Download Herodotus Assignment #1 2012

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LVV4U – RSGC, 2012
Locating events
The Persian Wars themselves were two in number:
1) Darius' invasion of Attica and the battle of Marathon in 490 B.C.
2) Xerxes' invasion of Attica and the battles of Thermopylae, Salamis, and
Plataea in 480/79 B.C.
DIRECTIONS: Read the following background.
The Greeks united to defeat the Persian armies of Darius and Xerxes despite a good
deal of fighting among themselves, even while Xerxes' army was advancing
southward against Athens and Sparta in 480 B.C. The majority of the Greek citystates of Asia Minor did not side with the European . The historical context behind
the attack on Marathon in 490 B.C. is the Ionian Revolt of 499 B.C. to which the
Athenians and Eretrians had sent a little help.
To fill in a little to help us understand Herodotus' account: the Athenians sent a
mere 20 ships across the Aegean, and the men marched to Sardis (or Sardes, the
capital of Lydia, and part of the Persian Empire), which the rebels were trying to
take. But they were unable to be of much use (the Persians held onto the citadel and
eventually regained control of the city), and decided to return home. However, while
they were there, a fire burned a temple of the native goddess Cybele (pron. KIB-ILEE). When Darius learned of the Athenian involvement, he swore revenge on
In 490 he sent a fleet across the Aegean to Marathon. Herodotus' account of the
Persian Wars is more than a simple account of a war between the Greeks of Europe
and the forces of the Persian Empire and Asia. It includes much information that
goes beyond relating the history of the two invasions, encompassing traditions and
customs about foreign peoples ("barbarians," the word Greeks used to refer to all
non-Greeks), and accounts of the relationship between Greeks and barbarians from
earliest tradition to the Persian Wars themselves.
DIRECTIONS: In pairs (or three in a group, as necessary) review the following using
your text. Answer the questions that you can orally together. Complete as homework
by individually writing a short answer to each question. Type your answers with your
name and the number and letter for each answer. Complete and print with your name
for Monday. Do not send electronically.
(These questions along with Assignment # 2 will form the basis for a mini-test on
Herodotus. Next week we will have an oral review of the answers.)
Herodotus on foreign customs
Non-Greek (barbarian) customs are a major feature of Herodotus' work, in which, as
mentioned above, he relates the customs and habits of barbarians. These
ethnographic sections illustrate the concern with nomos, which means "law" or
"custom" that is found in much archaic and classical Greek literature. Often nomos is
explicitly contrasted with physis, "nature." Herodotus is implicitly taking part in a
larger discussion:
a) Are people the way they are by custom (i.e. human conventions) or by nature
(fixed and immutable)? Think about the nature/nurture argument one often
reads about today.
b) Is there a bias to his descriptions or are they presented neutrally?
c) Does Herodotus think that the environment affects cultural practices?
d) Herodotus relates his purpose in writing history, and examines the early
causes of the conflict between East and West. What is his intention in writing
e) To what does Herodotus attribute the causes of the East-West struggle?
The Origins of the Mermnad Dynasty.
After relating traditions of seizures of women by Greeks and barbarians going back
even before the Trojan War (are these likely to be historical?), Herodotus states, "so
much for what Persians and Phoenicians say; and I have no intention of passing
judgment on its truth or falsity. I prefer to rely on my own knowledge, and to point out
who it was in actual fact that first injured the Greeks" (1.5).
What significance would you attribute to this remark for understanding Herodotus'
approach to evidence? Who it was in actual fact is Croesus, a mid-6th century BC
king of Lydia, in Asia Minor. The story begins as Herodotus tells the story of the
transfer of power from the Heraclid dynasty to the Mermnad dynasty, to which
Croesus belonged. Don't worry about all the names of Lydian kings: Gyges and
Croesus are most important. Think about the point of the story of Candaules and
Gyges and answer the following questions.
After Gyges gains control of the throne, he sends lavish offerings to the god Apollo at
Delphi, home of the Delphic Oracle, the word of Apollo conveyed by the Pythia,
priestess of Apollo.
a) Why does he do this?
b) What does it remind you in Virgil’s Aeneid?
c) What importance does Delphi have in political and military affairs?
d) Why is Croesus important to Herodotus, even though he lived well before the
Persian Wars which is Herodotus' main subject?
The Story of Croesus and Solon.
Solon was a famous Athenian lawgiver and reformer. The story of his visit to
Croesus at Sardis, capital of Lydia, is likely chronologically impossible, but either
Herodotus did not know this, or he was not concerned about this. In any case, think
about why Herodotus includes the story of their conversation and answer the
following questions.
The figure of Croesus, like Xerxes, the Persian king who attacked Greece in 480 BC,
illustrates the important Greek concept of hubris, which in Herodotus means
excessive behavior on the part of mortals that excites the envy of the gods, because
it suggests that the hubristic person is putting himself up on their level. Croesus
thinks that he is the most blessed man (the translation says "happiest," but the
Greek word conveys the sense of "blessed") because of his wealth.
a) Why is Croesus wrong in his thinking, according to Solon?
b) Why does one need to wait until death to be judged happy or unhappy?
c) What values are esteemed by Solon?
d) Croesus angrily rejects Solon's words. What are the consequences? (See
references to nemesis. Nemesis is a goddess who personifies retribution, and
is "activated" when people are hubristic.)
e) What is the injustice that Herodotus sees Croesus as having committed
against the Asiatic Greeks?
f) Why does Croesus send gifts to Delphi?
g) After Croesus is captured Cyrus (the founder of the Persian Empire) ends up
agreeing to let him live. Why?
The Pythia of Delphi
Read carefully the Pythia's response. Think about the variety of causal explanations
she gives for what happened to Croesus.
a) Was his downfall all due to his own hubris, or were there other factors, and if
so what were they?
b) What insight does the answer to the above question give you into why
Herodotus tells the story of Candaules, Gyges and the Queen?