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ANCIENT HISTORY > ARCHIVE - 6. HERODOTUS - THE HISTORIES~BOOK III/SECTIONS 78-160 (10/20/08 - 10/26/08) ~ No spoilers, please

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message 1: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (last edited Oct 06, 2008 09:17PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bentley | 44207 comments Mod
Hello Everyone,

For the week of October 20th through October 26th, we are reading approximately the next 50 pages of Herodotus - The Histories.

This thread will discuss the following book and sections:

(Book III - Sections 78 - 160)

We will open up a thread for each week's reading. Please make sure to post in the particular thread dedicated to those specific chapters and page numbers to avoid spoilers. We will also open up supplemental threads.


In the Penguin Edition, Book III, section 78 starts on page 205 and goes through section 160 which concludes on page 239.

This thread should only deal with these sections and with Book Three (although previous parts of Herodotus already discussed can be referenced). No spoilers, please.

Discussion on these sections will begin on October 20th.




message 2: by [deleted user] (new)

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His position reminded me a little of Hobbes. Even Plato preferred a monarchy. The real surprise was that there was even a discussion of other possible governments. I always think of the Persians as having nothing but autocratic, one man rule.

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I don't know why but I bought the arguments. They reminded me of the discussions in the Republic. I'm sure Plato got the idea from this. Especially, the idea that the man who does not want to be king is the one who should be king. It was an interesting agreement that they worked out with Otanes. He was a citizen on no place. Sort of like the UN. The Landmark's footnote says that Otane's argument is probably H POV. Also, there's the endless theme of female (mare) power over everything! LOL!

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Yes. Odysseus was a survivor and surviving is a good thing.

But I don't know that H is holding Darius up as a role model. These are Persians, after all. H was part of the Ionic rational movement. His voice was more like Otanes, I think. If anything he might be mocking the backward thinking of the Asians.

The thing is, I kind of admired their way of settling this thing. It was bloodless. It was more fair than I'd expect. It feels sort of modern, actually. Political sleight of hand. I don't like what's going on with Obama. Drudge calls it a "bloodless coup". That might be a bit much but when I think of the lies and manipulations going on today and how a modern, relatively educated electorate is being manipulated, well, what's so bad about the neigh of a horse?

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The Landmark H says that the best explanation for gold digging ants (good call Oldesq) are marmots. The sand in that area may have had particles of gold and the marmots dug it up.

What I'm trying to figure out is the winged serpents. He mentions them enough times that I think there must have been something that seemed like winged serpents. Bats? Did they find pteradactyl fossils? I just have a hunch that it's not pure fantasy.

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How about the Indian section? I think it's an amazing peek into that place and time. Cannibals and vegetarians. Not so different from modern times, although I'm not sure if there are still cannibals in say, New Guinea, anymore. When I was a child there were.

This exposure to such a broad range of societal norms had to make the Greeks wonder and question, what is the good life?

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I wonder where H got the idea that lions only have one cub and the cub shreds it's mother's uterus? The other ideas about herbivores having more offspring that predators was pretty good. Is it true that rabbits can have separate pregnancies going at the same time?

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Interesting. Everything he writes might not be literally true, but it seems there's always a logical explanation for his thinking.

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wow! Amazing!
I can't find my H at this moment but didn't he call them "winged serpents"? But this may be close enough. Good ole Google!!!

As for trickiness, I think you're right. The Greek ideal, it seems to me, is about "winning". In our society we have the same attitude but we also have the biblical ideal of social justice. There's a real conflict there, I think.

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Does anyone understand the logic here? The wife is asked by Darius which relative would she choose to spare from death and she answers here brother. Darius is surprised, why not your husband or your son? She explains that she can always get another son or husband but as her parents are dead she can never get another brother. Darius thinks this is a good answer and spares her brother and son.

This is the same explanation Antigone gives when given the same choice. There is a theory that H knew Sophocles. I wonder who thought of this first? When I read Antigone I thought that this was a bizarre answer but that it must stem from some cultural norm that I did not understand. But Darius is surprised by the answer. He thinks it's as odd as we do. Why not save the people you are closest to? He accepts and likes her explanation. What am I missing? Why does she (and Antigone) choose her brother, really? And why is this a good choice? Again, I feel that there must be a cultural connection that I don't understand. But then Darius doesn't understand either. Could it be that they are admiring the logic of the answer? The Greeks are so big on reason and logic, I wonder if choosing an unemotional but supremely logical answer is something they prize. Just a guess.

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Now I'm answering my own posts.

I looked this up in the Cambridge guide and there's an essay on it.
I realized that I've been reading H as though it were fiction. How else could I have wondered whether or not it was written before Antigone? Apparently this incident was supposed to have really happened. It gives a completely different and pathetic feel to Antigone's speech, knowing that she was quoting someone else, or a real event. I think there's a lot more pathos, now. It was a last ditch attempt to save her life by citing H in order to remind Creon of the seriousness of her obligation to her brother, but also, that Creon is acting like a brutal Persian king. It makes so much sense to read these works in chronological order!

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So good to have a lawyer to help understand these things! That makes so much sense! But then that would make her self-serving, wouldn't it? Hmmm, there goes the pathos.

Wait, wouldn't a son do just as well? Antigone didn't have a son or husband but Intaphrenes did. The Cambridge essay mentioned this difference.

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I think these brutal punishments(cutting off ears, capricious executions without trial) are dramatic demonstrations of how "barbaric" the Persians were. I think the Greeks did not behave this way. At least that's the impression I get. Cruel and unusual punishment was an "Asian" thing. I think H is trying to explain the difference in the two cultures, and of course, win us over to the Greek side.

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So, if I understand what you're saying, Intaphrenes was really just being practical? This was a financial decision? I don't remember who was richer, her family or her husband's, I'll have to check. But then what is the explanation for Antigone's quoting this? Every now and again something like this comes up and I wonder "who ARE these people???" LOL!

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Human nature hasn't changed as much as we might hope. I'm thinking of the advice to Darius to create a war somewhere so that his people will not plot a revolt. Wag the Dog?

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It's also a Greek manipulating a Persian, right? I unwittingly compared Otane to the UN and I have that same feeling with this passage. Otanes has integrity and stands for justice. It feels as though Darius needed a good person to send on this mission so he asked Otanes.

Were you surprised by the golden rule turning up here? And Democracy? Justice? Equality under the law? But the petty Persians turned them all down. Reminds me so much of Don Quixote. Not much changes. This is before Socrates, before so much that we consider our moral underpinnings. There was social justice in Judea and there was much trading. Maybe the ideas came from there. But just like today, the people have to want it and be willing to fight for it or tyranny rules. I just had no idea that these ideas were around in this time and place.

I thought the story of the red cloak was just a device to explain Darius' debt to Syloson.

Are you finding it difficult to follow all of the ins and outs and characters? I am!

message 17: by [deleted user] (new)

Well, I finished book 3. My head is spinning in horror. The cruelty and waste took my breath away. I can't help wondering how, when the idea of justice, and goodness and democracy and equality were not unknown, people chose to behave in this way. It is THE question, isn't it? Today and always. What might these people have been able to accomplish? And, of course, my mind turns to Akmadinijad, Osama Bin Laden, et al. Such opportunities in this world, such possibilities, and still, people choose destruction.

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I'm not sure what you mean. I'm with you, these people and their choices are horrifying. I think H did not have to comment, his description was enough. He's an artist as well as an historian.

I've been reading Marincola and the intro really expresses some things I've been feeling but have not put into words.

For instance, page 5
sine viewed H "almost in the position of a novelist, selecting and arranging material from the past that would produce3 a story that was by definition also an interpretation of that material".

"H text was seen to be the repository of ways of thinking, speaking, and writing that came out of a complex and intelocking set of traditional Greek cultural codes".

His description of bridge building was

"an acknowledgement of positive achievement, in the realm of human sophie."

So all of the horror, all of my emotional reactions, are being constructed by his narrative. He doesn't have to pass judgment. It's obvious. I think he's a master.

message 19: by [deleted user] (new)

BTW, I'd forgotten about Zoorastrianism, that's a good point.
But what I was really thinking of was Maeandrius who "was one who wished to be the justest of mankind". He says "what I find fault with in others I will not do myself". "I proclaim equality before the law for the commonality entire." He wanted a democracy, under law. But the people said he was "lowborn" and rejected him. These enlightened ideas were around. I know that they're in the Old Testament but they may have had other sources as well. I think the rejection of them makes the horror in Babylon even more powerful.

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I see what you're saying. I hadn't thought of that.

The thing is, this is the first time that I've felt this kind of horror. It's almost as though his not passing judgment, makes it less clinical. It kind of snuck up on me and kicked me in the stomach. I wonder, had he said, "this is a really horrible thing" or "look at how brutal these people are" it somehow would have lessened the impact and shock. I think when he "reports" and passes judgment, he places himself between the reader and the event, so I feel once removed. What he did here was remove himself and paint a picture and leave it's impact to the reader. That's just my guess, it might just be that this was truly the most horrible event so far. I've always heard that Babylonia was a terrible place. Now, for the first time, I feel it.

message 21: by Sarah (new)

Sarah | 67 comments #2 - I had a hard time with the marmot theory as well. I googles marmot and the animal looked like a giant squirrel to me (not an ant at all). Regardless of what type of animal it was, there was a description of the Indians fleeing from the ants on their camels. Does H ever specifically claim he went to India? I don't recall that he does, I think this one may be based on heresay.

#15, #16 & #17 - I haven't read Antigone in years, thanks for reminding me of the similarity. As far as the woman choosing her brother goes, I don't think its really that odd. Back then marriage was more of a contractual agreement and many women didn't really have a choice about who their husband would be. It is conceivable that a woman would feel closer to a brother she was raised with than a husband. She really can't get another brother, however she can likely re-marry. The fact that she wouldn't choose her child though seems more odd to me. Oldesq, your theory about inheritance laws make a lot of sense to me as well. The woman would have to really dislike her husband though if it came down to his life or money.

I agree with what you are both saying regarding the silence of H at some points in the narrative. Because of other sections when he mentions his disapproval or disbelief, we tend to assume that his silence is condoning an action. I don't think this is actually the case. I tend to think that he thinks the horror of the act speaks for itself.

What about the story of Zopyros mutilating himself? As far as you know is there any historical evidence of this actually happening. The Landmark edition doesn't say. It seems like he is taking the idea "above and beyond" to an all new level.


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That makes a lot of sense Sarah. It's like his description of hippopotomas as a horse. that's what the name means and he never saw one so he describes what he thinks a "river horse" might look like. He may have misunderstood the word for ant or something like that.

About Zopyros, I found it hard to imagine someone being able to do that to himself. But then there are many things in this book that I find hard to believe!

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