In their Olympic Games they compete for Olive Branches and honour, rather than gold, silver or bronze like sensible people view spoiler [here we can see how Herodotus is colouring his material, many of the competitors would have been wealthy enough as it was and for the winners it seems there were opportunities for material reward even if they were not formally awarded at the podium so to speak, but the image of competing for olive branches is pressed into service with good effect to create the sense of a complete inequality of wealth even though the Greek cities were plainly not in the same category as say the Scythians hide spoiler ] , simply because they have nothing better, the contrast between a rich Persian meal and a Spartan one view spoiler [see how we've preserved the idea in our own language hide spoiler ] is an occasion for laughter.
There's a criticism of Imperialism in this - what is the point of waging war against people who sleep in tents, wear leather, live in a country so unfruitful that they can eat all they can find but can never eat their fill? The repeated lesson, never learnt, taught through repeated harsh blows view spoiler [so much for the educative utility of the application of violence hide spoiler ] is that transgression through aggression that is not sanctioned by God, gods, Fate, or Mandate of Heaven, as expressed variously through the opaque words of Oracles, and view spoiler [although I would say that given how deep my thinking still lies within the shadow of Braudel hide spoiler ] really this is about expansion beyond your ecological base, ends in grim failure perhaps in the form of having your decapitated head dipped into a bag of blood - such was Cyrus' fate at the hands of Queen Tomyris - ah, another theme here - call no man happy until his death!
By the time Herodotus's work was completed it is the Greeks who in turn are wealthy and powerful, on the verge of fighting the Peloponnesian war during which, so much for the eternal clash of civilisations, the Spartans will turn to the Persians for aid in defeating the Athenians, but in Herodotian style, I digress, with purpose. We can read this, whether Herodotus intended this is another question, with irony. Success will lead to wealth, an inevitable softening, and pride leads on to a fall view spoiler [I can imagine that Herodotus was an inspiration to Ibn Khaldun and his book The Muqaddimah hide spoiler ].
Since History didn't exist before Herodotus or Thucydides depending on your point of view we can hardly say that history in Herodotus is cyclical rather than linear, instead the philosophy that unfolds is that the nature of existence itself is cyclical. Wisdom is the result of hardship, learnt by riding Fate's wheel in a complete cycle.
Alienated in self imposed exile Solon is the wise advisor to Croesus. After defeat in the war which he brought about, Croesus can be a wise advisor to Cyrus.
Histories (Herodotus) - Wikipedia
In exile the Spartan King Demaratus is a wise advisor to Xerxes. To judge Herodotus as a writer of history is a little unfair, this is a transitional work. Part of his approach comes from the epic - he is explicitly looking back to Homer and the Iliad, another part we would think of as folktale and fable which is about moral teachings, traditional wisdom, and tropes view spoiler [such as lost children, born to greatness, saved and brought up in secret safety - we get several of these alone in Herodotus in Cyrus himself and Cypselus of Corinth, it is interesting that these historical figures were by Herodutus' day already transformed into folk-tales hide spoiler ] , another the travelogue - Rebecca West's Black Lamb and Grey Falcon is a direct descendent view spoiler [there is a similar framing narrative - the great clash between two civilisations and an exploration of one civilisation through travel through its landscape and history hide spoiler ].
History, though, as a narrative of events with an analysis of causes is one of his gifts just as Egypt was the gift of the Nile, even if in part on account of Thucydides sharp response to Herodotus. It also manages to capture the transition that occurs when the past and historical memory slips over into fable.
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This is not only something we can see in the presentation of Cyrus and Cypselus but more pointedly in the examples of Delphi and Thebes. Already by Herodotus' time Delphi was painting over its prior Persian sympathies and we get some fantastical stories instead of how weapons left in the sanctuary divinely appeared around the temple or how a great loud voice was heard shouting from within all of which conflicts completely with the oracular statements that Herodotus records which instead are defeatist if not actually pro-Persian, the effect is a little like a book about occupied France showing that everybody - even Petain, was actually in the Resistance.
The Thebians, despite their contingent dying to a man at Thermopylae, are recorded as pro-Persian - this is attributed to Herodotus making use of Athenian informants. I feel that there is fable and folklore also in the victory at Salamis - the Greeks win by playing a trick upon the Persians, Thermistocles is the Odysseus of the piece, wielding the one not entirely defeatist oracle, maintaining the allies in a threatened position, trying to exploit the potential for division amongst the Persian coalition, and finally mauling the enemy fleet, although the cycle must be completed for him too and eventually he ends up as a wise advisor at the Persian court.
Still, I like how archaeology now confirms Herodotus' stories of steppe women wielding weapons, just as zoology confirms that the genitals of both sexes of camel face backwards view spoiler [ reasonably you may wonder how they manage copulate: a camel's penis can rotate degrees hide spoiler ].
Some historians even take things one stage further and prefer Herodotus' account of Athenian strategy developing in reaction to the Persian advance to the discovered inscription at Troezen which gives the retreat down the coast and the evacuation of Attica as previously agreed strategies. Unlike in the old film, Herodotus' Persians are gallant and honourable foes if occasionally given to whipping the sea for it's misdeeds , but then we are in the epic tradition.
The enemy has to be worthy of the hero. Herodotus is far more effective here than say Livy in his treatment of the war with Hannibal - there we have to read Punic virtues and attractiveness between the lines to understand the fact that Livy doesn't attempt to explain of Hannibal surviving and thriving in Italy for years on end.
I wondered reading if Herodotus would make for a complete elementary education, Aesop meets Aeschylus with the wonders of Egypt thrown in.
Admittedly you would have to deal with questions like "Mummy, Daddy, what does 'refused normal intercourse and lay with her in an unnatural way view spoiler [ p25, its an interesting story hide spoiler ] ' mean? If I may deviate from my current deviation and recover the thread of my narrative the other point that struck me reading the complete work rather than just the first half was how Murray's Early Greece was in good part a commentary and analysis of Herodotus, drawing its anecdotes about the Oracle at Delphi or Greek Colonies from this work.
On the subject of the latter, pausing to mention the colonists who departing their homeland threw a lump of iron in the harbour swearing never to return until it floated or those told by the Oracle at Delphi to set up a colony in Libya even though they had no idea where Libya was or how to get there, I arrive at the Greek settlers at Miletus who married Carian women after having murdered all their menfolk. The colonists pass a law "forbidding them to sit at table with their husbands or to address them by name" p Later there is a similar story about captured Athenian women whose children born of rape band together to the point that they are all considered dangerous by their captors who put them all to death, this inevitably leads to divine punishment and the need to ask advice of the Oracle at Delphi, but I digress, though before returning to my theme again the pattern of violence as self-destructive behaviour that brings down an entire community - the whole of the Persian wars in Herodotus' account is figured as the culmination of a series of violent abductions that can only ever end in disaster because the human passions can not be stilled until divine retribution forces the community polluted through its violence to offer up propitiation.
This reminded me of Michael Wood's point about western Europe having adopted ancient Greece as a forebear - "the glory that was Greece " was not all fine statues and beautiful ruins, heritage isn't a clear cut matter, the baby comes with the bathwater. The great contrast here in my mind is with the Romans. They have the Sabine women, who despite the violent beginning represent reconciliation and the unity of different peoples. The Romans base an ideology of empire and themselves as an Imperial people on the basis of a myth of reconciliation, the Greeks an ideology of civic distinctiveness on a history of sectarianism enforced beyond the point of self-harm.
Something clear from Herodotus' account is how divided the Greeks are, with many supporting the Persians and some opposed, not out of great principals but on account of local rivalries. Lets finish with the Spartans. Not as laconic, proto-all-American superheroes of the battlefield tanned and oiled fit to star in technicolor, but as examples of Herodotus' style. It is the Spartans and Athenians who breach the norms of international diplomacy by murdering the Persian Ambassadors - Herodotus is no whitewasher though perhaps his early audiences admired their ancestors precisely for that violation.
Best of all is his fascinated treatment of the Spartan King Cleomenes, at once decisive and brilliant, but transgressing acceptable behaviour - for instance having holed up some enemies in a sacred wood he tricks some of them out claiming they have been ransomed and has them slaughtered pp The Spartans put him on trial for failing to capture Argos, in his defence he argues that having offered sacrifice at the temple of Hera he saw flame flash from the breast but not the head of the statue he knew from this with absolute certainty that he was not to capture Argos The Spartans accepted this as a credible and reasonable defence, and Cleomenes was fully acquitted p The outcome of all this is that Cleomenes goes mad, and with a knife, cuts himself into strips while in the stocks.
Again: transgression, pollution, and call no man happy until he is dead. View all 29 comments. Written in BC in the Ionic dialect of classical Greek, The Histories serves as a record of the ancient traditions, politics, geography, and clashes of various cultures that were known in Western Asia, Northern Africa and Greece at that time. Although not a fully impartial record, it remains one of the West's most important sources regarding these affairs.
Moreover, it established the genre and study of history in the Western world. The Histories also stands as one of the first accounts of the rise of the Persian Empire, as well as the events and causes of the Greco-Persian Wars between the Achaemenid Empire and the Greek city-states in the 5th century BC. View 2 comments. Collingwood The prime subject of The Histories is the twenty years B. That should be the disclaimer all history books should come with. All the main themes of the book are evident in its beginning and ending, in keeping with the circular narratives that H prefers to adopt.
All the intervening incidents act like reinforcements of the overall thrust inherent in the beginning and ending. Meanwhile in the other end of the world, an existing empire is being shaped into a fearsome tyrannical force by the new Persian rulers. Soon the Persian empire starts to extend ominously outwards and gobbles up most of the known world.
This infringes on a core idea of H — the concept of natural limits and over-extension. Persia is meant to fall. The gods set limits and do not allow human beings to go beyond them; Herodotus makes it clear that the Persians have to fail in their plan to conquer Greece, because they have overreached their natural boundaries.
follow site The Middle: The Clash of Civilizations Then we are taken through the many over-extensions of the Persian empire under a succession of rulers in Ionia, Scythia, etc , until they are poised to encroach upon the newly non-tyrannical Greek world. Here we enter the climactic middle of the narrative and is drenched in the details of the gory encounter. Many heroes, legends and dramatic material is born here and we emerge on the other side with a clear sense that it was Athens, without the yoke of tyranny, that was able to bring down the fearsome war machine of the Persian empire.
David has won out against Goliath. This is achieved due to much luck and much pluck, but in the final analysis H seems to imply that the fault was with the hubris of the Persians. It needs to be pointed out that: H is quite clear that as human beings Persians are on the whole no better and no worse than Greeks.
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So, even as this main narrative concludes, we are shown what is the inevitable result of Hubris that over-extends its own reaches. And of how tyranny in any form is not going to triumph over people who have tasted what freedom means. Instead he takes us to the Ending to rub in the message and to instill that message with its true significance — what is its bearing on the future? For, an investigation of History is meaningless unless it can educate us about the future. And it is the future that H ironically points to as he takes us through the concluding sections of his Histories.
For now it is the turn of the Greeks to over-extend.
Explore ‘The Histories’ by Herodotus: an open enquiry
In the thrill of victory and in the thrall of a thirst for revenge, in the spirit of competition with its own neighbors, Athens and Sparta launch out on its own imperialistic enterprise to mainland Asia. This unexpected victory against what seemed like the mightiest empire on Earth resonated in Greek consciousness through the fifth century and indeed beyond.
And after what they visualized as the great struggle for freedom, the people of Athens entered upon a spectacular era of energy and prosperity, one of the great flowering periods of Western civilization. H seems to imply that Athens should learn from these investigations of the past, see what Tyranny can do, see the dangers of over-extension, understand the need for balance, respect certain international boundaries, and stay its own overreaching hand.
And indeed within fifty years of the Persian defeat the dream had faded, and before the end of the century Athens, over-extended abroad and overconfident at home, lay defeated at the mercy of her enemies, a Spartan garrison posted on the Acropolis and democracy in ruins. Much in the intervening years had been magnificent, it is true, but so it might have remained if the Athenians had heeded Herodotus.
He had portrayed the Greek victory as a triumph over the barbarian latent in themselves, the hubris that united the invader and the native tyrant as targets of the gods.
The Persian downfall, or at least the defeat of their imperialistic ambition, called not only for exultation but for compassion and lasting self-control. As should be quite obvious, there is much to learn in this for modern times too, but with an added twist. For Hubris did not end its romp through history there. It took on new wings once history started being recorded.
Now every new emperor was also competing with history. Alexander had to outdo Xerxes. Caesar had to outdo Alexander.