It’s been a while since we last talked of Herodotus which is a bad thing. So I was just about to write a new post to add to my Best Stories of Herodotus… and then I got seduced by the idea of doing a quiz instead.
On this blog we don’t do a black and white view of the world, therefore even the Baddies can have heroes. And since we’re writing about Herodotus here, in this case the Baddies are Xerxes and his Greece-invading Persian lot, while their hero is, in point of fact, a heroine: Artemisia, the queen of Caria.
The Best Stories of Herodotus returns today – after a shamefully long gap – with a story that has nothing to do with our favourite topic, the Greek-Persian Wars. Because The Histories of Herodotus is so much more than the long-winded retelling of a few gory battles: in his effort to unearth the causes of the war, Herodotus went as far back in time as the origins of the War of Troy and ranged across the Eastern Mediterranean and across subjects in a way that modern historians would never dare. Today’s story is a great example.
Let’s introduce the three protagonists first: Solon, Croesus and Cyrus.
In 491 B.C. King Darius I of Persia sent out his envoys to the various Greek city states, demanding of them earth and water – in those times, a sign of submission, the acceptance of, in this case, Persian rule. Some city states were cowed into complying while others refused; but the demand went down particularly badly in Athens and in Sparta:
…the Athenians cast these heralds, when they made their request, down into a pit, and the Spartans had thrown theirs into a well; and the heralds were told to take their earth and water to the King from there!
(Herodotus: The Histories, Book VII.133)
Salamis – an island in the Saronic Gulf in the Aegean Sea, opposite Mount Aigaleo, 16 kilometres west of Athens.
Salamis – a battle that defined history for centuries to come.
I first heard this evocative phrase in a history class at university many years ago but in certain countries (the English and the Spanish can raise their hands here) it’s pretty well-known. And I don’t know about you but it makes me think of ships ploughing the oceans, armies marching and merchants haggling over exotic goods. I think of kings whose word was law over diverse lands, of gold and glory and of a confusion of languages to equal that of Babel. In fact, in my mind I can see the big globe in the library of the Escorial, turning slowly….
He oído esta frase evocador en una clase de historia en la universidad hace muchos años pero en ciertas países (los españoles y los ingleses pueden levantar las manos aquí) es bastante bien conocida. No sé nada de ti, pero me hace pensar en barcos cruzando el mar, ejercitos en marcha y comerciantes regateando mercancías exóticos. Pienso en reyes cuyos palabras eran la ley en tierras distintas, en oro y gloria, y además en una confusión de idiomas igual que la de Babel. De hecho, mentalmente veo el gran globo en la biblioteca de El Escorial, girando despacio…
Have you ever read Herodotus? Let me guess: the answer is no. Are you ever going to read Herodotus? You bet.
Well, bits of it, at any rate. 🙂 If I have anything to do with it.
I bet ancient Egyptian poetry is not your strong point – it certainly isn’t mine! To begin with, I do rather subscribe to the view that while a great poem in translation may be still a great poem, it’s just not the same poem. So no matter how much you love Petrarch’s sonnets, if you only read them in English, there’s always the ever so slight chance that you don’t like them all that much, actually. (I had this experience with Wordsworth, myself. Fine poet in Hungarian translation. I’m not so keen in the original.) So when it comes to ancient Egyptian poetry, there’s the small problem that much as I like to stare at the Rosetta Stone in the British Museum, the only hieroglyphs I can ‘read’ on it belong to Ptolemy’s name, and well, that doesn’t get me far in reading poetry.
So with that caveat let’s have some Egyptian poetry in translation. 🙂
Delphi is just a small town built into the hillside under Mount Parnassus – home to the Muses – and overlooking the Gulf of Corinth. It’s three hours drive from Athens and even at the height of the tourist season you can escape the crowds here.
Today, let’s talk about an author that you all consider ever so boring. By the time you finish reading this, however, you’ll realise he’s an author worth reading.
(At least that’s the theory.)
The Author’s Picture
To begin with, let’s have the author’s picture:
The Author’s Short Biography
For my part, what I consider boring… is biographical facts. So I’m going to keep this part short – mercifully we know next to nothing about him.
Let’s start today’s post with the one thing we should never start a piece of writing with: a cliché. Today’s cliché is that life is full of choices. None of us can avoid them, although some people make a damn good effort to as they’re painfully aware that by choosing something, they will miss out on something else. To these people the most of awful thing about choice is the very fact that they have to make one; that maybe none of the alternatives are any good only comes distant second.
To these people then the most fateful word in the world is:
When it comes to choices in literature, Antigone by Sophocles of course offers itself up for examples of moral choices on a positively indecent scale but I wouldn’t want to spoil your enjoyment in reading it. Besides, you haven’t heard from Herodotus for a while (this is where you all stop reading!) and he too loaded his Histories with plenty of fateful choices. There was, for example, the juicy case of Gyges, the favourite bodyguard of King Candaules and the king’s wife… but we’ll leave that for another time. Instead we’ll read the very end of The Histories, the last chapter of Book Nine, in which…
Your Journey Begins Here…
“A journey, after all, neither begins in the instant we set out, nor ends when we have reached our door step once again. It starts much earlier and is really never over…”
Riszard Kapuscinski: Travels with Herodotus
Your journey is not over! There was once a post here but it’s been updated & republished – in two parts. Read them here:
Your Journey Begins Here…
A journey, after all, neither begins in the instant we set out, nor ends when we have reached our door step once again. It starts much earlier and is really never over…
Riszard Kapuscinski: Travels with Herodotus
Your journey is not over! There was once a post here but it’s been updated & republished. Read it here:
Most people who took any notice of the Persian wars in their history class would know about the battle of Marathon in the first Persian war and the battles of Thermopylae and Salamis in the second; maybe, if you were really into it, you’d be aware that in fact there were a couple more battles, that of Plataea and Mycale the year after, that marked the genuine end of the Persian invasion of Greece. But the battle that almost everybody invariably forgets is the battle Artemisium, a sea battle fought simultaneously with the battle of Thermopylae. Yet without holding the Persian navy up at Artemisium there would have been no battle of Thermopylae – nothing would have prevented Xerxes to simply sail his troops round the wretched pass, making its defence wholly pointless. It’s hardly surprising, however, that in the end the battle of Artemisium got entirely overshadowed by the fame of Thermopylae.
So what happened in the forgotten battle at Cape Artemisium?
It appears that I went like a month without blogging about Herodotus. I don’t know what I’m coming to. All this reading of 20th century literature! It’s time I got my act together, so here we go:
The last episode of the Greek-Persian Wars à la Waterblogged saw the Persians chased away from Delphi by no less personage than the handsome Apollo himself. (No, I don’t mean the one in Battlestar Galactica. I mean the god of the silver bow.)
The Delphic Oracle had foretold the death of a Spartan king and advised the Athenians “to flee to the ends of the earth” but believed Apollo would take care of Delphi. And now, with a Persian army intent on loot having reached the temple of Athena and the locals having all run away, nothing short of divine intervention could save the Oracle and the treasures of Delphi. But would Apollo save his most famous temple or let it be looted and burned?
Previous: The Battle of Thermopylae: Who, Where, How (Part I) The Battle of Thermopylae: The Fight in the Pass (Part II)
First the heroes, of course… the villain can wait!
Considering how long The Histories is, Herodotus didn’t spend too long on the description on the actual battle at Thermopylae – a mere two dozen paragraphs or so. Nevertheless, it’s still too long to be quoted in its entirety – especially, if I want to keep my few readers!
United We Fall…
Xerxes’s army was already on European soil but their Greek opponents were still to determine where and how they should fight them. Or even to ascertain who was willing to fight them. The Delphi oracle – which in hindsight has been accused by some historians of being in Persian pay – advised all and sundry to sit on the fence if they could, told the Athenians to “flee to the ends of the earth” and warned the Spartans that either their city of “wide spaces” would be sacked or “the whole of Lacedaemon shall mourn the death of a king”.
As he began the march into Greece, Xerxes inspected his army and his navy; and much pleased with what he had seen, he wondered how the Greeks would react to his overwhelming power. Therefore he sent for Demaratus, the exiled Spartan king, who was accompanying him on the march in the role of a counsellor:
Continue reading “The Wild Words of Demaratus (Best Stories of Herodotus)”