Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2008.07.34

A. M. Bowie (ed.), Herodotus: Histories. Book VIII. Cambridge Greek and Latin Classics.   Cambridge, UK; New York:  Cambridge University Press, 2007.  Pp. xi, 258.  ISBN 9780521575713.  $36.99 (pb).  

Reviewed by Donald Lateiner, Ohio Wesleyan University (
Word count: 1938 words

Table of Contents

Angus Bowie of The Queen's College, Oxford University, and well known for his work on Aristophanes, has produced for Cambridge University Press's "Greek and Latin Classics" the second admirable volume of a projected series of nine commentaries on Herodotus' Histories. The first was the well-received 2002 commentary on Book 9 edited by John Marincola and Michael Flower (see J. P. Stronk's review in these cyberpages: BMCR 2003.07.14). Happily, rumor reports that the remaining seven are progressing, but we do not know whether the press will publish several at once, should they arrive together.

What did we have before Bowie? One industrious and versatile editor of classical Greek prose (inter alia), Evelyn Shirley Shuckburgh, published Herodotean commentaries for the Pitt Press series on at least Books 4, 5, 6, 8 ("Urania": 1893, an expanded edition of the original, 1887), and 9. More than a mention should memorialize Reginald Walter Macan's magisterial, surprisingly incisive and often amusing, commentaries analyzing at length Books 4-6 (London 1895) and Books 7 -9 (London 1908). All readers of Herodotus welcome replacement of the excessively venerable (and not negligible) commentary on all nine books by Walter Wybergh How and Joseph Wells (Oxford 1913, corr. ed. 1928). J. Enoch Powell denominated his edition of Book 8 a "replacement" for Shuckburgh's. That peculiar prince of Herodotean lexicography produced the obvious comparand for teachers of the first historian's account of the battle of Salamis.1 The late David Asheri (1925-2000) most recently edited this account of Salamis and wily Themistocles (Milan 2003).2 His commentary forms part of the published Valla-Mondadori Italian series treating all nine books ("Scrittori Graeci e Latini"). Not all readers, however, will find themselves adequately aided on problems of Greek and literary composition by the first volume of two of the English translation (with modifications) of this advanced Italian, primarily historical set of commentaries on the entire work. The late David Asheri supervised that revision and his revised Italian commentary on Book 8 will appear in Volume II of the English version (Oswyn Murray, ed.) from Oxford University Press.

Bowie's thirty-five page introduction contains two sections written by Stephanie West, one on the exiguous facts of the author's life.3 The other summarizes the maddening transmission and reception of the idiolectic text. I say "maddening" because Dorian Halikarnassos, from which town Herodotos sprang, unpredictably produced contemporary inscriptions in "East Ionic." After the early splitting of Attic and Ionic, each dialect independently innovated its Greek forms. Further, we have no information to know how Herodotos' family, neighborhood, or he himself actually spoke to his friends (differently from how he wrote his Panhellenic narrative, in any case). His own autograph Ionic text then passed through centuries of the usual Attic "corrections" and contrary Alexandrian hypercorrections ("false Ionisms"). Consequently, we do not have a firm date (if one ever existed) for the dissemination beyond the author's control of any of the parts, a fortiori the whole of his unexpectable achievement. Given its unique status, we can neither reconstruct with confidence what the subsequent archetype of Herodotos' text actually presented, nor determine whether the consistency of spelling and syntax that the modern age expects has any relevance for the largest prose work conceived and executed in its (unknown) day or decade. Herodotos began its writing somewhere in the middle of the fifth century and completed it (if it be complete) probably by 430 (cf. 7.137.1-3: wrath of Talthybios and the later Peloponnesian War; cf. Thucydides 2.67). But, perhaps he revised / emended / modified parts of it even later (see e.g., 6.98.2, 7. 235.2, 9.73.3). We can hardly expect a pure (and linguistically dubious) dialect, once we ponder Herodotos' many changing addresses. These include sojourns at home in stasis-wracked Bodrum,4 in exile on uneasy Samos, travels to Periclean Athens for fun and perhaps profit, and research and / or mercantile business occupying many years of theorie (like his Solon) all over the Hellenic oikoumene. His reports suggest extensive and difficult travels (order unclear) south to Elephantine in Egypt and Syene beyond, north through the Hellespont to the north coast of the Black Sea, west to Southern Italy (citizen of Thourioi!) and the littoral of Africa, and east to Syria and Palestine, and perhaps even further east to hottest Babylon (27). Book 8 exhibits more Attic forms and locutions than some earlier books. Does this reflect the voices of his quarrelsome Athenian sources, or could it be a sign of early, or late, composition? Or all three? These are not the problems Bowie addresses, however.

Readers of the manuscripts meet no consistency in Herodotos' use of aspiration or psilosis, etacism, hiatus, verb augment and contraction, pronouns, and even variations from Attic in vowels and consonants (see Bowie's helpful guide to the idiolect, pp. 22-27, descended from Karl Abicht's 1869 monograph). No extant text itself is consistent, and this may (or may not) reflect fidelity to the words that the author wrote. A millennium of polar tendencies to Atticize (habit) or to Ionize (theory) separates the uncial archetype from our oldest minuscule Byzantine manuscripts now in Florence and Rome. Bowie provides a list of thirty differences from Hude's or Rosen's texts and a small but desirable apparatus of variants and emendations. He prints his relevant dative singulars and subjunctives with iota adscripts.

The other sections of Bowie's introduction discuss the Medes, Persians, and Greeks, the portrait of Xerxes, and other Achaemenid campaigners, several literary features of the battles of Book 8, and its literary structures and language. These short essays are written at an appropriate college undergraduate level--although "fissiparous nature of the Greeks" (8) might give a younger student pause. Bowie credits Herodotos with a "sophisticated manner" in his account of why Xerxes launched his expedition, rightly finding in his account both the "unwisdom" of the Hellenic "take" on his invasion and a creditable concept of imperialism. His brief introduction to the battles explains the parallels and patterning as part of a demonstration of some vague cosmic balancing order (14). He points out that Herodotos himself is episodic and brief on battles (171) and entire campaigns,5 compared to his treatments of ethnography, Greek and barbarian, or the dramatic prehistory of episodes such as the Spartan expedition to, and siege of, Samos (3.54-6). With battles, even those on the same side often dispute their allies' accounts (e.g., 6.14, 8.94, etc.) He realizes that "what people believed happened, ... is as much a historical fact as a precise account of the events" (21). This introduction, while satisfactory, seems less thorough in its topics than Flower and Marincola's. Perhaps Bowie means it to complement that earlier volume's, but most students will not possess both volumes.

The Greek text contains brief section headings, innovative for this series although once common for the proverbial English "sixth-formers." There are 151 pages of commentary on 144 chapters of the Greek. Powell, for one comparison, compressed it all into eighty-five telegraphic pages for his commentary. Another innovation is an increase in punctuation that will help students break down Herodotos' unaccountably magnificent, but effortlessly extended sentences.

The commentary, following the good example of Flower and Marincola, includes useful introductions to sections (e.g., 98-99: "The Persian Messenger System"), elucidations of specific words and phrases, the occasional translation, and references to further recent articles and books. Bowie provides a welcome innovation by occasionally inserting notes on broader topics of recurring interest in Herodotos' text. He introduces these with bold-faced type, e.g., Persians and foreign religion, Women who ruled in their own right, and Beauty and size (ad 54, 68.1, and 113.3). The three maps (Persian Empire, Xerxes' route, and Salamis) are not adequate for this commentary. At 21.1, he places Trachis in relation to Mount Oeta, neither of which appears on the maps provided. There is no separate index of proper names of people and places, much less Shuckburgh's multi-tasking (although elementary) 55-page dictionary of such Realien. Bowie presents a good bibliography, a brief (briefer than Powell's) Greek index, and another for general subjects.

A comparison of four commentaries' treatment of 8.8, a discrete unit on Skyllias the Diver, may assist the BMCR readership.6 Shuckburgh provides 1 page with 11 lemmata; his text is corrupt, but he helps with such things at why automolesein is a future infinitive. Powell provides 1.25 pages with 13 lemmata; his text is much better and he well explains inferential ara and the emendation es tote. Masaracchia provides 1 page with 7 lemmata, commenting adequately on Herodotos' attitude towards the incredible legends reported to him. Bowie provides 1.5 pages with 12 lemmata, fuller and with good reasons for the perfect imperative apodedechtho. (I noted a rare typographical error in the Greek at 8.1; generally the Greek typesetting appears to be careful.)

Some specific virtues of this "Greek and Latin Classic" by chapter number: 1. Bowie discusses Herodotean cataloguing with reference to Homeric. 4. He shows how often Themistokles conducts secret negotiations. 6.2 explains the relation of the subjunctive to the optative with reference to the grammars of Kühner-Gerth and Smyth. (Goodwin and Denniston's masterpieces find frequent citation.) 10.2 provides a rich note on the Ionians and their place in Near Eastern history. 11.3 mentions problems of the late September 480 chronology that Herodotos provides. 14.2 describes the Kilikians and 19.1 the Karians from the Achaemenid point of view. 15.1 quotes (from Brosius' collection) Darius's inscription at Naqshi-Rustam (later appropriated by Xerxes) in which he states without contradiction, "I am not hot-tempered...". Hearing this usefully contradicts (without disproving) some Hellenic caricatures.

16.2 draws parallels between the battles of Artemision and the coming naval engagement at Salamis. At 25.2, the lemma geloion (mocking Xerxes' clumsily staged post-Thermopylai death-pageant), Bowie points out that nowhere else does Herodotos use this (rare) word in his own voice. 77, a notorious insertion of a paragraph of credulity for oracles, was deleted by Krueger, an apoplectic Powell ("delirious Greek"). Bowie, following Powell, usefully annotates its various peculiarities. Asheri, by the way, defends it.

98 provides a summary of the Persian Pony Express and Bowie nicely compliments Herodotos' presentation that "neatly combines ethnographic description with narration." At 113, Bowie provides exegesis of the Median headdress bashlyk, the Skythian intoxicating mushroom potion hauma drunk ritually east of the Caspian, Bactrian bows and Indian (Hindi, Sind) donkey tribute with reference to available illustrations of delegations on Achaemenid reliefs. 118.4 explains what Persian proskynesis required (palm to mouth, tilt forward of torso--not kowtowing), what it meant in the Near East, and what the Hellenes self-righteously made of it.

At 100, Bowie proves that Mardonios' speech "combines almost hectoring instructions ... with repeated deference." Bowie discusses the phenomenon of speeches within speeches, as in Homer, at 68, 101, and 140. At 104-6, Bowie notes of the eunuch Hermotimos' words excoriating Panionios: "awkward syntax represents Hermotimos' highly emotional state." This section is helpful on particles, moods, use of tenses, as well as characterization. Bowie analyzes Eurybiades' "plain-vanilla" oratio obliqua speech at 108 and Themistokles' oratio recta at 109. He mentions without explanation the unusual presence of indirect speech for a crucial decision. Themistokles' alliteration, paronomasia, paired phrases, and anaphoric preposition mark his acknowledged verbal skill with pressing, peeving, and persuading people.

We heartily recommend this volume as an introduction to Herodotos' Greek and methods of presentation. Bowie's strengths include extensive information on Near Eastern institutions and the Achaemenid Empire as well as Greek misunderstandings of them. He offers less on Greek politics and details of military engagement than on questions of syntax. He is alive to Herodotean ironies, and helpfully notes entrances and exits of characters from the ongoing action (e.g. Xerxes and Themistokles at 120 and 125.2).7


1.   Powell's edition of Book 8 (Cambridge 1939) remains in print through the admirable services of the Bristol Classical Press and Duckworth Publishing. One should also mention Heinrich Stein's influential (6th) Berlin edition (1901) of Herodotos.
2.   Agostino Masaracchia (Milan 1977) produced the Italian edition's original Book 8.
3.   An American historian, editing a series of biographies of famous historians of all epochs, once asked this reviewer to write a book-length biography of the Halicarnassian fugitive, a man too reticent about his own life. I could only recommend for the impossible task Marguerite Yourcenar, the "autobiographer" of Hadrian and lone Maine writer elected to the Academie Fran├žaise. My counter-offer to write instead a rich biography of Xenophon met silent rejection.
4.   In 1988 the Hotel Herodotus in Bodrum informed your reviewer there were no vacancies.
5.   Herodotos devotes less than five pages to Salamis, arguably the decisive battle of that Year, if not of the War, and of the Greek-Persian centuries-long cultural Conflict.
6.   Pausanias (10.19.1-2) reports accreted legends about Skyllias, his daughter, and divers virgin divers heard in Delphi while he passed the Scionian's commemorative dedication.
7.   To benefit fully from the Near Eastern material, one should have "Lactor 16," Maria Brosius's The Persian Empire from Cyrus II to Artaxerxes I (London 2000), a modest but helpful volume not common on this side of the salt.

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