Herodotus

Marching Under the Lash

I feel like I am not clever or wise enough to understand what Herodotus was doing, but every so often, he reminds me that he could tell a kind of truth which was different than truth about the exact size of the Persian army or what day two armies fought.

First

What is it that you say they relate, that the soldier’s is more pleasant than the scribe’s (profession)? Come, let me tell you the condition of the soldier, that much castigated one. He is brought while a child to be confined in the camp. A /searing\ beating is given his body, an open wound inflicted on his eyebrows. His head is split open with a wound. He is laid down and he is beaten like papyrus. He is struck with torments. Come, /let me relate\ to you his journey to Khor (Syria) and his marching upon the hills. His rations and his water are upon his shoulder like the load of an ass, while his neck has been made a backbone like that of an ass. The vertebrae of his back are broken, while he drinks of foul water. He stops work (only) to keep watch.

P. Anastasi IV, 9, 4–10, 1 in William Kelly Simpson (ed.), The Literature of Ancient Egypt. Third edition (Yale University Press: New Haven and London, 2003) p. 441
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Herodotus Didn’t Say That, Eduard Meyer Did

A view of a still lake and a cool sky from a stone breakwater
When I walked along the breakwater at Bregenz, I did not meet any old drunks willing to tell me the town’s terrible secrets for a tot of Schnapps, but that is a different winter story.

It has been too long since my last cheerful winter story, so on this Winter Solistice I will tell another.

Like the protagonist of a H.P. Lovecraft story, I came to Innsbruck to look for answers. The scholarship on Achaemenid armies in English was repetitive and fell apart at the first gentle question, but was there something more trustworthy in German? Duncan Head and Nicholas Sekunda cited all kinds of people who nobody else I was reading talked about. So I visited the wood-panelled Law Library reading room on the banks of a river named in a dead tongue, and borrowed an old copy of Eduard Meyer’s Geschichte des Altertums from a librarian who seemed surprised to have visitors. The first edition of Meyer’s Geschichte was completed in 1902, the last revision was in 1965 a generation after his death. Meyer tried to integrate the history of early Greece into the history of Egypt and Mesopotamia. And when I came to the following passage, I realized that the horrors were deeper and older than I had thought:

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A Herodotean Sentiment

The remains of the Roman amphitheatre, Rimini (ancient Ariminum) Evans-Pritchard [1937] (1977: 153) made the comment that when informants fall out; it is to the anthropologist’s advantage. However, in the modern era where informants read the anthropologist’s work, disputes among informants lead to all kinds of complications, and one must be especially careful in preparing... Continue reading: A Herodotean Sentiment

Astyages’ Thanksgiving Banquet

Life-sized head of a bearded man carved of smooth stone
They told another version of this story about Zeus (Porphyry head of a bearded Olympian in the Burrell Collection, Scotland, photographed by Sean Manning)

If you wandered through the ports and festivals of the Aegean 2500 years ago, Herodotus would tell you a story about Astyages’ banquet. One day Astyages the king of the Medes went to his lieutenant Harpagos and ordered him to take the newborn son of Astyages’ daughter Mandane and kill him, because he had dreamed that this son would become king of the world, and because the boy’s father was no Mede but a Persian. Harpagos took the son but refused to kill him, instead giving him to one of Astyages’ slaves to kill, and when this slave went home he found that his wife had given birth to a stillborn child. His wife offered to raise this other child instead, and so Mandane’s son was spared. One day Astyages noticed that this boy had a lordly manner and a face which resembled his own, and he questioned Harpagos and uncovered what had happened. Astyages declared that it was good that the boy lived, because the fate of the boy had troubled him, and that he would feast with Harpagos and make a sacrifice to thank the gods who had preserved the boy.
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A Comment to Herodotus

Herodotus, Histories 7.44-46, tr. George Rawlinson: Having arrived here at Abydos, Xerxes wished to look upon all his host; so as there was a throne of white marble upon a hill near the city, which they of Abydos had prepared beforehand, by the king’s bidding, for his especial use, Xerxes took his seat on it,... Continue reading: A Comment to Herodotus