The Persian Wars themselves were two in number: 1) Darius' invasion of Attica and the battle of Marathon in 490 B.C., and 2) Xerxes' invasion of Attica and the battles of Thermopylae, Salamis, and Plataea in 480/79 B.C. The Greeks united to defeat the armies of Darius and Xerxes despite a good deal of fighting among themselves, even while Xerxes' army was advancing southward against Athens and Sparta in 480 B.C. The majority of the Greek city-states of Asia Minor did not side with their European brethren. See WPM, pp. 75-6 for the historical context behind the attack on Marathon in 490, i.e. the Ionian Revolt of 499, where he notes that the Athenians and Eretrians had sent a little help. To fill in a little to help you understand Herodotus' account: the Athenians sent a mere 20 ships across the Aegean, and the men marched to Sardis (the capital of Lydia, and part of the Persian Empire), which the rebels were trying to take. But they were unable to be of much use (the Persians held onto the citadel and eventually regained control of the city), and decided to return home. However, while they were there, a fire burned a temple of the native goddess Cybele. When Darius learned of the Athenian involvement, he swore revenge on Athens. Then in 490 he sent a fleet across the Aegean to Marathon.
As mentioned in the introduction to your Herodotus reading in the Course Packet, Herodotus' Persian Wars is more than a simple account of a war between the Greeks of Europe and the forces of the Persian empire. It includes much information that goes beyond relating the history of the two invasions, encompassing traditions and customs about foreign peoples ("barbarians," the word Greeks used to refer to all non-Greeks), and accounts of the relationship between Greeks and barbarians from earliest tradition to the Persian Wars themselves.
Note: to locate places that Herodotus mentions, e.g. Sardis, Miletus, Delphi, there is a nice map on the Web site. Go to "Maps" in the menu, then go to "Map of the Aegean." Depending on your computer, you might have to scroll to the right to get to Sardis.
1. From CP 3 a, b, b (last should be c!). Herodotus on foreign customs. These two selections on non-Greek (barbarian) customs are a small sampling of a major feature of Herodotus' work, in which, as mentioned above, he relates the customs and habits of barbarians. These ethnographic sections illustrate the concern with nomos, which means "law" or "custom" that is found in much archaic and classical Greek literature. Often nomos is explicitly contrasted with physis, "nature." Thus Herodotus is implicitly taking part in a larger discussion: are people the way they are by custom (i.e. human conventions) or by nature (fixed and immutable)? Think about the nature/nurture argument one often reads about today.
Is there a bias to his descriptions or are they presented neutrally?
Does Herodotus think that the environment affects one's cultural practices?
2. Book 1, chaps. 1-53 [chapters are the numbered sections you see in the margins]. These selections contain the opening chapters where Herodotus relates his purpose in writing history, and examines the early causes of the conflict between East and West. What is his intention in writing history? To what does he attribute the causes of the East-West struggle?
a. The Origins of the Mermnad Dynasty. After relating traditions of seizures of women by Greeks and barbarians going back even before the Trojan War (are these likely to be historical?), Herodotus states, "much for what Persians and Phoenicians say; and I have no intention of passing judgment on its truth or falsity. I prefer to rely on my own knowledge, and to point out who it was in actual fact that first injured the Greeks" (1.5). What significance would you attribute to this remark for understanding Herodotus' approach to evidence? "Who it was in actual fact" is Croesus, a mid-6th century king of Lydia, in Asia Minor. The story begins Herodotus tells the story of the transfer of power from the Heraclid dynasty to the Mermnad dynasty, to which Croesus belonged. Don't worry about all the names of Lydian kings: Gyges and Croesus are most important.
What is the point of the story of Candaules and Gyges?
After Gyges gains control of the throne, he sends lavish offerings to the god Apollo at Delphi, home of the Delphic Oracle, the word of Apollo conveyed by the Pythia, priestess of Apollo. Why does he do this? Does it remind you of anything in the Iliad?
What importance does Delphi have in political and military affairs?
Why is Croesus important to Herodotus, even though he lived well before the Persian Wars, Herodotus' main subject?
b. The Story of Croesus and Solon. Solon was a famous Athenian lawgiver and reformer. The story of his visit to Croesus at Sardis, capital of Lydia, is likely chronologically impossible, but either Herodotus did not know this, or he was not concerned about this. In any case, why do you think Herodotus includes the story of their conversation?
The figure of Croesus, like Xerxes, the Persian king who attacked Greece in 480, illustrates the important Greek concept of hybris, which in Herodotus means excessive behavior on the part of mortals that excites the envy of the gods, because it suggests that the hybristic person is putting himself up on their level. Croesus thinks that he is the most blessed man (the translation says "happiest," but the Greek word conveys the sense of "blessed") because of his wealth.
Why is Croesus wrong in his thinking, according to Solon?
Why does one need to wait until death to be judged happy or unhappy?
What values are esteemed by Solon?
Croesus angrily rejects Solon's words. What are the consequences? (see, e.g. 1.34, in which Nemesis is referred to. Nemesis is a goddess who personifies retribution, and is "activated" when people are hybristic) How does the story of Adrastus and Atys and his interpretation of the Delphic Oracle relate to Croesus' hybris?
Does Croesus possess wisdom?
What is the injustice that Herodotus sees Croesus as having committed against the Asiatic Greeks?
Why does Croesus send gifts to Delphi? Do you think it's significant that Croesus, being a non-Greek (Lydian) sends gifts to a Greek god in Greece?
What does it say about religious beliefs that Croesus tested the oracles?
Is the Delphic oracle wrong to have given Croesus the impression that he would conquer Cyrus?
After Croesus is captured Cyrus (the founder of the Persian Empire) ends up agreeing to let him live. Why?
Croesus then sends a messenger to Delphi (this is in your supplementary reading handed out in section (Hdt. 1.85-91) to complain to Apollo; what is Croesus' complaint? Was he justified in being angry?
Read carefully the Pythia's response. Think about the variety of causal explanations she gives for what happened to Croesus. Was his downfall all due to his own hybris, or were there other factors, and if so what were they? (Does the answer to this question give you insight into why Herodotus tells the story of Candaules, Gyges and the Queen?)
3. Book 7.1-19, 33-40. The intro. to the selection in your course packet gives you some important background information. Chief players in this section, which concerns the decision by Xerxes to invade Greece in retaliation, are King Xerxes, his uncle Artabanus, and his general Mardonius. But note the comment about Atossa, Xerxes' mother. As Herodotus tells it, Xerxes was not initially eager to invade Greece, but instead was concerned to bring Egypt, which had revolted from the Persian Empire, back under his control.
a. The "War Council."
Mention of the Pisistratids (also can be spelled Peisistratids): these were tyrants (rulers who came to power unconstitutionally) of Athens in the 6th century. The family had been expelled by the Athenians in 510, and they fled to the Persians. When Darius sent a fleet to attack the Athenians in 490, accompanying it was the ex-tyrant Hippias, hoping to be placed back in power. The Persians lost at Marathon, and the Pisistratids were still living in the Persian court at Susa (the capital). See also Nagle, p. 112.
Xerxes' speech. How would you characterize the man from the things he says? What are his reasons for wanting to attack Greece? Note that Greeks regarded bodies of water as sacred, and natural boundaries as things to be respected. What is the significance of this for interpreting Xerxes' comment about bridging the Hellespont (the strait between Asia and Europe at the mouth of the Aegean).
Mardonius' speech. How is Mardonius stereotyping the Greeks (note, however, that his speech is composed by Herodotus!)? What tactic is he using to convince Xerxes?What arguments does Mardonius initially produce in favor of the expedition? Note that he is lying to Xerxes when he comments on the great fertility and richness of Europe, implying Greece.
Artabanus' speech. The reference to Datis and Artaphrenes is to the invasion of 490 (don't worry about their names). His reference to "your father" spanning "the Thracian Bosporus" is to Darius' expansion into Europe in 514 in an attempt to add Europe to the Persian Empire. He failed in his main object, to subdue the Scythians (a very warlike people who often invaded Persian territory), but ended up subduing Thrace and Macedonia (the land north of the Aegean).
What is the significance of Artabanus' comments on the gods?
b. Xerxes' reaction to Artabanus' Speech and the Dream.
What are Xerxes' arguments for pursuing the plan to invade? Think about the relatize size of Athens (and Greece) compared to the Persian Empire. Is Xerxes expressing a realistic concern about the issue of the coming struggle (i.e. if we don't invade them, they will invade us)?
What is the significance of Xerxes' dream and what happens afterward? Why does he go ahead with his plans after having the dream? Why does Artabanus change his own mind?
Think about the varieties of causes presented in this section: are there short-term causes? Longer-term causes? Are they human, divine or a combination?
c. Xerxes at the Hellespont.
What is the significance of Xerxes' orders to whip the Hellespont? What does it illustrate about him?
What conclusions does Herodotus want the reader to draw about Xerxes? Has he given us the knowledge to predict that Xerxes will in fact fail to conquer Greece before we actually know the outcome? If so, what and what is the significance of this?
Updated Saturday, 01-Oct-2005 10:49:10 CDT