Abstract: One of Herodotus’ purpose in writing the Historieswas to record and underlinethe legendary deeds done by both sides—the Hellenes and the Persians.This paper states thatin theHistories, Herodotus seemed to consider the most wonderful achievement done by the Hellenes was that they defeated the Persiansand preserved civilization and liberty, since, in the Histories, this achievement is portrayed in all aspects according to the Greeks’ ethic. The most wonderful achievement done by the Persians was that they established a empire with a uncompetably large scale of territory and a tremendous number of troops. However, the Persians represented barbarism and despotism, and their achievement was based on subjugating other civilizations, enslaving their people for satisfying the arrogant kings’ ambition. Therefore, their achievement did not measure up the Greek one.
Herodotus crafting the Histories aimed to record and underline the legendary deeds done by both sides— the Hellenes and the Persians. In the Histories, for the Hellenes, the greatest achievement that Herodotus intended to extol was that they bravely defeated an evil and formidable enemy without the fear of death, saving civilization and liberty from the barbarians. For the Persians, Herodotus endeavored to emphasize their greatest achievement was that they had an established empire which owned an exaggerated number of troops and an unprecedented scale of territory. However, in the Histories, Herodotus’ bias is manifest. By noting the deeds of the Persians, especially words of Xerxes I and the Persian soldiers, Herodotus intended to imply that Persians’ magnificent achievement was based on subjugating other civilizations, enslaving their people for satisfying the arrogant kings’ ambition. Also, the Persians’ achievement in the Histories just serves as a foil to the Greeks’ achievement—the Greeks defeated an unjust and unconquerable enemy, which gives the proof that the Greeks were on the just side. This paper illustrates how the achievement that Greeks defeated the Persians measures up to the these ethical standards and is portrayed as the greatest achievement in Herodotus’ book, and also illustrates the Persians’ greatest achievement underscored by Herodotus and why their achievement does not measure up the Greeks’.
- The Greatest Accomplishment Done By The Hellenes
Herodotus seems to depict that the most wonderful achievement of the Hellenes was that they defeated the Persians, since, in the Histories, this achievement is portrayed in all aspects according to the Greeks’ ethics. First, the Greeks displayed their courage and military skill (agathos behaviour and aristos) during the Greco-Persian War. In the Histories, the Greek states were portrayed as weak and inferior, but, on the contrary, the Persians had an exaggerated number of troops and incomparably huge territory. However, Greek states, mainly Athens and Sparta, were not to be intimidated or to give in; rather, they raised troops to confront to the Persians without fear. These deeds measure up the definition of agathos deeds. In additional, the Greeks were always at the weak side, but they outmaneuvered the Persians in a series of battles, depending on the commanders’ strategies, bravado and military skill, which displayed the Greeks’ agathos deeds. Hence, Herodotus often listed the strength of the Persian troops and compared with the force of the Greeks in order to show the Persians’ force were much stronger. For example, Herodotus noted: “About 10, 000 Greek hoplites made their camp there (between Olympus and Ossa).”(Herodotus 7.173) However, he calculated the total Persian force at more than five millions. (Herodotus 7.186) Thus, Herodotus rendered a sense that the Greeks dared to resist, although the Greeks were much weaker, which measured up to the Greek moral virtue that a man should be agathos.
The Greeks’ courage and military skill were also underscored by a series of battles. For example, the battle of Thermopylae. The Greek force was at 1,000. But they still refused to withdraw, after Xerxes had waited four days and asked them to surrender. During the battle, Leonidas had known they would fail and die, but he sent away the seer Megistias, but he stayed. (Herodotus 7.220-221) Finally, the Spartans killed two brothers of Xerxes and engaged the Persians “in a violent struggle over the corpses until the Hellenes, after routing their opponent four times”. (Herodotus 7.225) The battle of Artemision is another instance illuminating the Greeks’ bravado (agathos) and cunning (aristos). During the battle, the enemy naval force outnumbered the Greeks’. Yet, the Greeks did not flee; rather they began to discuss “to test their enemies in battle and in their use of the breakthrough maneuver.” During the battle, the Greek navy first lured the enemies to surround the Greek ships, but then the Greek ships “turned the prows of their ships outward to face the enemies” and launched a sudden attack. This devious strategy outmaneuvered the enemies and ensured the battle. (Herodotus 8.9-11) The battle of Mycale especially highlights the Athenians’ aristos and agathos deeds. Herodotus wrote: “Of all the Hellenes who fought in this battle, the Athenians proved to be the best and bravest, and of the Athenians, Hermolykos son of Euthoinos, had practiced the pankration.” (Herodotus 9.105) This evidence proves that Herodotus focused on explicitly narrating the Greeks’ courage and military skill during battles, in order to illustrate that the Greco-Persian War was a stage for Greeks to display their the aristos and agathos deeds.
Second, Herodotus implied the Hellenes did not only defeat the barbarians, but, most importantly, preserved civilization and liberty. He depicted the Persians were unfree under Xerxes’ reign. For instance, Herodotus told an anecdote that the Spartans reply to Hydarnes the Persian: “You know how well to be a slave but have not yet experience freedom…If you want to try freedom, you would advise us to fight for it…”(Herdotus 7.135) He also depicted the Persian Emperor Xerxes I as a tyrant, who deviated from normal ethics: He was arrogant, eccentric, brutal and belligerent; he mercilessly enslaved their people after subjugating other states.(The evidence is offered in the next part of this article.) Therefore, Herodotus implied if he subdues the Greek states, then liberty and civilization would be ruined by the eccentric tyrant.
Additionally, the Greeks, during a series of battles against the Persians, followed the divine will and recieved assistance from gods, which means their achievement is great, because it is endorsed by gods. For instance, when the barbarians had advanced near the sanctuary of Athena Pronaia, the miraculous appearance of sacred arms, thunderbolts, and rockfalls struck the barbarians. As a result, the barbarians panicked and fled from Delphi. (Herodotus 8.38). This example shows that Herodotus intended to convince his readers that gods were on the Greek side.
Thus, the achievement that the Greeks defeats the Persians, was the greatest deed, since it aligned with the value of anti-tyranny and the definition of agathos deeds. It also showed the Greeks’ arete followed the divine will against the evil, abnormal tyrant.
II, The Greatest Achievement Done By The Persians
In the Histories, the Persians’ greatest achievement was that they had occupied an incomparably huge territory and possessed a tremendous military force. According to Herodotus, occupying territories was a glorious deed and a way only for rulers, like an ancestor of Artayktes said: “There are many neighboring lands, and many farther away, and by taking one of these, more people will regard us(the Persians) with greater wonder. It is only for rulers to act this way.” (Herodotus 9.122)
The Persians had occupied a large scale of territory. In Cyrus’ reign, the Persians had already dominated all of Asia. As evidence, in the words that the ancestor of Artayktes proposed to Cyrus, he mentioned: “now, while we(the Persians) are ruling over many peoples and all of Asia.” (Herodotus 9.122) Until Xerxes took the throne, the Persian empire had already occupied incomparably huge territory, which was a prominent achievement that it was unnecessary to recount. This is reflected in Xerxes’ words. When Xerxes agreed with Mardonios’ advice to subdue the Hellenes, he delivered a speech to his following Persians: “Now the achievements of Cyrus, Cambyes, and my father, Darius, along with the peoples they added to our empire, are well known and unnecessary for me to recount.” (Herodotus 7.8) The Persians’ military force was invincible as well. As aforementioned, Herodotus calculated the total Persian force sent by Xerxes to the Hellene at more than five millions.
However, the Persians represented barbarism and despotism, and their achievement was based on subjugating other civilizations. As a result, their achievement, according to the Greeks’ ethical values, was evil, instead of being great.
First of all, the establishment of the great empire was based on usurpation. According to Herodotus, Astyages who was the king of Medes and ruled over Cyrus’ kingdom dispatched Harpagus as the commander of the Median army to defeat Cyrus. However, Harpagus contacted Cyrus and encouraged him to revolt against Media. (Herodotus 1.110) Finally, “Cyrus deposed Astyages and we(the Persians) assumed the sovereignty from the Medes.” (Herodotus 7.8) Given the value that Herodotus intended to render by writing the story of Croesus, the Persians’ achievement was unacceptable from the beginning.
Second, the Persians, especially the king Xerxes, represented despotism and barbarism. Herodotus described Xerxes’ despotism by showing he enslaved their people and forced them to fight against their will. For instance, Herodotus noted an anecdote: When Mardonios withdrew from Attica and established a permanent base camp in Thebes, a Theban named Attaginos invited Mardonios along with fifty of the most noteworthy Persians to be his guests as a feast. The Persian Soldiers anticipated their defeat but told the Hellenes at the banquet: “We are bound by necessity to follow our orders. The most painful anguish that mortals suffer is to understand a great deal but to have no power at all.” (Herodotus 9.16)According to Herodotus, Xerxes deeply believed that compelling is better than freedom: Xerxes’ advisor Demaratos told Xerxes that the Spartans would resist the Persians, no matter how much they were outnumbered. Xerxes thought Demaratos made idle boasts, and replied to Demaratos that the Hellenes might resist his formidable army if “compelling by the lash”, otherwise “they would never dare to do such a thing if they were allowed their freedom.” (7.103) These anecdotes presented by Herodotus express the Persian king’s positive attitude towards despotism.
Herodotus narrated a story that explained how Xerxes treated his subjects in order to render his brutality and barbarism. “When Xerxes marched out of Athens, he came to Eion on the Strymon, and once there, he no longer continued the journey by land, but entrusted his army to Hydarnes to lead to the Hellespont while he himself boarded a Phoenician ship and went on his way to Asia by sea.” However, he met a storm at the sea, so he forced many Persians to demonstrate their loyalty to him by leaping overboard to lighten the ship.”(Herodotus 8.118) Herodotus also noted a conversation between the Persians and Arcadian deserters reflects that the Persians’ ethic deviated from the Greeks’ ethical concept of time and arete. The Arcadian deserters said that the Hellene celebrating the Olympic festival, where they contend in sport for olive-wreath crowns, which irritated the king(Xerxes) who cried: “Good grief, Mardonios, what kind of man did you lead us here to fight, who compete not for money but for excellence alone?” (Herodotus 8.26) These stories demonstrate the Persian king deviated from morality.
Also, Herodotus portrays Xerxes I as an evil and eccentric tyrant by showing that he is arrogant and ambitious. In the Histories 7.8 α, Xerxes spoke to the assembled Persians about his desire to equal his ancestors in the conquest of other countries: “I pondered how I could avoid proving inferior to my predecessors in this honorable position, and how I could increase the power of Persia no less than they had.” Xerxes often shows his contempt for the Greeks. For instance, when Artabanos advises Xerxes not to attack the Hellenes by reminding him of the failure of his father, Xerxes denounces Artabanos as foolish, and says: “I shall accomplish all that I said that I would without you!”( Herodotus 7.11) Considering the values rendered in the story of Croesus, Xerxes’ ambition and arrogancy were not accepted by Herodotus.
Furthermore, Herodotus rendered the Persians’ barbarism, not only by showing the king’s immorality, but also by showing the king’s governors and commanders’ madness and brutality. For example, Artabazos, a governor appointed by Xerxes, advised Xerxes to confiscate a Greek man’s house and give it to Artabazos, in order to punish the Greeks for waging war against the Persians. (Herodotus 9.116) Amastris cruelly tortured Masistes’ wife by cutting off “her breasts and threw them to the dogs”, then cutting out “her nose, ears, lips, and tongue” and sending her back home horribly mutilated. (Herodotus 9.112) Therefore Persians, from the king to the governors and commanders, demonstrated barbarism, arrogance, ambition and despotism, and therefore their achievement did not measure up the Greek one.
In the Histories, Herodotus seemed to think the most wonderful achievement done by the Hellenes was that they defeated the Persians and preserved civilization and liberty, since, in the Histories, this achievement is portrayed in all aspects according to the Greeks’ ethic. The most wonderful achievement done by the Persians was that they established a empire with a uncompetably large scale of territory and a tremendous number of troops. However, the Persians represented barbarism and despotism, and their achievement was based on subjugating other civilizations, enslaving their people for satisfying the arrogant kings’ ambition. Therefore, their achievement did not measure up the Greek one.