“The Madness of Cambyses” by Herodotus, transl. by Tom Holland

Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately), my review of this book will be very short because I don’t remember much about it. I could have avoided posting a review of it, but because the intent of my blog is to record everything I read (at least all the books), I must post a review. So here it is.


Nonfiction — History


Penguin Little Black Classics, N⁰ 78 = 2015
The Histories, transl. by Tom Holland = 2013
The Histories by Herodotus = c. 440 B.C. (Who knows?)

From the back of the book:

Weaving factual account with colourful myth, the ‘father of history’ tells of the psychotic Persian king — and his fateful death. (Goodreads)

My thoughts:

Certainly an interesting read, but I didn’t care for it. I attempted to read Herodotus’s The Histories once before because I’d read somewhere that it’s like the gossip pages of the classical world, so I picked it up to see what juicy tales Herodotus would tell me. I forgot which translated version I attempted to read back then, but I was very bored after a few pages and gave up because I didn’t really care to read it. I was just being nosy.

Fast forward to when Penguin dropped these Little Black Classic editions to commemorate their 80th anniversary and I bought a few because they look so good — a simple design that applies Penguin’s classic black-and-white look to 80 booklets of no more than 60 or so pages. I decided to revisit Herodotus’s work. Surely I wouldn’t be bored, I thought, since this is just a snippet of the larger work. But I was wrong.

Books and other media that explore the lives of “mad” kings and queens always interest me, which is another reason why I picked this up. Cambyses did some questionable and horrendous things, we’re told, like killing the son of his most honored servant, Perxaspes, in front of the father to determine if gossip he’d heard is true or not —

“Do you see your son, standing over there, in the antechamber? Well, I am going to shoot him. Now, if I manage to hit him directly in the heart, then that will make it clear as can be that the Persians have been talking nonsense.”

and then treating the murder as a trifle thing and laughing about it —

“You see, Perxaspes? It is as clear as clear can be. I am not mad! It is the Persians who have lost their wits! But tell me — have you ever seen anyone, anywhere in the world, hit the mark with a shot like that?”

Sometimes it’s a bit obvious that some statements about Cambyses or other people mentioned is exaggerated (well, I assume they are), so I kept wondering what’s true and what’s not. It’s hard to tell. That was probably the most interesting aspect of my reading experience with this book: trying to figure out the truth from the lies. I wasn’t successful at it.

Overall: ★★☆☆☆ ½

A snippet from Herodotus’s The Histories. I didn’t care for it.

Buy | Borrow | Bypass

I say Bypass, unless you’re a history buff or something and don’t mind reading these dry things.


8 thoughts on ““The Madness of Cambyses” by Herodotus, transl. by Tom Holland

  1. Sounds like a tough one. I think some of these things can be such dry reading which is probably why I avoid non-fiction lol. I like non-fiction that can present itself like a story in a way, if that makes sense. 🙂


  2. The Histories is rad because it has some great stories like the ACTUAL story that the movie 300 was based on. It’s just hard to read. I wish they would do an abridged version. But I would probably get stoned in the streets if I suggested that.

    Liked by 2 people

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