Introduced by Paul Cartledge
This sparkling study of the ancient world pays tribute to Herodotus, whose Histories made him a forefather of the modern historian.
Exploring a period which Paul Cartledge describes in his introduction as ‘one of the most interesting and exciting epochs of all human history’, this new edition features endpaper maps illustrating the Mediterranean and the Near East, and a comprehensive chronology. Twenty-four pages of colour illustrations complement de Sélincourt’s eye for both the serious and playful aspects of ancient life, juxtaposing sublime statues and vases with ancient depictions of turtles, crocodiles and hockey players. The binding design, portraying a raucous Dionysian parade, encapsulates de Sélincourt’s sense that ‘men in the passage of centuries, though they have changed their clothes much and often, have but little and seldom changed themselves’.
‘If we want knowledge about the ancient world,’ writes Aubrey de Sélincourt, ‘we must turn to the scientific historians… if we want knowledge of the ancient world, we must turn to historians of a different kind.’ One such historian is Herodotus, whose groundbreaking Histories founded the modern disciplines of history and travel writing. Another is de Sélincourt himself, whose World of Herodotus (first published in 1962) provides a fascinating exploration of the ‘world’ – both geographical and cultural – which Herodotus so memorably chronicles.
Written to ‘give some expression to what for so long has interested, or delighted, or horrified me in the civilisation and culture of antiquity’, the book illuminates Greek life between the eighth and fifth centuries BC. De Sélincourt’s narrative, like Herodotus’, circumnavigates the ancient world, from Egypt and its intriguing rituals, to austere Sparta, lyrical Lesbos and the ‘barbarian’ empires of the Near East. He traces the development of Athenian democracy from the experimental politics of the Archaic age; along the way, chapters discuss literature (from the Homeric poems to the tragic dramas), science, religion and the Persian Wars. The result is an energetic study as learned, digressive and entertaining as that of the ‘father of history’ himself; de Sélincourt’s empathy with his subject imbues every page with warmth and charm.
Aubrey de Sélincourt, born in 1894, won an open scholarship to study Classics at University College, Oxford, from 1913. His studies were cut short due to the outbreak of the First World War; he served at Gallipoli in 1915 before retraining and returning to war as a pilot. Shot down near Douai in May 1917, he spent the rest of the war as a prisoner. Released, he returned to Oxford at the war’s end, obtaining his BA in 1919, before commencing a successful career as a schoolteacher and ultimately headmaster. Following his retirement in 1947, de Sélincourt moved to the Isle of Wight, where he devoted himself to writing on subjects ranging from the lives of great poets to sailing. His translations of Livy’s The Early History of Rome (books I–V) and The War with Hannibal (books XXI–XXX), Herodotus’ Histories and Arrian’s The Campaigns of Alexander remain in print today. He died in 1962, a few months after the publication of The World of Herodotus.
Paul Cartledge is A. G. Leventis Professor of Greek Culture Emeritus at Cambridge University and A. G. Leventis Senior Research Fellow of Clare College. Author, co-author, editor or co-editor of some twenty-five books, the most recent being After Thermopylae (2013), he contributed an introduction and extensive notes to Tom Holland’s Herodotus (2013). He has been historical consultant to several TV programmes and radio series. He holds the Gold Cross of the Order of Honour (Greece) and is an honorary citizen of (modern) Sparta.
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Review by anon on 13th Dec 2016
"Wonderful edition of a wonderful book, thank you FS! Aubrey de Selincourt provides a fascinating insight into the ancient Greek world, with a stimulating assortment of self-contained essays including ..." [read more]