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 "These are the inquiries of Herodotus of Halicarnassus, put forth so that the great and terrible deeds of Greeks and barbarians alike shall not be forgotten for all of time; and more importantly, to show how the two races came into conflict."

Herodotus of Halicarnassus (c. 484-425 BC) is the author of The Histories, an account of the rise of the Persian Empire and its conflicts with neighboring states and peoples, particularly the Greeks, culminating in Xerxes the Great's invasion of Greece and its defeat by an alliance of Greek city-states in 480-79 BC.

Herodotus is the main source on the Greco Persian Wars. His book is what gives the word 'history' the sense of an account of the past.

Young audiences will know Herodotus' material best from Frank Miller's Three Hundred.


Herodotus' Histories provide examples of:

  • A Taste of the Lash: When the pontoon bridge across the Strait of Hellespont, meant to carry the Persian army into Greece, is damaged in a storm, Xerxes has the strait lashed as punishment.
  • Big Creepy-Crawlies: Herodotus claims that natives of what is now the Kashmir region of India would collect gold dust from the anthills of giant ants in the morning, but would leave by noon because the ants would wake up and chase down their camels.
    • "Giant ants" might have been a mistranslation of "marmots": "ant" in Greek is "myrmex", and even nowadays the Minaro tribes collect gold dust excavated from the Himalayan marmots' burrows.
  • Costume Porn: Herodotus describes the uniforms worn by the different factions of the diverse Persian Army in great detail.
  • History Marches On: Something Herdotus is prone to in his account of the Near Eastern empires, In his account of Egyptian History, Herodotus has Khufu (a.k.a. Cheops, the king who built the Great Pyramid) living at around 900 BC or so. Khufu actually lived around 2500 BC. Also, Herodotus claims Khufu was a cruel tyrant but modern historical evidence suggests Khufu was well loved and his reign prosperous. Also, there was probably no "Median empire", not if the contemporary literary and archeological evidence is anything to go by. Medes, yes, but they were probably more like a patchwork of tribes and city-states that miiiight have been on the road to forming an empire.
  • Hobbes Was Right: The city-state of Athens prospered under the tyrrany of Pisistratus, who (never minding how he rose to power) ruled Athens more or less according to the previous constitution, was fair and kept order.
  • I'm a Humanitarian: Medean emperor Astyages punished a disobedient member of his court, Harpagus, by killing Harpagus's thirteen-year-old son and secretly feeding it to him during a banquet.
  • Lady of War: Artemesia, who commanded a Persian warship in the Greco-Persian wars.
  • Merciful Minion: Astyages orders his subordinate Harpagus to kill his grandson Cyrus, who was destined to overthrow him, but Harpagus passed the job on to a shepherd, who spared the child. An interesting case in that Harpagus was mostly acting out of his own self interest. He didn't want to get in trouble with Astyages, but he also knew that when Astyages's daughter ascended to the throne, she'd want to punish the one responsible for killing her son.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Herod: The Oracle of Delphi prophesied that a certain baby (Cypselus) would overthrow the ruling house of Corinth and become a tyrant. The ruling house of Corinth tried to have the baby killed, but failed.
  • Noble Savage: The Scythians.
  • Perspective Flip: With respect to the Old Testament. In The Histories, the Persians are the Big Bads. In the Old Testament, the Persians (especially Darius) are considered heroes by the Jews, because they freed the Jews from their exile in Babylon.
  • Prophecy Twist: Crœsus, the King of Lydia, is told by the Oracle of Delphi that if he attacks Persia, he will bring down a great empire. The great empire the Oracle is referring to is Crœsus's own empire, the Lydian empire, which falls to Persia after Crœsus attacks.
  • Rain of Arrows: Invoked by a Greek native of the region near Thermopylae, who was trying to warn the Greek army about the multitude of their Persian enemies: "...when they shot forth their arrows the sun would be darkened by their multitude".[1]
  • Retcon: Helen of Sparta (more often known as Helen of Troy) visited a temple on the Nile Delta in Egypt after going off with Alexandrus. In fact, Herodotus says Helen never made it Troy, and thus the Trojan war was all for naught. After the war, Menelaus found her in Upper Egypt.
  • Science Marches On: Herodotus describes the world as flat.
    • However, one story he relates is interesting. The Phoenecians claimed to have sailed around the tip of Africa, from the Indian Ocean to the Mediterranean, and they say the Sun was on their right side while passing the southernmost point. Herodotus dismisses the claim, but this is exactly what actually happens: the Sun is found in the northern sky in the Southern Hemisphere.
  • Secret Path: Persia is able to break the stalemate at the Battle of Thermopylae when Ephialtes of Trachis, a Greek, told them about a secret path around the pass.
  • Snake People: He relates a myth about the Scythian people being descended from a snake-woman and a human warrior.
  • Succession Crisis: Several. The most notable was after the death of Persian Emperor Cambyses, in which Darius and several of the Persian nobility deposed an usurper, Darius eventually becoming emperor.
  • The Mole: Zopyros son of Megabyzos, a Persian who gained the trust of the Babylonians only to turn the city over to Darius.
  • Unusual Euphemism: Periander, the second tyrant of Corinth, killed his wife Melissa. Later, when Periander consulted her through an oracle of the dead, Melissa's ghost would not reveal the information he sought, but did reveal that "the oven was cold when he baked his loaves in it".
  • We Have Reserves: Darius sends 7000 of his own troops into ambush and slaughter at the hands of Zopyros, to help Zopyros gain the trust of the Babylonians.
  • You Can't Fight Fate: After his Magi interpret a dream of Medean king Astyages to mean that his baby grandson Cyrus would overthrow him, Astyages gave Cyrus to a shepherd (indirectly) to be killed. The shepherd instead raised Cyrus as his own child, and the child went on to overthrow Astyages and became Cyrus the Great, the first emperor of Persia.
    • Although there is some lampshading in all the times the oracle gets bribed.

Notes

  1. These words were given to a Persian in Frank Miller's 300.
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