Thucydides is the ancient historian whom prime ministers and presidents most like to quote, and who is taught at West Point (an institution nicknamed Sparta). His work has often been co-opted by later thinkers – to help explain, for example, how democracies can become embroiled in disastrous military expeditions. Bernard Knox, the great American classicist, cited him when referring to the US’s entanglement in Vietnam, but the idea has no doubt been applied to Iraq or Afghanistan. Herodotus, by contrast, has none of this heavyweight support. He was written off by Thucydides, who poured scorn on what he characterises as Herodotus’s fanciful, romantic view of the world. The criticism stuck. Herodotus’s account of the Persian wars of 481-479BC takes six books out of nine (or 300-odd pages of Robin Waterfield’s excellent English translation) even to begin on the Battle of Marathon; for many it is a rambling, rather disappointing try-out for the academic discipline that history would later become.
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