The Greek storyteller Herodotus of Halicarnassus (fifth century BC) was the world's first historian. In The Histories, he describes the expansion of the Persian Empire under its kings Cyrus, Cambyses and Darius, culminating in king Xerxes' expedition against the Greeks, which met with disaster in the naval engagement at Salamis and the battles at Plataea and Mycale. Herodotus' remarkable book also contains excellent ethnographic descriptions of the peoples that the Persians have conquered, fairy tales, gossip, legends, and a very humanitarian morale.
(For a summary with some comments, click here.)
Herodotus on causality
Herodotus as a topographer/ethnographer
Herodotus the moralist
PrologueHerodotus of Halicarnassus hereby publishes the results of his enquiries, hoping to do two things: to preserve the memory of the past by putting on record the astonishing achievements both of the Greek and the non-Greek peoples; and more particularly, to show how the two races came into conflict.These are the confident opening lines of Herodotus' Histories, and the Greeks who heard them must have been surprised. Preserving the memory of the past by putting on record certain astonishing achievements was not unusual, but the bards who had been singing legendary tales had been less pretentious. Even the great poet Homer had started his Iliad in a more modest way:Sing, goddess, the wrath of Peleus' son Achilles, that brought endless harm upon the Greeks. Many brave men did it send down to the Underworld, and many heroes did it yield a prey to dogs and vultures. In this way, the counsels of Zeus were fulfilled, from the day on which Agamemnon -king of men- and great Achilles first fell out with one another. And which of the gods was it that set them on to quarrel?The similarity between these two prologues is obvious: we are to hear a tale about a terrible conflict. The difference is striking, too: Homer invites a goddess to relate the story; Herodotus does not need divine aid. Who was this man, who so proudly gave his personal opinion about the past?
Herodotus' lifeNot much is known about Herodotus' life. The only reliable source we have is the book he wrote, known as The Histories, and this remarkable text gives us some clues that enable us to sketch the outlines of its writer's life. As its prologue shows, Herodotus was born in a town called Halicarnassus: modern Bodrum in western Turkey. Not far from Herodotus' native city is the island Samos, which figures so prominently in The Histories, that it has been argued that Herodotus spent several years on it. The same argument applies to Athens: Herodotus must have spent some time in the leading Greek city of his age.
It is unknown when or why he left his home town. Two centuries after Herodotus' death, scholars from Alexandria assumed that the historian was banished because he had been involved in an abortive coup attempt. Unfortunately, there are many ancient historians who were forced to spend part of their lives abroad after a political failure (e.g., Thucydides and Polybius). Probably, it is safer to ignore this piece of scholarly speculation.
The famous Macedonian philosopher Aristotle (384-322 BC) must have heard or read The Histories. In his book on Rhetorics, he quotes its first line:Herodotus of Thurii hereby publishes the results of his enquiries... (Rhetorics 1409a27)An easy way to explain this variant reading of Herodotus' opening line is that Aristotle was simply mistaken. However, the philosopher's infallibility has been axiomatic for centuries, and many scholars -ancient and modern- have tended to believe that Herodotus was one of the settlers in the South-Italian city Thurii, which was founded in 444 BC. A medieval dictionary, the so-called Suda, mentions Herodotus' tomb on the market of Thurii; some historians have believed this statement. However, Athens and Pella (in Macedonia) also claimed his tomb, and it is imaginable that the Thurians have invented theirs after reading Aristotle.
The year of his death is unknown, but we have two clues. In section 137 of Book Seven of The Histories the execution of two Spartans in Athens is mentioned. From another source, The history of the Peloponnesian war by the Athenian historian Thucydides (2.67), it is known that the two were killed in the winter of 430/429 BC. Therefore, Herodotus was still alive and writing in 429. Since it is also known that in the summer of 429 many Athenians were killed by the plague, it may be conjectured that Herodotus was one of the victims of this disease. However this may be, he must have died before 413, because he tells (Book Nine, section 73) that a certain village, Decelea, was never plundered by the Spartans, something that did in fact happen in 413, as Thucydides tells us (6.93)
Assuming that Herodotus died between 429 and 413, it is reasonable to infer that he was born between 500 and 470. Perhaps we can be a little bit more precise: nowhere in The Histories does he claim to have witnessed the great Persian War (480-479 BC) that he describes. Therefore, his date of birth can be estimated in the eighties of the fifth century BC.
He seems to have been a real globetrotter. If we are to believe him, he was no stranger in Babylon, where he interviewed the priests; he claims to have gone north to the Crimea and south along the Nile; he visited Sicily and knows the details of North-African geography. However, some doubts are possible: e.g., his description of Babylon is contradicted by archaeological evidence (see below). On the other hand, in his description of the Crimea, he mentions a king known to have lived around 460, which makes it likely that he really visited that part of the world.
That he was able to write, is a fact easily ignored. However, it tells us that his parents could afford a teacher and were well to do. Herodotus must have been a rich man, possibly a member of the old aristocracy. We may speculate that he fought as a heavy-armoured infantryman (a so-called hoplite), like all Greek men of his class and age.
This is all we know about the Father of History: frustratingly little. Yet, there is no ancient writer that we know so well as Herodotus. Other authors wrote longer texts, were greater historians, or reached greater intellectual heights, but none of them is able to convey the same feeling of intimate friendship that we experience when we read Herodotus. We meet him when he is in a dark mood, share his surprise, know his religious opinions, hear him chattering and babbling. There is no ancient author whose character we know so well as the man about whose life we know so little. The solution to this paradox lies in The Histories.
Herodotus' originalityToday, The Histories are usually edited in one volume. In antiquity, nine scrolls were needed to contain the entire text, and it is still usual to divide The Histories into nine "books". As the Italian classicist Silvana Cagnazzi has pointed out, it is possible to subdivide every "book" into three units, the so-called logoi. (For an overview, click here.) When a person reads one of these logoi to an audience, he or she needs about four hours, and it is likely that this is how Herodotus first "published" the results of his enquiries: as a lecture. This idea corroborates an ancient story that he used to recite his work. (On one occasion, a boy started to cry: the future historian Thucydides, who was deeply moved by Herodotus' narrative.)
It is likely that at one point Herodotus decided to collect his logoi in one continuous text. But now he faced a serious problem. His logoi were about very dissimilar subjects -e.g., a description of Egypt, a logos about Scythian customs, and a narrative about the Persian diplomacy in the winter of 480/479- and it was likely that this collection of logoi would become a messy text. Herodotus has recognized this problem, and decided to group everything around one single theme: the expansion of the Persian Empire between 550 and 479. Lectures on topography and ethnography now became integrated chapters of a historical chronicle.
Stories about the past were something that the Greeks primarily knew from the epic poems of Homer, who had sung about the valiant deeds of past heroes in the Iliad and the Odyssey. Herodotus was heavily influenced by this example. Sometimes he quotes the legendary bard; or he uses words that any Greek would have recognized as homeric. The Iliad contains a catalogue of nations that took part in the Trojan War; in Book Three, Herodotus sums up all Persian provinces, and in Book Seven, he makes up a catalogue of the troops that took part in Xerxes' expedition to Greece. Sometimes, Herodotus copies scenes from Homer. In his description of the Battle of Thermopylae, he tells how the Spartans and Persians fought about the body of Leonidas. This is impossible in a hoplite-battle, but echoes a scene from the Iliad in which the Greeks and Trojans fight about the body of the hero Patroclus.
A very important borrowing is the so-called circular composition. More than a hundred times, Herodotus interrupts his narrative to digress on a subject. The longest digression is Book Two: Herodotus announces that the Persian king Cambyses wanted to conquer Egypt, and then starts to talk about the geography, the customs and the history of the ancient country along the Nile. Finally, at the beginning of Book Three, Herodotus resumes his narrative and describes the Persian invasion. These digressions belong to the most entertaining parts of the Histories. For example, we read an interview with an employee of an Egyptian mummy factory, an astonishing anecdote about the first circumnavigation of Africa, a hilarious tale about Indian goldmining, a report about the sources of the Nile and the Danube (see below), a reconstruction of the language of the prehistoric Greeks, and lots more.
A final point of similarity to Homer is his impartiality: Homer's heroes are Greeks, but his Trojans are no villains, and in the same way Herodotus portrays his Greeks and Persians - he treats both parties without partiality or hatred, but with genuine sympathy. It is interesting to compare this with the historiographical texts from the oriental monarchies: the Persian shah and the Egyptian pharaoh leave no doubt about the wickedness of their opponents.
But Herodotus is more than just a pupil of Homer who added geographical and ethnographical bits and pieces to his unbiased epic tale. A first difference is that Homer was a poet using a complex meter, whereas Herodotus composed his logoi in prose. But the greatest difference is the fact that Herodotus was a real researcher, an empiricist. (In fifth century BC Greek, the word historia still meant "research"; it was Herodotus' achievement that the meaning of the word changed.) He travelled a lot in order to investigate the cities and opinions of man. It is a tribute to the quality of Herodotus' geographical descriptions that the works of his predecessors are now lost.
As a corollary of Herodotus' empiricist method, he is interested in the recent past. Homer had told about distant, legendary antiquities; Herodotus is interested in events that are in living memory that can be verified. For example, he has interviewed the survivors of the Battle of Marathon. Admittedly, interviews are an unreliable source, but it must be said that Herodotus did a remarkable job: when we can check The Histories, it often turns out to be trustworthy. Even though Herodotus makes some serious mistakes, he managed to give a pretty accurate description of the century before his birth.
As it turned out, Herodotus invented a new literary genre: history. He did so by integrating the results of empiricist ethnographic and topographic research into epic, and writing this in prose. This combination was revolutionary.
It is odd that he was hardly appreciated in antiquity. People admired his entertaining way of telling stories, but they did not believe them. The first to criticize the Father of History was Thucydides, who rejected Herodotus' religious explanation of what was happening (below). In later times, nobody dared to believe what Herodotus told about strange customs. For almost two thousand years, people thought that he was just a teller of (excellent) tales, but that all these strange customs were merely inventions. His never ending stream of tall, short and winding tales earned him -as Salman Rushdie would say- not one but two nicknames: to some, he was the Father of History, but to others, he was the Father of Lies. Only when, after the discovery of the Americas, the Europeans learned to know the customs of hitherto unknown people, the reappreciation of Herodotus started.
Herodotus on causalityHerodotus is interested in the causes of the war he reports about, something that Homer was not. To the legendary bard, the Trojan War was nothing but a stage for the real drama, the wrath of Achilles. His wrath caused much grief, because Zeus wanted it so, but the causes of the war itself were unimportant. Homer did not really want to know how the Greeks and Trojans had come to blows. Herodotus, however, has a lot to say about causality; it has his special interest.Herodotus of Halicarnassus hereby publishes the results of his enquiries, hoping to do two things: to preserve the memory of the past . . . . and to show how the two races came into conflict.After this prologue, Herodotus tells us some legendary tales that could have been told by any poet of his age: he presents us with a Greek saga about the causes of the wars between East and West, and adds Persian and Phoenician accounts - stories that he may have heard in the docklands of Halicarnassus or any town along the Mediterranean shores. But in section five of Book One, he abruptly changes the subject.So much for what the Persians and Phoenicians say; and I have no intention of passing judgement on its truth or falsity. I prefer to rely on my own knowledge, and to point out who it was in actual fact that first injured the Greeks.This man was the Lydian king Croesus, who conquered the Greek towns in Asia, and thereby put into motion a violent system of attack and counter-attack. According to Herodotus, Croesus became overconfident after his successes against the Greeks, and recklessly attacked the Persians, who retaliated and conquered Lydia and its Greek subjects. The Greeks rose in rebellion, being helped by Athens. The Persians suppressed the rebellion, and -thirsty for revenge- attacked the Athenians, who defeated the invaders at Marathon. The Persians swore to avenge themselves, but Xerxes' expedition was a disaster; now it was the Greek turn to attack.
For the modern reader, this seems too simple: it is unlikely that all human affairs are determined by this pattern of action - reaction. But Herodotus offers a more sophisticated interpretation of the events: no doubt, the Persian Wars were caused by the imperialist habit of the Persians. This is clearly indicated by the compository principle of The Histories: the Persians successively subject the Lydians, the Babylonians, the Indians, the Egyptians, the Scythians, the Libyans, the Thracians... Sooner or later, the Greek were to fight the ever-expanding Persian Empire. "Imperialism" is therefore the real cause: not only was Herodotus the first one who asked why people fought a war, but he was also the first one who gave an abstract answer.
These two levels of causality are human. There is, however, a third, deepest, religious layer in Herodotus' thought. More than once, he states that the gods are envious of human happiness: the powerful will once be tempted to act beyond their means and be destroyed. Time and again, the gods tempt mortals to transgress the limits that are set to human greatness (Greek: hybris), so that even the greatest kings lose everything they have.
An illustration is king Cambyses' behaviour in Egypt. After he has conquered Egypt, he becomes reckless and attacks the holy Apis-bull (the story is untrue, but that is not what interests us now), orders his brother Smerdis to be executed, starts an incestuous relation with two of his sisters, kills the son of his vizier, has twelve noblemen buried alive, and finally desecrates the Egyptian tombs and mummies. It is obvious to Herodotus, that Cambyses has transgressed certain limits. When he tells the story of Cambyses' death, he makes it clear that it was a divine punishment. Upon hearing about the rebellion of the magoi, Cambysesleapt upon his horse, meaning to march at speed to his capital and attack the disloyal magos. But as he was springing into the saddle, the cap fell off the sheath of his sword, exposing the blade, which pierced his thigh - just in the spot where he had previously struck Apis the sacred Egyptian bull (The Histories Book Three, section 64).Herodotus was not the only one who thought about causality in theological terms. That hybris invoked retribution, was a pious and traditional explanation for the downfall of kings and the ensuing disasters for kingdoms.
Even the gods are -according to Herodotus- subject to this law, and human piety towards the gods cannot prevent mortal beings from misery. When Croesus, the devout king of Lydia who has sent unmatched presents to the god Apollo and his oracle in Delphi, is defeated by the Persians, he asks the god if it is the habit of Greek gods to be so unappreciative. The god of Delphi replies that not even he can escape destiny; even though he had been eager that the downfall of the Lydian monarchy occurred in the time of Croesus' sons rather than in his own, he had been unable to divert the course of Fate.
Herodotus' sourcesHerodotus claims to have visited the whole known world. Among his informers, he has priests from Greece, Egypt and Babylon; Africans, Arabians, Carthaginians, Cypriotes, Egyptians, Greeks, Italians, Palestinians, Persians, Phoenicians, Scythians... everyone seems to have been cooperative, and these interviews must have been Herodotus' most important source. Like a good journalist, Herodotus offers his audience different versions of the same event: not only does he offer a Greek account of the Persian raid on the Greek temple in Delphi (Book Eight, section 37) and the appearance of two supernatural helpers that reverted the Persian assault, but he has even been able to find a Persian informant of this divine intervention - thirty years after the event!
This is too good to be true, and there are more incidents where Herodotus' spokesmen are suspiciously well-informed. We are to believe that the Egyptians and Persians remembered the legendary war between the Greeks and Trojans. Babylonian priests give a description of the temple of their god Marduk (the "Tower of Babel" mentioned in Genesis 11) that according to modern archaeologists does not fit the actual situation. As we have seen, Herodotus was not only known as the "father of history" but also as the "father of lies".
It has been argued by the German classicist Detlev Fehling, that when Herodotus mentions his source, this is almost the best proof that he is not telling the exact truth. Unsatisfied with the real events, he decided to improve upon them, making it possible to show better the meaning of the events. There is a lot to be said for this suggestion; at least, it is almost certain that Herodotus did not go to Babylon. (Compare the comments on Herodotus' first book.) Some have argued that Fehling's criticism is a bit far-fetched. After all he had to write his tale many years after he had visited the place, and he never had the comfort of a map. This will no do: the historian wants us to believe that the walls of Babylon are 100 metres high - if he had indeed seen the town himself, he would not have written down such nonsense.
Sometimes, it is possible to check Herodotus' information. Comparison with cuneiform texts learns that almost every Persian name that he mentions, matches a real name. For example, Herodotus names the Persian leaders Cyrus, Cambyses, Hystaspes, Darius, Xerxes and Artaxerxes; these are the Greek equivalents of Kurush, Kambujiya, Vishtaspa, Darayavaush, Khshayarsha and Artakhshaça. Courtiers receive plausible names as well, and this indicates that Herodotus was well-informed about the Persian court. (If he simply was making up things, as Fehling suggests, the names would have been wrong. Other Greek authors' Persians have very un-Persian names.)
Herodotus must have had (indirect) access to at least two written Persian sources. In the first place, in Book Three, he is able to tell the story of Darius' coup d' état in considerable detail, and in line with the official Persian propaganda. We know the official story about the revolt of the magoi and Darius' accession to the throne from an inscription that was found in a town called Behistun (west of Hamadan in modern Iran). It tells essentially the same story; the only detail that Herodotus has wrong is the name of one of the seven conspirators. Book Three also contains the second document, a list of provinces and revenues of the Persian Empire, which closely resembles comparable Persian documents (click here).
A third document -written in Greek- seems to be the source for the catalogue of Xerxes' army in Book Seven. In section 146 Herodotus tells us what kind of document this is. In the winter of 481/480, three Greek spies were sent to Sardis, where the Persian army was gathering. (Click here for the story.)
As has already been pointed out, Herodotus was a rich man, and well-educated. He knew the literature of his age: he quotes not only Homer, but also Hesiod, Sappho, Aeschylus, and Pindar. He had read the Description of the earth by one Hecataeus of Milete (550-490), and sometimes ridicules this Greek geographer; however, we know for certain that Herodotus sometimes plagiarized his predecessor.
Last but not least, he knows many stories that were told among Greek noble families, among which is one of the two Spartan royal dynasties. We can imagine how he was invited to deliver a lecture, stayed with an aristocratic family, and how he heard the stories about the astonishing achievements of the family, of which he preserved the memory by putting them on record.
So, Herodotus combined the results of interviews and family stories, had read the books that were available and knew at least three relevant documents. We may add that he (pretends to have) travelled extensively, so that he can often claim autopsy of a location. The following remark, from section 147 of Book Two, is a good summary of Herodotus' method.So far the Egyptians themselves have been my authority; but in what follows I shall relate what other people, too, are willing to accept in the history of this country, with a few points added from my own observation.
Herodotus as a topographer/ethnographerHerodotus describes amazing customs and habits, and sometimes it is hard to believe him. The Agathyrsi have their women in common, so that they may all be brothers, and, as members of a single family, be able to live together without jealousy and hatred. The Argippaeans are bald. Sacred prostitution is a custom in Babylon. Lydian men don't like to be seen naked. The Neuri can change into werewolves.Every five years, the Thracians choose one of their number by lot and send him to God as a messenger, with instructions to ask him for whatever they may happen to want; to effect the dispatch, some of them with javelins in their hands arrange themselves in a suitable position, while others take hold of the messenger by his hands and feet, and swing him up into the air in such a way as to make him fall upon the upturned points of the javelins. (The Histories, Book Four, section 94)Herodotus describes all these customs without any trace of bias. Although he is proud to be Greek and sometimes expresses his surprise, he does not criticize foreign customs. (After his death, some of his compatriots were to accuse Herodotus of "philobarbarism", loving the barbarians.)
His respect for other cultures does not mean that he swallows everything. Herodotus sometimes seems to be a bit gullible, but this is just a corollary of his method. Sometimes, he was unable to find a text or a reliable spokesman about an event or place. In those cases, he simply retold the available legends and fairy tales; he usually shows that he does not believe them ("This is what they say, but in my opinion it is just one of those tall stories of the Egyptians").
Not everybody recognized Herodotus' criticism, and we have already seen that in antiquity and the middle ages, he was called Father of Lies. In the sixteenth century, however, it became clear how much variance there is in human behaviour. The Aztecs sacrificed humans. Matrilinearity was usual among the Iroquois. The Calmucs were bold. Promiscuity was usual in Samoa. The Siberians told stories about shamans who were able to change into wolves. After these discoveries, the Father of Lies could become the Father of Anthropology.
As a geographer, Herodotus has his merits, too. He was the first to understand the relative size and situation Europe, Africa and Asia. He was aware of the fact that the Caspian Sea was surrounded on all sides by land, and knew reports about the circumnavigation of Africa. (Click here for the story, which was generally questioned until Bartolomeus Diaz reached the Cape of Good Hope.) Herodotus knew that the world was tens of thousands year old (Book Two, section 11); something that was unacceptable to the scientists of the Christian Middle Ages.
Sometimes, he is mistaken. For example, he believes that the world is symmetrical. When he compares the Danube and the Nile, he points out that they both divide a continent in two halves, and that their deltas are on the same geographical longitude. Since it is -according to Herodotus- well-known that the sources of the Danube are in the far west, in the Pyrenees, he is positive that the sources of the Nile must be in the Atlas mountains. And because the Danube has five mouths, two of the seven branches of the Nile must be canals. This symmetry is not complete: Herodotus knows that it is cold in the north and warm in the south. Between these extremes is Greece, where the climate is very pleasant. The fact that there is an unpleasant climate at the ends of the (flat) earth, is compensated by the natural richness of those far-off lands: cinnamon, gold, amber and all the perfumes of Arabia.
Greece is the midpoint of the earth, and the countries that are furthest from Greece have the strangest customs. Thracians weep when a child is born, and are very glad when somebody dies. Indian men have black semen. In the extreme north, there are people who eat other people. The list of reversals is endless.
Herodotus the moralistTo Herodotus the teller of tales, these "world inverted" stories must have been among his greatest successes. Nothing was more funny to a Greek than to hear about Egypt, where women urinate standing. But Herodotus never presents it as if he is joking. Strange customs have his sincere interest, not his contempt. It is as if he wants to show how much diversity there can be in human culture: other cultures are not just a little bit dissimilar, they can be completely different.
Knowing this, the critical observer will understand that he or she can be a complete stranger to others. The only way to cope with other cultures is tolerance, because no society can claim superiority. This is best explained by Herodotus' own words, when he expresses his own feelings about the story of the madness of Cambyses in section 38 of Book Three. As we have seen (above), this Persian king killed the sacred Apis-bull, his brother Smerdis, the son of his vizier, twelve noblemen, started an incestuous affair with two of his sisters and desecrated Egyptian tombs.In view of all this, I have no doubt that Cambyses was completely out of his mind; it is the only possible explanation of his assault upon, and mockery of, everything which ancient law and custom have made sacred in Egypt. If anyone, no matter who, were given the opportunity of choosing from amongst all the nations in the world the set of beliefs which he thought best, he would inevitably -after careful considerations of their relative merits- choose that of his own country. Everyone without exception believes his own native customs, and the religion he was brought up in, to be the best; and that being so, it is unlikely that anyone but a madman would mock at such things. There is abundant evidence that this is the universal feeling about the ancient customs of one's country.Again: reversion. More than that: a reversion that shows that people simply must accept that other nations have strange customs. It is useful to take a final look at the list of Cambyses' crimes: the murder of his brother, incest and unjustified executions are mentioned without comment. What causes the above-quoted comment are the killing of the Apis and the profanation of mummies: intolerance is what causes Herodotus' indignation. No one but a madman would mock a foreign culture.
One might recall, for example, an anecdote of Darius. When he was king of Persia, he summoned the Greeks who happened to be present at his court, and asked them what they would take to eat the dead bodies of their fathers. They replied that they would not do it for any money in the world. Later, in the presence of the Greeks, and through an interpreter, so that they could understand what was said, he asked some Indians of the tribe called Callatiae, who do in fact eat their parents' dead bodies, what they would take to burn them. They uttered a cry of horror and forbade him to mention such a dreadful thing. One can see by this what custom can do.
Further readingThe standard edition of the Greek text was published by K. Hude in the Oxford Classical Texts (1960). Other editions vary from this text on minor details only.
The best translation is the least accessible. Hein van Dolen's Dutch version (Herodotos. Het verslag van mijn onderzoek, 1995 Nijmegen) contains an excellent and up-to-date introduction of some 50 pages, a complete index of 120 pages, many maps, several appendices on chronology, and is adequately annotated. The billions who are unable to understand Dutch, will have to settle for other translations.
An old English translation can be found on the Internet. More recent is Aubrey de Selincourt's, published by Penguin and often reprinted. (It has been used -with minor alterations- in this article.) R. Grene's version appeared in 1987 in Chicago; the author claims to have rendered the peculiarities of Herodotus' narrative style. In German, The Histories have been translated by W. Marg, under the apt title Herodot. Geschichten und Geschichte (1990 München & Zürich). One of the best translations is that by Ph.E. Legrand into French, which also contains the Greek text and a large index (Les Belles Lettres, Paris 1932-1954). Italians might appreciate Augusta Izzo d'Accinni's translation, which appeared in 1993 in Milan and is published in one volume with Claudio Moreschini's translation of Thucydides as Storici Greci. Erodoto e Tucidide.
Some attention deserves the Commentary on Herodotus by W.W. How and J. Wells. The two volumes appeared in 1912 and are a lasting tribute to Oxford scholarship at the beginning of the twentieth century: until now, no commentary on Herodotus has equalled this one, although some caution is needed (especially on religious subjects). Excellent is the commentary on Herodotus. Book Two by A.B. Lloyd. Its three volumes appeared in Leyden between 1975 and 1988. It is a treasury of information on Herodotus' Egyptian logoi and has an important appendix on chronology. Those interested in Herodotus' Greek topography must try to obtain Dietrich Müller's Topographischer Bildkommentar zu den Historien Herodotos', 1987 Tuebingen).
J. Gould's study on Herodotus (1987 London) is a good introduction and gives enough clues to find more specialized literature. Important is Pierre Briant's study on the Persian empire, Historie de l' empire Perse. De Cyrus a Alexandre (1996 Paris). It is the first comprehensive study of the subject.
Some specialized literature: Silvana Cagnazzi's article "Tavola dei 28 logoi di Erodoto" on Herodotus' logoi can be found in the journal Hermes 103 (1975), page 385-423. Fehling's Die Quellenangabe bei Herodot. Studien zur Erzaehlkunst Herodots was published in 1971 in Berlin (English translation: Herodotus and his 'sources'. Citation, invention and narrative art, 1989 New York). It should be supplemented by R. Rollinger, Herodots babylonischer Logos. Eine kritische Untersuchung der glaubwürdigkeitsdiskussion (1993, Innsbruck). On the Persian Wars, one might read C. Hignett's very detailed and clever Xerxes' invasion of Greece (1963, Oxford). A.R. Burns' Persia and the Greeks. The defense of the West (second edition: 1984 London) also discusses some cuneiform evidence.
A fine novel about the Persian court, and the relations between Greece, Persia, India and China is Creation by Gore Vidal (published in 1981). Don't believe everything you read, but it is fun.