Herodotus, “The Histories”, and the Greco-Persian Wars


Rufus F.

Rufus is an American curmudgeon in Canada. He has a PhD in History, sings in a garage rock band, and does a bunch of other stuff.

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22 Responses

  1. Avatar Paul B says:

    Good stuff!

    Just want to point out some of what was long assumed to be embellishment or invention on Herodotus’ part might actually have been true. Not just the gold digging ants, but also a disappearing Persian army, and the Egyptian/Phoenician circumnavigation of Africa (Herodotus is skeptical of the account because the sailors claimed to have seen the sun to their north, which of course is precisely what would happen south of the equator).

    That doesn’t mean the Herodotus wasn’t given to flights of fancy, especially in Rand McNally Egypt (“they wear hats on their feet and hamburgers eat people”), which tend to cast non-Greeks as the Other in the interest of shoring up Greek identity. And I hope we get to Thucydides, if only to see how tenuous that shared identity was.Report

    • Avatar Rufus F. says:

      I have to look it up but there’s a story in there about a priest who tries to establish himself as a god by living in an underground chamber for a few years and then returning. I’ve heard there have been some recent studies on him and I would love to see them because that story is just fascinating in Herodotus.Report

      • Avatar Paul B says:

        That one doesn’t ring a bell, but it’s been a long time since I plowed through all of Herodotus. Let me know f you track it down!Report

        • Avatar Rufus F. says:

          Okay, it was Salmoxis in Book Four, section 96. I knew I underlined that. The Getae saw him as a god. There’s an interesting Wikipedia entry on him- under Zalmoxis.Report

  2. Avatar Kyle says:

    I’m excited for Thucydides. The Greco-Persian wars are interesting but the Peloponnesian Wars are just fun.Report

  3. Avatar Will says:

    Rufus, is that the definitive translation of the inscription at Thermopylae? I’ve heard so many different versions. For my money, “Stranger, go tell the Spartans that here we lie, obedient to their command” is the most romantic.Report

    • Avatar Rufus F. says:

      I don’t think there’s any authoritative one. That is a nice translation though. I probably just prefer “Go tell the Spartans” because of the Burt Lancaster film.Report

      • Avatar Kaleberg says:

        That was a great film and very powerful. George Macdonald “Flashman” Fraser recommended it in his book, The Hollywood History of the World. I went on a video kick watching Carry On Cleo, Fire Over England, The Cruel Sea and a host of others. Go Tell The Spartans really stood out.

        Historians have always been more than gossips with footnotes. You’ll notice that Herodotus started with rumors, but then tried to substantiate them as best he could, by asking people from the area, by finding out more about monuments and artifacts, by listening to alternate accounts and so on. He even applied scientific principles to cast doubt on that story of a journey around Africa. The principles were wrong, but that wasn’t the first time historical views have changed based on new scientific results.Report

        • Avatar Rufus F. says:

          Yeah, I think Herodotus is a great introduction to historiography because he really does show the detective work behind it. On one hand, it’s prose writing; and on the other, it’s pure legwork. If I ever design an intro class for graduate students, I plan to start with his chapter on Egypt.

          I’ll have to look for that book. I just got done with a Sam Fuller video kick, so it would be good to have a new project.Report

  4. Avatar sean matthews says:

    I think one could reasonably claim that the battle of Thermopylae was comfortably immortal before release a couple of thousand years or so later, of Zak Snyder’s 300, and will still be going strong in the mythic achievement stakes, long after the movie has has disappeared again.Report

    • Avatar Rufus F. says:

      Yeah, I guess maybe I was trying too hard to appeal to the young’uns with that line! I’ve not actually seen 300, which just looked to me like a non-interactive video game. Is it based on Herodotus’s account?Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        It’s based on a comic book that was somewhat loosely based on Herodotus… they did keep some of the smack talk (“surrender your arms” “come and take them” and “our arrows will block out the sun” “So much the better…then we shall fight our battle in the shade”… which, lemme tell ya, is some excellent smack talk now that I think about it).

        I’d recommend watching the trailer three or four times in a row over watching the movie. The trailer is better.

        But if you’ve got a bottle of something and find yourself in a room with it… eh, you could do worse than get drunk and watch it.Report

        • Avatar Rufus F. says:

          I could be a bit jaded- I had a bad experience watching Troy.Report

          • Avatar Jaybird says:

            Here’s the thing about 300. It contains the emotional force of the original. If you have a beer in you, you could be 12 years old and hearing this story be told around the fire at any point in the past.

            Does it do a good job of retelling the story accurately? Oh, hell no. If you watch it as a scholar of history, you’ll find yourself saying “I can’t believe they put that in there!” and “THAT’S NOT WHAT HAPPENED!!!”

            If, however, you watch it the way a 12-year old boy would appreciate a story told around a fire of how our ancestors defeated a much larger army… oh, you’ll be ashamed of how much you like it. You might even try to justify it to yourself by writing posts like this one.Report

      • 300, the comic, was by the same guy that did The Watchmen. I haven’t seen it either, but the trailers struck me much the same way they did Rufus. Isn’t Xerxes portrayed as some towering giant of a man, actually more like a god in appearance?Report

        • Avatar Rufus F. says:

          I’m sure I’ll rent it at some point or watch it on cable. I think what turned me off was what Patrick is talking about- in the trailers, Xerxes looked like Ru Paul.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird says:

          Alan Moore did The Watchmen.
          Frank Miller did 300.

          Alan Moore is pretty much on the left. Anarcho-left, but left. Miller is on the Right in the way that only someone who thinks that Batman has a point can be on the Right.Report

  5. Avatar Mike Schilling says:

    The Battle of Salamis

    What a bunch of bologna.Report

  6. Avatar Dimitris says:

    The translation is a bit skewed, but Will is on the money – the inscription read “? ????’, ????????? ?????????????? ??? ???? ???????, ???? ?????? ?????? ??????????”, i.e. “Oh Stranger, go tell the Lacaedemons that here we lie, obedient to their sayings/commands”.Report