The 1592 Edition of Herodotus’ Histories edited and printed by Henry II Estienne in Geneva

by Dr Noreen Humble, University of Calgary

Marsh’s Library has two copies of this particular edition: one belongs to the collection left to the library by the first librarian of Marsh’s, the Huguenot exile Élie Bouhéreau (1643-1719), the other to the collection of Edward Stillingfleet (1635-1699), Bishop of Worcester, whose private library was added to Marsh’s in 1705. The title page is as follows:
1592 Edition of Herodotus’ Histories

And translates to (the second five lines being the Latin translation of the first five Greek lines):

"Nine books of the Histories of Herodotus of Halicarnassus, inscribed with the names of the nine Muses; his narration of the Life of Homer; with the Latin translation of Valla of the Histories of Herodotus edited by Henricus Stephanus. In addition with images of structures described by Herodotus; certain material from Ctesias about Persian and Indian matters. Second Edition.
Henry Estienne printed it, in the year 1592."

The contents of the edition, which throughout contain both Greek text and Latin translation in parallel columns on each page, are more varied and interesting than the title page and library records generally suggest. Herodotus’ Histories is clearly the centrepiece of the edition (pp. 1-635), but the focus of the ancillary material very much showcases 16th-century interest in the East. And this is evident not just by the inclusion of material from Ctesias (pp. 678-97) but also by two other facts: a) that the woodcut images pertain solely to Eastern structures, and b) that there is additional material included at the end of the volume which is not mentioned on the title page but which is placed under the title De Persarum legibus & institutis ex diuersis historicis (‘About Persian laws and institutions from diverse historians’) (pp. 698-724).

A brief description of the contents of the ancient works in the volume will be followed by some comments about the editor/publisher, Henri II Estienne, and the significance of his interest in and publications on Herodotus.

The bulk of the edition is devoted to Herodotus’ Histories (pp. 1-635). Herodotus (c. 484-420s BCE) is the earliest extant prose author in the Western tradition. He was a Greek from Halicarnassus (modern Bodrum in Turkey). The nine books of his Histories (which title in Greek means, simply, ‘Enquiries’), covers the time period 650-479 BCE and focusses on what led up to the great wars between the Persian Empire and the Greeks in the early 5th century and how these wars unfolded. The guiding thread of the work is the expansion of the Persian Empire up to the point of the wars with Greece, from its beginnings under Cyrus the Great (Persian King c. 557-530 BCE) to its greatest extent under Darius I (Persian King 522-486 BCE). As the Persians conquer (or attempt to conquer) surrounding peoples, Herodotus pauses his narrative to present ethnographies of them and their opponents: the Lydians (1.93-4), Persians (1.131-40), Babylonians (1.192-200), Massagetae (1.214-16), Egyptians (Bk 2 but specifically 2.35-98), Ethiopians (3.20-24), Indians (3.98-101), Scythians (4.59-82), Scythians’ neighbours (4.104-9), Libyans (4.168-99) and Thracians (5.3-8). Herodotus’ reputation in the ancient world was mixed: he was both greatly admired - the Roman politician Cicero called him ‘the father of history’ (Leg. 1.5) - and he was greatly lambasted as a liar (e.g. by the very author following him in the volume, Ctesias). But he was never ignored.

(Pseudo)Herodotus Life of Homer (pp. 637-54) follows. In the Renaissance this work was thought to be from the hand of Herodotus but it is now generally believed to have been composed some centuries later.

This is followed by excerpts about Herodotus by various ancient authors (pp. 655-6), including the Life of Herodotus found in the Suda (known at the time as Suidas), a 10th-century encyclopaedia.

The fragments of Ctesias’ Persika and Indika (pp. 657-98) are then presented. Ctesias was a Greek doctor from Cnidus (a Greek town not far from Halicarnassus). We do not know his dates precisely but we do know that he was court physician to the Persian King Artaxerxes II from 405 to 398/7 BCE. He wrote a number of works which have only survived through excerpts (some large) preserved by later writers, the most important of whom is Photius, a Byzantine patriarch of the 10th century. His Persika (‘Persian Affairs’), originally 23 books long, was a history of the Persians from their legendary king Ninus down to the time of Ctesias’ patron Artaxerxes. Portions of his Indika (‘Indian Affairs’) too are preserved. Though he criticised Herodotus as a liar, he himself was in turn often viewed by the ancients as unreliable and gossipy. Estienne had published a collection of Ctesias in 1557 (see further below).

After Ctesias is a selection of material unheralded on the title page and rarely noted in library catalogues on the volume (pp. 698-724), i.e. material about Persia culled from a number of different sources.

  1. The first ancient author in this group is the Athenian Xenophon (c. 430-354 BCE) who wrote widely (fourteen works are extant) on diverse topics both historical and philosophical. Estienne was very familiar with Xenophon’s works as he had published an edition of Xenophon’s whole corpus, with Greek text and Latin translations in 1561 (with a second edition in 1581). Though the Latin translations came from various hands, Estienne, as per his usual practice, edited them with his expert eye. Excerpts from three of Xenophon’s works are included. The largest number come from his Cyropaedia (‘Education of Cyrus’), Xenophon’s version of the life of Cyrus the Great, the founder of the Persian empire. Xenophon’s portrait of Cyrus was completely different from the picture presented in Herodotus (cf. 1.95-216) and it was, in fact, becoming more popular than the Herodotean portrait during the 16th century, particularly among scholars of various Reformed faiths. There is an excerpt also from Xenophon’s Agesilaus, an encomium of the Spartan King Agesilaus, who ruled c. 400-360 BCE, and who had many dealings with the Persians during his lifetime. The final passage comes from his Oeconomicus. This was a short Socratic dialogue which was very popular in the Renaissance as a manual of household management. In it Socrates reports on the Persian Kings’ interest in husbandry.

  2. The second main ancient author excerpted (pp. 714-18) in this section is Strabo, from Amaseia (in NE Turkey) a Greek geographer (c. 64 BCE-CE 21). Estienne had once considered editing Strabo but it was his son-in-law, Isaac Casaubon, whose 1587 edition became standard.

  3. There follow then over the next five pages (pp. 719-24) short excerpts, all taken from The Learned Banquet of Athenaeus (from Naucratis in Egypt; fl. c. CE 200), whose work we are indebted to for numerous quotations of other, now lost, ancient authors: Dinon of Colophon, a 4th century BCE historian who wrote a history of Persia (Persika); Heracleides of Cumae, another 4th century BCE author of a Persika; Clearchus of Soli, a 4th-century BCE philosopher who wrote a work called Lives which were more ethnographies of a sort than biographies; Agathocles, a 3rd century BCE grammarian, from a work entitled On Cyzicus (which was a town in NW Turkey); and Chares of Mytilene, who served under Alexander of Macedon, from his History of Alexander.

A few pages of excerpts about Egypt follow (pp. 725-32). These are taken from Nymphodorus, a historian of the Hellenistic period from Syracuse, Strabo (see above) and Plutarch (c. CE 50-120), the Greek biographer and essayist from Chaeronea, whose essay Isis and Osiris is here mined for information about Egypt. The last page of ancient material contains a passage from the Oedipus at Colonus by the 5th-century Athenian tragedian, Sophocles and also a passage from a 4th-century BCE Greek comic poet Anaxandrides. An index then concludes the volume.

Henry II Estienne (1531-1598), also known by the Latinised form of his name, Stephanus, was one of the most prominent scholars of the 16th century as well as running one of the most important printing houses. He was French born but lived in Geneva from 1555 where his father, Robert Estienne, had moved the family printing business when life in Paris became difficult for those following the Reformer Calvin. Estienne took over the family business in 1558. He was widely connected in Humanist circles and his printing establishment became known for its fine work in producing editions of Greek authors both in the original and in translation. In addition to producing several editiones principes (‘first editions’, e.g. of the poems associated with Anacreon in 1554), his greatest scholarly work was the Thesaurus of the Greek Language which he published in 1572, and which is still used today in a slightly modified form. He was also passionately interested in, and a defender of, the French language.

Herodotus is not the ancient author with whom Estienne is most closely associated perhaps because his were not first editions. Both the Greek text and Latin translation of Herodotus were fairly well established by the time Estienne came to them. Indeed, the first complete translation of Herodotus into Latin was made by Lorenzo Valla (1406-1457), who began his translation in 1452, though it only appeared in print posthumously in 1474 (in Venice). Herodotus had not been unknown before Valla translated the work, but only those who could read Greek had proper access to his text. Because the 15th century was a period during which many Greek texts were being translated and because Herodotus had such a mixed reputation in the ancient world, we find that mixed reputation making itself felt during this time, even with Valla. It is not until the time of Estienne and his circle, which was predominantly that of scholars of various Reformed faiths, that this view changes, and Estienne is one of the prime movers with his Apologia pro Herodoto (‘Apology on behalf of Herodotus’) (see below).

Three editions of Herodotus came from his printing house. Each more comprehensive in ancillary material than the one which preceded, culminating in the volume being discussed here.

The first printing, in 1566, (a copy of which can be found in the Edward Worth library) was dedicated to another great Greek scholar of the period, Joachim Camerarius (1500-1574), who indeed had been the first to defend the veracity of Herodotus’ work (in a 1541 edition of Herodotus). This edition contained Latin translations of Herodotus by Lorenzo Valla and of the pseudo-Herodotean Life of Homer by Conrad Heresbach (1496-1576, a German Calvinist humanist), as edited by Estienne himself. It also contained the Latin translation of the fragments of Ctesias. Estienne had been the first to collect and publish the Greek text of the fragments of Ctesias in 1557. In the prefatory material to that edition of Ctesias he wrote the following:

"Since therefore I delighted more strongly for some reason in the history of Persia than in any other, I always sought out most carefully everything that pertained to it, collecting into one place, to aid my memory, those things also which are read here and there among the Greek and Latin authors alike. Since however I had learned that Persian affairs had been recorded both from others and especially from Dinon and Ctesias by Strabo, Plutarch, Athenaeus and some others, it was always my greatest wish to obtain either their writings or at least something from each of them. But since I feared that I might be judged, as someone has said, ‘immoderate in my prayers’, drawing in the sails of that [wish?], I began to restrain my diligence, which before was occupied with two writers, to one only, that is, to Ctesias."

This 1566 edition also contained Estienne’s own Apologia pro Herodoto. In this treatise he defends Herodotus’ reliability as an ethnographer and historian against his detractors. The main argument rests on a comparison between Herodotus’ description of the customs of peoples of the ancient Near East with modern descriptions of these peoples and their customs. Herodotus’ observations are in this way vindicated. The second main argument was that Herodotus was too pious to lie. However we might judge Estienne’s arguments now, the tide started to turn in terms of how Herodotus was regarded, and he was viewed very favourably for at least the next century or so, and particularly among scholars of the Reformed faith. Much more well known, however, was Estienne’s French version of this work, Apologie pour Hérodote. This French work used the earlier Latin piece as a framework for a satirical attack on Catholicism.

The second printing, in 1570, dedicated to Jacques de Broullart, Count of Lagny, was solely of the Greek text, first of Herodotus, then of Ctesias. The prefatory material includes Joachim Camerarius’ preface to his 1541 edition. The text is a beautiful example of the royal Greek font which Estienne’s father had commissioned in the 1540s from Claude Garamond (1480-1561) who went on to be a very influential type-cutter.

The third printing, in 1592 - the volume under discussion here - was advertised as the second edition of the 1570 volume. It was dedicated to three close counsellors of Frederic IV of Heidleberg: Otto von Grunrade, Vollradt von Plessen and Kurt Stuck.

The primary difference between the first and second edition is that the second has been augmented by extra material - extra material which fulfils the promise Estienne made in the prefatory remarks of his first edition of Ctesias (see above): the material on Persia on pp. 698-724, of which no mention is made on the 1592 title page, is that material which Estienne diligently collected because of his deep interest in Persian history.

The prefatory material in the 1592 edition is extensive. It starts out with a justification of the usefulness of Herodotus’ material for people like the dedicatees who have to give counsel to their leaders. An address to the readers follows in which Estienne points to aspects of the edition which have been changed or augmented since the earlier one. These involve matters of textual criticism, punctuation, and presentation. Notable here is his mention of his division of the text into subsections denoted by letters of the alphabet. While this particular method did not catch on as far as Herodotus’ text is concerned, it did for the works of Plato and Plutarch: we still today refer to them by their ‘Stephanus’ pagination.

Estienne then turns to readers who will need to be supported by the Latin translation and here he provides a long critique of the errors made by Lorenzo Valla in his translation. He points out that he has put footnotes in the margins to explain things further. There follow a series of poems by Estienne, in Greek and in Latin, about Herodotus, (poetry about the authors is a common feature of Renaissance editions but often they are by other scholars, not the editor, as here), and epigrams in defence of Herodotus against people like Plutarch (who had written a work entitled On the malice of Herodotus). These are followed by a list of Ionic words in Herodotus which had partly been collected from Camerarius’ 1541 edition and partly introduced by Estienne, and then marked with a C or H to show who found them. Indeed Estienne takes some pains to explain that he has not simply published his own list without mentioning Camerarius because he does not want to be accused of plagiarism. Also included is a list of instances where phrases in Ionic match phrases in French, which forms part of the material for a book he wrote in French.

As noted above, the title page promises that the edition comes ‘with images of structures described by Herodotus’. There are four pages of illustrations in each of the two copies of the edition in Marsh’s library but they differ in a few ways.

In Bouhéreau’s edition, just before the start of Herodotus (i.e. after all the prefatory material) are the following woodcuts with titles in French:

  1. ‘Description de Bablyon’
  2. ‘Description de Ceste tour de Bablyone’
  3. ‘Description du pont de Babylone’ and ‘Description du Chasteau de Semiramis’ (see picture below)
  4. ‘Description des Jardins de Semiramis’.

In Stillingfleet’s edition however we have something a little different. Not only are the illustrations placed within the volume to unfold like pages rather than pulling right out of the book as they do in Bouhéreau’s edition, but the content differs slightly, as does the language used to describe the illustrations. Just before the start of Book 1 of Herodotus are to be found:

  1. ‘Description de Babylon selon Herodote, avec quelques additions de Diodore Sicilien’
  2. ‘Orbis Terrae compendiosa descriptio’ (followed by title and description in French)

Then after the end of Book 9 of Herodotus, the same images as the last two in Bouhereau’s edition but here with Latin titles and descriptions rather than French:

  1. ‘Descriptio Pontis Bablyonis’ and ‘Descriptio Arcis Semiramidis’.
  2. ‘Descriptio Hortorum Pensilium Semiramidis’

Two points of note:

  1. Though on the title page these images are said to be ‘described by Herodotus’, on three occasions reference is made to the 1st-century BCE Greek historian Diodorus Siculus: the Description of Bablyon is said to be augmented with material from Diodorus; the Hanging Gardens of Semiramis is taken wholly from Diodorus (Herodotus never described these), as is the Citadel of Semiramis. In the last case the description ends with charming honesty: ‘However neither Herodotus nor Diodorus describe the inner building of the citadel, rather the artist drew it on his own judgement’ ... thus its resemblance (see the illustration) to a Renaissance French chateau!

  2. The second of the four illustrations in the Stillingfleet edition is of interest too: it is the world map of Gerard Mercator and his son Rumold which was published first in 1597 in the edition of Strabo’s Geographia, edited and with commentary by Estienne’s son-in-law, the equally famous scholar Isaac Casaubon (1559-1614). Estienne himself, however, did not print Casaubon’s edition of Strabo, rather it was printed by Eustathius Vignon in Geneva.

In addition to the two copies of this 1592 Herodotus at Marsh’s library, there are also two others in Dublin. The Edward Worth library has one copy. Worth, a Dublin physician (1678-1733), appears to have been the third owner of the edition (the first, Henry Price (1566-1600), was a scholar and preacher in Oxford; the second was one W. Percivale). Trinity College Dublin has the other copy. Indeed the volume is well represented in libraries around Europe and in major North American collections. It is a monument both to Estienne’s skills as a scholar and as a publisher and a testament to the interest in what the ancients had to say about the ancient Persians. Estienne and his circle, in particular Joachim Camerarius, were instrumental in bringing about a change of fortune in the way Herodotus was viewed and this volume presents the sum of their scholarly work over the course of the 16th century.

To see the catalogue entry for the 1592 edition of Herodotus’s Histories click here.