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2014 January Reading Herodotus

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Reading Herodotus:
Henri Estienne’s edition of Herodoti Halicarnassei Historiarum libri IX
(London, 1679).


Herodotus (484-425 BCE), an ancient Greek historian, was a native of Halicarnassus, (modern day Bodrum), on the southwest coast of Turkey. He is known today for his epic Histories, which examined the Greco-Persian Wars. It was this work, with its innovative systematic approach to the collection of sources, which earned him the title “The Father of History”, but it is a title which is still a matter of debate. Some historians claim that his book falsified facts because the truth of his information was uncertain (it is unknown how he acquired his information, but it is often claimed that he gained it through word of mouth). Others point to seven predecessors who are known for writing separate histories. Crucially however, unlike Herodotus’ Histories, these earlier works did not remain intact through the years, whereas Herodotus’ book survived and was often reprinted during the Renaissance and Early Modern period. The first Greek to Latin translation of the book was in the fifteenth century, and re-editions of his book were often published, ensuring it became a publishing classic. The Worth Library has three editions (all edited by Henri Estienne): the initial 1566 edition, the second edition published in 1592, and this edition of 1679.


This specific edition of the book was a re-publication of Henri Estienne’s earlier editions of 1566 and 1592. Henri Estienne (1531-1598) was a sixteenth-century French printer and classical scholar. He loved the languages of Greek and Latin, being fluent in both. His father, a well-educated man and a renowned printer, taught him Greek and Latin at a young age, which he perfected with his French teachers. He was educated in his home by his fathers’ scholarly acquaintances, men such as Pierre Danès, who also taught Prince Henri of France (later Henri II) and Adrien Turnèbe. Estienne’s family often spoke Latin in their household rather than French; their family spoke it so often that their servants also learned to speak Latin “rather ungrammatically.” As a young man, in the year 1559, Estienne followed the same path as his father and also became a printer. He loved printing classics, which led him to eventually publish his first edition of Herodotus’ Histories. Though he was not the first to translate this work from Greek to Latin, he was the first person to produce an edition of Herodotus with both Greek and Latin text in columns. With his re-edition he improved the older translations or sometimes even made entirely new Latin translations. He went on to re-publish his own work in the year 1581 and again in 1592.

This particular edition was edited in London in 1679 by Thomas Gale (1635/6-1702). Gale was a classical scholar, educated at Westminster School and Trinity College, Cambridge, and later appointed as Regius Professor of Greek at Cambridge in 1666. Due to his profound fascination with both Greek and Latin classics, he re-published many classical works, one being Herodotus’ Histories. His edition of Herodotus’ work had a dedication to William Sancroft, then Archbishop of Canterbury. Although it is uncertain why Gale decided to dedicate the book to Sancroft, it is likely that he was trying to impress the relatively new archbishop, who was Archbishop of Canterbury from 1677-1690. Sancroft, like Gale, had been educated in Cambridge (at Emmanuel College, Cambridge) in 1633 and became Dean of St. Paul’s in 1664. He later became Archdeacon of Canterbury and in 1677 was promoted to the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Gale worked collaboratively with several other men who printed and sold his edition to the general public. He worked with two printers, E. Horton and James Grover who then sent the printed editions of the book to many booksellers in London:  John Dunmore, Richard Chriswell, Benjamin Tooke, and Thomas Sawbridge. Horton was a printer in London during the years 1671-88. He was often employed to print editions of classics, the first being a folio of Herodotus in Greek and Latin, for which the type was a cast by James Grover. Horton during this time was a notable printer and his books often rank among the best of the century. Grover was a printer and type-founder in London from 1676-1728. He began as a printer and type-founder in 1676 and in 1679 he cast the types for this collaborative work on Herodotus. Once Horton and Grover were finished with the collaborative printing for this edition, they sent the edition to Dunmore, Chriswell, Tooke, and Sawbridge to sell to the public.

What makes the 1679 edition of theHistories in the Worth Library a truly fascinating book are  the handwritten notes on the flyleaves of the book. It is not known who wrote these notes, but as it looks like a child’s handwriting, and a provenance inscription states that Edward Worth’s father, John Worth, bought it in 1684 (when Edward was eight), it is more than likely that the notes are by Edward Worth himself. Worth could have written these notes as a young child while learning and studying the work of Herodotus. Certainly their subject matter (see below) points to their use as an introduction to the historicity of the work.


Worth’s third edition of Herodotus, this re-edition by Gale, has three pages of manuscript annotation. The annotation is a direct copying of the beginning of François de La Mothe Le Vayer’s Notitia Historicorum Selectorum, or Animadversions upon the Ancient and Famous Greek and Latin Historians, which was in fact an English translation of La Mothe le Vayer’s Jugement sur les anciens et principaux historiens grecs et latins(1646), madeby William Davenant (1656/7-1681) of Magdalen Hall, and which had been printed by Leonard Lichfield at Oxford University Press in 1678. La Mothe Le Vayer, (1588-1672) was a French writer who was also known by the alias Orosius Tubero. He was the tutor of Louis XIV and also took his father’s seat in parliament after his father’s death. However, he gave up his seat in parliament in 1647 to travel. In 1668 he wrote a book with the title, Du peu de certitude qu’il y a en histoire, a book which sparked a debate about historical criticism in France. He later wrote five dialogues, all published under the name of Orosius Tubero, dialogues which were so controversial as to threaten his public image.

In his first chapter of Notitia Historicorum Selectorium La Mothe Le Vayer presents the arguments for and against the veracity of Herodotus as a historian. Though skeptical about whether Herodotus was an accurate historian, La Mothe Le Vayer offers the reader an introduction to the current (and ancient) historical debate about Herodotus. As Leffler (1976) reminds us, ‘La Mothe le Vayer pointed out time and again how little certainty could be found in history,’ (Leffler, 1976). Given the historical debate about the use of Herodotus, it is probable that the notes from La Mothe Le Vayer in Worth’s copy were written to aid the reader’s comprehension of Herodotus. The verbatim copy of the first six pages of La Mothe Le Vayer’s chapter on Herodotus thus gives the impression that the writer (probably Worth) was trying to understand Herodotus’ impact on history and was at the same time learning to question what he was being taught. The English version of Notitia Historicorum Selectorum is not in the Worth library, and it is unknown where Worth would have accessed this copy.

The following is a full transcription of the annotation.

Reflections upon the history of Herodotus by Monsieur Francis la mothe le Vayer

Although there have been many Greek historians, who preceeded Herodotus; he is allowed to be the most ancient of those whose works have been preserved to our time. Pherecydes, Dionysius, Milesius, Hecateas, Xanthus Lydius, Charon of Lampsacum, Hellanicus, and some others are indeed mentioned to have written histories before him: but their writings have been so long lost, that Cicero, in his book de legibus, acknowledged Herodotus to be the father of history: and in another place, for his excellency, he stiled him the prince of historians.

They reckon no less than one and twenty ages from his to ours, for he lived about 450 years before the nativity of Christ: Hellanicus and Thucydides were his contemporaries; and they differed so little in age, that, as Aulus Gellius reports, Hellanicus was but 12 years elder than Herodotus; and Thucydides but 13 years younger. Suidas, Photius, and Marcellinus, relate a circumstance, which justifies this, in respect of the two latter: they write that Herodotus reading his history, in a great olympick assembly of all Greece, Thucydides, (who was then but very young) could not forbear weeping to hear him: which obliged Herodotus to tell his father, that he esteem’d him very happy in having a son, who shewed, so early, such a great affection to the Muses.

I do not affirm by this expression of Herodotus, that he then called the nine books, he composed, by the names of the daughters of Parnassus. The most probable opinion, and which Lucian seems to uphold, is that those books received their names from the learned, rather than the author: and we find many other writings to have been dignified with the like title, which did not deserve it so well as these. Dion the Rhetorician composed nine books, which were called the 9 muses, as we learn from Diogenes Laertius. And the same author assures us, that the obscure productions of Heraclitus his brain, of which Socrates made no difficulty to confess, that he hardly understood any thing, were honored nevertheless with the name of the muses. We read moreover in the library of Photius, that one Cephaleon had compiled an epitomy of historie, from Ninus to Alexander the great, in 9 sections, divided also between the nine learned sisters; though in a different order from that of Herodotus. And that Aurelius Opilius, quoted somewhere by Aulus Gellins, who from a Philosopher, became a Rhetorician, and from a Rhetorician, a Grammarian (so degenerate he was) did not forbear to do the like, in a treatise of his, consisting of nine books: and few that converse in books are ignorant, that as the three orations of Demosthenes his competitor had the names of the Graces, so his 9 epistles received those of the Muses, being the most illustrations, which could be given them.

But from this inscription of the muses, some have not forborn to accuse Herodotus of being too great a lover of fables, and of having made an history, so poetical, in favour of the companions of Apollo, that there is seldom any truth found in it. This faction reproaches him of all the strange things he has writ, and which has been most doubted of: and insinuates that those words of the Latin Satyrist, which tax Greek history:

——Et quicquid Graecia mendax

Audet in historiâ, &c.

Were meant of him, and even Casaubon thought, that Herodotus his relations, had made his detractors invert, the word delirare, taking for an Etymologie, that which is perhaps, but a simple Allusion.

But as he has had accusers, so he has not wanted persons to undertake his defence; Aldus Minutius, Joachim Camerarius, and Henricus Stephanus have writt apologies for him: and the long voyages, as well to the north, as the south, and the east Indies, which have been made in our days, have very much justified his writings, to shew us that an infinite number of things; that he writt by the relation of others, and whereof he likewise doubted very much, are now found to be true. He relates in his Melpomene, on the subject of those Phaenicians, whom King Necus imbarked in the red sea, and who return’d to Egypt, more than two years after, by the pillars of Hercules; affirming, that they had in some of the coasts of Affrick, the sun on the right hand, that he could not in any wise beleive them; though it is now evident by common experience, that they could not returne from the Erythrean sea into the Mediterranean (as they did) with doubling the cape, now called the cape of good hope, and without having in that place, the sun on their right hand, and their shadow on their left (they being beyond the tropic of Capricorn.)

In the following book of Terpsichore, he makes those Thracians lyers, who said, that the country beyond the river Ister, was full of bees, for this weak reason, that bees cannot live in places so cold as those must needs be. Yet few are ignorant in our days that Muscovy is full of them, that they often people whole forrests, where these little animals, sometimes by their labour, nourish beares of an excessive magnitude, which inhabit therein. With the like fear of being mistaken, he doubted whether he should believe, that the isle of Chemnis floated upon a lake of Egypt, because he saw it not move, and that it was improbable that an Isle should swim upon water. but not to peak of the fabulous Symplegades, or Cyaneans, we read that both the Plinies, Dionysius Halicarnasseus, Theophrastus, and Seneca have not witnessed, that such are found in many places, and that they have seen some in their agitation. There are some near St Omers; in one of which the Arch Duke Albertus, and the Infanta of Spain his Dutches were-entertained at a dinner, and it is no strange thing to the Scotch, to see one of this nature, in their Lake of Loumond, affording very good pasture ground. In fine, their existence is so certain, that the lawyers Paulus and Labes disputed of the right of their soil, the first being of opinion, that none had property in them. Who would not have taken for a fable, that which the same Herodotus mentions, in another place, of certain Thracian women, who contended among themselves, after the death of their husband, who should have the honour to be killed upon his grave, and buried with him? If the Portuguese, and other relation had not discovered, that it is a custome practiced in all the coasts of the Malabars, and almost through all the East, for Women to cast themselves, of their own accord, and in emulation one of the other, into the flaming funeral piles of their deceased husbands. But as we may perceive by these examples, that Herodotus did hardly ever expose for certain those things, which he did not perfectly know; though they were found true, long after the age in which he lived: so we must observe, that he has been very carefull to condemn that which he judged to be manifestly false, when it appeared to be against the ordinary course of nature: even so in his Thalia he laughed att the pretended Arimaspes, who had but one eye, and stole the Gryphens gold in the north. In Melpomene, the following section, he does not more favourablly deliver the tale of the Aigipodes, or goatfooted men: nor what he had read of the Hyperboreans, who sleep six months of the year: though this may probably have respect to the long nights of those people, who live under the Arctick Circle, and who pass almost half the year, without seeing the sun, whilst they are very near the pole.


Considine, John (2011) Dictionaries in Early Modern Europe: Chapter 3- The Classical Heritage II: Henri Estienne and his world. (Cambridge University Press: Cambridge).

Evans, J. A. S. (1968) “Father of History or Father of Lies; The Reputation of Herodotus” (The Classical Association of the Middle West and South: 1968) The Classical Journal, Vol. 64, No. 1. pp. 11-17.

Leffler, Phyllis K. (1976) “The ‘Histoire Raisonnee,’ 1660-1720: A Pre-Enlightenment Genre” (University of Pennsylvania Press: Pennsylvania 1976) Journal of the History of Ideas, Vol. 37, No. 2. pp. 234.

Lloyd-Jones, Kenneth (1994) “The Tension of Philology and Philosophy in the Translations of Henri Estienne” (Springer: 1994) International Journal of the Classical Tradition, Vol. 1 No. 1. pp. 36-51.

Plomer, Henry R. (1968) A Dictionary of the Printers and Booksellers who were at work in England, Scotland and Ireland from 1668-1725 (1968).

Text: by Ms Jordan Sparks, Grand Valley State University, Michigan.

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