Herodotus Essay, Research Paper
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 to show how a government controlled by one man is more susceptible to making bad decisions. Artabanus is advising Xerxes not to wage war on Greece by telling him of the past mistakes of former kings. He tells Xerxes “I told your father, my brother Darius, not to wage war against the Scythian” and “He made his campaign and returned, having lost many good men from his army (Artabanus 7.10).” He also tells Xerxes of other past failed conquests; Cyrus’ expedition against the Massagentae and Cambyses’ attack on the long lived Ethiopians. Herodotus also says through Artabanus that “It is a terrible thing, even to hear, that all the power if the King should lie at the disposal of one man (Artabanus 7.10).” Some may say that all kings have advisors that help him make correct decisions but as Herodotus demonstrates the king does not always listen to his advisors sound advice as in the case of Xerxes and Artabanus.
In a Tyrannical form of government the people within the government are not content serving under a one man rule, according to Herodotus. In book seven Xerxes asks Demaratus to tell him how Greece will fair under when invaded by Persia’s massive army. Demaratus tells the king that he will speak the truth about the Spartans because it was requested of him and he says “in no way will they accept our proposal bearing slavery to Greece, and the second is that they will challenge you to battle, even though all the other Greek were on your side (Demaratus 7.102).” Xerxes can not believe that the Spartans would fight against such odds but Demaratus explains that they fight for a greater cause then the Persians. He tells Xerxes “They have as the despot over them Law, and the fear him more then your men fear you (Demaratus 7.104).” Herodotus is demonstrating that individuals under the rule of democracy are more content then individuals under Tyranny because they fight more valiantly for their government.
Herodotus uses the introduction of characters to diverge from the central idea of his theme and he uses this technique to demonstrate his views on moral and political topics. These controversial topics come up while he is unfolding his History and he uses these characters to express his own opinion on these subjects. An example of Herodotus’ confronts moral subjects during his narration when he talks about death, yielding to ones pride, and honorable fighting. He also uses these characters to show that Tyranny is not a good form of government.
Herodotus Translated by David Green