Happy new homes for lovely new books

At long last, I am the happy owner of a copy of Menachem Stern’s Greek and Latin Authors on Jews and Judaism (Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, 1974). My years of patience paid off, and I have a beautiful, like new set of the volumes that were also not exorbitantly priced.

For those unfamiliar with this resource, Stern collected every mention of the Jews and Judaism in direct and indirect quotations from Classical authors, providing the original texts, translations, and introductions. He begins with Herodotus in the fifth century BC and ends with Simplicius in the first half of the sixth century AD. The slender third volume (the first two are quite hefty) includes a number of “problematic” quotations, as well as the appendices and indices. The volumes are hardback, of course, bound in dark green cloth, with bright gold stamping on the front cover and spine. The paper is thick and a comfortable, creamy off-white. They’re beautifully made books.

Here’s a random excerpt:

The pilot enters uncompelled when the seed-power advances into light with its fruit. Certainly I saw that those who play Prometheus in the theatre are compelled to make the soul enter the body of the just-formed man lying on the ground. However, perhaps the ancients did not want to establish by the myth that the entry of the soul is compulsory but only to show that the animation takes place after the conception and formation of the body. The theologian of the Hebrews also seems to signify this when he says that when the human body was formed, and had received all of its bodily workmanship, God breathed the spirit into it to act as a living soul.
Text 466: Porphyry, Ad Gaurum, 11.

This will be an extremely interesting read, and a permanently useful reference too, as well.

Another new goody is The Landmark Herodotus: The Histories, edited by Robert B. Strassler, new translation by Andrea L. Parvis, and Introduction by Rosalind Thomas (Pantheon Books, 2007). For whatever reason, I’d heard only of the Landmark Thucydides. As soon as I saw there was a Landmark Herodotus, I got it. This edition of Herodotus is richly annotated, with many very helpful maps, and a few illustrations. Herodotus is such a fun read, but it really is helpful to have the annotation to explain some of the more peculiar bits. I myself get bored of the Persian War stuff and want to get back to some juicy “digressions” most of the time. It’s kind of a big hardcover volume, though, roughly 9 x 12″, so it’s not as good as a vade mecum book like my older and smaller hardback of the Oxford edition translated by Robin Waterfield, sized about 5 x 9″, which was new when I got it in 1998 yet the pages are already browning, oddly enough. It’s also annotated, but uses endnotes, which I detest. The Landmark Herodotus uses footnotes, thankfully. It also includes section headings and suggested/known dates in the margins, which is very helpful. Best of all, the footnotes are quite sparse, most often giving reference to one of the included maps for whichever city, region, or event is mentioned. I say “best of all,” because the meat of the annotation is provided in Appendices A through U! So, while the Oxford provides notes incidentally, here the annotation has been systematized into appendices, and parcelled out to different scholars. There are, for example, Appendix A: The Athenian Government in Herodotus by Peter Krentz of Davidson College; Appendix G: The Continuity of Steppe Culture by Everett L. Wheeler of Duke University; and Appendix U: On Women and Marriage in Herodotus by Carolyn Dewald of Bard College. These take up only just over 110 pages. The Oxford had 140 pages of endnotes, but then that edition included nothing in the margins and no small footnotes, and the pages are much smaller, so the annotation coverage is roughly equivalent, I’d say. The thinner paper (not quite so thin as Bible paper, but nearly so) in the Landmark Herodotus keeps the book from being too massive, as well. It’s over 950 pages, but only a couple inches thick. As a reference, I’d say the Landmark Herodotus is excellent. Here’s a sampling of the two translations for 3.107:

Oxford/Waterfield:
Then again, Arabia is the most southerly inhabited land, and it is the only place in the world which produces frankincense, myrrh, cassia, cinnamon, and rock-rose resin. None of these are easy for the Arabians to get, except myrrh. They collect frankincense by burning storax resin, which Phoenicians export to Greece. Gathering frankincense requires the burning of storax because every single frankincense-producing tree is guarded by large numbers of tiny, dappled, winged snakes (these are the snakes which invade Egypt), and only the smoke of burning storax resin drives them away from the trees.

Landmark/Parvis:
And again, at the southern edge of the inhabited world lies Arabia, which is the only place on earth where frankincense grows; the other rare crops found there are myrrh, cassia, cinnamon, and ledanon. All these, except myrrh, are very difficult for the Arabians to gather. They collect frankincense by burning styrax, which the Phoenicians export to Hellas. It is only by burning this substance that they can gather the frankincense, since great numbers of winged serpents which are small and have variegated markings—the very same serpents that go out to invade Egypt—carefully guard each tree. Only the smoke from burning styrax will drive them away from these trees.

Πρὸς δ’ αὖ μεσαμβρίης ἐσχάτη Ἀραβίη τῶν οἰκεομένων χωρέων ἐστί· ἐν δὲ ταύτῃ λιβανωτός τέ ἐστι μούνῃ χωρέων πασέων φυόμενος καὶ σμύρνη καὶ κασίη καὶ κινάμωμον καὶ λήδανον. Ταῦτα πάντα πλὴν τῆς σμύρνης δυσπετέως κτῶνται οἱ Ἀράβιοι. Τὸν μέν γε λιβανωτὸν συλλέγουσι τὴν στύρακα θυμιῶντες, τὴν ἐς Ἕλληνας φοίνικες ἐξάγουσι, ταύτην θυμιῶντες [λαμβάνουσι]· τὰ γὰρ δένδρεα ταῦτα τὰ λιβανωτοφόρα ὄφιες ὑπόπτεροι, σμικροὶ τὰ μεγάθεα, ποικίλοι τὰ εἴδεα, φυλάσσουσι πλήθεϊ πολλοὶ περὶ δένδρον ἕκαστον, οὗτοι οἵ περ ἐπ’ Αἴγυπτον ἐπιστρατεύονται· οὐδενὶ δὲ ἄλλῳ ἀπελαύνονται ἀπὸ τῶν δενδρέων ἢ τῆς στύρακος τῷ καπνῷ.

Along with its size, I’d say the Waterfield is still the more readable, even if for simply forsaking scholarly fussiness (note the “rock-rose resin” in Waterfield and the “ledanon” in Parvis for the original’s λήδανον: both unknown, but one is at least in English). If you’re out under a tree somewhere, reading along in your little Oxford Herodotus, you don’t reall need to be inundated with things that you feel a need to look up later. Just enjoy the story. For that the Waterfield is good. But as a reference, or for reading at home, the Landmark is better. It’s good to see Herodotus getting a better reputation these days, as he does in the Oxford introductory material and to an even greater degree in the Landmark. It wasn’t too long ago, after all, that you’d hear him called “Father of Lies” as often as “Father of History.”

Anyhow, I recommend all of the above.

2 Replies to “Happy new homes for lovely new books”

  1. Isn’t it great! Here’s the other appearance of the winged snakes (2.75; from the Parvis/Landmark edition):

    There is a place in Arabia somewhat near the city of Bouto [the city in the Eastern Delta of Egypt, close to the eastern desert], and I went to this site in order to learn about the winged serpents. When I arrived there, I saw the bones and spines of serpents in such huge quantities as to beggar description. The spines lay in heaps, and there were quite a few of these heaps, too. Some of them were large, some smaller, and others smaller still. The place where these bones lay is at a narrow mountain pass leading onto a vast plain which borders the plains of Egypt. The story goes that, when spring arrives, winged serpents fly from Arabia toward Egypt, but at this mountain pass they encounter ibis birds, which not only to not let them pass but which kill them. Because of this service, the Arabians say, the ibis is highly honored by the Egyptians, and the Egyptians agree that this is why they hold these birds in such high esteem.

    This is one of those famous cruxes in Herodotus, where people wonder just what exactly he saw, if indeed he saw anything. Winged snakes? And the ibis has an ancient history as one of the animals representing Djehuti (Thoth), the scribal god, the other being the baboon (for some unfathomable reason). I think that it may be the case that there was an ancient (and I mean millennially ancient even in Herodotus’ time) cache of mummified ancient ibis birds (this was still done in the Serapeum in his time, as offerings to Thoth) that was exposed by the sands. So the “spines” might have been the necks and spines of the ibis birds themselves, with their wings, of course.

    The incense and winged snake connection is very strange. But it’s also not an unlikely tale to have been spread by the southern Arabs themselves, in order to protect the production of incense. Note the very interesting and accurate description that the incense comes from “trees”, suggesting some knowledge of the actual production, however adumbrated by the winged snake addition the actual process is.

    But really, it is all conjecture. Like the Phoenix, the winged snakes are one of those things thatlinduce scoffing in moderns, although they believe in even more ridiculous things that the ancients would laugh them to scorn over, like honest politicians.

Leave a Reply to Kevin P. Edgecomb Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *