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 Herodotus and his Magnum Opus Dr. Elizabeth Vandiver has once again won my admiration for her insightful and engaging lectures. This is the fourth of her Great Courses from The Teaching Company that I have studied, and I’ve prized them all. The many strengths of the present course on Herodotus included: 1) The professor was thoroughly organized. She always seemed to know exactly where she was at in her overall plan for the course, frequently mentioning after some intriguing idea that she would have more to reveal about that same point, say, three lectures further along. The fact that she also introduced individual lectures with quick synopses of what was about to be covered was very helpful. 2) Dr. Vandiver spoke engagingly throughout, with wit, charm, an impressive vocabulary, and a facility for formulating clever analogies. 3) Vandiver’s enthusiasm for her subject was contagious; though I began her course with already a modicum of interest in and awareness of Herodotus from a university presentation fifty years ago, I didn’t realize how enjoyable this “refresher” was going to be. When a teacher can make a student enjoy and value what she or he enjoys and values, that is a mark of a fine teacher. 4) Whenever Vandiver mentioned an interpretation of the ancient writings about which scholars disagree, she presented competing opinions forthrightly before going on to explain her own take on the matter with conviction and good supportive reasoning. For me, her ability personally to translate from the original Greek contributed a persuasive “face validity” to her opinions. 5) Beyond informing me about Herodotus and his work, her course also helped me to understand techniques by which classicists do their research and are able even to propound theories when clues are from trails “long gone cold” and historical source material that may be fragmentary. 6) While the course I took on Herodotus decades ago presented a considerable total of the "content" of the writings of Herodotus, the present course provided very welcome "context," helping me to understand what may have informed the thought processes of Herodotus and how his predecessors, contemporary writers, and even lore and oral tradition surely affected his writing. 7) The probable viewpoint of Herodotus about such things as what he would have considered right and just was contrasted to prevailing views of today in a way that was truly thought-provoking. 8) While she respected Herodotus for his innovative accomplishments, Dr. Vandiver was discerning enough, as well, to identify where Herodotus showed biases in his writing. 9) Possible “resonances” pointed out between the works of Herodotus and Sophocles, Herodotus and Aristophanes, Herodotus and Thucydides, etc., amounted to fascinating “bonuses” in the course. 10) Lecture 24 provided a dramatic and delightful conclusion to the course: reviewing how analysts of different centuries have judged the work of Herodotus, sometimes scoffing, sometimes praising; and explaining further how modern archaeological discoveries have provided surprising corroboration for some of the most extraordinary things Herodotus had reported. In order to be a thorough and honest reviewer of “Herodotus: The Father of History,” I will cite three relative weaknesses. Only the first of these was fairly major, in my opinion, and that was that most of the maps shown as visual accompaniments to the lectures were odd and somewhat hard on the eye, tending to resemble overhead views of crumpled, brown paper, sometimes with city-name labels lacking dots or other symbols to mark just where those cities were situated. Topographical features, including how coastlines ran and where islands were distinctly separate, were not at all obvious, even on a large television screen. The other two weaknesses were minor. One was that Dr. Vandiver’s speech was a little too rapid, noticeably more rapid than in her other courses that I have studied. I do treasure the fact that her presentations are packed with information, but in this present course, I had to “rewind” and re-listen fairly frequently in order to “unpack” the information. I wondered if she might have preferred to have had thirty lectures, say, to cover her material, rather than twenty-four. The other minor weakness was that a very few explanations weren’t quite up to this professor’s usual standard for clarity. I will mention just one example: her discussion in Lecture Eight of a report related by Herodotus (which he apparently considered incredible) about circumnavigation by Phoenician sailors of Africa (then called Libya). At one point she described the sailors’ view of the sun on their right when they were sailing north, though I’m sure that must have been when they were sailing west, and key information was not provided about whether the sailors were circumnavigating clockwise or counterclockwise. The few flaws cited do not change my assessment that this is an excellent course! All in all, I highly recommend it and am grateful to The Teaching Company and to Dr. Vandiver for all I gained from it. As a person who was first trained in lab sciences, I am impressed by how much this erudite instructor has taught me to care, in each of her courses, about fine points of interpretation and analysis that classicists study. Like Herodotus’ account "The Histories" itself, Dr. Vandiver’s course is also a tremendous achievement.
Date published: 2018-03-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great companion to the book First of all, if you like history and mythology, I really recommend the book. Try a couple of pages. If you don't like the style, buy a different translation. Greeks in the time of Herodotus orated with flowery language; if you don't want that, find a matter of fact translation, and enjoy the amazing stories. You have to deal with names like Anthrax son of Accordion, but you get used to it. Some parts of the book are little tales with zinger endings, like Aesop's fables or Isaac Azimov's short stories. Some parts are travelogue. The final parts are an epic war between two great civilizations. Herodotus apparently gets some parts wrong and makes up the dialogue, but he can really tell a story. Second of all, I recommend the course. If you don't read the book, it will give you some of the stories. If you do read the book, it will give you background and deeper understanding, and help you sort history from fantasy.
Date published: 2018-02-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding in every way I was hoping that Vandiver would have a course on Thucydides.
Date published: 2018-01-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from History begins here... I purchased these lectures (in DVD format) many years ago (along with Daileader and Brier lectures), watched (and re-watched) them with rapt interest, and became a lifelong fan of The Teaching Company (aka The Great Courses). I never got around to reviewing Dr Vandiver's 'Herodotus' lectures, though I am a great fan of her direct lecture technique, similar to the mid- to upper-l level courses I vaguely remember from college...the Homer tales are a favorite. So, long review made short, these lectures are top-notch, covering 'The Histories' content and interpretation...warts and all. Whether you're a fan of Herodotus or not, you have to hand it to Liz for presenting a lively discussion, grabbing your attention and leaving you wanting to know more. And here I am, almost 200 lectures later.... You can enjoy this one on audio, since the graphics in video are minimal...and the digital download is often on sale. Highly recommended.
Date published: 2018-01-26
Rated 4 out of 5 by from History at It's Best? Depending on how you choose to view history and the men who have contributed to the ancient texts that shape our present understandings you may either love or hate Herodotus. No matter where you come down on the debate, man and his history one thing is for certain he got the ball rolling and we are still discussing him and his histories today. This is what Prof. Vandiver does a great job in presenting by not getting bogged down in the debate but focusing on the history surrounding Herodotus, his world and the events that have influenced his world. I found this lecture to be refreshing because the professor didn't try to influence the listener to her bias or opinions rather she presented the history. Her analysis of conclusion of this man and his work was also fair offering further thought, debate and perhaps even agreement.
Date published: 2017-11-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Just watched the first lecture. Professor Elizabeth Vandiver is so knowledgeable about this topic. Very easy to understand and follow as she has great insight into the minutest of details. All the great reviews about this course and her other works inspired me to order the whole set. Have not regretted this decision.
Date published: 2017-10-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Take this course! Great course. Interesting subject matter. Excellent instructor.
Date published: 2017-07-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from History, Literature or Both? After listening to Professor Vandiver lecture on Homer and Virgil I could not pass up the opportunity to get her take on Herodotus. I was not at all surprised that the content was not only rich regarding the subject, but also included much about Greece, Egypt and Persia of that period. For example, Lecture 15: Sparta and the Spartan Way of Life, brought that culture to me in a way that far surpassed any previous reading that I had done. With 24 lectures at her disposal, Dr. Vandiver has the time to fully explore much more than just “The Histories” and the time is well spent. While I don’t think that I have as complete an understanding of the wars against Persia as I do of the Peloponnesian Wars, Professor Vandiver’s discussions of the background written by Herodotus and her explanations of how, why and how accurately he wrote is unsurpassed. For the first time (and not to my credit) I am not dismissive of Herodotus and how he wrote about and saw the world, but rather appreciative. I had not been understanding of Herodotus’ literary approach to history before, not how much later writers (such as Thucydides) owed to him. Thanks to Professor Vandiver my view has been expanded. As always Professor Vandiver’s delivery style, is measured, clear, concise and well organized, with just enough leavening of her own personality, views and experiences to enliven each 30 minutes. I am pleased that TTC has two more courses by her.
Date published: 2017-04-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Insights into Ancient History & Early Lit Professor Vandiver explores Herodotus’ “Histories” from many perspectives. Her discussion of the Histories as multifaceted – containing oral tradition, literature, history and fiction – is very well structured and most informative. Although this course is categorized as “Literature & English Language,” it could equally well be included under “Ancient History.” Admittedly, Professor Vandiver indicates where some of Herodotus’ material, such as conversations that happened before his time, had to have been created, this course nonetheless gives a wonderful overview of Greek and Persian history in the late 6th and early 5th centuries. One weakness of Professor Vandiver is a little quirk in her presentation. While she speaks very clearly and well paced, she doesn’t seem to stop at the end of sentences to give the listener a chance to internalize, even for a moment, what she has just said. A quick intake of air and the next thought is on its way. Still, that is a minor imperfection in this Great Course.
Date published: 2017-03-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Elizabeth Vandiver is the best!!!!!! I have every course she has released. She is by far the best professor of the classics. I highly recommend any of her courses. Fantastic !!!!
Date published: 2017-03-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Herodotus' Inquiry. This is a great course on Herodotus' Histories. I enjoyed this course very much as Herodotus, who is my favourite ancient author, was explained in detail including his oral sources, account of Xerxes invading army and many other things were explained in detail to make the account ring more true. Hellenic and Persian bravery are expressed throughout and we also get a look at Egypt and Scythia as a bonus. I recommend this course to any who are interested in the Greco-Persian Wars or interested in ancient Greek history.
Date published: 2017-01-14
Rated 4 out of 5 by from herodotus Interesting view of history from a BCE viewpoint. Sometimes too much academic commentary on the work . Overall, well worth the time spent listening.
Date published: 2016-12-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Father of History Reading Herodotus is not enough to understand the remarkable change he was making from oral, traditional epics of the gods to the recording of 'actual' observations and 'informed' opinions. And in this course the 'milk mustache of earlier videos seems to be gone.
Date published: 2016-12-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Another Vandiver Home Run AUDIO: CDs Professor Vandiver delivers another solid performance. This course is a great introduction for anyone who is going to read Herodotus’ ‘The Histories’ or those who just wants to learn why there is such a fuss about a classic on an early fifth century BC conflict between the Greeks and Persians. While many of the lectures follow and give the flavor of Herodotus’ work, a good deal of this course focuses on Herodotus and the nature of his achievement. For instance, is the work historical or literary? Professor Vandiver deals expertly with this and many other issues. In fact, the first eight lectures deal with the context within which Herodotus wrote ‘The Histories’ and what sets Herodotus off from his contemporaries. Those lectures that do follow the order of ‘The Histories’ (nine through nineteen), are notable for Professor Vandiver’s both setting straight what Herodotus got wrong and providing useful supplemental historical information for a better understanding of the period. For instance, Professor Vandiver draws on recent scholarship in a fascinating discussion of Spartan society. Among Professor Vandiver’s many interesting observations are those about ‘The Histories’ relation to Homer and to the Greek tragedians, and how the sprawling story so full of digressions does have a form, progressively narrowing to the dramatic final chapters. I especially enjoyed lecture twenty-three on Herodotus, Thucydides, and the Peloponnesian War. In Professor Vandiver’s 175-page 2002 guidebook (that, incredibly, does not include maps) she mentions that there are no translations of Herodotus that capture his “tone and style”. Translations by Aubrey de Selincourt (Penguin, 1996) and Robin Waterfield (Oxford, 1998) are, however, recommended. I have found an excellent more recent translation by Tom Holland (Viking, 2015) that has been lauded as the best English translation. It includes excellent notes and a truly exceptional set of maps.
Date published: 2016-10-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Well presented, well researched and interesting Now, first of all, if you don't have a brain....don't bother. Secondly, if you have no concept of Greek history already...don't bother. Thirdly, If you cant visualize the Aegean Sea as the center of Greece ...look at a map. Now I drive about an hour to work and another hour back every day. So I saved this to a flash drive and it's so good that I need to finish it in the parking lot or my drive way if I drive too fast. I like listing to things in depth that I was taught at a surface level - if I was taught it at all. I have to admit most of what I learned about Western Civilization I learned after college, on my own and following my own interest and curiosity. This is one of those topics and I enjoyed it and I'll even listen to it again. I already down loaded the volumes of Herodotus from Amazon and am now reading them on my computer as there is certainly nothing on TV.
Date published: 2016-08-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful Revelation of the Value of Classics I am not a expert, nay, not even an amateur when it comes to the study of the classics of the ancient world. Frankly, my interest was aroused by reading and viewing "The English Patient". I have to say that this course was eye-opening to me. But first I should say the presentation of Professor Vandiver is the epitome of what I consider scholarship in the best sense of the word. A true scholar is always interesting to listen to or read. Secondly, the material, both the history and stories related by Herodotus, and the explanation by Vandiver of what we know and do not know about his methods, is likewise first rate. This course has definitely kindled my interest in other ancient sources; as against the idea that I have had for a long time that this sort of material is old boring stuff of interest only to specialists, I have had my focus sharply adjusted. You always know something is good when you are sorry that you have finished it ---- and you wanted more, not less.
Date published: 2016-07-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An excellent introduction... to an important early writer.Professor Vandiver (whom I appreciate more with every course) sets Herodotus in history and talks at length about the content of the book, which I am still working on (it's quite long). She also discusses the effect he had on other writers and whether his book is literature, history, or both. I learned a great deal about a writer I had frequently heard of but never read and am grateful that I took the course. very well presented and enlightening.
Date published: 2016-05-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Another Great Vandiver Course Each of the courses I've watched or heard by Elizabeth Vandiver has been outstanding, and the Herodotus course is no exception. My 9th grade home schooled son and I listened to these lectures and both of us found them very useful. Vandiver provides useful background, a balanced presentation, and makes clear what is known and unknown. When multiple possibilities exist, she provides evidence for both sides. Very well done.
Date published: 2016-03-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great course Prof. Vandiver is fascinating, detailed and does such a great job at putting things in historical perspective. All of her courses I have listened to have been superb.
Date published: 2016-03-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A complete perspective A big plus for this course is the way it paints a picture of ancient Greek culture at the time of Herodotus. The viewer gains a real understanding of what influenced Herodotus and other luminaries of the era. I enjoyed the course even more than I anticipated.
Date published: 2016-01-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Time Well Spent This course is taught by Dr Elizabeth Vandiver, and she is a consummate scholar in top form here. She neatly unveils Herodotus, citing what we can believe in his writings, what is questionable, what is doubtful, and what lies outside the realm of possibility. I had just finished the Famous Greeks course with Prof. Rufus Fears, and as I suspected, too often Fears first priority is a good story with facts being sacrificed for the purpose. As an example both Vandiver & Fears address King Leonidas & Thermopylae. Fears quotes Herodotus directly as to the size of the Persian army, to dramatize the battle presumably, while Vandiver shows not only why Herodotus was badly mistaken, but where in his account Herodotus may have been confused about his data. For Fears the Athenians led the Greeks in this war with Persia whereas Spartans were chosen to lead both Greek armies & navies. Fears botches the visits to the Oracle at Delphi while Vandiver shows how the Oracle's statements actually could be favorable to Greeks. A traitor showed Xerxes a way to get his army behind the Spartans. At times for Fears the traitor is a shepherd living in the area and sometimes a trader. For Vandiver he was a trader. Vandiver, with her knowledge of the language, shows how Greek words have multiple meanings and that Herodotus might have been translated wrongly over the years. For Fears there is one translation and I suspect that it is the one that best supports his version of the story. As I say Dr. Vandiver is at her best with Herodotus and she clearly shows that one can be educational and entertaining at the same time.
Date published: 2015-06-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Made Me Want More I purchased this course with the expectation of learning something about Herodotus and that I did. But this course is so much more - it is also an excellent overview of what Herodotus wrote and provides an excellent introduction to the history of Greece, the Greek and Persian Wars, and ancient history of the eastern mediterranean in general. Vandiver is very easy to listen to and covers the material beautifully. As far as I'm concerned, the only downside of this course is that it left me wanting more lectures on those sections of Herodotus' work that were not covered in the 24 lectures. I purchased the DVD version of the course but there is very little benefit to the video. Vandiver's other courses were created at about the same time and, based on my experience with this course, I purchased the audio download versions of the Iliad, Odyssey, and Aeneid and was very satisfied. Were I to make the choice again, I'd buy the download version of Herodotus.
Date published: 2015-01-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Another winner! Professor Vandiver is excellent. Like all of her courses, this one is well-organized, engagingly presented, and very interesting. She strikes a good balance between summarizing the basic content for those who are less familiar with the material, and providing more depth and analysis to keep those who are more familiar with the material interested. The first seven lectures set the stage for discussion of Herodotus' Histories by building a background in the history, culture, and politics of the region. Fascinating. The next dozen lectures go over the content of the Histories themselves in some detail. And the balance is perfect...enough summary that you don't feel lost, enough analysis that you feel you're getting something new which you couldn't get from just reading the book. My only disappointment is that there are not MORE courses by Professor Vandiver, because she is top-notch.
Date published: 2014-12-02
Rated 4 out of 5 by from good, but repetitive Vandiver is a fine speaker. She is articulate and bubbles over with information. While ever enthusiastic about her subject, she remains appropriately cautious, making sure we don't let go of the important question: how do we know what we know? Each lecture begins with a thorough review of what will be covered during the upcoming 30 min. I came to these lectures after watching (Lee's) Persian Empire -- I felt a need to zoom in on Herodotus for a closer look and this class satisfies that need. I purchased the video version, but there are very few graphics, mostly pronunciation guides flashed on the screen (helpful), a few simple maps and sketches of historic figures. Hence, if repeating the purchase I'd likely go for audio to make things easier (and get the study guide for vocab, ancient greek excerpts and dates). I also do wish she used less repetition in each lecture (saying things 3x not uncommon). Undergrads today may require it, but most viewers here probably don't.
Date published: 2014-06-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Best Course So Far I've watched about a dozen courses so far -- pretty much all history -- and this is easily the best. Vandiver is a superb lecturer, in complete command of her subject, and it's a remarkably interesting subject. I only wish the course was longer.
Date published: 2014-05-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The dawn of western social thought Audio download. "History" can mean several things. 1# The course of important events as experienced and remembered by a society. 2# A written account of these events now past, presented in an orderly fashion. 3) The underlying principles that give coherence to the written account. What propels historical events forward: Supernatural beings? Great individuals? Impersonal socio-economic trends? Geography? Customs? Blind ambition? Pre-ordained destinies? Human nature? etc., etc. 4) Why written accounts are necessary: legitimize those in power, celebrate a community, define greatness, preserve heroes from oblivion, predict likely future conflicts, instruct the young, etc., etc. ______________________ Dr Vandiver's HERODOTUS: THE FATHER OF HISTORY is a detailed overview of the Greco-Persian Wars #499-449 BCE# as explained in a long text attributed to Herodotus. The ancient text is covered on all 4 levels: 1) The course of events as presently understood from a variety of sources, some of which Herodotus had no access to. 2) The nature of his treatise, a chapter-by-chapter overview. 3) A summary of his views on the historical forces that fomented and shaped the wars between Persia and the loosely-united Greek city states. 4) The literary nature of Herodotus' text. Its debt to Homer and the growing importance of historical explanations in political debate. ________________ Vandiver's course is a great introduction to what was then a new way of thinking about political and military events with less reliance on supernatural explanation. Herodotus' successor Thucydides pushed this tendency much further along. This way of thinking may seem obvious to us, but if you compare this course to another TTC title, THE WORLD OF BIBLICAL ISRAEL, it is clear that the Hebrew scribes responsible for editing much of the Old Testament spent 50 years in Babylonia #597 - 538 BCE# and yet showed very little interest in exploring how their conquerors organized themselves and became so powerful. Herodotus was a giant leap forward in making history more down to earth. ____________________ As usual with Vandiver, PRESENTATION was clear and extremely comprehensive. So is the course guidebook. Since the Greco-Persian Wars are already well-presented in other TTC courses such as CLASSICAL ARCHAEOLOGY OF ANCIENT GREECE AND ROME, this course targets listeners particularly interested in the intellectual history of ancient Greece. By the standards of modern historiography, Herodotus meanders with plenty of tall tales. His book is midway between oral tradition and what we would call history today. If the actual events of Greek history are your thing, HERODOTUS will try your patience. But if the step-by-step evolution of Greek thought appeals to you, Vandiver's course is perfect. It fits in very well with her other courses on Homer and the Greek tragedians. Recommended for the strongly motivated.
Date published: 2014-05-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from As expected- an excellent course. DVD Format. Having purchased Dr. Vandiver's other courses, The Odyssey of Homer, The Iliad of Homer and Classic Mythology, I purchased this course. As expected, it was excellent. Dr. Vandiver is an authority on mythology and Greek history in addition to being a captivating lecturer. The course is comprehensive, well-organized and thoroughly enjoyable to view. I would not hesitate purchasing any of her courses. Best regards, j.k.h.
Date published: 2014-04-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Another great course from Prof Vandiver I bought this after greatly enjoying Prof Vandiver's courses on the Iliad, the Odyssey, Mythology, and Greek Tragedies. I also really enjoyed Herodotus. Her course covers what we know about the man Herodotus, as well as what it means for him to have invented history. The course of necessity reviews the key events of the Geek - Persian wars, and does so very well after providing some background about life and politics in ancient Athens and Sparta. Herodotus is treated in full, including his fascinating ethnographic work on peoples such as the Egyptians and Scythians. All in all, this is a very informative and worthwhile course.
Date published: 2014-04-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding, As Always As is true of every one of Professor Vandiver's courses, "Herodotus" is outstanding and has my highest recommendation. The subject matter includes, of course, Herodotus' "Histories", one of the foundational texts of Western civilization. As importantly, the course also provides a detailed look at what can and cannot be confirmed or refuted in Herodotus by modern scholarship, as well as necessarily brief but focused and helpful accounts of the context of the events. And the final two lectures do a fine and fascinating job of putting Herodotus and his legacy into the context of the ensuing 2500 years. Professor Vandiver, as all reviewers agree, is wonderful - clear, eloquent, organized, focused, deeply knowledgeable, and a pleasure to listen to. There is not much more that need be said. This would be a superb course for anyone with an interest in history, or in the dawn and development of Western civilization.
Date published: 2014-03-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from History at its best! While not necessary, it certainly helps if you have some basic understanding of ancient Greek history before viewing this course in order to put it in context. Fortunately there are many good Learning Company courses on early Greece. As the father of history, as he is generally known, Herodotus lived during the golden age of Greece and therefore had contact with the leading lights of his day. As Professor Vandiver points out he would have had a chance to come into contact not only with those who had fought in the Persian Wars but those who knew those who did and her introduction points out that the further back we go in generations that the less we really know. She uses an excellent example asking the listener to think about what they know about their parents, grand parents and great grandparents, pointing out that you know less and less with each generation (which she says is about thirty years) even if you have done some work in genealogy. By the time you get to great great grandparents very few know much, if anything, about them. As one who has done that and traced back many generations in my own family I know she is right. What I know about great great grandparents is really very sketchy compared to what I know up to that point. And unlike Herodotus I have access to extensive written records. Yes I know names and some dates back to the 1500's or earlier but really very little else except that which has been passed down from much earlier generations. She uses this example to point out that about 120 years is the limit of where you have contact with people who had contact with those in earlier generations and can give you second hand if not first hand accounts of what they have said. Of course as with fish stories these first hand or second hand accounts may well not be as accurate as we might like. Still there is far more accuracy especially in oral traditions when those who lived in periods of interest can be interviewed and their stories related, even if they may be embellished at times. She does a very good job of pointing out where Herodotus makes major errors, such as in his dating of the pyramids or his description of a Hippo which he obviously never saw! Her discussion of the Ionian Enlightenment and its contribution to the golden age of Greece in Athens later is quite valuable. As one who has traveled in the area, and hopes to return one day, I will certainly view my time in Miletus and Ephesus in a new light next time around. While her approach is quietly scholarly she is quick to point out where scholars differ on their view of Herodotus work. I find it particularly useful to know where there is agreement and disagreement about historical events. I also found useful her discussion of translations and how the slightest nuance can color, or distort, ones thinking about historical events. For example her lengthy discussion of the first sentence of the Histories and my own comparison of her translation to that in my Oxford University edition of the Histories. It gives a much deeper appreciation of the difficulties of accurate translation and the danger of erroneous translation! For anyone interested in history, and the history of history, this is an extremely valuable and useful course.
Date published: 2014-02-23
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