works great and marvellous

I was duly fascinated when I first encountered this when I studied Ancient History in what now seem ancient times themselves – 1960 – though I read in the Penguin translation.

This is the Showing forth of the Inquiry of Herodotus of Halicarnassos, to the end that1 neither the deeds of men may be forgotten by lapse of time, nor the works2 great and marvellous, which have been produced some by Hellenes and some by Barbarians, may lose their renown; and especially that the causes may be remembered for which these waged war with one another.

1. Those of the Persians who have knowledge of history declare that the Phenicians first began the quarrel. These, they say, came from that which is called the Erythraian Sea to this of ours; and having settled in the land where they continue even now to dwell, set themselves forthwith to make long voyages by sea. And conveying merchandise of Egypt and of Assyria they arrived at other places and also at Argos; now Argos was at that time in all points the first of the States within that land which is now called Hellas;— the Phenicians arrived then at this land of Argos, and began to dispose of their ship’s cargo: and on the fifth or sixth day after they had arrived, when their goods had been almost all sold, there came down to the sea a great company of women, and among them the daughter of the king; and her name, as the Hellenes also agree, was Io the daughter of Inachos. These standing near to the stern of the ship were buying of the wares such as pleased them most, when of a sudden the Phenicians, passing the word from one to another, made a rush upon them; and the greater part of the women escaped by flight, but Io and certain others were carried off. So they put them on board their ship, and forthwith departed, sailing away to Egypt. 2. In this manner the Persians report that Io came to Egypt, not agreeing therein with the Hellenes,3 and this they say was the first beginning of wrongs…

As the Adelaide University eBook introduction says:

Herodotus of Halicarnassus was a Greek historian of the 5th century BC. He wrote a history of the Persian invasion of Greece in the early fifth century B.C., known simply as The Histories of Herodotus. This work was recognized as a new form of literature soon after its publication. Before Herodotus, there had been chronicles and epics, and they too had preserved knowledge of the past. But Herodotus was the first not only to record the past but also to treat it as a philosophical problem, or research project, that could yield knowledge of human behavior. His invention earned him the title “The Father of History”.

Published between 430 and 424 B.C., the Histories was divided by later editors into nine books, named after the Muses. The first six books deal with the growth of the Persian Empire. They begin with an account of the first Asian monarch to conquer Greek city-states and exact tribute, Croesus of Lydia. Croesus lost his kingdom to Cyrus, the founder of the Persian Empire. The first six books end with the defeat of the Persians in 490 B.C. at the Battle of Marathon, which was the first setback to their imperial progress. The last three books of the Histories describe the attempt of the Persian king Xerxes ten years later to avenge the Persian defeat at Marathon and absorb Greece into the Persian Empire. The Histories ends with the year 479 B.C., when the Persian invaders were wiped out at the Battle of Plataea and the frontier of the Persian Empire receded to the Aegean coastline of Asia Minor.

Not far into Herodotus we read:

6. Crœsus was Lydian by race, the son of Alyattes and ruler of the nations which dwell on this side of the river Halys; which river, flowing from the South between the Syrians7 and the Paphlagonians, runs out towards the North Wind into that Sea which is called the Euxine. This Crœsus, first of all the Barbarians of whom we have knowledge, subdued certain of the Hellenes and forced them to pay tribute, while others he gained over and made them his friends. Those whom he subdued were the Ionians, the Aiolians, and the Dorians who dwell in Asia; and those whom he made his friends were the Lacedemonians…

From Wollongong Library I am now reading:


Tim Leach is a 20-something and this is his first novel and it is bloody brilliant! You might like his blog too: for example A writer’s tips on using writing tips.

Some reviews with which I agree:

1. The Last King of Lydia is a wonderful book. The story is a gripping tale of ancient kingdoms, yet its central theme should give warning to any contemporary world leader, or greedy corporate fat cat. As the novel progresses, Croseus comes to understand true happiness lies in the smaller things in life. His gradual epiphany gives the book an optimistic feel despite some of the story’s brutal realities.

Wholly satisfying from start to finish, Tim Leach has written a terrific novel that should appeal to all readers, regardless of whether they like historical fiction. 2013 has been a terrific year for books, and The Last King of Lydia deserves to sit right at the top of the pile. – Robin’s Books

2. Leach is good at both nuance and a cynicism that is cut with generosity and optimism. The world is neither dark nor light, but it is worth exploring. Leach lets us examine a distinctive ancient period of grand gestures and empires, as well as the individual wisdom of characters we come to know and, despite all their failings, admire. – Judith Starkston

3. This is a novel of tableaux, scenes from an ancient Greek vase – the king on his pyre, the siege of a great city, the march of an immense army, the glorious towers of Babylon. This ancient world comes alive and yet still feels completely relevant to our own world. The descriptions are so vivid, the language and speech so eloquent, that the characters move in a landscape rich in colour. I know little about this period of history but now I want to learn all I can.

I cannot praise The Last King of Lydia enough, nor urge you enough to read it. I wish that there were more books by Leach that I could read right now but we must wait for the next, a sequel. Without doubt, this is a contender for my novel of the year. — For winter nights – A bookish blog

Now I remember being much exercised in 1960 by the question “If Herodotus is the father of history, what about the Bible?” I didn’t of course register at that time that I was living in a country whose original inhabitants were custodians of cultures that made all of the above into Johnny-come-latelys, but that is another matter. Well, Herodotus had a critical temperament foreign to the projects of the various writers and compilers of the writings we call the Hebrew Bible. And there are points of view about that too:

This is what archaeologists have learned from their excavations in the Land of Israel: the Israelites were never in Egypt, did not wander in the desert, did not conquer the land in a military campaign and did not pass it on to the 12 tribes of Israel. Perhaps even harder to swallow is that the united monarchy of David and Solomon, which is described by the Bible as a regional power, was at most a small tribal kingdom. And it will come as an unpleasant shock to many that the God of Israel, YHWH, had a female consort and that the early Israelite religion adopted monotheism only in the waning period of the monarchy and not at Mount Sinai.

— Tel Aviv University archaeologist Ze’ev Herzog cited in Wikipedia article Criticism of the Bible.

On the other hand one reads from time to time claims such as this: Bible Possibly Written Centuries Earlier, Text Suggests on the Live Science site in 2010.

Scientists have discovered the earliest known Hebrew writing — an inscription dating from the 10th century B.C., during the period of King David’s reign.

The breakthrough could mean that portions of the Bible were written centuries earlier than previously thought. (The Bible’s Old Testament is thought to have been first written down in an ancient form of Hebrew.)

Until now, many scholars have held that the Hebrew Bible originated in the 6th century B.C., because Hebrew writing was thought to stretch back no further. But the newly deciphered Hebrew text is about four centuries older, scientists announced this month.


But such claims often prove to be optimistic. On the background to this one see Did David and Solomon Exist?; Unhistorical Hebrew Linguistics: A Cautionary Tale; A Very Tall “Cautionary Tale”: A Response to Ron Hendel; Data, Paradigms and Paradigm-Collapse Trauma: from Biblical Archaeology to Brutal Biblical Archaeology; Interview with Yosef Garfinkel Director of the Khirbet Qeiyafa excavations and Professor at the Institute of Archaeology at the Hebrew University. 

One could question the connotations of “scientists” in the Live Science report too. There is definitely no scholarly consensus involved.