BMCR 2001.08.06

Herodotus, Book VI

, , Book vi. London: Bristol Classical Press, 2000. xvi, 232 pages : maps ; 21 cm. ISBN 185399586X.

This student edition replaces the very long-serving volume by E.S. Shuckburgh, originally published in 1889 (C.U.P.) but reprinted (also by Bristol Classical Press) as recently as 1984. In his preface, McQueen stresses two desiderata: to accommodate the modern student’s need for fuller lexical, grammatical, and syntactic assistance; and to take some account of the past century’s advances in historical research (a need not much mitigated by the superannuated historical commentary of How and Wells [2 vols. 1912]). On both scores, the book is a success.

McQueen’s brief introduction first gives particulars of the historian’s life, his origins, places of residence, and many travels. Next is a characterization of Book VI within the History, its Janus-like quality, facing back toward the springs of the Ionian Revolt, and — with the account of Marathon — forward toward the great invasion of Xerxes. The nature of Herodotus’ sources (chiefly local oral traditions) is clearly sketched and the rigor (or lack thereof) of his appraisal of those sources assessed.

An English-language-only bibliography has these sections: “Commentaries” (Macan, Shuckburgh, How and Wells); “English Translations” (Godley’s Loeb, de Sélincourt as revised by Marincola, Grene, Waterfield, with comments on accuracy and readability); “General Books on Herodotus” (twenty-two entries, all but six published in the 70s and 80s); “The Liar School” (Fehling, Armayor, S. West prosecuting, Pritchett, Shrimpton, and Gillis for the defense); “Books on Greek (and Persian) History 500-481” (twenty-three entries, thirteen published in the 70s and 80s). A page of grammatical and bibliographical abbreviations is followed by a photoreproduction of Shuckburgh’s Greek text (McQueen addresses only a very few textual cruxes ad loc. in the commentary).

The commentary, running nearly 150 pages (85-232), is a model of its genre: clearly written throughout, sensitive to the needs of today’s students for linguistic support, informed by current historical scholarship judiciously adduced without overwhelming the user.

To give a more precise impression of the scope and detail of McQueen’s commentary and its strengths and emphases relative to those of Shuckburgh, I offer the following observations and rough comparative data, focusing on a single episode in Book 6 — the account of the battle of Marathon (sects. 102-117).

Shuckburgh provides 205 items of information in 142 discrete notes, about 14% of his commentary on the whole book. About 110 [54%] of these items address lexical matters, in fully ninety cases by the unremarked upon translation of words, phrases, or clauses. Eleven items [5%] deal with grammatical niceties, twenty-seven [13%] with syntax. Thus 72% of the commentary offers assistance with linguistic issues, the construction of meaning, etc.

McQueen includes 228 items of information in 164 notes, about 12% of the entire commentary for the book. Sixty-three items [28%] elucidate lexical questions, but in only twenty-six cases does the author resort to mere translation. The treatment of matters grammatical [forty-four items = 19%] and syntactic [thirty items = 13%] is much fuller than in Shuckburgh. Moreover, McQueen also furnishes references to a standard Greek grammar (Goodwin) a dozen or more times. Thus, although only 60% of his comments on the Marathon narrative are linguistic, McQueen in fact supplies fuller clarifications in this area than does Shuckburgh, who relies so heavily on bare translation and assumes deeper knowledge of vocabulary, grammar, and syntax on the part of students. Thus, for example, to identify unfamiliar verb forms, the user of McQueen’s edition will have less need for Tutti i verbi greci or its like.

Turning to non-linguistic matters, we find in Shuckburgh eight items [4%] devoted to geographical/topographical questions, forty-eight [23%] to historical concerns, and one [.5%] to Herodotean narrative/stylistic technique. Only in relatively few cases — e.g. his failure to reject outlandish estimates of the size of the Persian force (“from 110,000 to 600,000”) and his dating of the battle — are Shuckburgh’s comments misleading in the light of more recent work. He sometimes actually evinces a healthier skepticism than McQueen. For instance, his judgment that “a march of 26 miles after a long day’s battle…seems impossible” is preferable to McQueen’s lack of demurral.1 And, too, Shuckburgh equips his edition with a long (59-page) “Historical and Geographical Index,” which is in fact a kind of glossary with (sometimes extremely) detailed annotations for every entry, from Abdera to Miletos to Zancle, from Aeakes to Megakles (1, 2, 3) to Zeuxidemos. This feature makes Shuckburgh’s edition, apart from its other virtues, a still valuable aid to anyone interested in Herodotus. It also thoroughly compensates for the dedication of less than 28% of the commentary (in my Marathon sample) to historical issues.

McQueen allocates sixteen comments [7%] to geography, sixty-four [28%] to history, and eleven [5%] to narrative style. Thus, his commentary proper is more historically oriented than Shuckburgh’s. The real strength of this new edition, aside from the direct availability of comment ad loc., is the deployment and citation of recent research. In the Marathon sample, McQueen cites or paraphrases relevant discussions in books and articles by Dover, S. Miller, Fornara, Develin, Hignett, Stavely, Bicknell, Hammond, Rhodes, Borgeaud, Travlos, Garland, Parker, Loraux, R. Thomas, Burn, Huxley, Vanderpool, R. Buck, A.H.M. Jones, Fossey, Burgh, Spence, Dandamev, Vogelsang, Lazenby, Morrison & Coates, Casson, Wycherley, Kyle, Jacoby, Ziolkowski, Clairmont, Pritchett, and Van der Veer.

On balance, then, McQueen’s edition improves on Shuckburgh’s by affording richer linguistic assistance to meet the needs of intermediate-level language students together with perceptive historical commentary based on more recent research. The publishers have, however, foregone certain further upgrades: the photoreproduced text, though quite legible, is somewhat smudgy in appearance; the two maps (of the Aegean and Marathon), also lifted from the earlier edition, are quaintly archaic and too small, their labels often hard to read; there is a replacement for neither Shuckburgh’s splendid “Historical and Geographical Index,” nor his helpful “Index to the Notes,” which directed the user mostly to discussions of specific Greek words and phrases.

By all means, then, get McQueen, but do not mothball Shuckburgh.


1. Shuckburgh p. 175 vs. McQueen p. 203 (at Hdt. 6.116). The former does, however, engage in special pleading when he says of the source passage for the same-day march that Plutarch’s use of αὐθήμερον ( Arist. 5) “seems to mean that they did the march…in one day, not on the same day as the battle.” He further claims that Plutarch says elsewhere ( de Glor. Ath. 350E) “that Miltiades arrived home on the day after the battle.” But the relevant sentence — Μιλτιάδης μὲν γὰρ ἄρας ἐς Μαραθῶνα τῇ ὑστεραίᾳ τὴν μάχην συνάψας ἧκεν εἰς ἄστυ μετὰ τῆς στρατιᾶς νενικηκώς — appears to mean Miltiades marched the army out to the battleground, and on the next day, having engaged in battle, returned victorious to the city… That is, battle and march on the same day, as in Arist. 5. See further “Marathon and the Myth of the Same-Day March,” GRBS 38 (1997[2000]) 329-353.