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precursors of [xanadu]

Something in the review of "The Landmark Herodotus," a richly
annotated compilation of the first known Greek historical account from
450 B.C.E. made me think (again) of the hitherto unfulfilled promise
of the Xanadu. This something:

[...] Herodotus is trying to give you a picture of the world entire,
of how everything in it is, essentially, linked.

"Link," as it happens, is not a bad word to have in mind as you make
your way through a text that is at once compellingly linear
and disorientingly tangential. He pauses to give you information,
however remotely related, about everything he mentions, and that information
can take the form of a three-thousand-word narrative or a one-line
summary. It only looks confusing or "digressive" because Herodotus,
far from being an old fuddy-duddy, not nearly as sophisticated
as (say) Thucydides, was two and a half millennia ahead of the technology
that would have ideally suited his mentality and style. It occurs to
you, as you read "The Landmark Herodotus" -- with its very Herodotean
footnotes, maps, charts, and illustrations -- that a truly adventurous
new edition of the Histories would take the digressive bits and turn
them into what Herodotus would have done if only they'd existed:

Then again, Herodotus' work may have presaged another genre
altogether. The passage about lions, hares, and vipers reminds you
of the other great objection to Herodotus -- his unreliability.
[...] All of which is to say that while Herodotus may or may not have
anticipated hypertext, he certainly anticipated the novel. Or at least
one kind of novel. Something about the Histories, indeed, feels eerily
familiar [...] the work that the Histories may most remind you of
is "War and Peace."

[from] Arms and the Man: What was Herodotus trying to tell us?
by Daniel Mendelsohn
April 28, 2008


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