So last night, I was reading a little Herodotus in bed—as one does—…
No, really, Herodotus is a hoot. We’re still reading him 2,500 years later because he’s such a gossip. He reminds me of T. R. Pearson and of Lawrence Sterne in that he is absolutely unable to resist a detour into whatever name/event/detail comes up in his narrative. (Yes, I know that all three writers are doing it deliberately.)
The edition I’m reading is The Landmark Herodotus, edited by Robert Strassler and translated by Andrea Purvis. It’s a beautiful book qua book, with copious footnotes, sidenotes, maps, illustrations, and a stream of info across the top of each page alerting you to where we are geographically and narratively. There’s a timeline/outline up front, and a flock of appendices (22!) about various topics in Herodotous’s world.
Of course, none of this helps me to keep it all in my head. If there were ever an example of not having the context necessary for understanding, this charming 700-page story of Middle Eastern politics and mores would be it. But I plug away, enjoying the author’s wit and style and keeping up enough to keep going.
Why do I bring this up? It has occurred to me that perhaps Herodotus—and this edition in particular—is the key to the structure of my putative A Perfect Life, the oversize blank book I bought six years ago (!) with the idea that I would fill it with a discursive memoir of what it’s been like to live my life, i.e., that of a more-upper-than-not middle class, educated white male in an undisturbed small town in the late-20th/early-21st century United States. I should expect to wander from topic to topic, following the flow of thought that comes from realizing that the reader needs background on something I’ve just mentioned. (Remember that this whole project sprang from my childhood curiosity about the details of private life in the past.)
Which is not to say that I think I should whip out the pen and ink and just start scribbling. It’s probably vital that I give some thought to some kind of structure, e.g., what is it I want to be discursive about? Do I want to get polemical? Should I write as if I thought the book itself might be discovered in the rubble after the apocalypse, or am I writing for actual publication? Do I want to explain what the “United States” “used to be,” or “electricity,” or do I presume the future reader still knows these things?
I think I need a Retreat to think about this seriously.