Histories Summary



  • Plot overview and analysis written by an experienced literary critic.
  • Full study guide for this title currently under development.
  • To be notified when we launch a full study guide, please contact us contact us.

Histories Summary

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides that feature detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, quotes, and essay topics.  This one-page guide includes a plot summary and brief analysis of Histories  by Herodotus.

Herodotus’s Histories or The History is one of the most fascinating pieces of ancient literature in the world. This is not only because it was translated from the original Greek, but also because the writings were extracted from 2nd century papyrus. The book has been deemed one of the most influential and important pieces of text ever written, highlighting the inner workings of politics, culture, and tradition set in those ancient times. Histories is also said to be the first real account of how the Persian Empire came to power, describing conflicts over slavery, political and personal freedom, as well as invaders in the 5th century BC. The book also includes a large collection of stories about Greek mythological Gods, mortals, and creatures.

After Herodotus’s death, editors divided his histories into nine books, each named after a Greek muse, for instance, the first section is named after Clio. This first part begins with one of the most famed stories of all time—Helen of Troy’s abduction, and the spark of the Trojan War after the raping of Io and Medea. Most of these stories express dark and violent themes, highlighting the conflicts between the Greeks and Asiatic peoples. Other stories Herodotus sites here are Arion riding the dolphins, the Harpagus attack on the Ionians, the Oracle of Delphi, the destruction of Cyrus, and of course the ever so popular rise of Sparta. Other stories in this book include culture pieces, explaining and detailing the lives of the Persians as well as the Assyrians.

In the second book, Euterpe, Herodotus describes Egyptian geography, proximity to the Nile and the discussion around it, religious practices, and finally he lists the medicines and animals associated with this area in time and place. Book number three looks further to the south and east to Ethiopia and the Arab countries. He talks of the conspiracy to remove the Magi. After discussing Arab spices and the way they are harvested, Herodotus travels east to India and China to study their harvesting methods as well, but these countries dug for and collected gold.

Book four, Melpomene, returns to West Asia, back then named Scythia and Parthia. Herodotus talks about the Europeans, especially those along the Black Sea. He also writes about Darius’ failure to conquer Scythia, and the Greeks colonized in Libya, then called Cyrene and Barca. Then he discusses the Persian’s invasion of Libya into the aforementioned colonies.

Book five is named after the muse Terpsichore. It begins with a recount of the Persian invasion of Paeonia and Thrace, dubbed “the biggest nation of all.” The Ionians revolt against the Aristagoras of Miletus, and the ever-growing conflicts between the Athenians and the Spartans grow. Despite all the war, Herodotus also likes to describe the democracy versus the tyrants that run these cities, and that is concluded with the start of the story of Darius and his conflict with Athens.

In book six, Harpagus continues to attack and kill, as evidenced by the capture and killing of Histiaeus. Other things that go on in this chapter are a lot more nebulous: The Ionian revolt diminishes and Thrace, Athos and Macedonia all crash and fall into the ground. Athenians continue their conflicts with everyone, including Aegina. And finally, at the Marathon Under Miltiades, the Plateans, aided by the Athenians, finally defeat the Persians. Even after the fall of Thrace, in book seven it is invaded once more. Darius dies here, just after forming a new army. A new character, Xerxes King, is described as an arrogant and ambitious leader, killing and pillaging, but rebuilding as he enters Greece. Athens and Spartan unite briefly. Book eight, Urania, is the most battle heavy. Herodotus talks of the battle at Artemesium, the attacks on Delphi, Plataea, and Athens, as well as the victory over Salamis.

Finally, in book nine there are solutions and endings—starting with the Greek victories at Plataea and Mycale, as well as their attack on and siege of Thebes and Sestos. Mardonius retakes the evacuated Athens and immediately burns it to the ground. There is also familial drama here incited by Xerxes and his wife, who commits heinous acts against another woman and her husband after she learns that Xerxes is in love with the other woman. Finally, Herodotus writes of Cyrus’s warnings against over-expanding and colonizing further away from their current rough and rocky living situation. He says: “from soft lands come soft men.”

Herodotus was inspired not only by these fascinating legends, tales, and stories, but also by his travels around the world, observing everything for himself. Histories, translated by more than a dozen people, has become a symbol of war, colonization, and the history of the world.