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Herodotus - The Histories > Herodotus, Book One

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message 1: by Thomas (new)

Thomas | 4409 comments Herodotus begins his work with an explanation of his intent: to present "his history/research/inquiry so that human events do not fade with time." Specifically, he wants to memorialize the deeds of the Greeks and the "barbarians", and he wants to reveal the causes of the war between them.

Herodotus is sometimes called the first historian, but he did not think of himself that way. He writes of his "historie," which is a much more general term in Greek than the English "history" implies. I like Purvis's translation -- research -- because it gives us a sense of how broad his interests are, and how they extend well beyond mere events. He was almost more of an encyclopedist than what we think of as an "historian." He apparently thinks the geography, ethnology, mythology, and the customs of the peoples involved are quite important as a background to his main topic.

We can see his method in the first couple of pages of Book One. After explaining his intent, he launches into the Persian explanation for the war -- a series of wife abductions that culminates in the Trojan War -- with a side story about the Phoenician point of view. But then Herodotus dismisses this story in favor of his own story about Croesus, "the first man to begin unjust acts against the Hellenes."

So why does he tell this story of wife abduction, just to dismiss it? He begins almost immediately with a digression, or what he calls a "logos," a story or account. This seems to be his way of presenting the "inquiry," by folding digression into digression. Some of these fables and piquant stories he has gathered first-hand, some of them are hearsay; some of the stories he believes, others he doesn't, but the stories are almost always entertaining. As we read, one of the things we can ask is if the "logoi" have meaning on their own, if they are accurate, and perhaps if it matters how accurate they are. Beyond that, we can ask how they contribute to his primary subject: the Persian War.

There's a lot to go through! Let's get started.


message 2: by Kenneth (new)

Kenneth Griswold | 3 comments I haven't finished Book I yet, and this is my first time reading, so I'm probably going to be focusing on individual stories rather than the "big picture" (but thanks for that intro, Thomas!) So far, I've read three very interesting stories:

1. Candaules and Gyges - So, I don't get that. My wife is hot, so come check her out naked.... Was that a thing in this culture, letting other people see your wife? I guess it goes back to the idea that women were more considered property in this culture (I might have missed it, but I didn't even see her name)... and I love that she fights back against this indignity.

2. The "happiest man on earth" Tellos. He is happy for the exact opposite reason of why we would think a person would be happy... he lived an easy, care-free life most of his life, and died in a struggle. For most of us, I would think, a good life, a happy life, consists in working hard the majority of our life and dying peacefully in our sleep.

3. Arion and the dolphin. I loved how the dolphin was key in catching the evil people that threw him off the boat.


message 3: by Paula (new)

Paula (paula-j) | 129 comments Patrice wrote: "What I love about Herodotus is that he reports what he hears and sees. He doesn't decide for us what is true.

I agree Patrice. This is my first time reading Herodotus. I'm thoroughly enjoying it so far (haven't finished Book 1 quite yet) and I'm already struck by the way Herodotus has structured his "inquiries". He presents what he has heard and, so far, makes no judgment (although at times, the "tone" of the commentary leaves you with little doubt of what he thinks).

Instead of some dry, monotone treatise, he engages us immediately by relating the tales of the abductions. And, maybe it's the Purvis translation, but how Herodotus unfolds the stories is deliciously hilarious! Very tongue in cheek.

"They say that following these events [the abduction of Io], certain Hellenes whose names they cannot specify came to the port of Tyre, in Phoenicia, and abducted the king's daughter Europa...And now the score was even"..."But after this, the Hellenes were responsible for a second crime...they abducted the King's daughter, Medea. So the Colchian king sent a messenger to Hellas to demand satisfaction...The reply was that, since they had received no satisfaction for the abduction of Io of Argos, neither would they pay anything to them".

Herodotus goes on to say that, a generation later, Paris, son of Priam, hearing of these stories, decides to abduct a wife from Hellas "quite confident that he would pay no penalty since the other side had not paid either. And so he abducted Helen".

But here is my favorite, laugh out loud, passage so far:

"Now the Persians think that the abduction of women is certainly an act only unjust men would perform, and yet once they have been abducted, it is senseless to make a fuss over seeking vengeance. It is the way of sensible people to have no concern for abducted women; it is quite obvious that the women would not have been abducted if they had not been compliant."

I'm getting a mental picture of Herodotus, a man with a bright, curious and agile mind.



message 4: by Everyman (last edited Mar 02, 2016 04:14PM) (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments edit: I should have read on in Thomas's original post before jumping in on his first paragraph. Mea culpa.

Thomas wrote: "Herodotus begins his work with an explanation of his intent: to present "his history/research/inquiry so that human events do not fade with time." Specifically, he wants to memorialize the deeds of..."

Perhaps we should avoid, or at least be careful using, the term "history" (despite it's widespread use) to avoid confusion, since Herodotus wasn't intending to write a history in the modern sense of the term. The terms research or inquiry are the better ones to use, I think, which is what the Greek term meant. He wound up writing what is often considered the first work of true history (there were records of events before him, but no history in the sense of trying to understand and interpret those events), but the concept of a history didn't exist, at least in Greek, when he started to write.

This may be in some sense a distinction without a difference, but it might help to recognize the groundbreaking nature of his work.


message 5: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Patrice wrote: "What I love about Herodotus is that he reports what he hears and sees. He doesn't decide for us what is true."

Although sometimes he will say "this is what I heard but I don't believe it," or sometimes he will give several explanations and say which one he thinks is the best one. We'll see this more in future books, I think, but I think we need to recognize that he does sometimes use discrimination in his reporting; other times, not.


message 6: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Patrice wrote: "Also, wasn't it interesting how the abduction of io was similar to the abduction of Helen? Did she or didn't she want to go? He highlights too the cultural difference. The Persians thought women ha..."

Looking at these abductions stories, Elizabeth Vandiver makes what I think is a valuable comment. Herodotus reports these abductions purely as secular historical events. However, for the Greeks, the stories of Io, Europa, Medea, and Helen were all wrapped up in major cultural myths.

Io was a priestess of Hera, whom Zeus seduced. When Hera found out about the seduction, either Zeus or Hera, myths differ, turned Io into a white cow. She wandered around the world, driven by a gadfly inflicted on her by Hera, until she came to Egypt, where Zeus turned her back into a woman. Thus, for the Greeks, the Phoneticians had nothing to do with her ending up in Egypt; it was all the work of Zeus and Hera.

Europa was seen by Zeus while playing on the seashore. He turned himself into bull and was so gentle that she climbed on its back, on which he plunged into the sea and carried her off to Crete. That, according to Greek myth, is how she got to Crete, not that she was, as Herodotus says, kidnapped by Greeks, probably Cretans.

Medea was the result of the famous trip of Jason and the Argonauts who went into Colchis to capture the Golden Fleece. Hera helped Jason build a ship -- the first ship ever built by the Greeks, according to legend -- and peopled it with heroes including Heracles. The trip was accomplished with the magical aid of Medea, who wasn't kidnapped at all but went willingly with Jason.

And Paris/Alexandrus and Helen is the story we know well; Paris was encouraged to kidnap or seduce Helen not by the record of previous kidnappings but because of the Judgment of Paris, when he chose Aphrodite because she bribed him with the most beautiful woman in the world, Helen. So according to Greek myth, he was just going to collect the prize the goddess had awarded him.

So all these abductions/seductions had, according to the Greeks, mythical and divine elements and were very important myths. That Herodotus completely disregards all this mythical background and simply relates the report of the Persians of these as simple factual tit-for-tat takings of women is for me one of the most fascinating aspects of these early paragraphs. I have to wonder how the Greek audiences which heard the historia related (Herodotus almost certainly didn't just write down his work, but performed it as Homer (or whomever) had performed the Iliad and Odyssey) would have thought having their myths dismissed in this casual manner, and Herodotus totally rejecting their version of events in favor of that of the Persians.


message 7: by Borum (new)

Borum | 480 comments Everyman wrote: "Patrice wrote: "Also, wasn't it interesting how the abduction of io was similar to the abduction of Helen? Did she or didn't she want to go? He highlights too the cultural difference. The Persians ..."

Exactly! For me, Greek myth has always consisted of abduction/rape of somebody beautiful and their begetting some hero or monster who goes on to make history, as if that explains everything.. I always found it ridiculous that the whole Trojan war was caused by an abduction of a single woman.

Although less dramatic, Herodotus's factual description of a somewhat realistic and inornate commercial exchange of women is more acceptable to the modern reader who tend to be more sceptical. However, I wonder if the Greeks considered it almost a sacrilege to reveal the secular side of these legends of their ancestors.

It reminds of the romanticism movement that took place among the background of social turmoil and emerged as a counterpart to the enlightenment movement. Myth, legend, drama, romance and storytelling seem to have continually competed with factual reporting/investigating and realism throughout history. I think I was impressed by this daring mythbreaker introduction who first (at least to my knowledge) tried to make a jab at the prevailing logos. Thucydides was even more brutally realistic than Herodotus and he has lived through the Peloponnesian War. Could the Persian War or some other social turmoil or radical change have been the source of Herodotus' innovative move?


message 8: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Kenneth wrote: "1. Candaules and Gyges - So, I don't get that. My wife is hot, so come check her out naked.... Was that a thing in this culture, letting other people see your wife? I guess it goes back to the idea that women were more considered property in this culture "

I think that's probably right. Like guys show off their new Porsche or their 62 inch plasma TV, he wanted to show off this special possession.


message 9: by Rosemarie (new)

Rosemarie I have just read the section on Gyges and Candaules, which inspired a 19th century German playwright, Friedrich Hebbel, to write a play called Gyges and his Ring, the ring rendering the bearer invisible. Since Herodotus is writing "Histories" a magic ring would be out of order here.
I am enjoying book one; there is so much to enjoy think about in just about every section.


message 10: by Borum (new)

Borum | 480 comments Everyman wrote: "Kenneth wrote: "1. Candaules and Gyges - So, I don't get that. My wife is hot, so come check her out naked.... Was that a thing in this culture, letting other people see your wife? I guess it goes ..."

This is where I learned a new perverse term: candaulism. When I looked it up in the wikipedia, there is the picture of Gyges and also another painting by Delacroix of Louis d'Orleans revealing his mistress.
I also support the queen for getting back at the pervert king, but I guess the Gods weren't so favorable of Gyges or the queen as Gyges (or rather his descendants) was condemned for his usurpation. This seems to show that the culture held the order and the rightful kingship more important than women's right or dignity of the king.


message 11: by Borum (new)

Borum | 480 comments Rosemarie wrote: "I have just read the section on Gyges and Candaules, which inspired a 19th century German playwright, Friedrich Hebbel, to write a play called Gyges and his Ring, the ring rendering the bearer invi..."

Gyges's ring is also mentioned in Plato's Republic and the English Patient. I think its superhuman power represents the human ambition to overthrow one's limitations or the established order, and is regarded as a passion that is far from the mean. Considering that the peaceful yet uneventful and somewhat mediocre life was defined here as being truly happy, I guess any digression from the means was a recipe for disaster.


message 12: by Rosemarie (new)

Rosemarie If I were Gyges, I would do the same. After all, it was Candaules that suggested it in the first place.
I also googled Gyges and found a number of paintings of the story in response to my search.


message 13: by Borum (new)

Borum | 480 comments Patrice wrote: "Borum wrote: "Everyman wrote: "Kenneth wrote: "1. Candaules and Gyges - So, I don't get that. My wife is hot, so come check her out naked.... Was that a thing in this culture, letting other people ..."

Yeah it's either do as the king or the queen tells you to or facing his death, so no, Gyges was pretty much damned if he doesn't and damned if he does.


message 14: by David (new)

David | 2609 comments I like how A. C. Grayling sums up the true cause for the war.
5. The Easterners trace to stories of Troy the reason of their first enmity towards the Greeks;   6. But in truth the seeds of conflict lay in the growth of Eastern power,   7. When Croesus, son of Alyattes, a Lydian by birth, extended his dominion over all the nations west of the River Halys.

Grayling, A. C. (2011-04-05). The Good Book: A Humanist Bible (p. 172). Bloomsbury Publishing. Kindle Edition.



message 15: by Thomas (new)

Thomas | 4409 comments Kenneth wrote: "1. Candaules and Gyges - So, I don't get that. My wife is hot, so come check her out naked.... Was that a thing in this culture, letting other people see your wife? "

The Candaules story tells us a lot about how Herodotus thinks, and I think you're absolutely right to hit on the cultural aspect. On the surface, the Lydian sensitivity to nudity must have seemed foreign, or even silly, to Greek listeners, who had no qualms about nudity in general.

Looking a little below the surface, it seems odd that Candaules, as king of the Lydians, is asking his servant to break a time-honored Lydian law, all because he doesn't think that Gyges can realize his wife's beauty without actually seeing her. Candaules's word just isn't good enough. (And recall that the ring of Gyges in Plato's Republic makes Gyges invisible, just as he is supposed to be invisible to Candaules's wife.)

The way in which Gyges objects to Candaules's proposal is also very interesting:

"People long ago recognized what principles are noble and good, and we should learn from them. Among them is this one: 'To look only at the things that are one's own.' "

It's a strange way to phrase it, not only because it is about seeing again, but because this is precisely the opposite of what Herodotus is doing and will continue to do for the rest of the book. He will be showing his audience cultures that are not their own, making everyone into a kind of Gyges.

Should we feel shame about this? I hope not!


message 16: by Thomas (new)

Thomas | 4409 comments Everyman wrote: "I have to wonder how the Greek audiences which heard the historia related (Herodotus almost certainly didn't just write down his work, but performed it as Homer (or whomever) had performed the Iliad and Odyssey) would have thought having their myths dismissed in this casual manner, and Herodotus totally rejecting their version of events in favor of that of the Persians. ."

I don't think he's rejecting the Greek tradition exactly, but he is definitely relating a different tradition. In translation it is easy to overlook when Herodotus is writing about what other people say or claim, but the grammar of reported speech is a constant reminder in the Greek. I think his Greek audience would have understood that he was not making a personal claim here, so that would have let him off the hook.


message 17: by Borum (new)

Borum | 480 comments Thomas wrote: "Kenneth wrote: "1. Candaules and Gyges - So, I don't get that. My wife is hot, so come check her out naked.... Was that a thing in this culture, letting other people see your wife? "

The Candaules..."


Ahh.. that's interesting. I must admit that I haven't thought about the Greek culture. (whereas I remember going to a nude beach in Greece as a little Asian girl and wondering what an odd place it was...)
Plato and Aristotle were big proponents of the virtue of 'seeing' as equivalent to 'knowing' the ideal Good. Whereas the Judaeo-Christian bible shows the shame and downfall of Adam and Eve after 'seeing' their nakedness, and Ham was cursed after seeing his father naked. I read in Plato's Symposium that the Persians condemned going to the gymnasia (i.e. playing sports in the nude) as they were tyrannical. Gyges' story may have had a role in denigrating the Eastern countries as being not just silly, but as oppressive despots as well.
Herodotus is more like an anthropologist than a historian in some way and it's interesting how he not only shows foreign history but also the different cultural beliefs and customs.
Despite the different point of view regarding taboos and modesty, the longing to see and know more is human nature in everyone, and if being a reader or a researcher is a form of voyeurism, I'm guilty as charged. :-)


message 18: by Rosemarie (new)

Rosemarie Borum, what a thoughtful comment. Herodotus really makes us think.


message 19: by Marieke (new)

Marieke | 95 comments Unfortunately I got fed up with other things, so I haven't completed book I yet. I do want to warn people though, to not too easily mix up the ancient myths as we know them now with how they were known in Herodotus' age.

As with all popular stories they got told very often and in different versions, where the storyteller has the right to alter the story to his likings. One could say that certain main principles must've been the same, but it is uncertain how much stays the same when a story gradually changes over centuries.

As it is unknown to us which version was told in the days of Herodotus (except perhaps for the Medeia, that was written by Euripides around 431b.c.) one should be quite carefull. A good example is the story of Io: most of us probably know the version of Ovidius, that tells her story in his Metamorfoses. This is written down around the time of August, so 4 or 5 centuries after Herodotus wrote his Histories.


message 20: by Kenneth (last edited Mar 03, 2016 06:54AM) (new)

Kenneth Griswold | 3 comments Thomas wrote: "It's a strange way to phrase it, not only because it is about seeing again, but because this is precisely the opposite of what Herodotus is doing and will continue to do for the rest of the book. He will be showing his audience cultures that are not their own, making everyone into a kind of Gyges."

An interesting thought. Perhaps Herodotus didn't feel like culture and "history" doesn't belong to a person or family, but to everyone? That would certainly be how we look at it in 2016... I've never really thought of that... what parts of their ethnic culture would these different groups about which we are reading be okay sharing with the rest of the world, and what parts would they rather Herodotus have not shared? Would the abduction stories be badges of honor or sources of shame for those groups who did them... would they boast about them, or would they have edited them out of Herodotus if they could have? Or would they have shown indifference...?


message 21: by Rosemarie (new)

Rosemarie Years ago I read the Greek Myths by Robert Graves. I remember practically every myth having Variant 1, variant 2, etc.


message 22: by Kyle (new)

Kyle | 192 comments Kenneth wrote: "I haven't finished Book I yet, and this is my first time reading, so I'm probably going to be focusing on individual stories rather than the "big picture" (but thanks for that intro, Thomas!) So fa..."

The Dolphin has a lot of symbolism in Greek mythology - for one thing, the word in Greek is phonetically similar to the one of the words for Apollo (think Delphi). Stories about sailors being helped by dolphins are also fairly common, and the animal shows up on coins from several different cities.

This book Introducing the Ancient Greeks: From Bronze Age Seafarers to Navigators of the Western Mind has a fairly large section on it. It's a pretty dry read, but solid for perspective on that part of the ancient world.


message 23: by Rosemarie (new)

Rosemarie Croesus asks Solon whom he considers most happy and Croesus is not even on the list.
One cannot tell if a man has been happy until he has ended his lfe well. How would the people of today respond to Solon's answer, since the pursuit of happiness pervades society? Solon also distinguishes fortunate(lucky) from happy.
In this group you have read many classic works. Are there any other writers who have discussed this concept?


message 24: by Borum (new)

Borum | 480 comments Rosemarie wrote: "Croesus asks Solon whom he considers most happy and Croesus is not even on the list.
One cannot tell if a man has been happy until he has ended his lfe well. How would the people of today respond ..."


Aristotle did, in fact. In Book 1 of the Nichomachean Ethics, he discusses Solon's comment on how we can't be certain if one is truly blessed until his life ends.


message 25: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Thomas wrote: "It's a strange way to phrase it, not only because it is about seeing again, but because this is precisely the opposite of what Herodotus is doing and will continue to do for the rest of the book. He will be showing his audience cultures that are not their own, making everyone into a kind of Gyges. "

I love that comment. Are we in a way voyeurs ourselves?

But of course, since everybody we're reading about is long dead, it won't do them any harm!


message 26: by Rosemarie (new)

Rosemarie Thanks Borum, I'll read it when I'm caught up with Herodotus.


message 27: by Genni (new)

Genni | 837 comments Thomas wrote: ".So why does he tell this story of wife abduction, just to dismiss it? He begins almost immediately with a digression, or what he calls a "logos," a story or account. This seems to be his way of presenting the "inquiry," by folding digression into digression."

This is my first time reading Herodotus and I tried to read straight through without getting too overwhelmed by all of the places and names. These digressions make me wonder how he is going to pull everything together in the end. If he manages to tie everything together with some sense of unity after nine books of digressions it will be amazing. Since this is so highly rated, I'm guessing he does?


message 28: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Thomas wrote: "I don't think he's rejecting the Greek tradition exactly, but he is definitely relating a different tradition. "

You asked at one point why he tells this story of wife abduction only to dismiss it. I don't know, of course, but two possible ideas occur to me.

One is, since these abductions are strongly bound up in Greek religion/mythology, might be to announce (implicitly, not explicitly) I know that you all know the religious/mythical basis of these stories (or whatever word he would have used), but I'm here to tell you up front that in this work I intend to deal only with events in their purely human context divorced from any religious context. Obviously he knows the myths; his starting the book with a direct and almost brusque treatment of them absent any religious context may have been making the point that this is going to be a different sort of approach to describing the past.

After all, Homer was the major chronicler of past history, and his work is full of gods and divine intervention. Perhaps Herodotus, who was also almost certainly (Vandiver says) performing his work, not expecting people to read it, was saying up front "okay, folks, I'm not Homer. This is going to be something totally different."

There's another possibility, too. Since he makes clear that this is the story according to the Persians, he seems to be doing two things. One, saying that there is the Greek way of looking at things, and there is the Persian way of looking at things, and I'm going to start right out making clear that I'm going to give you both.


message 29: by Genni (new)

Genni | 837 comments Borum wrote: "It reminds of the romanticism movement that took place among the background of social turmoil and emerged as a counterpart to the enlightenment movement. Myth, legend, drama, romance and storytelling seem to have continually competed with factual reporting/investigating and realism throughout history. I think I was impressed by this daring mythbreaker introduction who first (at least to my knowledge) tried to make a jab at the prevailing logos. Thucydides was even more brutally realistic than Herodotus and he has lived through the Peloponnesian War. Could the Persian War or some other social turmoil or radical change have been the source of Herodotus' innovative move?"

I have not gotten into it enough to know whether or not his realism was in response to social turmoil or not, but I love the question. I like the analogy between H and the period of Enlightenment/Romantic movements. For every Movement there is an equal and opposite "other" Movement? :-)


message 30: by Genni (last edited Mar 03, 2016 06:44PM) (new)

Genni | 837 comments Patrice wrote: "The misinterpretation of prophesy, again and again, is such an interesting theme. It's really not the prophecy that counts but the way it is interpreted.

I once went to a lecture on this topic giv..."


I made a note about this also, Patrice. So interesting. It seems when they misinterpret, it isn't their fault, but the fault of the gods for being "deceptive". It made me wonder why they put so much trust in the oracles??


message 31: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Borum wrote: "Herodotus is more like an anthropologist than a historian in some way and it's interesting how he not only shows foreign history but also the different cultural beliefs and customs."

Very much so. Anthropologist, geologist, ethnologist, naturalist, he covers all the disciplines in a way that modern scholars, who tend to be much more fragmented in their disciplines, don't. Which is one of the things that makes him so interesting to read.


message 32: by Genni (last edited Mar 03, 2016 06:54PM) (new)

Genni | 837 comments Rosemarie, you remind me of a question I had while reading about Solon and Croesus. In my introduction, it says that a meeting between the two of them is chronologically improbable. But a quick google search (the most reliable source of information) shows that their timelines overlap?? Does anyone know details of why historians think H moves into the realm of historical fiction with this encounter?


message 33: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Genni wrote: "I made a note about this also, Patrice. So interesting. It seems when they misinterpret, it isn't their fault, but the fault of the gods for being "deceptive". It made me wonder why they put so much trust in the oracles?? "

Perhaps because when you have all the facts and actually interpret the oracles correctly, it turns out they're usually (always?) right. Oedipus DID kill his father and marry his mother, even though he did everything he could based on what he knew to avoid that. He just didn't have the correct knowledge. Croesus did indeed destroy a great empire; he just guessed wrong about which one. And so on.

You just have to be really careful with oracles and not make any assumptions, because they're likely to be wrong. But that's your fault, not the gods.

It's sort of like that modern saying "be careful what you wish for, your wish may come true."


message 34: by Genni (new)

Genni | 837 comments Everyman wrote: "You just have to be really careful with oracles and not make any assumptions, because they're likely to be wrong. But that's your fault, not the gods.."

So really, after receiving an oracle, they should then turn around and have the oracle deciphered by an interpreter!

Still, it is interesting to me that Herodotus specifically calls the oracles deceptive (p. 28 in my edition).To me, I would think the Greeks would think that blasphemous?


message 35: by Genni (new)

Genni | 837 comments I am thinking of adopting the Persian way of decision-making. :p

"Moreover, it is their custom to deliberate about the gravest matters when they are drunk; and what they approve in their deliberations is proposed to them the next day, when they are sober, by the master of the house where they deliberate; and if, being sober, they still approve it, they act on it, but if not, they drop it. And if they have deliberated about a matter when sober, they decide upon it when they are drunk."

I love his sections on foreign customs.


message 36: by Jinn (new)

Jinn | 4 comments I like the way the author try to understand the other people's point of view. At several episodes, he describes opposing people with same objective voice, thus making readers to see them objectively, and at the same time, to understand them. Because of this, I can feel how sincere he is about his inquiry. As a very early works of 'recording of events', he seems to set criteria of how to present history: Impartiality without indifference.


message 37: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Ji wrote: "As a very early works of 'recording of events', he seems to set criteria of how to present history: Impartiality without indifference. .."

Marvelous phrase. And very accurate.


message 38: by Genni (new)

Genni | 837 comments Ok. The Persian perception of lying is odd to me.

"Whatever they are not allowed to do, they are also not allowed to talk about. They consider lying to be the most disgraceful of all things."

If they aren't allowed to lie, but also aren't allowed to talk about lying, how do they teach about lying? Or maybe he means literal "talk" as opposed to other forms of communication?


message 39: by Thomas (new)

Thomas | 4409 comments Kyle wrote: "The Dolphin has a lot of symbolism in Greek mythology - for one thing, the word in Greek is phonetically similar to the one of the words for Apollo (think Delphi). Stories about sailors being helped by dolphins are also fairly common, and the animal shows up on coins from several different cities. "

I think the story of Arion and the dolphin is one of the strangest stories in Book 1 because it just doesn't seem to fit. It's just inserted into the story of Alyattes's attempt to conquer Milesia and his death. Assuming it's here for a reason, it must mean something. But what?

The placement of the story does seem to indicate that it has something to do with Delphi. Right before it we hear about how Alyattes burned down the temple of Athena, resulting in his sickness and the oracle's refusal to tell him what was causing it; right after the story we hear about Alyattes's gift to Delphi after he recovered from the sickness that was cured by rebuilding the temple.

In addition to the placement of the story there are two puns in the Greek -- if pun is the right word -- that might be significant. One is on Delphi and dolphin (delphis) and another on the Greek word for law or custom (nomos) which on rare occasions can also mean "song.". We know how interested Herodotus is in customs, but when Arion sings his song it is called a "nomos orthios," the only time Herodotus uses the word nomos in this way. A note in the Landmark Herodotus says that the "Orthian song was often sung in honor of Apollo," who of course is the god of Delphi.

Arion trusts the Corinthians above all other people because he has lived with them and knows their customs, their nomos, but they dishonor those customs when they rob and attempt to kill him. The situation is rectified when Arion sings the other "nomos" and he is saved by the delphis.

A very curious story.


message 40: by Thomas (new)

Thomas | 4409 comments Genni wrote: "I am thinking of adopting the Persian way of decision-making. :p

"Moreover, it is their custom to deliberate about the gravest matters when they are drunk; and what they approve in their deliberat..."


I don't think Herodotus ever met a paradox he didn't like. It's what makes him so much fun to read, though it does make him difficult to decipher at times.


message 41: by Thomas (new)

Thomas | 4409 comments Everyman wrote: "
Since he makes clear that this is the story according to the Persians, he seems to be doing two things. One, saying that there is the Greek way of looking at things, and there is the Persian way of looking at things, and I'm going to start right out making clear that I'm going to give you both.'


I think that's it. I'm also wondering if these different ways of looking at the world might be the cause of the war... but that's a long way off yet.


message 42: by Thomas (last edited Mar 03, 2016 08:56PM) (new)

Thomas | 4409 comments Genni wrote: "Rosemarie, you remind me of a question I had while reading about Solon and Croesus. In my introduction, it says that a meeting between the two of them is chronologically improbable. But a quick goo..."

I think the problem is that Croesus didn't become king until after Solon was dead. Which raises the question... Why did Herodotus make this up? Or was he just passing along a story he had heard?


message 43: by Genni (new)

Genni | 837 comments Thomas wrote: "Genni wrote: "Rosemarie, you remind me of a question I had while reading about Solon and Croesus. In my introduction, it says that a meeting between the two of them is chronologically improbable. B..."

Or maybe it happened, but before Croeses was king?

Or maybe he inserted in to make a point. He is not as objective as he would like to think, and would push the idea that the unexamined life is not worth living. He thinks the Greeks superior in thought.


message 44: by Ashley (new)

Ashley Adams | 327 comments Thomas wrote: So why does he tell this story of wife abduction, just to dismiss it? He begins almost immediately with a digression, or what he calls a "logos," a story or account....As we read, one of the things we can ask is if the "logoi" have meaning on their own, if they are accurate, and perhaps if it matters how accurate they are.

Around the first abduction story Herodotus makes great use of phrases like “Although the Greeks do not agree… this is what the Persians say.” It seems like he included this story to demonstrate how history changes with the perspective of the teller. As he rounds up this vignette, he says (Blanco translation) “I am not going to say that these events happened one way or the other…” Herodotus demonstrates that he is searching for factual middle ground, presenting information gathered even from differing subjective sources, but ultimately striving for fact.


message 45: by Ashley (new)

Ashley Adams | 327 comments Kenneth wrote: Candaules and Gyges - So, I don't get that. My wife is hot, so come check her out naked.... Was that a thing in this culture, letting other people see your wife?

I don’t think this was an acceptable thing. In seeing her nakedness Gyges “violated our customs” (Blanco translation), which is why he is forced to choose a punishment. The violation of customs seems more important than the violation of the woman.


message 46: by Ashley (new)

Ashley Adams | 327 comments Genni wrote: I am thinking of adopting the Persian way of decision-making. :p

I'm with you, Genni!


message 47: by Ashley (new)

Ashley Adams | 327 comments The Harpagus/Cyrus story is wonderful! I confess, I wasn't excited about reading history, but Harpagus is definitely the stuff from which good stories are born- betrayal, destiny, murder, and cannibalism!


message 48: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Genni wrote: "Or maybe he inserted in to make a point. ."

I think clearly he inserted it to make a point. But whether he made it up isn't clear to me. It's not impossible that Solon had this conversation with some other king and over the years as it was passed down orally it got merged into Croesus, perhaps because he was the most prominent and arrogant king of the past few centuries. Or Herodotus may have heard the story about some other king but put Croesus in there for the same basic reason.

Keeping in mind that a) all this is based on oral history he's hearing, and b) Croesus and Solon lived about 200+ years before Herodotus was writing, so it would be like stories coming down orally from the Revolutionary War era with no written records at all but just the way things were passed down. It's not at all impossible that some stories could be told about Washington or Jefferson that actually happened, but happened to different people, but were told about Washington or Jefferson to give them more importance.


message 49: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Ashley wrote: " In seeing her nakedness Gyges “violated our customs” (Blanco translation), which is why he is forced to choose a punishment. The violation of customs seems more important than the violation of the woman. ."

But the real violation of custom then would have been on the part of Candaules, since Gyges could (and did) protest the order, but in the end had to agree.

And Candaules's wife seems more upset with her husband's behavior than with Gyges's. That's why she offers him the opportunity to kill her husband. If she were really upset about being seen naked, if that were the issue for her, she would just have Gyges killed even if he were just following orders. But it seems to me that her real issue was with her husband arranging for her to be seen naked more than actually being seen naked (which of course her husband was seeing at the time too).


message 50: by Rosemarie (new)

Rosemarie Candaules wife was being treated as a possession he wanted to show off, not as a person. No wonder she was angry at him.
Or perhaps(I may or may not be making a silly remark) Gyges was more attractive than her husband.


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