D.
Whitman College
Dr. Elizabeth Vandiver is Professor of Classics and Clement Biddle Penrose Professor of Latin at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington. She was formerly Director of the Honors Humanities program at the University of Maryland at College Park, where she also taught in the Department of Classics. She completed her undergraduate work at Shimer College and went on to earn her M.A. and Ph.D. from The University of Texas at...
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Herodotus: The Father of History is rated 4.8 out of 5 by 86.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from History of Histories LECTURER: This is the first course I have heard given by this Professor. You can easily understand why Professor Vandiver's courses are so highly valued in the TGC once you've heard the course. Her lectures are well thought out and organized, demonstrate the point that she is trying to make in a compelling fashion, and most importantly - are just interesting and fun to listen to. Really, one could not expect better presentation. CONTENT: The course concentrates on one central topic: Herodotus's work - the histories. Many consider Herodotus the first person to have written history. The main topic of discussion is how believable Herodotus is as a historical source for several different reasons. One reason why his believability falls into question is that he reports as facts scenarios that seem to us as moderns fantastic (the story if the Scythian Snake woman comes to mind as an example). A second, is that many of the historical accounts he gives are clearly folk tales and do not strike us as straight historical accounts. A third one is that many of his explanations involve actions of the gods. Still, Herotodus's contribution to understanding not only the Greek and Persian wars but also the Athenian, Egyptian, Scythian and Persian empires is invaluable - in many of these historiographies he is the prime source. Most importantly; Herodotus appears to be the first to have given in his writing not merely accounts of what occurred, but also to have made and effort to find the reasons and sources for these occurrences. For this reason many many consider him to be "the father of history". SCOPE (THIS IS A GENERAL COMMENT TO THE TGC): The only criticism I have on this course has to do with its scope (hence the four stars on content and value). The problem is that a large number of the lectures set up the background so that one can discuss Herodotus, and these topics are covered in other courses quite extensively, the courses being "Greek and Persian Wars", "The Persian Empire", "Ancient Greek Civilization", "Iliad of Homer", "Odyssey of Homer", "The age of Pericles" and possibly others. On the one hand - it is fantastic that the TGC provides so many different titles on this topic. On the other hand, it should do a better job in ensuring that there less overlap between the courses, and to set some of the courses as prerequisites for others instead of repeating a large portion of their content time and time again. Having said this, the course is still well worth listening to even if you have heard the other courses on the topic.
Date published: 2014-01-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Vandiver does it again! I have listened to many courses given by Professor Vandiver and enjoyed them all. She does not disappoint me with this one. Although she spends a lot of time on background material before she ever gets to discussing Herodotus, this time is not wasted. It is important to understanding why Herodotus is the "father." There were no other like him before. The shift from oral history and story and myth telling is made clear. While Herodotus does make up some speeches of protagonists (who was there to record them?), these were most likely what the person would have said. A good point was made about the length of time between the event and the writing of the event. As in if we were writing about WWII now we could still interview people who were there. However, if we were writing about WWI we have no survivors but may have grandchildren of survivors who can recount what Grandpa told them. This course fits in well with other TTC courses about the Peloponnesian War.
Date published: 2013-11-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Beautiful Presentation Throughout This professor is a fine lecturer, and this course is the best one I've had of hers. Every lecture was fun and fascinating. Her smooth, delightful presentation throughout has a performance level that ranks with the most enjoyable and talented of the Great Courses professors.
Date published: 2013-07-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Elizabeth is the Athena of The Great Courses I have made a point to purchase every course by Dr. Vandiver. Her inflection and turn of phrase make the lectures enjoyable, listenable (on repeat) and easily retained. She is a first rate storyteller. Her presentation is even handed and passionate without being fawning or overly romantic. This course is a wonderful compliment to others such as "Greek & Persian wars" , "Age of Pericles" or "Greek Legacy" I think those 4 courses would make a wonderful set.
Date published: 2013-07-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent scholarly presentation There's a wealth of information in this course on the Histories of Herodotus. It is certainly an impetus to read the books themselves. Professor Vandiver, who is a major scholar, has organised this course in order to provide the background and methods by which Herodotus compiled his writings. A lot of time is spent in "stage-setting" lectures leading up to the Persian Wars. There's little I can add to the many excellent reviews on this site about Dr. Vandiver's course. It is a studied, brilliantly-presented series of talks which I can recommend fully to those seriously interested in Herodotus as "the father of history".
Date published: 2013-05-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Enjoyable even if not a big fan of ancient history I enjoyed this course, and I am not even particularly "into" ancient history. I enjoyed how Prof Vandiver mixed in a number of anecdotal stories that gave context to the wirtings of Herodotus. Perhaps the most interesting part for me was how "history" was a brand new genre of writing, and it was not yet fully formed. So we see some parts of Herodotus's writings that are more like a travel guide to the ancient world, other parts that are more what we would call "history," and yet other parts that border on tall tale. Prof Vandiver does a wonderful job of guiding us through all of this.
Date published: 2012-11-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Accessible I admit I bought this course simply because I enjoy Prof. Vandiver. I wasn't disappointed. She made a dense topic very accessible to me. I am someone who doesn't really have an interest in reading Herodotus; however, I did have a curiosity about who he was, why he was considered the father of history (and why wasn't writing previous to him considered "history"), what exactly he wrote about, etc. All my curiosities were satisfied in an understandable way. The one bit I may have missed was exactly where the background info transitioned over to the actual info from the text, but again I don't have a scholarly interest in all of the details. It wasn't a topic I was hugely interested in but I'm glad to have learned from Prof. Vandiver once again.
Date published: 2012-10-04
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A useful introduction to Herodotus Overall, this course is probably the best introduction to Herodotus that you are likely to find in audio format on the web. Professor Vandiver is an excellent lecturer and all the lectures are interesting. However, I think she devotes too much time to background material and too little time on the works themselves.
Date published: 2012-09-25
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Paralysis by analysis Dead on delivery. I really liked Professor Vandiver's other courses. Since these are some of the most compelling events in history, I had great expectations. I'm interested in Herodotus' writing, not "gender expression in Sparta." I could sleep thru the same drivel at the local junior college...let's go...wake up Professor! Have a couple cups of coffee...throw away the dusty notes ... And tell me WHAT Herodotus wrote!
Date published: 2012-08-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Best Kind of Courses Suffice it to say: a wonderful topic, a deiigently organized course and a fantatstic lecturerer - a trifecta rarely found in this format or any other, Truly a gem and a reward, intellectually, at 5 times the price.
Date published: 2012-08-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Excellent content. Facts, explanations. You would Understand Herodotus and be introduced to multiple Greek and Persian events.
Date published: 2012-07-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Comprehensive History This 24-lecture course is a thorough and detailed account of the Histories of Herodotus. Professor Vandiver takes a comprehensive approach to her subject. She lays out the background to the Persian Wars in great detail and takes one through each confrontation of both conflicts. The lectures mention many individual names, dates, and places so you may have to take notes to keep them all straight. A nice glossary and a section of biographical notes at the end of a fairly detailed course guidebook are helpful. This is not the story of the life of Herodotus. Not much is known about the life of Herodotus, as Professor Vandiver points out in her lectures. Rather this is a thorough account of the literary/historical text and outlines the manner in which Herodotus established the basic tenets of historical writing. This course would probably work best if one were to read the text of the Histories of Herodotus while listening to the appropriate lectures (or maybe just after completing the entire course.) I admit that I did not read the text. The course does serve as an inspiration to do so in the not too distant future. Professor Vandiver is a true scholar in this area of history. She imparts the information in a well-organized course while continuing to keep the attention of the listener throughout. I am eager to listen to other courses by the same instructor.
Date published: 2012-05-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Smart Woman I know I am at risk of sounding like the organizer of the VanDiver Fan Club, but I really enjoy her lectures. Of course, she is well-organized and delivers her lectures in a very clear manner. But, she always just sounds so SMART to me. I find her lectures to be full of interesting information that will make me the life of the cocktail party (because Herodotus is ALWAYS discussed at cocktail parties -- usually between beers). If I understood her correctly, she wrote her doctoral dissertation about Herodotus. So these lectures give a great teacher the opportunity to discuss something she considers very important. If one is at all interested in this topic, this course is well-worth the investment.
Date published: 2012-04-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of the most important books of our time. I read Herodotus book my senior year in High School and my 3rd year in the military. Listening to Elizabeth help me with a much more better understanding of books of Herodotus. Even with the topics of myth vs fact. My understanding of the account is way more thorough then my first account. The books of Herodotus is crucial to history period. This course needs to be at the top of your list to buy!!!
Date published: 2012-02-11
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Pros and "howevers" Pro: This course will give you great insight into very detailed, delicious aspects of ancient history that are well beyond what even most historians might know. However, there are a couple of things to add: 1) the reviewer "Nautilus" was correct: The title makes you expect to learn about Herodotus shaped history -- that is, I expected a "History of History." Instead, it describes what is *in* the book "The Histories." At first I was quite disappointed, but stuck with it and found my initial disappointment turned around. 2) This course could probably have been covered in about half the lectures. Many points seemed to have been made repetitively, which was frustrating at first. I convinced myself that this was the way to let the information sink in further, and my frustration abated. This course is appropriate for you if you are interested in a very deep understanding of "the making of history," in all senses of the word. However, You Will Not Enjoy this Course, If you are not completely in love with history when you start listening to it.
Date published: 2012-02-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Brilliant I have already enjoyed many of Vandiver's lecture courses and I was delighted to add this to my collection. First, Vandiver is extremely well organized in her thinking and her presentations. Each lecture begins with her telling us what she is going to tell us – and then she goes on to do exactly that. Moreover, there is a structure to the entire course that makes the subject of Herodotus much easier to comprehend. Second, some reviewers have objected to the background information. ( I wonder why these people are watching lectures when they don’t have to – if they don’t love learning, then why are they here? And if they’re watching these to supplement or substitute for the work in a class, then they could simply skip the lectures that don’t interest them.) However, all the background enriched my experience of the subject. I especially found it useful to listen to how people were beginning to think differently and how this movement influenced how Herodotus approached his subject. Third, I love the way that Vandiver presents all sides to a subject. Yes, she has her opinion, and she makes her case for it, but she presents the other side’s arguments as well. In some respects she is following in the grand tradition of Herodotus, who also wrote down what he was told, even when he found it nonsensical. My favorite was the bit about his not believing that the Phoenicians had sailed around Africa, because their claim about the sun being on the wrong side of the ship was too bizarre to believe – but because he accurately reported what they told him despite his disbelief. A lovely way to spend an afternoon when the weather is dark and gloomy.
Date published: 2011-12-22
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Disappointedly Descriptive! As in her other courses, Professor Vandiver is well-organized, knowledgeable and calmly passionate. In appropriate pedagogical fashion, she introduces each lecture with a synopsis of what is to come and concludes with a summary of what has been covered. The course’s title however is a bit of a misnomer. Indeed, the topic is not so much Herodotus himself and his impact on the field of history but rather, in great detail, his work entitled ‘Histories’. As there are few other sources to confirm or complement its contents, most of the lectures boil down to little more than summaries of the various sections of this work. Awkwardly, it ends abruptly, many saying that is was never completed. The final five lectures make up the most interesting part of the course. They finally present a thematic analysis of the ‘Histories’ and develop on its importance as the first of its genre to have come down to us. Those interested in the classics may find it preferable to start off with Ms. Vandiver’s other courses and to complete with this one if they have a particular interest in the Persian Wars.
Date published: 2011-07-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Another good course for the armchair classicist (Audio Version) I've listened to all of Prof. Vandiver's courses and have found them a wonderful entry into Classics. As other reviewers have pointed out, she does spend a good deal of the course on background, more than on her Homer and Virgil courses, but actually I think she spent too much time in those courses just summarizing the text - which, after all, you can read for yourself. For the listeners who wanted more detail on the historic details of the Persian conflict, they may enjoy Prof. Hale's "Greek and Persian Wars" course, which covers it very well. As a guide to getting the most from reading Herodotus' Histories, I think the course succeeds in its aim.
Date published: 2011-05-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I'm Won Over! I was inclined in the early part of the course to give it a lower rating. The introduction, or rather the various introductions, seemed too long. I was as little interested in the professor's account of Egypt as I was of Herodotus'. It's over half the course before one gets to the Persian wars. And, though I would have preferred more time on the Persian wars, I came to hold both the professor and the course in extremely high regard. Here's why: 1. A good bit of the introduction proves to be very important to understanding Herodotus' account of the Persian wars. 2. The professor weaves a fascinating explanation of Herodotus' interest in the Peloponnesian war as at least a partial basis for writing about the Persian wars. 3. The accounts of the battles at Marathon and Salamis are very expertly and beautifully told. 4. The professor has profound and interesting views of crucial passages at both the beginning and the end of the Histories. They, alone, are worth the price of admission. 5. The extra time spent showing the arc of history/literature from Homer through the Ionian thinkers to Herodotus and on to Thucydides is superbly crafted. Be patient with this course. It is, in the end, finely prepared and delivered. It won me over. I recommend it strongly.
Date published: 2010-11-17
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Too Much Background The lectures provide much well-known information about Greek civilization, and they are rather lackluster. Most of them are on background material: the history of Athens, the Ionians, and Homer, along with problems of defining history, myth and oral literature. This can be of interest. But what about Herodotus? Only after many lectures do we start to hear something about his text, "The Histories," and disappointingly, mostly in paraphrase and summary. The lecturer speaks clearly but offers neither close analysis nor genuine insight.
Date published: 2010-09-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very interesting When I first got hold of this course I asked myself "Can you actually speak about Herodotus for 12 hours?" Well, Ms Vandiver makes it eminently clear that not only you can but that you (at least she) can do it very interestingly too. And one comes out with the feeling that she could actually spend even more time on the topic without getting boring. I have listened to many TTC courses and this is one of my favourites so far (along with "History of Ancient Rome" by Garrett Fagan and "Enlightenment Invention of the Modern Self" by Leo Damrosch). The previous reviewer mentioned that the introductory part was too long and that you had to wait until the eighth lecture to actually start hearing about Herodotus. Although this is true I believe this introduction is essential to the good understanding of "The Histories" and I am not sure it could have been satisfactorily inserted within the following lectures. Like the same reviewer I have listened to and enjoyed other courses recorded by Ms Vandiver ("Classical Mythology", "Odyssey of Homer", "Aeneid of Virgil" and "Iliad of Homer"), but unlike him/her I have enjoyed this one better. I must admit, however, that I would be hard-pressed to explain why. Perhaps the topic is just more appealing to me... Ms Vandiver is articulate and her voice is clear. She does tend to speak a bit fast but this does not make her any less understandable even for a non-native speaker of English listening to the audio version of the course as is my case. I have listened to this course twice already and will probably listen to it again in the future. I would recommend it to anyone interested in the subject.
Date published: 2010-08-21
Rated 3 out of 5 by from very dry and too much time on theory I have enjoyed other courses by Dr. Vandiver and this is a disappointment for me. For the most part, the professor read from her notes and did not make the subject matter interesting as she did in other courses. the intro part dwelled on theories and literay influences, and the actual subject matter doesn't start until almost the middle of the course. while it is an interesting subject, I feel that it was rushed and proper due was not given to it since too much time was spent on other ancillary discussions.
Date published: 2010-06-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great stuff! I studied the classics in graduate school and actually read the fifth book of Herodotus in Greek, so I'm familiar with the material. Dr. Vandiver is excellent and gives tremendously thoughtful insights in her analysis of Herodotus's methods and contributions. She is almost too good...
Date published: 2010-02-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from What Really Happened at Thermopylae? Yes, '300' was an interesting movie, but if you want the real story, listen to Lecture 18. Professor Vandiver's personal visit to the battle site is magnificently told (and was so moving that just this one 30-minute segment was worth the price of the entire course). Have a box of tissues handy. This course is fresh, insightful, and dramatic. If you crave solid intellectual stimulation, Dr. Vandrver is your woman. Her wonderful voice, authoritative and clear, makes for easy listening. Her organization and approach are a delight. (I purchased the audio version.) Lecture 24 was spellbinding: was Herodotus really a liar? The professor gives both sides of the issue, and is remarkably even-handed. Like other reviewers, I wanted these lectures to go on forever and ever ....
Date published: 2009-09-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from "No one Does It Better...." Carly Simon probably wasn't singing about Herodotus but she could have been singing about this course and the TC's extensive coverage of the Greek World. Dr Vs lectures on the Father of History are as fascinating as they are informative. This is but one of her excellent line-up of courses on Greek literature. Herodotus surely was someone who got around (no, I won't invoke The Beach Boys here - I coudn't resist) and our professor takes us everywhere he went and makes his writing so alive that he does not seem 2500 years old, in fact, that's the wonderful thing about these lectures - they are quite vibrant. No one listening to these lectures will think of Herodotus as some might called him: a Dead White Euopean Male (DWEMs, for short.). This is the story of an interesting man who live in interesting times told interestingly - you won't want it to stop. Even if you believe Herodotus to be a DWEM - Dr Vandiver makes it clear that he is a DWEM worthy of our attention. Take this course if you want to be educated, take this course if you want to hear first hand about the Greeks vs. the Persians, take this course because you want to hear some of the great all time historical anecdotes. Take this course because no one has ever done it better than Herodotus and no one haa done Herodotus better tha Dr Vandiver.
Date published: 2009-09-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I held my breath in places I can't say enough about how interesting this course was. Herodotus was never a particular interest of mine, although I have long loved the Greeks, but the presentation was so good, I was sorry it ended.
Date published: 2009-06-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from History begins here.... I was devastated when I realized I was on the last lecture! Dr. Vandiver is a true TEACHER. You don't have to guess as to what she refers since she makes everything very clear and logical. This was one of the first courses I purchased and have enjoyed it twice through. Knowing about Herodotus laid a good foundation for other early history courses so I strongly recommend this be one of your first choices of the Teaching Company history category.
Date published: 2009-06-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Birth of Historical Writing Explained This was a very, very enlightening course. I wasn't starting out with a blank slate but I had no idea how much knowledge could be mined from the writings of Herodotus. The professor is a joy to listen to. She is easy to understand and is methodical in covering the material yet with an individual flair. I highly recommend this course to anyone interested in ancient Greek history or in the origins of historical writing.
Date published: 2009-05-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of the best courses ever I am a great fan of Vandiver. My husband and I have taken her Greek Tragedy Course and her Homer and Virgil courses. She is such a good lecturer I would buy a course that she taught on any subject. I wondered whether I would find Herodotus sufficient to sustain my interest. It was fantastic. Herodotus is a unique figure, not susceptible to being confined to traditional genres or assumptions about history. I only wish TC had more offerings by Vandiver.
Date published: 2009-04-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from These lectures are very well organized in the discussion of the Histories. An excellent course.
Date published: 2009-01-26
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