Only a sense of the cosmic scale of Herodotus’ moral vision, of the way it grafts the political onto the natural schema, can make sense of his distinctive style, of all the seemingly random detours and diversions—the narrative equivalents of the gimcrack souvenirs and brightly colored guidebooks and the flowered shirts. If you wonder, at the beginning of the story of Persia’s rise, whether you really need twenty chapters about the distant origins of the dynasty to which Croesus belongs, think again: that famous story of how Croesus’ ancestor Gyges assassinated the rightful king and took the throne (to say nothing of the beautiful queen) provides information that allows you to fit Croesus’ miserable ending into the natural scheme of things. His fall, it turns out, is the cosmic payback for his ancestor’s crime: “Retribution would come,” Herodotus says, quoting the Delphic oracle, “to the fourth descendant of Gyges.”