Sunday, April 12, 2020

1000 Books Project: Herodotus' The Histories - Books 4 - 9 Discussion

Finally finished! I must first apologize for the way this read-along has transpired. I mentioned early on that I was struggling with this book. It only got worse toward the end of March when social distancing went into effect and I found myself realizing this book was not exactly escapist reading, which is what I think many of us are craving right now. All this being said, I soldiered on and have finished. I bookmarked a lot of pages and highlighted many sections so this will most likely be a long post. Bear with me.

Note: I switched to this edition of the book (below) thanks to a lovey Kindle gift from my good friend, Lucy Pollard-Gott. It was a much easier version to read, and a lot lighter to hold then my print copy.

Book Four:

I guess I should never be surprised at the barbarism of ancient times, and yet I always am. Case in point, the Scythians...

Page 303 (64): "As concerns war, this is how it is among them. When a Scythian kills his first man, he drinks his blood; of all those he kills in battle he carries the heads to the king. When he has brought in a head, he takes a share of whatever loot they have obtained, but without bringing a head he has none. The warrior scalps the head thus; he cuts it in a circle round the ears and, taking the head in his hands, shakes it loose. Then he cleans out the flesh with the rib of an ox and kneads the skin with his hands. When he has softened it all, he has got himself, as it were, a napkin. He hangs the napkin from the bridle of the horse he rides himself and takes pride in it. The man who has the most skins as napkins is judged the greatest man among these people."

I'll never look at a napkin the same again...

This passage goes further with the stitching together of scalps as garments, skinning the hands of enemies to make coverings for their arrow quivers, and "stretching the skins upon a frame and carry them around on their horses." Fake news? (lol) Who knows. Ancient times were really like a horror movie though.

Page 305 (71): "The burial place of their kings are in the country of the Gerrhi...At this place, when their king dies, they dig a great four-cornered pit, and, having made it ready, they take up the dead man--having coated his body with wax and cut open his belly and cleaned it and filled it with chopped marsh plants and incense and parsley seed and anise, and sewn together again--and put him in a wagon, in which they carry him to another nation. These in their turn receive the corpse when it is brought them and do what the Royal Scythians do: they cut off a piece of ear, shave their hair, cut their forearms, tear forehead and nose, and drive arrows through their left hand. Then they convey the corpse of the king on the wagon to another nation of those they rule. Those to whom they have already come follow along. When they have conveyed the corpse around to all the subject nations, they are in the country of the Gerrhi, who live furthest of all whom they rule, and at the place of burial. Afterwards, when they put the dead man in his grave on a bed, they fix spears on either side of the corpse and stretch above them planks of wood and roof these in with plaited rushes; and in the open space that is left in the burial place they bury one of his concubines, after strangling her, and his wine-bearer, cook, groom, valet, and message-bearer. Also his horses, and the firstfruits of everything else, and his golden cups. Having done this, they rear a huge barrow of earth, showing the greatest zeal and rivalry with one another to make it as big as possible."

They go on with this...killing 50 of the king's remaining servants, and 50 horses...they set up some macabre formation of horses with the dead men riding them, using stakes. This formation is is set in a circle around the tomb.

I have always been fascinated with burial customs. I wrote my high school term paper on ancient Egyptian burial customs (got an A too). This is one of the most unique customs I've ever encountered. We know that many cultures practiced the burial of servants and animals with the royal person being buried, purportedly to serve him/her in the afterlife. That final step though...the 50 servants and horses, and the formation, is interesting. I wonder if archaeologists have ever unearthed a Scythian burial? Actually, I did a Google search and there have been some discoveries, a notable one being this 2,500-year-old burial of a Scythian warrior. Interesting enough, it was a circular burial site, and they even mention Herodotus in the article: "Their achievements were described by the Greek historian Herodotus."

The Amazons...

Page 320 (110): "The tale goes that when the Greeks fought with the Amazons and conquered the at the battle of Thermodon, they sailed away with three ships loaded with all the Amazons they could capture alive, but these women, when they were out to sea, set upon the men and cut them down. (The Scythians call the Amazons Oiorpata, which in Greek would signify "man-slayers," for the Scythians use oior for "man" and pata for "kill.") But they did not know anything about the boats or how to use rudders, sails, or oars...they drifted with wind and wave and came at last to The Cliffs. The Cliffs were in possession of the free Scythians. There the Amazons disembarked from their ships and made it on foot to the inhabited country. The first herd of horses they fell in with they seized, and mounted on these, they ravaged the Scythian country."

There are more chapters on the Amazons and their experiences with the Scythians, but I shared this passage because of the article I found regarding a discovery of a tomb containing three generations of Scythian warrior women. Seems the Amazon warriors of ancient Greek lore were not mythical figures. Bad ass women have been around since the beginning of time.

Promiscuity abounds...

Page 345 (176): "Next to the Macae are the Gindanes. Their women wear leather rings on their ankles; according to the story, every woman puts on an anklet for each man she has lain with, and she that has the most anklets is considered the best of them all, because she has been loved by the most men."

Yes, because a woman can only be considered the best because of men. Insert eye roll.

The wild beasts of Libya...

Page 351 (191): There are monstrously large snakes and lions in those parts, and elephants and bears and asps, and asses that are horned, besides dog-faced beasts (baboons perhaps, footnote) and headless ones that have eyes in their chests--at least that is how the Libyans describe them--and wild men and women (quite possibly gorillas-footnote) and many other wild creatures the existence of which cannot be denied.

According to footnote, Herodotus seems to suspend disbelief here, though probably not believing all that was said, but only the "headless ones" are probably fictitious. You think?

One of the many instances where women are involved in warfare more than the norm of the time...

Page 352 (193): "Nest to the Maxyes of Libya are the Zaueces, whose women act as their drivers when they take their chariots into war.

Book Five:

The high honor of being slaughtered for being the most loved...

Page 358 (5): Those of the the following: each man of them has many wives, and when a man among them dies, there is a great judging of the wives, and much earnestness among friends in this respect: as to which he had loved the most. She that is so adjudged to be best loved, and is honored, is greatly praised by men and women and then slaughtered at his tomb by her closest kinsfold, and, being so slaughtered she is buried with her man. The other wives feel this as a great calamity, for it is for them the greatest of reproaches."

Giving new meaning to "stand by your man."

Book Six:

Murphy's Law (there are actually many instances of this throughout the book)...

Page 414 (15): "Of those who stood firm in the sea fight, those who suffered worst were the Chians. Their action was very brilliant, and they never shirked what they had to do...They saw the most of the allies giving up but refused to be the equals of these cowards among them. Isolated except for a very few allies, they did the 'break-the-line' maneuver repeatedly and continued to fight, until, having captured a great many of the enemy's ships, they had lost the most of their own. (16) The the Chians, with what was left of their ships, made for home...They marched overland through the the course of their journey the Chians came to Ephesus, it was dark when they came into it, and the Thesmophoria was being celebrated by the women there. The Ephesians, having no knowledge of what had happened to the Chians, saw a land army invading their territory. Sure that these were thieves who had come after their women, they came out in force and killed the Chians.

Talk about a case of mistaken identity...and what a reward for being brave, not cowardly. Poor Chians.

The unpredictable nature of the Persians. Sometimes the barbarian king was not so barbaric...this is in regards to the capture, and execution of Histiaeus of Miletus, who would have fared better if brought directly to Darius...

Page 419 (30): Even so, if he had been brought straight to Darius after being made prisoner, he would not, in my judgment at least, have suffered any ill. The King would have let him off. As it was, and exactly because there was this probability--that he might again, if he escaped, become a great man with the King--Artaphrenes, viceroy of Sardis, and Harpagus, who had taken him, dealt with him when he was brought to Sardis. They impaled him then and there and cut off and embalmed his head and sent it to Darius in Susa. Darius, as soon as he learned this, severely blamed those who had not brought the man alive into his presence. He ordered them to wash the head of Histiaeus and bury it with all due care, as that of a man who had been of great service to himself, the King, and to the Persians."

Herodotus seemed pretty unbiased in his accounts which is evidenced by his relating of fairness sometimes shown by the Persian rulers, though they are referred to as barbarians in his accounts. This particular account is one of these instances.

Stop that dancing...Cleisthenes, the prince of Sicyon, is searching for a husband for his daughter, Agariste. The following happens at the marriage feast, where Cleisthenes will declare his choice among the suitors...

Page 460 (129): "...After the dinner, the suitors engaged in competitions in music and speeches presented to the whole assembly. As the drinking went on, Hippoclides, who was far excelling the others, ordered the flute-player to strike up a tune for him, and, when the musician complied, he started to dance. Indeed, he pleased himself very much with his dancing, but Cleisthenes, as he looked on, became very sour about the whole business. In a while, Hippoclides bade them bring in a table, and, when the table came, he danced on it, first of all Laconian dance figures, but later Attic as well; and finally he stood on his head on the table and rendered the dance figures with his feet in the air. Cleisthenes, during the first and second phase of this dancing, restrained himself--though he loathed that Hippoclides should become his son-in-law, thanks to his dancing and lewdness--because he did not wish to make a public outburst against Hippoclides. But when he saw the feet in the air, rendering the dance figures, he could stand it no more and said, 'Son of Tisander, you have danced--danced away your marriage!" Then Hippoclides retorted, 'Not a jot cares Hippoclides.' From this happening the byword has arisen."

I found this account very funny. I was thinking that perhaps Hippoclides didn't want to marry Cleisthenes' daughter and so behaved in this manner purposely, or he was just a drunk, and so Agariste dodged a bullet. Regarding Herodotus thinking that Hippoclides coined a phrase, according to the translator, there were no other occurrences of the phrase outside the passage above.

The origin of Lemnian - atrocious deeds...

Page 464 (138): "...They snatched many women from this and sailed off with them and, bringing them to Lemnos, had them as their concubines. These women had children in great numbers, and they taught the children the Attic speech and Athenian ways. Their children would have nothing to do with the children born of the Pelasgian women, and, if one of them struck by a Pelasgian child, all the others came to his assistance and so succored one another. And the Athenian-born children absolutely claimed to rule the others and were far more authoritative. The Pelasgians took note of this and considered. In their consideration, a strange and terrible thought overcame them: if these Attic born children even now were making a distinction, by coming to the help of their fellows against the more lawfully born, and were trying outright to rule them, what would they do when they grew up? So they determined to kill the children of the Attic women. They did that and then killed the mothers in the bargain. From this act and from that other, when the women killed their own husbands, along with Thoas, it has grown to be a custom throughout Greece to call atrocious deeds 'Lemnian.'

Atrocious deeds indeed. Yet another instance of savage barbarism.

Book Seven:

Xerxes punishes for what he believes to be cowardice, only to display a certain amount himself (more on this soon).

Rather than type out the full passage here (it's long), I'll summarize (Page 483 - 484, 38 - 39)...

Pythius the Lydian, feeling in favor with Xerxes, decides to ask him for a favor. He asks the king to release his eldest son from his army, since he has four other sons to serve, so this elder son can be a caretaker to him in his old age. This makes Xerxes very mad, as he states that his entire family and friends are going with him into battle, basically accusing Pythius of cowardice and so, lays down this punishment: "'You and four of your sons will be protected by the hospitality you showed to me, but for this one son of yours, for whom you care so mightily--your request will cost him his life.' Such was his answer; and immediately he ordered those who were charged with such matters to find the eldest of the sons of Pythius and cut him in two and to set the halves of the body on each side of the road, to the left and the right, and the army should march between them."

Truly barbaric. I guess it wasn't a good idea to ask favors of a ruler in the ancient world, no matter what debt they may owe you.

A bit of eloquence by Xerxes, amidst the barbarism...he is happy that the Hellespont is covered with his ships, but then bursts into tears. His uncle is puzzled by this reaction and Xerxes explains...

Page 486 (46): "Yes, for pity stole over me as I made my meditation on the shortness of the life of man; here are all these thousands, and not a one of them will be alive a hundred years from now." 

Something many of us contemplate as human beings...the ever looming thought of knowing we will die someday and will not live to see the future world as it will be.

Xerxes continues further along in the passage...

Page 487 (50): "It is better to have a brave heart and endure one half of the terrors we dread than to make a forecalculation of all the terrors and suffer nothing at all. If you quarrel with everything that is said and cannot show where security lies, then you ought to fail in these debates no less than the man who urges the opposite view. The score is even between you. Anyway, how can a human being know what security is? I think he cannot. It is those, then, who are willing to act who for the most part win the prizes; for those who are forever calculating everything over and hesitating, this is not often so."

An excellent quote about conquering fear...about not taking that leap, but instead, using as an excuse that everything must be exactly planned. (This quote totally applies to the situation of the writing of my novel...hmm.)

Another instance of a woman in unlikely prominence (considering the age)...

Page 501 (99): "...I do find occasion for admiration in Artemesia, that she, a woman, served in the expedition against the Greeks. Her husband had died, and she took over the power (and must also deal with her young son), and yet served out of pure spirit and manliness, with no compulsion on her to do so. Her name was Artemesia...she was the leader of the men of Halicarnassus and of the Coans and Nisyrians and Calydnians. She furnished five ships, and of all the host her ships were in the most repute, after those of the Sidonians. And of all the allies it was Artemesia who gave the King the best counsels."

Artemesia does in fact give good counsel to Xerxes (more on that later). We are now getting into the part of the book which held the most interest for me because of my love for the film "300." I also liked the sequel, "300: Rise of an Empire," but the former is my favorite. Interesting note: Artemesia is a main character in the latter film.

Another account of barbarism, as a custom. This occurred as the Persians crossed the bridge over the river Strymon...

Page 506 (114): "...they crossed it as the Nine Roads (a place among the Edonians), over the bridge they found spanning the Strymon. Learning that the name of the place was Nine Roads, they buried alive nine boys and girls of the local people. It is a Persian custom, this burying-alive for I learn that Amestris, wife of Xerxes, when she had grown old, had fourteen children of noble Persians buried alive as a gift on her behalf to the so-called god of the underworld."

This barbarism is especially distasteful when it involves children.

Persuasive talk to get the Locrians and Phocians to march on Trachis...

Page 541 (203): "...these people who were so summoned need fear no danger; for, said the messengers, this invader of Greece was no god but a human being, and everyone that is mortal and everyone that shall be so has evil blended in his lot at his birth, and the greatest evil for the greatest of mortals. So the invader too, since he was mortal, must surely fall from his high hopes. When they heard this message, the Locrians and Phocians marched into Trachis."

And now, Leonidas, the Lacedaemonian, descended from Heracles himself, King of Sparta. He chose the 300 Spartans to advance to Thermopylae.

Page 543 - 545 (208 - 209): Xerxes sends a spy to discover what this small force was doing (the 300). The spy saw these men exercising and combing their hair. He also noted their small number. He related all this to Xerxes, who thought what he related was absurd...that they would be behaving in this manner before being killed or killing others. The spy then said this: "You heard from me before about these men, mocked me for telling you how I saw these matters would turn out; for my greatest endeavor, my lord is, in your presence, to practice truth. So listen to me now: these men have come here to fight us for that pass; that is what they are making their preparations for. This is their custom: that when they are going tot risk their lives, they make their heads beautiful. Know, then, that if you beat these, and those of them who are still in Sparta, there is no nation in the world, my lord, that will withstand you and lift a hand against you. For now you are making your attack on the fairest kingship and fairest city among the Greeks, aye, and the bravest men." Xerxes thought what he said was past belief and asked him again how so few men as these would fight his, Xerxes' army. Demaratus said: "My lord, use me as a liar if things do not turn out as I say."

Of course, we know now that the 300 do not survive, but their stand at Thermopylae was a turning point in the war.

As the battle was waging on in Thermopylae, many of the Greeks fled, but Leonidas...

Page 548 - 549 (220): "...for himself and his Spartiates he thought it disgraceful to quit the post they had come to guard in the first place. I am myself strongly of this opinion: that when Leonidas saw that the allies were fainthearted and unwilling to run the risk in his company, he bade them be off home, but for himself it would be dishonorable to leave. If he stood his ground, he would leave a great name after him, and the prosperity of Sparta would not be blotted out. For there was a prophecy that had been given to the Spartiates by the Pythia when they consulted her about the war, just at its beginning. The prophecy said that either Sparta would be destroyed by the barbarians or the king of Sparta would be destroyed. This was the prophecy that the Pythia uttered in hexameters:

For all of your people who dwell in Sparta, the
city of broad roads,
your city is great and glorious, but by the

manhood of Persia she shall be sacked--
or she shall not, but then Lacedaemon's
shall mourn for a king that shall die, from
Heracles' race descended.
Neither the fury of bulls nor of lions shall
stem the foeman,
though force matches force; the power of Zeus
in himself he possesses;
and none, I dare say, shall restrain him, until
the one or the other
utterly shall be undone and utterly rent asunder.

I believe that Leonidas thought this over and wanted to store up the glory for the Spartiates alone; and so he sent off the allies rather than that those who went away should do so after a disorderly split in their counsels."

The death of Leonidas and the fall of the 300...

Page 550 (224): "And in this struggle fell Leonidas, having proved himself a right good man, and with him other famous Spartiates, of whom I know the names, as men worthy of the record; I have learned indeed the names of all the three hundred."

During the battle (before the fall)...

Page 551 (226): "...he that was said to be the bravest was a Spartiate, Dieneces. Of him there is a saying recorded, one that he uttered before the battle was joined: when he heard a Malian saying that, when the barbarians shot their arrows, the very sun was darkened by their multitude, so great was the number of them, Dieneces was not a whit abashed, but in his contempt for the numbers of the Medes said, 'Why, my Thrachinian friend brings us good news. For if the Medes hide the sun, we shall fight them in the shade and not in the sun.'"

In the movie, "300" the character who utters the line above is Stelios. The Persians are chanting "Our arrows will blot out the sun" to which Stelios replies, "Then we will fight in the shade."

Xerxes, who was very angry against Leonidas because of the battle, dishonored him in death...

Page 555 (238): "...and he went then through the bodies of the dead, and, in the case of Leonidas, when he learned that he was the king of the Lacedaemonians and their leader, he ordered his head to be cut off and put upon a pole. This makes me quite certain, in addition to other evidence, that King Xerxes was especially angry against Leonidas in life. For otherwise he would never have so outraged proper order against the dead man, since the Persians, more than any other people I know, honor men who are brave in war. Those whose duty it was to follow commands did as he bade them."

Let us honor the hero, King Leonidas. Do you think he was this hot in real life? Doubtful. (Actually, the cover of the book [top of post] is the 1814 painting "Leonidas at Thermopolis" by Louis David.)

I digress...

Book Eight:

Here is the instance of Xerxes taking Artemesia's counsel, as mentioned earlier. He is asking for opinions on joining the sea battle...

Page 579 - 580 (68): "Master, it is but just that I should declare my true opinion, those thoughts that I find will serve your purposes best. And so I say to you: spare your ships and do not fight this sea battle. For these men, your adversaries, are, at sea, as much better than yours as men are than women. Why must your put all at risk in sea fights? Have you not Athens, which is why you set out to make the war? Have you not all the rest of Greece? No one stands against you; those who have done so have come off as befitted them. Let me tell your how I think the fortunes of your adversaries will turn out. If you are not so hasty as to fight at seas but keep your ships here, near the land, or even advance into the Peloponnese, you will easily compass, my master, all that you have come for..."

Many were happy because they envied her being so honored by Xerxes so they thought this opinion would be the end of her, but...

Page 580 (69): "...when the judgments were reported back to Xerxes, he was very pleased with Artemesia's opinion; he had before this thought her someone of serious worth, but now he praised her far more. Yet he gave his decision to follow the judgment of the majority. He thought that his men had not fought as well as they should off Euboea because, as he saw it, he had not been there, whereas now he was all prepared to watch them fighting."

As Herodotus relates that there were among the Greek peoples some nations who remained neutral, to which he said...

Page 582 (73): "If one may speak frankly, their remaining neutral was taking the Persian side."

This is interesting because it clearly shows now Herodotus' bias for the Greeks, in my opinion.
My personal note on this is...I agree. For example, how could anyone stay neutral during World War II, fully knowing what was going on? It's unfathomable to me. There are other instances of this in politics and voting, but I won't get into that here.

The battle goes to sea and one of its main players, Themistocles urges the Greeks to board their ships and fight...

Page 586 (83): "Themistocles spoke well, better than all the others; for all his words were a contrast of the worse and the better side in man's nature and position in the world, and he bade them ever choose the better, and wound up his oration by urging them to board their ships."

Themistocles is the main character in "300: Rise of an Empire." Another inspiring leader of the Greeks.

At the beginning of the sea battle, as the Athenians accounted...

Page 586 (84): "It is said, too, that a phantom of a woman appeared and shouted her commands loud enough for all the Greek camp to hear, taunting them first with the words, "You crazy Greeks, how long will you continue backing water?"  

Could this be the goddess, Athena who also favored the Greeks in the Trojan War?

Artemesia once again gains renown with Xerxes...

Page 587 - 588 (87): "...the ship of Artemesia was pursued by an Attic ship. And she not being able to escape (she was pinned in by the enemy and friendly ships)...she charged and rammed a friendly ship...Whether there had been some quarrel between her and him (the king of the Calyndians) while they were both still at the Hellespont, I cannot say, nor whether she did what she did deliberately or whether it was pure accident that the ship of the Calyndians happened to fall in her way. But when she rammed him and sank him, by her good luck she gained doubly by what she had done. (88) " is said that, as the King watched, he noticed the vessel doing the ramming, and some one of his courtiers, standing by, said, 'Master, do you see Artemesia, how well she fights? And lo, she has sunk a vessel of the enemy.' He asked if the action was really that of Artemesia, and they said yes...the destroyed vessel they concluded was an enemy. As I said, everything happened to her good luck in this, and most of all that the ship of the Calyndians that was destroyed had not a single man escape alive to accuse her. So Xerxes, they say, in answer to what they had told him, observed, 'My men have become women, and my women men.' That is what they say Xerxes said."

It really is amazing to imagine how much in favor she was with Xerxes. She must have been an outstanding leader and warrior. I don't really believe that her favor was all from her good luck.

Xerxes plans to run away...

Page 591 (97): "Now Xerxes, when he understood what had happened, being afraid lest one of the Ionians might suggest to the Greeks that they should sail to the Hellespont, to break down the bridges, and so he would be caught in Europe and in danger of total destruction, planned to run away. But because he did not want this to be obvious...he made preparations for the war, as though he would fight another sea fight. And all the others who saw him doing these things were well convinced that in whole heart he was prepared to stand his ground and fight there. Only Mardonius (one of his top generals) was well aware of the meaning of all of these things; he was especially experienced in the way in which Xerxes thought." 

Here is the cowardice I spoke of earlier. Xerxes is clearly trying to run away instead of standing his ground and fighting, as Leonidas did. Though he tries to cover up his plans, Mardonius is wise to him. Someone who severely punished others for cowardice previously. Hypocrite.

Xerxes once again asks Artemesia for her counsel. Should he leave and let Mardonius fight the war there, or stay? Artemesia advises him to march home...

Page 594 (103): "Xerxes was delighted with her counsel, for she really said exactly what he thought himself. For if all the men and women in the world had counseled him to remain there, I personally believe that he would not have done so, he was so completely in the grip of fear."

Even Herodotus is alluding to cowardice here.

An oracle demands retribution for the murder of Leonidas, and Xerxes' reply...

Page 598 - 599 (114): "...there came an oracle from Delphi for the Lacedaemonians, bidding them demand retribution of Xerxes for the murder of Leonidas and to take whatever retribution he should offer. At this the Spartiates sent on a herald at full speed, who overtook the whole army when it was still in Thessaly and came before Xerxes and said, 'King of the Medes: the Lacedaemonians and the sons of Heracles from Sparta demand retribution of you because you killed their kind as he defended Greece.' Whereupon Xerxes burst into a laugh and, after a great while, as Mardonius stood by him, he pointed at him and said: 'There is Mardonius for you; he will pay you such retribution as befits you.'"

Xerxes has no honor, as is clear here. This ended up badly for him because after he left, many bad things befell his forces as they retreated. (115) "He brought away with him what one might describe as none of his army at all." He also had to leave behind his chariot, which was sacred to Zeus.

More stories of the retreat of Xerxes (supposedly by sea, though Herodotus believes he marched all the way home), and further examples of cowardice...

Page 600 (118): "As he was sailing, a great tempestuous wind overtook him, and great waves as well. The ship was weathering it even worse because so heavily laden, as there were many Persians on deck who were making the journey with Xerxes. The King was in such terror that he screamed to the helmsman, asking him, was there no hope for safety? At this the helmsman said, 'Master, none, save we can get rid of these many that are on board.' The story goes that when Xerxes heard that, he said, 'You men of Persia, now let each of you prove your care for your King; for in you, it seems, lies my safety.' That is what he said, and the men did obeisance and jumped into the sea, and the ship was lightened and came safe to Asia. As soon as Xerxes landed, he did the following: because the helmsman had saved the life of the King, he awarded him a golden crown; but for causing the death of many Persians, he had his head cut off.
(119) Herodotus relates this alternate story where Xerxes would not have made Persians jump into the sea, but would have instead "taken a number of Phoenician oarsmen equal to that of the Persians and thrown them overboard."

That Xerxes, a prince among men.

Apparently, at this point, Xerxes is trying to get the Athenians to come to terms with him. Basically, they would still be under his thumb. Mardonius, his general, elects to use Alexander of Macedon to relay this message, but the envoys of Sparta try to convince them to not listen to Alexander because he is in the pocket of the despot (Xerxes). The Athenians respond to Alexander...

Page 610 - 611 (143): "We know of ourselves that the power of the Mede is many times greater than our own; therefore, you need not throw that in our face. Yet we have such a hunger for freedom that we will fight as long as we are able. Do not try to induce us to make terms with the barbarian, for we will not listen to you. Now tell Mardonius that this is the word of the Athenians: So long as the sun keeps his wonted track where even now he is going, we will never make terms with Xerxes, but putting our trust in our gods and our heroes we will go out to fight him in our defense. He had scant regard for those gods and heroes when he burned their homes and their images. And for the future do not make your appearance before the men of Athens with propositions like these, nor, seeming to do us a service, advise us to do what is against all law for us; for we would not have anything untoward happen to you at the hands of Athenians--your who are our consul and our friend."
(144) There response to the Spartan envoys (partial)..."That the Lacedaemonians should be afraid that we would make an agreement with the barbarian is indeed human; and yet we think that this fear of yours if a base one, knowing, as you do, the spirit of the Athenians--that there is not enough gold in the world anywhere , nor territory beautiful and fertile enough, that we should take it in return for turning to the Persian interest and enslaving Greece...It would be indecent that the Athenians should prove traitors (to their customs). So you know now, if not before, that while a single Athenian survives we will not make terms with Xerxes." 

This made me want to cheer! The honor, the lack of cowardice...the Athenians are my heroes!

Book Nine:

The fall of Mardonius and retribution for the death of Leonidas received...

Page 640 (63 - 64): "...when Mardonius fell, and the strongest part of the army were also destroyed, the others yielded to the pressure of the Spartans and were put to flight...So was the retribution rendered upon Mardonius and given to the Spartans for the death of Leonidas, even as the oracle had said...Mardonius was killed by Aeimnestus, a notable man of Sparta, who long after the Persian war, with three hundred men at this side, fought all the Messenians in the battle of Stenyclerus. He died there himself, and his Three Hundred."

How ironic that the man who would win the retribution for Leonidas would end up fighting and dying in the same way the great king of Sparta did.


I have to say that I'm proud I finished it, but at the same time, I'm glad it's over. Still, there was value in reading it. I received in depth information I may not have otherwise just reading a college ancient history book. There's a lot to be said for reading accounts written by people who were actually alive when these events were happening. I read the following about Herodotus on Wikipedia
He is widely considered to have been the first writer to have treated historical subjects using a method of systematic investigation—specifically, by collecting his materials and then critically arranging them into an historiographic narrative. On account of this, he is often referred to as "The Father of History", a title first conferred on him by the first-century BC Roman orator Cicero.[1]
The article also said that "a sizable portion of the information he provides has since been confirmed by historians and archaeologists."

Now I'm going to rewatch "300" and "300: Rise of an Empire."

Thanks for joining me for the read-along.

Our next read is The Sagas of the Icelanders. The reading schedule is here.



  1. Big cheers for finishing this classic history! Glad that you liked the David Grene translation! And glad the Kindle book was more comfortable to read--it certainly makes it easier to share quotes.

    I shelved the Herodotus book again after the shutdown started. But I read with much interest the big sample of quotes you gleaned from it, with your comments. The Scythians were a tough place to start, so gruesome. So much for any romantic notions of the pagans, living in idyllic harmony, etc. War, war, and more war, and then a warlike merciless burial plan. War still seems everpresent to our times, unfortunately, but we have much widened the scope of practices that would utterly appall us.

    Your first comment about King Darius is quite interesting--that the Persian king may have treated a distinguished prisoner with at least an ambivalent courtesy, compared with the soldiers who tended to dispatch their enemies quickly and brutally. The Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar II (or Nebuchadrezzar), who is roughly contemporary with Darius, is portrayed in the Book of Daniel as having trained some young men of captured Jerusalem in the Chaldean language and customs. Daniel was called on to interpret the king's dreams, though he was tried in the lion's den for not participating in the cultic worship of the king. Likewise, Joseph in Egypt rises to vizier in the Pharoah's service. My point is that it was probably well known that the king would keep some prisoners alive according to their talents and potential to be useful to him.

    Certainly many women suffered this fate as prisoners, as you describe.

    As you point out, "atrocious deeds" are certainly rampant in Herodotus' world, and that could be the subtitle of his Histories!

    The story of Artemisia made me think of Artemisia Gentileschi, one of the first women to make a name for herself as a painter. She had to call on both courage and wisdom to navigate her life and career in 17th century Italy. She liked to paint stories of women warriors and heroines! The name fits her well.

    The story of Leonidas and Xerxes really is the centerpiece and elevates the whole history from a diverse collection of cultural observations and legends to the kind of gripping narrative history that brings individual people to vivid life. Herodotus did this so well and inaugurated this genre for the ages.

    Xerxes is truly chilling, by the way. The fact that he is so "cultured" and so accomplished makes his gruesome treatment of the Spartans, especially Leonidas, particularly distasteful. Herodotus notes this with some insight into the anger that got the better of him.

    And I learned a lot from your account of what happened after that, Xerxes fleeing, and so on. Also fascinating the irony of Aeimnestus that you described, being himself killed with 300 of his men, after having revenged Leonidas. I believe I have seen The 300 sequel, but perhaps I would understand it better now.

    Thanks for waging your own valiant campaign to digest and report on Herodotus' Histories! I did learn a lot from reading the incidents you selected and your commentary. What a world that was.

    I have pulled out my copy of The Saga of the Icelanders and glad to begin that now with you. It has some brutal moments too, since the sagas are often revenge tales. The storytelling, polished over years of retelling, is gripping and involving, I have found. And each story focuses on a handful of memorable characters, and their motivations. Some of the sagas shade into history (the sagas of the Greenlanders), some are ghost stories, some are outlaw tales, some are feuds. I hope you enjoy them!

  2. Great synopsis! I highlighted a lot of the same passages but I just didn't have the energy to go into them all for my blog post. I just kept being reminded of the horrors of that time with constant wars and being a woman was not a great thing to be at the time.

    I really enjoyed the story of the Spartans. I've seen the movie but it's been a long time. It made me want to rewatch it as well. But I didn't know there was a sequel! I'll have to add those to my list to see soon.

    Thanks for hosting the read-a-long. I read parts of it back in college but not the whole thing so it was interesting to read it all as one whole book. Not one I'll ever re-read but worth getting through it to gain a bit of insight to a historical eye-witness to history.


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