Herodotus

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Herodotus





As Herodotus develops his History he diverges from the main aspect of his narrative many
times throughout the text. Many wonder why Herodotus diverges from the main point by
introducing minor characters who do not seem relevant to the central theme. Some consider
this method of narrative confusing and pointless but I believe that Herodotus has a
purpose for including these minor figures and that these characters help express Herodotus
ideology towards proper moral and political systems. These minor figures are developed
and manipulated by Herodotus in order to express his ideas and he is able to accomplish
this because these characters are flexible in the sense that the readers (and listeners)
do not have a predisposition when introduced to these characters. By closely analyzing
the minor characters throughout book seven we realize Herodotus’ purpose behind the
inclusion of these characters is to demonstrate his beliefs on the proper morals people
should exhibit and to show how Tyranny is a poor form of government.

As the History unfolds Herodotus diverges from the central idea by introducing characters
which do not seem to correspond with that central theme. These diverges serve instruct
the reader as to Herodotus’ view on moral issues. Herodotus expresses his view on
the way death should be perceived by society through the words of Artabanus. Xerxes
represents the common perception of death when he is admiring the vastness of his army and
begins to weep because he realizes that they will all be gone in short span of time.
Artabanus tells Xerxes “Life is gives us greater occasion for pity that this. Short
as his life is, no man is happy…but many times, to wish himself dead rather alive
(Artabanus 7.46).” Herodotus is explaining through these words that death should
not be seen in a negative view because life brings man so much troubles and anguish that
he desires for death to come upon him. Artabanus tells us of these troubles when he says
“For there are calamities that meet him and diseases that derange him, so that they
make this life…seem long (Artabanus 7.46).” Even though people may agree with
Xerxes actions that death should be pitied but Herodotus does show that life brings
tragedy to man and that death may act as an escape from these tragedies.

We are able to see the way proper behavior should be displayed when one has been
dishonored according to Herodotus. In book seven Gelon, despot of Syracuse, is requested
for assistants to battle Persia by Athens. Gelon is furious with this request because
Athens dishonored him by refusing to help in the past. Gelon strongly tells Athens
“When I begged you to bear a hand with me in the fight against a barbarian
enemy…when I kept urging you to avenge the murder of Dorieus…you did not come
help, either for my sake or to avenge the murder of Dorieus (Gelon 7.158).” Many
people would not question Gelon for not helping the Athenians against the Persian invasion
since they have been dishonored and now are a providence of Persia but he does offer the
Athenians help. Herodotus uses Gelon to show how one should turn the other cheek when
Gelon says “But though I have met dishonor from you, I will not be like you (Gelon
7.158)” and he offers ships and soldiers to the Athenians.

Herodotus shows that one should fight in battle under any circumstance in different
instances throughout book seven. As Xerxes marches towards Greece he and his army are
provided food, shelter, and money by Pythius. All that Pythius asks for in return for his
“generosity” is that is eldest son does not go to war with Persia and stays to
care for him. Xerxes is enrages with this request because not fighting is not acceptable
by anyone not even to the king himself. Xerxes says “Vile creature, I am myself
marching to Greece, and with me are my children, my brothers, my household, and my friends
(Xerxes 7.39)” and he punishes Pythius for even considering his son not fighting by
murdering his eldest son. Another example of Herodotus’ view on fighting is when
the Spartans are entrapped by the Persians and desire to battle to the death. Leonidas
one of the kings of Sparta knew his fate was to die if he went to battle the Persians
because it was prophesied before the war began. His fate was to die but he still went to
fight the Persians at the battle of Thermopylae and “for himself he thought it would
be dishonorable to leave (Leonidas 7.220).”

Herodotus also uses these diverges to demonstrate that Tyranny is a poor form of
government. Herodotus shows that Tyranny is a form of government that contains faults
which are not beneficial to the people or the state as a whole. Herodotus uses Artabanus
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