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Herodotus On Persia Notes

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Herodotus on Persia "Herodotus makes no distinction...between the behaviour of Greeks and barbarians; it is the human responses which interest him"

1) History of the depiction of the Persian??First "Eastern people" to be depicted are the Trojans in the Iliad: portrayed in a very similar way to the Greeks (same language, religion, honour code etc) Scattered mentions in poetry between Homer and the 5th century. Athens important dates: o 528 - Peisistratus dies, succeeded by Hippias and Hipparchus o 514 - Hipparchus killed o 510 - Hippias deposed. Dates of Athens in relation to Persia o Early 500s - Ionian Greeks subjected to Croesus of Lydia o 547 - Croesus defeated by Cyrus; Ionian Greek cities go to Persia o 499 - Ionian Greeks rebel and sack Sardis o 494 - Greeks defeated in a sea battle and Miletus sacked o 490 - Darius invades; battle of Marathon o 480 - Xerxes invades: battles of Salamis and Plataea o Persian wars continue o 472 - Aeschylus' Persae o 468 - Naxos tries to leave Delian league, and gets crushed by Athens - conversion of Delian league to Athenian empire Conclusions: o Eastern Greeks start becoming aware of Lydia/Persia in mid 6th century o Ionian Greek tyrants kept friendly with Persia - tyranny becomes associated with Persia (/Lydia) o Until 510, Athens is still under a tyranny so no contrast with Persia in that sphere o Persia only becomes a big threat to Athens in the early 5th century o Aescylus' Persae is the first (surviving) depiction of these post-Persian war Persians, and hence helped establish the stereotype that Herodotus was working with


2) Stereotype established in the Persae Herodotus not the first to depict the Persians, hence should look at how his predecessors depicted them and so how he differs. Idea of the barbarian created as a result of the Persian wars, where the Persians were defeated by a collection of Greek states. Idea is then sustained by first the Delian League, then the Athenian empire.

Aeschylus, writing only 8 years later, has quite a belittling picture of the Persians, main flaws: a) hierarchalism - chorus very aware of their rank, proskynesis, comparison of rulers to gods, no freedom of speech b) immoderate luxury -xrusos, abros, xlidi
c) unrestrained emotion - very very long lamentation at end, and done by men Also:
-cruelty - Xerxes threatens to behead his sea captains (371)
-distinction by method of warfare (bow vs spear)

3) Herodotus' take on the stereotype Herodotus writing in c. second half of 5th century, by which time the stereotype set up by Aeschylus has become common theme in tragedy. Herodotus much more of a cultural relativist: For if it were proposed to all nations to choose which seemed best of all customs, each, after examination, would place its own first; so well is each convinced that its own are by far the best. (3.38)

So he present some of the same stereotypes as Aeschylus, but does not do so in such a negative way: he is writing much longer after the Persian wars so less of a triumphant feeling. For Herodotus, Persians = Medes.

Customs o Describes Persian nomoi (1.131-40) o Persian religion: It is not their custom to make and set up statues and temples and altars... but they call the whole circuit of heaven Zeus, and to him they sacrifice on the highest peaks of the mountains; they sacrifice also to the sun and moon and earth and fire and water and winds.

o Methods of sacrifice o How they celebrate a birthday o Eating and drinking habits: 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


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