Literature: The Histories
"The Battle of Salamis" by Wilhelm von Kaulbach (1868)
"These are the inquiries of Herodotus of Halicarnassus, put forth so that the great and terrible deeds of Greeks and barbarians alike shall not be forgotten for all of time; and more importantly, to show how the two races came into conflict."
Herodotus of Halicarnassus (c. 484-425 BC) is the author of The Histories
, an account of the rise of the Persian Empire and its conflicts with neighboring states and peoples, particularly the Greeks, culminating in Xerxes the Great's invasion of Greece and its defeat by an alliance of Greek city-states in 480-79 BC.
Herodotus is the main source on the Greco-Persian Wars
, as well as one of the only surviving sources on many other matters. His book is what gives the word 'history' the sense of an account of the past. As such, Herodotus is often considered to be the Father of History.
Herodotus' Histories provide examples of:
- Action Girl: Artemisia, who commands a small fleet in service of Persia so that her son doesn't have to.
- The Alliance: Sparta and Athens form an improvised anti-Persia alliance with many other city-states.
- Amazon Brigade: They say that some Amazons ended up in Scythian territory, eventually mating with Scythians to form the Sauromatai - who still have some Amazon customs regarding women.
- Armor Is Useless: Inverted - armor is actually a decisive factor in battles, with Persians and Spartans being of equal bravery.
- Battle Trophy: Herodotus describes how certain Scythian tribes gilded over the skulls of their dead enemies and used them as drinking cups.
- Better to Die Than Be Killed: Spargapises, son of Queen Tomyris of the Massagetai, kills himself as soon as he gets the chance.
- Big Creepy-Crawlies: Herodotus claims that natives of what is now the Kashmir region of India would collect gold dust from the anthills of giant ants in the morning, but would leave by noon because the ants would wake up and chase down their camels.
- "Giant ants" might have been a mistranslation of "marmots": "ant" in Greek is "myrmex", and even nowadays the Minaro tribes collect gold dust excavated from the Himalayan marmots' burrows. Not that giant marmots are much more plausible, of course
- But Thou Must: Xerxes and Artabanos try so very hard to resist the urge to invade Hellas (ancient Greece). But, a dream-spirit compels both of them.
- The Caligula: Cambyses, son of Cyrus The Great comes across as this. Married his own sisters? Check. Flipped out and killed people all the time? Check. Bad at strategy? Check.
- Cassandra Truth: Most of Xerxes' advisors tell him that the Hellenes are really stubborn and will fight to the bitter end no matter what - including Demaratos, a Spartan king-in-exile who would certainly have firsthand experience. Xerxes refuses to plan for such details until after he sees what Spartans can do.
- Artemisia tells the rest of the Persians not to pursue a sea battle as it would be pointless, and a slow and steady pace should be followed for the rest of the war. Xerxes agrees with her, but decides to act in accordance with the majority opinion amongst his advisors instead.
- Mardonios' advisors and Hellene allies tell him that he can break the anti-Persian alliance with bribery. But, Mardonios insists on doing things the hard way, resulting in the Battle of Plataea.
- Costume Porn: Herodotus describes the uniforms worn by the different factions of the diverse Persian Army in great detail.
- Darkest Hour: The Battle of Thermopylae was merely a speedbump to the Persian invasion force, and eventually Athens falls. According to Xerxes' casus belli, the war is actually won at this point. But then comes the Battle of Salamis and the Battle of Plataea.
- Defeat Equals Friendship: Cyrus defeated Croesus and nearly burned him at the stake, but the gods had mercy on Croesus and spared him from such a fate. Thereafter, Cyrus and Croesus were friends.
- The Eeyore: Solon believed that having good fortune and then dying immediately was happiness - and that simply not being alive was happiest of all - or so says Herodotus about him.
- One of the Thracian tribes, the Trausians, mourn childbirth and celebrate death.
- The Good Queen: Assyrian queens of Babylon are noted, each one contributing to economic and defensive projects.
- Guile Hero: Themistokles, who uses carefully-chosen words and flat-Out lying to secure victory as much as he uses military means.
- Half-Human Hybrid: The Hellenes say that Herakles (Hercules) did a snake-woman, and one of her children was father of the Scythians.
- History Marches On: Something Herdotus is prone to in his account of the Near Eastern empires. Examples:
- Herodotus has Khufu (a.k.a. Cheops, the king who built the Great Pyramid) living at around 900 BC or so. Khufu actually lived around 2500 BC. Herodotus claims Khufu was a cruel tyrant but modern historical evidence suggests Khufu was well loved and his reign prosperous.
- There was probably no "Median empire", not if the contemporary literary and archeological evidence is anything to go by. Medes, yes, but they were probably more like a patchwork of tribes and city-states that miiiight have been on the road to forming an empire.
- Hit-and-Run Tactics: The Scythians harass the army of Darius in this manner, eventually forcing him to leave.
- Hobbes Was Right: Those who support tyranny and monarchy state this frequently, especially Darius of Persia.
- How We Got Here: Nearly once per page, starting with the very first lines of the book. Herodotus is therefore infamous for "digressions" (which may then have their own digressions), infuriating anyone looking for a linear narrative.
- I Love the Dead: They say that an Egyptian embalmer once did a beautiful corpse, but was reported by his co-worker.
- I'm a Humanitarian: Medean emperor Astyages punished a disobedient member of his court, Harpagus, by killing Harpagus's thirteen-year-old son and secretly feeding it to him during a banquet.
- Also, many northern tribes ate their dead.
- Impostor Exposing Test: Smerdis son of Cyrus had normal ears, while Smerdis the Magi had his ears cut off. So, it's up to a royal concubine to bang Smerdis and check out his ears while he sleeps.
- Insane Troll Logic: When Cambyses became aware that the Persian court generally regarded him as insane, he declared to his friend Prexaspes that, if he could kill the cup-bearer (who also happened to be Prexaspes' son) with an arrow through the heart, then he couldn't possibly be mad. After murdering the boy in front of his father, he had his servants cut the body open, and found that the arrow had indeed hit the heart. Apparently this was enough to convince Cambyses that he was completely sane.
- Jerkass: Cambyses, who kills many Egyptians and crashes a big celebration just because he suspects that Egypt is celebrating a recent misfortune that he had.
- Kissing Cousins: This is what Herodotus says. Leonidas and Gorgo were cousins, if one looks at their lineage.
- Lady of War: Artemesia, who commanded a Persian warship in the Greco-Persian wars.
- Merciful Minion: Astyages orders his subordinate Harpagus to kill his grandson Cyrus, who was destined to overthrow him, but Harpagus passed the job on to a shepherd, who spared the child. An interesting case in that Harpagus was mostly acting out of his own self interest. He didn't want to get in trouble with Astyages, but he also knew that when Astyages's daughter ascended to the throne, she'd want to punish the one responsible for killing her son.
- The Mole: Zopyros son of Megabyzos, a Persian who gained the trust of the Babylonians only to turn the city over to Darius.
- Never Found the Body: Or bodies, in this case. When Cambyses launched a military campaign against Nubia, he simultaneously sent a second army to conquer Libya. They got lost somewhere in the African desert, were never heard from again. The Libyans themselves claimed that no invading army ever reached them, and to this day the lost army of Cambyses remains something of a mystery.
- Nice Job Breaking It, Herod!: The Oracle of Delphi prophesied that a certain baby (Cypselus) would overthrow the ruling house of Corinth and become a tyrant. The ruling house of Corinth tried to have the baby killed, but failed.
- Similarly, the attempts to kill infant Cyrus contributed to the rise of Cyrus.
- No Ending: The book abruptly ends with some Persian intrigues after the war. The intent was probably to subtly call attention to how the hubris and mismanagement of the Persian kings led to their downfall, and how even now Athens was going the same way and would also come to a bad end they didn't change their imperialist and arrogant ways. Of course, it flew right over the heads of the Athenians of the time, and fails to connect with us today, since we aren't contemporary Athenians. Of course, one could argue that this lesson is important to all other great powers of history, but that gets messy quick.
- Noble Savage: The Scythians.
- Perspective Flip: With respect to the Old Testament. In The Histories, the Persians are the Big Bads. In the Old Testament, the Persians (especially Darius) are considered heroes by the Jews, because they gave support to the Jews to go back to Israel and build a new temple.
- Phantom Thief: An unnamed thief pulls quite a few tricks to plunder the treasure of King Rhampsinitos, remove evidence of his acts, and hook up with the king's daughter. The only reason why the secrets of any of his exploits were known was because the king pardoned him in order to hire him.
- Prophecy Twist: Crsus, the King of Lydia, is told by the Oracle of Delphi that if he attacks Persia, he will bring down a great empire. The great empire the Oracle is referring to is Crsus's own empire, the Lydian empire, which falls to Persia after Crsus attacks.
- The prophecies leading Sparta to conquer Tegea also had a few twists.
- Proud Warrior Race Guy: The Persians considered the Hellenes to be such:
"As a matter of fact, according to what I hear, the Hellenes are in the habit of starting wars without the slightest forethought, out of obstinacy and stupidity... What they ought to do, since they speak the same language and use heralds and messengers, is to thus put an end to their differences and employ means other than battles to become reconciled... Thus the Hellenes do not employ intelligent strategies..." - Mardonios