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Herodotus By Dr. Richard Smith CVSP 201 Spring 2009-10.

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1 Herodotus By Dr. Richard Smith CVSP 201 Spring 2009-10


3 Here are presented the results of the enquiry (historia) carried out by Herodotus of Halicarnassus. The purpose is to prevent the traces of human events from being erased by time, and to preserve the fame of the important and remarkable achievements produced by both Greeks and non-Greeks; among the matters covered is, in particular, the cause of the hostilities between Greeks and non-Greeks. (1: Introduction)












15 1:1 According to learned Persians it was the Phoenicians who caused the conflict.… 1:5 That is the Persian account; they date the origin of their hostility towards Greece from the fall of Ilium [Troy]. However, where the Io incident is concerned, the Phoenicians do not agree with the Persians.… So this is what the Persians and the Phoenicians say. I am not going to come down in favour of this or that account of events, but I will talk about the man who, to my certain knowledge, first undertook criminal acts of aggression against the Greeks.

16 Not even a god can escape his ordained fate (moira). Croesus has paid for the crime of his ancestor four generations ago. (…) Because he misunderstood the statement [about a great empire being destroyed] and failed to follow it up with another enquiry, he should blame no one but himself for what happened. (1:91)

17 I will say who it was who did this, and then proceed with the rest of the account. I will cover minor and major human settlements equally, because most of those which were important in the past have diminished in significance by now, and those which were great in my own time were small in times past. I will mention both equally because I know that human happiness never remains long in the same place. (1:5) Human affairs are on a wheel, and … as the wheel turns around it does not permit the same people always to prosper. (1:207)

18 [I am] well aware of how utterly jealous the divine is, and how it is likely to confound us. (…) It is necessary to consider the end of anything, however, and to see how it will turn out, because the god often offers prosperity to men, but then destroys them utterly and completely. (1:32) After Solon’s departure, the weight of divine anger (nemesis) descended on Croesus, in all likelihood for thinking that he was the happiest man in the world. (1:34)

19 I could supply a great deal of evidence to support the idea that the Greeks got the name of Heracles from Egypt, rather than the other way round. (…) [I]n fact Heracles is a very ancient Egyptian god; as they themselves say, it was seventeen thousand years before the reign of King Amasis when the Twelve Gods descended from the Eight Gods, and they regard Heracles as one of the twelve. (2:43) I wanted to understand these matters as clearly as I could, so I also sailed to Tyre in Phoenicia, since I had heard that there was a sanctuary sacred to Heracles there. (…) I talked to the priests of the god there and asked them how long ago the sanctuary was founded, and I discovered that they too disagreed with the Greek account, because according to them the sanctuary of the god was founded at the same time as Tyre, which was 2,300 years ago, they said. (2:44) These enquiries of mine, then, clearly show that Heracles is an ancient god. (2:44)

20 The Greek account of Heracles’ birth is far from being the only thoughtless thing they say. Here is another silly story (muthos) of theirs about Heracles. (2:45) Now [he says] in my opinion, this Greek tale displays complete ignorance of the Egyptian character and customs. For it is against their religion for Egyptians to sacrifice animals (except for sheep, ritually pure bulls and males calves and geese), so how could they sacrifice human beings? And how could Heracles kill thousands and thousands of people when he was just one person, and (by their own admission) not yet a god either? Anyway, that is all I have to say about this matter; I trust the gods and heroes will look kindly on my words. (2:45)

21 [Egyptian priests] show in their records that there are 341 human generations between the first king of Egypt and this final one… and they have a king and a high priest for each of these generations. Now, three hundred human generations make 10,000 years, because there are three generations in a hundred years, and the forty-one remaining generations, on top of the three hundred, make 1,340 years. So throughout these 11,340 years, they said, no god ever appeared in human form. (2:142)

22 Although in other respects I do not find the Scythians particularly admirable, they have come up with the cleverest solution I know of to the single most important matter in human life. The crucial thing they have discovered is how to prevent anyone who attacks them from escaping, and how to avoid being caught unless they want to be detected. Since they have no towns or strongholds, but carry their homes around with them on wagons, since they are all expert at using their bows from horseback, and since they depend on cattle for food rather than on cultivated land, how could they fail to be invincible and elusive? (4:46)



25 When he [Darius] heard that they were chasing a hare, he told his confidants, “These Scythians certainly hold us in contempt. I now think that Gobryas’ [a wise adviser’s] interpretation of their gift was right, and what we need is a good plan for getting back home.” (4:134)

26 ‘I told you about these men before … when we were setting out for Greece. You laughed at me then, and found my ideas about what would happen in this war absurd, just because I take pride in nothing so much as in trying to be honest to you, my lord. But listen to me now. These men have come to fight us for the pass and they are getting ready to do just that. It is their custom to do their hair when they are about to risk their lives. But you can rest assured that if you can defeat these men and the force that awaits you in Sparta, there is no other race on earth which will take up arms and stand up to you, my lord, because you are now up against the noblest and most royal city in Greece, and the bravest men.’ (7:209)

27 Demaratus: “My lord, you have asked me to tell the whole truth – the kind of truth that you will not be able to prove false at a later date. There has never been a time when poverty was not a factor in the rearing of the Greeks, but their courage has been acquired as a result of intelligence and the force of law. Greece has relied on this courage to keep poverty and despotism at bay.” Xerxes: “Demaratus, how could you say such a thing? (…) Look, let’s be completely rational about this. How could a thousand men –or ten thousand or fifty thousand, for that matter – when every man among them is as free as the next man and they do not have a single leader, oppose an army the size of ours?” Demaratus: “The point is that although they’re free, they’re not entirely free: their master is the law, and they’re far more afraid of this than your men are of you.” (7:102-4)


29 Anyone who claims that the Athenians proved themselves to be the saviours of Greece would be perfectly correct, because the scales were bound to tilt in favour of whichever side Athens joined. (…) Not even the fearful and alarming oracles that came from Delphi persuaded them to abandon Greece; they held firm and found the courage to withstand the invader of their country. (7:139)

30 Fools, why sit you here? Fly to the ends of the earth, Leave your homes and the lofty heights girded by your city. The head is unstable, the trunk totters; nothing – Not the feet below, nor the hands, nor anything in between – Nothing endures; all is doomed. Fire will bring it down, Fire and bitter War, hastening in a Syrian chariot. (7:140) …Far-seeing Zeus gives you … a wall of wood. Only this will stand intact and help you and your children. You should not abide and await the advance of the vast host Of horse and foot from the mainland, but turn your back And yield. The time will come for you to confront them. Blessed Salamis, you will be the death of mothers’ sons… (7:141)

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