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ANCIENT HISTORY > ARCHIVE - 7. HERODOTUS - THE HISTORIES~BOOK IV/SECTIONS 1-105 (10/27/08 - 11/02/08) ~ No spoilers, please

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message 1: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (last edited Oct 06, 2008 09:32PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bentley | 44207 comments Mod
Hello Everyone,

For the week of October 27th through November 2nd, we are reading approximately the next 50 pages of Herodotus - The Histories.

This thread will discuss the following book and sections:

(Book IV - Sections 1 - 105)

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 IV, section 1 starts on page 240 and goes through section 105 which concludes on page 275.

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

Discussion on these sections will begin on October 27th.




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I suppose Scythian women weren't as "virtuous" as Penelope but who can blame them? The slaves were all blind too. The Scythians do seem more barbaric than the Greeks.

I was listening to Eric Cline's tape on the Archaeology of the Iliad. He mentioned something interesting. He said that the site at Delphi had two rooms. The Pythia (the name comes from python, Apollo's snake) would chew on laurel leaves as they are slightly narcotic and inhale fumes that came from a fissure in the rock. The fissure is still there. The interesting part was that the adjacent room was where the priest would sit. People would come to ask the Pythia questions but the priest would hear it and feed her answers. The donations given to the oracle were really bribes to get the answer they wanted!

Also, the business in H about feathers falling from the sky. Really snow. I mentioned this to my husband and he said that made no sense as Mt. Olympus is topped with snow, so they should have known what snow was. Any other ideas?

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moths make more sense

yes, women/snakes what's the difference? LOL!

I'll check again about the horses.

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Just checked Wiki to see where Scythia is on a modern map. Southern Russia. It said the Scythians were a nomadic horse riding people, so you're right, horses were important to them.

I'm loving the description of these people, I think this kind of thing is the most fun. I have a friend who wanted to be a historian but couldn't handle all of the wars so she became an art historian instead. Now I get it!

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Coincidence, after posting that last message I turned on the tv and there was a show on Georgia and South Osetia. Very interesting, Scythia. The ethnicities are very complicated and I had the same feeling as when I was reading H, trying to figure out the cast of characters.

Am I right in understanding that H says that the Nile and the Phocis rivers are the boundaries of Europe? That was a surprise.

I love his geographical descriptions and his mistakes. It's a good reminder that we don't know everything we think we know.

I'm becoming more and more curious about what happened to these different tribes. Who did they become? How did they really live? I also have this feeling that the entire world is becoming more and more civilized and alike. Lions used to roam Greece and now they're only in Africa. Cannibalism, human sacrifice, incredible brutality, perhaps it's just a matter of time until the entire world gives these things up. Wishful thinking?

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Yet H thinks the Scythians are so bright to be nomadic. That was another surprise to me. I think of nomads as more primitive but he sees them as ingenius. In Landmark there's a picture of their carts, which do seem pretty advanced.

That's a good point, about intermarriage leading to a new ethnicity.

message 7: by Virginia (new) - added it

Virginia (va-BBoomer) | 210 comments Message 3 & 4

It was probably the feathers were falling 'like snow' that created such a description. As the Scythians' country was in the area of Southern Russia, as noted, they indeed knew what snow was. But I'm not disallowing moth infestation either. Haven't plagues of locusts been happening off and on from way back?

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Virginia (va-BBoomer) | 210 comments Message 2:

Penelope has been a conflict for me since high school freshman year, when we read The Odyssey. Our teacher then made a big deal out of how faithful Penelope was to Odysseus, and that she refused all suitors, etc. In my opinion, many years and maturity later, she was the abnormal one: if all the women had waited 28 years for their men to return without either taking lovers or remarrying, the population would have been very sparse. Penelope waited 20 years; maybe that's why they didn't have many children: I only remembered Telemachus from The Odyssey.

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After reading on a bit (31) H explains "Anyone who has seen heavy snow falling from near at hand knows what I mean about my judgment of the "feathers." For the snow IS like feathers; and it is because of the winter, which is such as this, that the northern parts of this continent are uninhabited. I think that the Scythians and their neighbors speak of the snow as feathers in a kind of image. "

It was a little confusing. But I do love the image of snow as feathers.

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I found it difficult to understand why she was stringing (literally?) them along if she was so faithful. I think it's hard to understand all of the cultural norms. I think she was the equivalent of Odysseus, cagey, cunning, trying her best to survive in a crazy world. But, oh!, when Odysseus comes home and they go to that bed, planted in the earth! I always think of that line Odysseus says about how being of one mind and one heart with the woman you love is heaven. It's an ideal, why ruin it by looking for something real? LOL!

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Definitely! Imagine how resourceful these barbarians can be! They're not so dumb afterall! I think I picked up the message as it was sent.

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When we discussed Penelope in class I asked the same question, why didn't she just tell them to get out of her house? The prof seemed to feel that as a woman she did not have that kind of authority. She was biding her time until Telemachus was old enough to do it for her. I could see a bit of that when Mentes(Athena) came and told Telemachus to take charge. He then told his mother "Go up to your room!" And she did!!!!

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Did you think it sounded as though there were a lot of Hermaphrodites in Scythia? To me it sounded as though there were bunch! What's up with that?


The Scythians are disgusting animals. Anyone who is a cultural relativist should read H. It just astounds me how many ways there are for people to do loathesome things.


A footnote in Landmark states that there is a l4th century report of Mongol chiefs who impaled horses and servants with kings, so apparently the Steppe culture survived for a long time.
I wonder what became of the Scythians? Were they the Mongols?
Tartars? Hey! I'll google it!

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Well, I think I have the cultural relativity issue backwards. I was listening to a new course on tape and it reminded me that the people who eat their parents dead bodies were an illustration that culture determines all. H says that it's madness to judge another society's customs. I'd forgotten that this was pre-Socrates, when relativism was the vogue.

You know, I love Plato. I have that Mother Theresa quote up on my refrigerator and I look at it each day as a reminder of the ideal, the form of the good. It's probably not possible to achieve it but it's something to shoot for. I find it hard to believe that H was truly able to accept all of the different ways of life he describes.

BTW, it was also mentioned that the discussion of the best government, where Otanes supports democracy, was impossible. It was before Athens was democratic and so H placed that discussion there for his own purpose. My take was that he wanted to dramatize the tragedy of the choice the Persians made. It increased the saddness when they conquered Babylon. But I guess we can only speculate on these things.

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Sorry for not being clear, I'll try to explain where I'm coming from
I'm very immersed in all of this.

Two and a half years ago, when i started the program I'm in, I discovered Socrates/Plato. I haven't seen things the same way since. What I was taught was that before Socrates, in Greece, the Sophists were the dominant force in intellectual thought. Protagoras said "man is the measure of all things" meaning, basically, different strokes for different folks. I think that's what H might be saying when he says that custom is everything and we can't judge another person's belief systems. I think this is the modern view, as well. Then Socrates came along (469-399 BC) and punched holes in that argument and changed everything. He said that there was a universal good and a universal truth. Things were not relative. It is not OK to steal or kill because you come from a culture that says it's ok. There is something called "justice" and it's our job, as human beings, to question and search for it. And then live by it.

On the other side, in Israel, the bible was written or received. The ten commandments were not relative. At the Oriental Institue my prof said that they "invented" the concept of social justice. She said that it had not existed in the near east. The Mesopotamians, Assyrians, etc. did not have the concept (as she explained it) of equality or concern for the weak. Power was pretty much absolute and in the hands of the kings and priests. The Greeks, did not worry about their slaves, the weak, etc. either. At least this is what I've been taught. If you think about it, it makes some sense to believe that "might makes right". Mother Theresa's words are not obviously practical on the surface. Plato wrote the Republic to defend the concept of "justice" as an advantageous and practical way of life. Cheating on your income tax, or your wife, or in any other way can give short-term benefits. It takes some deep thought to realize how it's better to be honest and good. To be good is often not practical.

I just saw an Oprah that reduced me to tears. A couple had a baby with trisomy 3, a fatal genetic abnormality. The Drs. said that it would not survive birth. They decided to film the baby, who was on a feedng tube and breathing tube. Every day of the baby's life, they treated him like a gift. They loved and cared for him and took joy in his life. He defied the Drs. and lived for 99 days. Now this baby, and this couple, has been on Oprah and has been seen around the world. Practically, it would have made sense to abort him. Or let him die at birth. But they did the impractical. And their strength and the beauty of their love is an example of the ideal for everyone. Their efforts were not futile.
Then there are the Eskimos who send their old out to die on an ice floe. I just can't see these two "norms" as equally good.

So these two great moral systems came together in our culture.
In reading H, what strikes me, is the many, many other ways to live. We take our values pretty much for granted. Even if we don't live up to them. We know that we're doing wrong when we don't. But something like child sacrifice was the norm in many cultures and considered a "good". Was it the Aztecs who cut the beating heart out of people to please the gods?

I think there is a mother/father instinct to protect your children. And of course love exists. But culture can supercede instinct. For instance, when I gave my newborn son over to be circumsized, every bit of me wanted to run with him. But I acted in accordance with the cultural norm. So, was it "right" or was it "wrong"? That's the problem.

Protagoras would say that if I say it's "right" it is. Socrates, I think, would say that there is a more logical way to determine what is virtuous. He believes in a more absolute norm, something that pertains to everyone. At least that's the way I understand it.

I know I'm rambling but it's not easy to pull it all together. I don't think that all societies have a mechanism to protect the weak. I don't think that what we call "social justice" was a consideration of the Taliban, for instance. When women in Saudi Arabia are killed for being in public without a male relative, whre is the social justice? And of course, every day, in our own society, people act in self-interest and ignore or even hurt the weak.

I heard a lecture once where Socrates was described as the difference between East and West. Questioning authority, rather than following it led to everything that came after.

So, please excuse the rambling and confusions. I hope you can sift the wheat from the chaff here! This is why I'm soooo tired all of the time!!!!! LOL!

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Well, I prefer your outlook!

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It's a whole lot easier to put either note on the refrigerator than to live it!

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Another coincidence, the re-discovery of scientific fact. It boggles the mind, doesn't it? We're reading Lucretius, On the Nature of Things. In it, in the year 50 BC he describes atomic theory. When reading it I kept thinking "how did he know that?" It was pure speculation. Then it occurred to me that the people at the time had lots of theories, that the world was made of water, etc. So, perhaps we're reading Lucretius because he happened to have hit on the right theory. I asked about this in class, if the Romans, when they read Lucretius, said "Eureka! The world is made of atoms! Why hadn't we thought of that before?" The prof said that Lucretius convinced almost no one at the time. It's only after years of evidence that we've taken him up again.

Yes, the Scythians seem to be very brutal people. I find it difficult at times, to read some of these practices. It also makes me intensely grateful that I was born where and when I was. Of course, all of us had ancestors who lived at this time... hard to imagine sometimes.

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Oldesq! I almost fell off of my chair laughing! I can't tell you how many times I've said that this is the best of all possible worlds, just because of NOVOCAINE! I had 4 root canals last year. I have NO desire to live in any other time, just for the NOVOCAINE!

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So true! As it is my kids have great teeth because they had flouridated water. They don't even know what a toothache is, And I think I did hear something about drilling with sound waves or something. No one can predict the future, I'm just glad I wasn't born in the past!

Hey, is this Herodotean hubris? This is the best place at the best time?

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Just discovered that Turkey has 50 ethnic groups! The story of the Amazons seems to be an explanation of the birth of a new ethnic group. Their area would be Georgia, I believe, still an area of ethnic conflict.

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My husband and I have had a running debate about the pronunciation of Scythian. I had always thought it was pronouced Sithian but when I heard Vandiver say Skithian I started saying it too! My husband keeps correcting me and I keep telling him that if it's good enough for Vandiver it's good enough for me. Well, he just called me on the way to work and told me that he's listening to one of my tapes, I think it must be Eric Cline's and HE pronounces it Sithian!!! So I finally looked it up and lo and behold, it is supposed to be Sithian. Does anyone have any idea why Vandiver pronounces it Skithian????

message 23: by Prunesquallor (last edited Nov 04, 2008 06:56AM) (new)

Prunesquallor | 37 comments RE Vanessa's "Does anyone have any idea why Vandiver pronounces it Skithian????"

In both ancient greek and latin the letter "c" is always presumed to have been pronounced as a "k," never as an "s." In fact, in greek, there is no letter "c," (found in latin) and in greek the kappa (K) is most often used wherever a Latin or english "c" appears. Greek texts are/ were generally translated into latin before modern scholars got a hold of them, so the original greek "k" was already altered to latin "c" before translations into english began. Then, the english speakers often turned the "k" sound of both greek and latin into an english "s."

Cicero is NOT "properly" Sisero, but Kick-er-o; Celtic is NOT Seltic but Keltic; Julius Caesar is Iulus Kaisar, etc... But, unless you've had a class in Greek or Latin, english speakers tend to follow the English language pattern where "c" more often is sounded as an "s" rather than a "k."

Some english language dictionaries have bowed to public pressure and give us only an anglicized pronunciation guide -- but take a course in Greek, and you'll probably be "corrected" each time you say "Sithian," or See-sar, or Sisero...

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Thanks SO much Prunesquallor for that explanation! I just knew that Vandiver must have had a good reason for pronouncing the C.

BTW, I don't know if you noticed but I posted some really excellent books on the East-West connection and I've been thinking of you as I read them. They validate all of our hunches, which is always pleasant. LOL!

Babylon, Memphis and Persepolis and the Orientalizing Revolution, both by Burkett are the two I'm reading, when I get a chance. Both are very good.

message 25: by Prunesquallor (new)

Prunesquallor | 37 comments Oldesq, hmm, never heard latin "c" equals anything in greek save "kappa," but if you run across a "psi" word in the latin script?

"kappa, k: like English 'k' (but completely unaspirated; a voiceless velar explosive." (Introduction to Attic Greek, D.J. Mastronarde, p.11)

I suppose, since we have no voice recordings, we'll never really be certain of ancient pronunciations...

I'll check out the books, Vanessa, THANKS!

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I am SOOO jealous of both of you, knowing Latin and/or Greek! Fabulous!

message 27: by Prunesquallor (new)

Prunesquallor | 37 comments Here's another plaint (humourously delivered) on pronunciation, especially detailing the Sithian vrs Skythian controversy:

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