Herodotus Books 8 & 9 Audio Recording, Jan 7 2013

Here is the audio recording for the Herodotus reading group.  Listen online or download the mp3 file and listen to it as a podcast on your mp3 player.
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2013 programs

Reading Odyssey is currently working on a schedule for lectures and reading groups for 2013.

2012 programs

   – Homer’s Odyssey began May 2012 
   – Herodotus’ Histories began September 2012 (register free here

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Discussion Questions for Herodotus Books 8 & 9

Dear fellow Herodoteans,
Here are some discussion questions to help you think through Books 8 & 9.  Enjoy!

1.  In Book 8.40-65, Herodotus narrates the momentous conference of  
Greek leaders – the Salamis conference – as they debate whether to  
fight the Persians at sea near Salamis, or to defend the Peloponnese
at the Isthmus of Corinth, a natural defense.  Has Herodotus  
embellished the decision to fight at Salamis in view of the victory?   
What of the role of Themistocles and his tricks?

2. Themistocles later sends another message to Xerxes. Some of this  
writing by Herodotus may be more commentary on the Peloponnesian wars  
than on the Persian Wars. Do you see that? What does Strassler think?  
How does the conflict between Athens and Sparta influence Herodotus’  
writings of the earlier Persian Wars?

3. Regarding references to the Peloponnesian wars, the chapter ends  
with the Spartans urging the Athenians not to seek treaty with  
Xerxes. They say: “Again, it would be an intolerable thing that the  
Athenians, who in the past have been known so often as liberators,  
should now be the cause of bringing slavery to Greece.” (8.142.3; page  
661). By the time of the Peloponnesian wars, Athens was seen as a  
leading democracy that enslaved its empire – supporting freedom for  
its citizens and slavery for its possessions.
Note: further reference and irony related to this aforementioned  
quote in Herodotus comes from the fact that the Spartans later make  
an alliance with the Persians against Athens – and that Persian  
support plays a critical role in the Spartan victory against Athens.

4. In the debate that Xerxes and his councilors have about the  
impending naval battle at Salamis, Xerxes seeks the opinion of  
Artemisia – a “wise advisor” and the only woman naval commander and  
combatant that is referenced. Her advice to Xerxes is not to hurry –  
that he can win if “you keep your ships near land, or even if you advance
to the Peloponnese” (8.68.b).  She also goes on  
to observe a key leadership fact: “bad slaves tend to belong to good people,
while good slaves belong to bad people” (8.68.g) What does she mean by  
that? Do we agree? What do we think of the role of women in Herodotus  
and of this woman in particular?

5.  Given Xerxes’ stubbornness and dedication to invading Greece, why  
does he flee after the loss at Salamis? Does his earlier initial  
hesitation to invade come back to haunt him? Does he remember his  
dreams? Why does he now seem to follow the advice of his wise  
advisors Artemisia and Artabanus?

6.  In one of the most astounding reversals in military history, the  
Battle of Plataea (book 9) resulted in a resounding Greek victory.   
What is the interplay between Athens and Sparta in the events leading  
up to this battle?  How had the battle affected relations afterwards  
between Athens and Sparta?  What can Herodotus tell us about the  
Greek city-states in general at this time before his Histories  
abruptly end?
Note: Plataea, the site of Greek united victory in the Persian  
Wars, plays a tragic role in the Peloponnesian wars – remember, this  
war between Athens and Sparta had likely begun by the time Herodotus  
was finishing his book.
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Herodotus Books 6 & 7 Audio Recording, Dec 10 2012

Here is the audio recording for the Herodotus reading group.  Listen online or download the mp3 file and listen to it as a podcast on your mp3 player.
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Discussion Questions for Herodotus Books 6 & 7

Dear fellow Herodoteans,
Here are some discussion questions to help you think through Books 6 & 7.  Exciting stuff here.

Herodotus Book Six Discussion Questions
1. In Book VI ch. 30, Histiaeus’ end at the hands of Artaphrenes and Harpagos is related in gruesome but cursory fashion:  “they took him to Sardis and there hanged him from a stake.  But they embalmed his head and brought it to King Darius in Susa” (p. 437).  Just prior to this remark, Herodotus himself tells the reader that in his opinion “if, after being captured alive, Histiaeos had been taken to Darius, I suppose that Darius would have forgiven him for his offense and that he would have suffered no harm” (437).  Knowing what we know about Darius in the Histories, would that be an accurate prediction?  Why does Herodotus feel this way and what evidence from earlier in our reading could support his assertion?

2.  In chs. 51-55, Herodotus digresses on the origins of the Spartan dual kingship.  He comments on both the Spartan version and the common Greek traditional version.  What are we to make of the story?  Is Herodotus favoring one or the other?  Are there other versions deliberately not mentioned by Herodotus?  Why does Herodotus suddenly proclaim: “let that be the extent of what is said on this topic” (449)?

3.  In ch. 84, Herodotus presents various views on the Spartan king Kleomenes’ madness and eventual death.  After presenting the Argive and Spartan explanations, Herodotus claims: “For myself, I think that the best explanation is that Kleomenes was punished for his treatment of Demaratos” (460).  What does this say about Herodotus’ judgment?  Is he taking sides or does he have justification, according to his evidence, that his assertion has credence?  What does this remark say about Herodotus’ regard for history in general?

4.  Herodotus uses 94 chapters to set the stage for one of the most important battles in history.  Given the actual details of the battle, why does Herodotus not go into more detail about the individuals and events on the battlefield?  How does Herodotus contrast the Athenians to the Persians in this conflict?  How is Sparta compared/contrasted with Athens?  Persia??

5.  Ch. 121 just seems to leap out of nowhere.  After a description of the battle of Marathon and Sparta’s late arrival, Herodotus seems eager to address the veracity of Alkmeonid treachery against Athens:  “I am astonished by that story about the Alcmeonids” (478).  He then goes on to elaborate on the Alcmeonid clan, seemingly making an appeal for them, through chapter 131.  How convincing is his defense?  Why does Herodotus make this appeal here?  What sort of tensions are betrayed in Herodotus’ words that show the movement between myth and history, fact and fiction?

Book 7 Discussion Questions
1.  The decision for the Persians to invade Greece is a highly significant one.  Starting in Book 7, chapter 8, what are Xerxes’ reasons for doing so?  Are they based on national security?  personal revenge?  tradition?  anything else?
After Xerxes’ dreams convince the Persians to invade, does that make Mardonios’ reasons any stronger?  Why or why not?

2.  In chapters 27-29, Pythios voluntarily offers Xerxes a great amount of resources to help the war effort.  Xerxes appreciates the offer, but becomes angry at Pythios soon after (38-39).  Is Xerxes justified in doing so?  Does this story, which surrounds Xerxes’ order to ‘punish’ the Hellespont, show Xerxes’ madness?  wisdom?

3.  The Ancient Greeks believed that “hubris” or ‘overweening pride’ would lead to a just punishment from the gods.  In which instances in Book 7, does Herodotus show Xerxes’ “hubris?”  In which instances is Xerxes prudent?  How does Xerxes compare with his predecessor Darius in balancing “hubris” with prudence?

4.  Before the crossing of the Hellespont, Xerxes and Artabanos have a dialogue that begins with the ‘shortness of human life’ (chs. 46-52).  Both Xerxes and Artabanos have differing views on this and on the coming invasion of Greece.  How does Xerxes justify his position vis-a-vis Artabanos?  Given the situation and regardless of the outcome, do either Xerxes or Artabanos have the stronger argument?

5.  Given Xerxes’ decision to allow the three captured Greek spies to see his whole Persian force (ch. 147), what is Xerxes’ strategy as he approaches Thermopylae?  Even with the exiled Spartan king Demaratos’ advice, what does Xerxes nevertheless cling to as his military advantange?  What advantage to the Greeks is Xerxes constantly overlooking?  Why?

6.  The Delphic oracle predicted for the Spartans that “either their city must be laid waste by the foreigner or a Spartan king be killed” (ch. 220).  Was this the main reason Leonidas decided to remain at Thermopylae?  What other reasons are there?  Was the battle of Thermopylae militarily significant or merely symbolic?

7.  What are your favorite stories from Book 7?  Which, if any, have you heard about before in movies, books or popular media?
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Herodotus Books 4 & 5 Audio Recording, Nov 11 2012

Here is the audio recording for the Herodotus reading group.  Listen online or download the mp3 file and listen to it as a podcast on your mp3 player.
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Discussion Questions for Herodotus Books 4 & 5

Dear Herodotus Readers,
As you continue to read through The Histories, use these questions as benchmarks to keep you thinking critically through Books 4 & 5.  Send any other questions you come up with out to us!

Books 4 & 5 Discussion Questions

1.  Greek coastal colonies on the Black Sea and northern Aegean may have had substantial contact with the Scythians during and prior to Herodotus’ time.  His account (4.1-82) shows similarities and differences between Greeks and Scythians.  What similarites struck you as particularly significant?  What differences?

2.  As invaders, the Persians are considered a formidable foe.  In Book IV, how does Darius carry out the declaration of war against the Scythians?  What is Darius really after?  How do the Scythians and their neighbors prepare for the Persian invasion?  What might Herodotus be foreshadowing with respect to the eventual Persian invasion of Greece?

3.  What is the reason for Persia to invade Scythia?  Libya?  What does Persia stand to gain by invading Lybia?  To what extent are Greeks on both sides involved in this invasion?

4.  Given that Ionians were willingly helping Darius in his invasion of Scythia in Book IV, what are the conditions that lead to their revolt in Book V?  What contrast between Greece and Persia might Herodotus be trying to point out in 4.144 when Megabazos subjugates the Hellespont?  At what point in either Book IV or Book V would you say the spark of animosity is lit between Greece and Persia?

5.  What does Herodotus reveal about the state of Greek city-state politics in Book V, especially between Sparta and Athens?  What role does democracy play in relations between Greek city-states?  What dilemma does Sparta find itself in regarding democracy?  What do other Greek city-states think about the rise of democracy in Athens?

6.  In earlier books, Herodotus included different female types.  Do you see a pattern so far in the book in how Herodotus represents women in his narrative?

7.  What are your favorite stories, anecdotes or digressions from Books IV & V?
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