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The Sunland Lord

Literature Of Old: Plutarch, Appian, Herodotus

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This last year or less I decided to go through history/biography a bit. I finished Plutarch's Parallel Lives before summer and this is one of the most interesting book I've read. 

Finishing Histories by Herodotus and Civil Wars by Appian. 

Anyone who would discuss this? 

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I don't know enough about this, I think.  But I have always admired like any other horse person his intelligence about the breeding and training of horses. Emotionally one might think the descent of Athens to such terrible traduces of her proclaimed institutions and ethics must have truly hurt his soul.  When he left Athens for Persia he never came back -- is that right?

And Plutarch is entertaining reading certainly.

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2 minutes ago, Zorral said:

I don't know enough about this, I think.  But I have always admired like any other horse person his intelligence about the breeding and training of horses. Emotionally one might think the descent of Athens to such terrible traduces of her proclaimed institutions and ethics must have truly hurt his soul.  When he left Athens for Persia he never came back -- is that right?

I'm sorry, but I don't get who you are speaking of? Sounds like Themistocles, since he left Athens and found refuge in Persia and stayed. Ancient Athens was hell to many notable people from there. Rarely there's an Athenian's chapter described in Lives that didn't suffer from his fellow citizens.

2 minutes ago, Zorral said:

And Plutarch is entertaining reading certainly.

Yeah, so much this. I was amazed how much knowledge today is own to Plutarch. Supernatural events aside, since then they truly believed in those things. But the fun part is, those are interesting to read too and often you can see the logic used by the author. 

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Herodotus.  He wrote considerably in his histories about horses, their breeding, their training, their care, the differences among peoples in how they treat them.

But again, like Plutarch, one cannot know how much of what he wrote about many subjects was true or how much was entertaining fiction.  And then there's always the political dimension -- which no chronicler, etc. of any place or people escapes.

I had thought, despite his not being born there, he'd considered himself affiliated with Athens?  But then, again, I don't know much about this.

 

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4 hours ago, Zorral said:

Herodotus.  He wrote considerably in his histories about horses, their breeding, their training, their care, the differences among peoples in how they treat them.

He wrote considerably about horses, I think mostly about the different people treating them differently. For example, the Scythians were the best horsemen at the time. Also, the Persians, the Parthians, the Medes, pretty much every Eastern peoples paid a lot of attention to horses. In fight, their cavalry was their main threat to the enemy along with the archers.

Especially the Scythians, who were famous as horse archers during the time. 

Also Herodotus does mention the four horse chariot race at the Olympics, but I think this would be considered especially cruel sport nowadays. 

I have something less than 200 pages left, so I am going to pay more attention on this subject, since Herodotus wrote many things about pretty much everything you can think of in this book.

4 hours ago, Zorral said:

But again, like Plutarch, one cannot know how much of what he wrote about many subjects was true or how much was entertaining fiction.  And then there's always the political dimension -- which no chronicler, etc. of any place or people escapes.

That's true. We cannot know for certain, but these people did their research, they travelled, talked to inhabitants, notable people, priests, etc. 

Surprisingly, Plutarch, (and also Appian) allowes himself a freedom of speech one would not guess that existed during the early Roman Empire. He is not a fanboy of the people who transformed the Republic into an Empire, especially Antony and Augustus. He writes more favourably about Caesar though.

He openly praises the noblemen who preferred freedom over tyranny, and doesn't seem he had any problems with the authorities about it at all. 

4 hours ago, Zorral said:

I had thought, despite his not being born there, he'd considered himself affiliated with Athens?  But then, again, I don't know much about this.

 

He was. He lived there for a while, and admired their political system. Some say he almost gained Athenian citizenship, but wasn't granted one by few votes in the assembly or something. Was still respected in Athens, and Plutarch says he won an award for his work there.

About his death, some say he died in Italy (Thurium, which was then part of Magna Graecia), Athens (during the outbreak of the plague), or Macedonia. No one can tell for certain though.

He was born in Halicarnassus, which was in the Persian Empire during that time, after Persians conquered Asia Minor. Today it's Bodrum in Turkey.

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I've been going on a bit of a classics binge* in the last few months, and I do intend to get around to Herodotus (and Thucydides) one of these days. The historiography of the Father of Lies is, of course, covered in History classes around here, but I have never actually sat down and read him in full, rather than in extracts.

*Most notably, I've worked my way through the entire Platonic corpus. Here is my suggested reading order for the Dialogues.

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1 hour ago, The Marquis de Leech said:

*Most notably, I've worked my way through the entire Platonic corpus. Here is my suggested reading order for the Dialogues.

I will look this up when I am able. I'm reading the Republic these days, so it might be helpful.

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You could also try Xenophon who was a captain of cavalry, AFAIR. I think he also wrote a book about horses but the most famous ones are Anabasis (Retreat to the sea, from some military campaign in the middle east) and the Kyroupaidia, the (idealized) education of the Persian king. Admittedly, I never read him. Supposedly somewhat boring, it used to be among the standard texts when studying Greek at school because it is fairly easy straightforward prose (but my teacher preferred other stuff, e.g. Herodotus). The rough parallel in Latin is Caesar's Gallic War. There is also a Latin "clone" of Plutarch, Cornelius Nepos: Lives of illustrous men, but this is probably redundant after Plutarch.

The most important next Greek historian would be Thucydides who is not as much fun as Herodotus but more "modern" (less hearsay and saucy stories, more political analysis). And among the Latin writers Livy and Tacitus

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2 hours ago, The Marquis de Leech said:

 

1. Like your notion about Socrates as a historical troll. :lol: Definitely imagining him as such while reading Republic.

2. You put the Republic on 16th place, so I'm definitely not going by your recommendation of order. 

3. Alcibiades. This sounds great. Gonna read it after I finish what I now read. I was stunned by Plutarch's chapter about Alcibiades in Lives. Need to look this up.

4. Critias. Putting this on the list also.

Overall, great work. This is very useful and a good read. Thank you, I will bookmark it.

Started reading him after finishing Seneca's Letters From a Stoic and was in the mood. 

Also, wanted to check out what the man who was making company to both the tyrants of Sicily, Dionysius the First and the Second, really thinks. Their relationship, as described by Plutarch, is hilarious and bizarre at the same time.

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15 minutes ago, Jo498 said:

You could also try Xenophon who was a captain of cavalry, AFAIR. I think he also wrote a book about horses but the most famous ones are Anabasis (Retreat to the sea, from some military campaign in the middle east) and the Kyroupaidia, the (idealized) education of the Persian king. Admittedly, I never read him. Supposedly somewhat boring, it used to be among the standard texts when studying Greek at school because it is fairly easy straightforward prose (but my teacher preferred other stuff, e.g. Herodotus). The rough parallel in Latin is Caesar's Gallic War. There is also a Latin "clone" of Plutarch, Cornelius Nepos: Lives of illustrous men, but this is probably redundant after Plutarch.

The most important next Greek historian would be Thucydides who is not as much fun as Herodotus but more "modern" (less hearsay and saucy stories, more political analysis). And among the Latin writers Livy and Tacitus

Bought and started Gallic Wars. So far so good, but I need to finish numerous other stuff I started too.

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18 minutes ago, The Sunland Lord said:

1. Like your notion about Socrates as a historical troll. :lol: Definitely imagining him as such while reading Republic.

2. You put the Republic on 16th place, so I'm definitely not going by your recommendation of order. 

3. Alcibiades. This sounds great. Gonna read it after I finish what I now read. I was stunned by Plutarch's chapter about Alcibiades in Lives. Need to look this up.

4. Critias. Putting this on the list also.

Overall, great work. This is very useful and a good read. Thank you, I will bookmark it.

Started reading him after finishing Seneca's Letters From a Stoic and was in the mood. 

Also, wanted to check out what the man who was making company to both the tyrants of Sicily, Dionysius the First and the Second, really thinks. Their relationship, as described by Plutarch, is hilarious and bizarre at the same time.

As I note in the list, there are plenty of people who advise starting with Republic. My disagreement with that is the length and complexity of the thing - Symposium is much more user-friendly.

If you are interested in Plato on Sicily, check out the Epistles. Just be wary that no-one's entirely sure of their authenticity. And definitely start with the Seventh Letter. 

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27 minutes ago, Jo498 said:

The most important next Greek historian would be Thucydides who is not as much fun as Herodotus but more "modern" (less hearsay and saucy stories, more political analysis). And among the Latin writers Livy and Tacitus

And Suetonius, who is less about history, and more about gossip. It's like trying to learn about Napolean by reading English Tabloid Newspapers, but it makes for hilarious reading. I've always loved the anecdote about Domitian and the flies.

 

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Ranke-Graves "Claudius" is mostly based on Suetonius, isn't it? There is always the problem of historians being rather polemical despite claiming to write "sine ira et studio", without wrath or partisanship. E.g., the notion of Nero as a total brute (like in seen in the book/movie "Quo vadis?") is due to Suetonius and Tacitus and wildly exaggerated.

As for Plato: If someone wants to read only one, it should be the Republic. But to start there are much better choices like Symposion, Phaidon, Apology etc. Even Gorgias, despite being fairly long (and not with the best ratio of content and length)

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good thread.

i undertook a complete re-reading of classical drama last summer, and alternated ancient plays with platonic dialogues.  it was a cool reading plan--e.g., tonight let's read the beginning of the gorgias and then aeschylus' agamemnon; tomorrow finish the gorgias and then seneca's agamemnon.  no idea about reading order to match up texts thematically.  

 

herodotus and thucydides is a fun project, too.  kagan's monograph on the latter argues that thucydides is a revisionist, which makes all history revisionism (he doesn't think herodotus counts as a historian--i think that discriminates against the arimaspoi and bactria's auriferous formicines).

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Posted (edited)

Alcibiades is such an interesting character individually and in the history of Athens.  Like a lot of the historical characters mentioned above, you can read him as a hero or as a villain, and neither one is probably wrong.  With the several different historians or philosophers who wrote about his life, his story is one of the most well-rounded.

Xenophon's books are both very interesting, and the encomium is just as revealing of Greek culture as it is of the lives of the Persian monarchs, given his reactions to the things he describes.

One aspect of classical literature and history that most fascinates me is my own perception of the Greek historians and the Roman historians.  For me, reading of the Greeks, from Ancient through Classical to the Alexandrian period, always seems a little like mythology.  On the other hand, reading the Roman historians (Sallust, Tacitus, Livy, etc.) feels a lot more like a contemporary account of news.  Perhaps it is because the recently-concluded American Century took a form so similar to late Republic and then early Imperial Roman times, but the Roman histories have an immediacy and recognizability that the Greek ones do not.  I don't say that they are better than the Greek, or that I enjoy them more, but the Greek histories just seem to have a sheen of the exotic/foreign/distant that the Roman ones do not.

Edited by Wilbur

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Posted (edited)
4 hours ago, Jo498 said:

You could also try Xenophon who was a captain of cavalry, AFAIR. I think he also wrote a book about horses but the most famous ones are Anabasis (Retreat to the sea, from some military campaign in the middle east) and the Kyroupaidia, the (idealized) education of the Persian king. Admittedly, I never read him. Supposedly somewhat boring, it used to be among the standard texts when studying Greek at school because it is fairly easy straightforward prose (but my teacher preferred other stuff, e.g. Herodotus). The rough parallel in Latin is Caesar's Gallic War. There is also a Latin "clone" of Plutarch, Cornelius Nepos: Lives of illustrous men, but this is probably redundant after Plutarch.

The most important next Greek historian would be Thucydides who is not as much fun as Herodotus but more "modern" (less hearsay and saucy stories, more political analysis). And among the Latin writers Livy and Tacitus

Xenophon's work on the raising and training of -- of course! warhorses and / or racing horses -- is still classic, still read among horse people, and even I've read it several times.  :laugh::read:  Though not in the last 15 - 20 years, as horses fell out of my real life as well as research life, taken over by American colonial and 19th century history and slavery.

If I'm remembering correctly he too had to leave Athens in the wake of the horrors of the Spartan victories, Athenian traitors-demagogues and the death of Socrates; as pointed out, he too was among those who are mentioned in various works as being present during Socratic method in action.  He too fought with the Persians, wrote histories and never returned to Athens.  If I am remembering correctly.

 

Edited by Zorral

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Of course, Xenophon's Memorabilia is also important and supposed to give an account of the historical Socrates that is more neutral than what can be glimpsed from Plato's dialogues

Now I looked it up, he wrote even TWO books on horses, one on horses and horsemanship in general (peri hippikês) and one about cavalry (hipparchikos, the cavalry commander).

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Posted (edited)

I know a whole lot more about horses than I do about the Persian wars!

Beyond that though, I wonder what we can deduce that both these notable figures, notable in their own time, who continue to hold relevance for all sorts of historians (and horse people) today, lived in one way or another in exile from what would have been, their heart-soul home of Athens and Greece?  It seems that the cracking of Athens, its own hubris, must have been a true trauma for an entire generation of Greeks and Athenians.  Or, am I reading way too much into this?  (It wouldn't be the first time.)

 

Edited by Zorral

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7 hours ago, Wilbur said:

Alcibiades is such an interesting character individually and in the history of Athens.  Like a lot of the historical characters mentioned above, you can read him as a hero or as a villain, and neither one is probably wrong.  With the several different historians or philosophers who wrote about his life, his story is one of the most well-rounded.

His story is crazy. You wonder how many times a man can switch sides, stir up one against another, and still keep his head on his shoulders. But my impression is he didn't do this only because he enjoyed it or for personal gain. He did it also as a self-preservation from the Greek governments, especially his, the Athenian. Even if he wasn't who he was, they would try to backstab him.

Him, Themistocles, Nicias, Timoleon, and some others understood how the system works, and refused to come back home to be tried and executed. Some of them decided to die in battle (Nicias), retire on Sicily (Timoleon), escape to the Persians (Themistocles), or live in a foreign land until you can, like Alcibiades himself. 

I like the tale about him when he cut the tail of his dog, so that the Athenians would speak badly about him. He was so pleased because they would gossip about this smaller matter and wouldn't talk about his bigger schemes and scandals for a while.

7 hours ago, Wilbur said:

One aspect of classical literature and history that most fascinates me is my own perception of the Greek historians and the Roman historians.  For me, reading of the Greeks, from Ancient through Classical to the Alexandrian period, always seems a little like mythology.  On the other hand, reading the Roman historians (Sallust, Tacitus, Livy, etc.) feels a lot more like a contemporary account of news. 

This might be due to the development of historians. With time, they became more and more systematic and got things in better order. Since Rome took over power later than the Greeks, it is understandable. The Greek writers during Roman era too were getting on the new wave. 

7 hours ago, Wilbur said:

Perhaps it is because the recently-concluded American Century took a form so similar to late Republic and then early Imperial Roman times, but the Roman histories have an immediacy and recognizability that the Greek ones do not.  I don't say that they are better than the Greek, or that I enjoy them more, but the Greek histories just seem to have a sheen of the exotic/foreign/distant that the Roman ones do not.

The governments of Greece and Rome also have effect. Greek city-states were separate, had different systems in different times one from another, each of them had their own colonies in the world. 

Rome was a better functioning machine. More unified, effective and developed, add the one single army instead of the many armies of Greece and there you go. 

Imagine if the US is like Roman Republic, many different peoples/states under one standard, and Greek city states were not really united, but were just states with entirely different interests. It's easy to say that modern governments/nations are based closer to old Rome than they are to old Greece. 

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Posted (edited)

I had read Thucydides many years ago but only this past summer did I deign to read his History in Attic Greek. Which, ugh, was one of the most grueling and miserable decisions of my life but glad I got through it. In the prelude he famously asserts that in his capacity as a historian he's not writing for a contemporary audience but for all times. Pursuant to that goal he's says he's going to intentionally write in the most complicated and sophisticated syntax and grammar of Attic Greek so that only the most scholarly and intellectual people will be able to read it so that the uneducated thetes and whatnot won't pervert or distort his writings. And all I can say is: yup.

On a more lighter note I read Lucian's A True Story this past month, which is just delightful and breezy Ancient Greek in comparison to Thucydides. It's really salient to these discussion on the mythologizing of historical inquiry in the classics because Lucian is a tongue-in-cheek parody of Herodotus, Ctesias and Iambulus, all these sort of hack historians making shit up that they haven't actually experienced or could possibly know about. A True Story is often considered the first work of science fiction as its principal narrative follows an interstellar war between a race of people living on the moon and a race of people living on the sun. It's certainly not the highest tier of 'classical literature' but if you want to read a really funny parody of the Homeric epics and even more archaic historians, Lucian is awesome.

Edited by LuckyCharms

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