On Herodotus' Histories


  1. The India that the Classical Greeks were aware of did not extend much beyond present day Pakistan. Thar desert is probably what Herodotus refers to. As for the Gold and the ants, well . 'more tall tales from the impossible East.'

  2. From 7 in the Bibliography, Chapter 1.

  3. This included the Jewish god Yahweh, after Alexander's conquest and the Hellenisation of the near east.

  4. Which in turn followed what modern historians have dubbed 'the dark ages', but only due to our lack of details.

  5. From 2 in the Bibliography, The Beginnings.

  6. Democracy was not exactly what Solon had in mind. In a self-congratulatory couplet on his reform code, Solon writes:

    For I granted the people an adequate amount of power

    And sufficient prestige - not more nor less.

    But I found a way also to maintain the status

    Of the old wielders of power with their fantastic riches.

    I stood protecting rich and poor with my stout shield,

    And saw that neither side prevailed unjustly.

  7. Unfortunately, we have few sources from this period to shed light on the precise manner of the transformation. Athens acquired its democratic constitution in 507 BCE from the tyrant Cleisthenes. 

  8. For a sample see the Funeral Oration of Pericles in 2 in the Bibliography.

  9. This is why we know few ancient sculptors. The Greeks admired the quality of the finished work but didn't care much for the artist partly because his role was seen to be much different than in our own times.

  10. Much like those of the Chinese, the Indians, and the Arabs at different stages of their history.

  11. From 13, Introduction. 

  12. On this topic, Al Beruni (in Al Beruni's India, early eleventh century) reports that Pythagoras of Samos once said to a man who took great care to keep his body in a flourishing condition and to allow it everything it desired, "Thou art not lazy in building thy prison and making thy fetter as strong as possible."

  13. As recorded by Plato in Phaedo (The Death of Socrates).

  14. From the Encyclopedia Britannica, 1998. Socrates never committed his thoughts to writing. Our main sources on him are Plato and Xenophon.

  15. Logistically, the most ambitious Greek operation of the age, though misconceived and doomed from the start by Athenian bravado and jingoism. It led to a crushing defeat and a big blow to their national self-esteem. Nicias was butchered; his men were either starved to death or sold into slavery. It proved to be something like their Vietnam.

  16. That would be an innovation of the Italian Renaissance.

  17. See 3 in the Bibliography, the life of Pericles.

  18. From 13, Introduction. 

  19. The 'contributions' extracted from about 150 member-states equaled the total internal public revenue of Athens. Pericles later diverted them for the reconstruction of the Acropolis. 

  20. See 2 in Bibliography, Book I, for general background. Wasn't realized at the insistence of some leaders.

  21. The hoi oligoi or few, and the hoi polloi or many, otherwise, the rich and the poor.

  22. In Laws, written well after the Republic, even Plato betrays a measure of pessimism, renouncing his philosopher-king as an unrealistic ideal: philosophy was no longer to rule human affairs; the task of the legislator is to ordain 'what is good and expedient for the whole polis amid the corruption of human souls, opposing the mightiest lusts, and having no man his helper but himself standing alone and following reason only'. 

  23. Modern Corfu; the rebel Corinthian colony approached Athens for protection much as if Bolivar's nascent Gran Colombia had approached Britain for protection from Spain.

  24. Wealth via wars was frequently acquired but wars ostensibly had a national purpose. 

  25. The Athenian polis never recovered even when its high culture survived well into Roman times. Athens was to the Romans what Paris was to many Americans in the earlier part of the twentieth century - Roman nobles sent their offspring to Athens to acquire cultural polish for their aristocratic society. 

  26. Hellenic and Roman philosophers like the Stoics, Diogenes the Cynic, Pyrrho of Elis (extreme Skepticism), and others are remarkable in their proximity to the Hindu and Buddhist view of life. Zeno, Chrysippus, Seneca, Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius would've appreciated the Indian concept of maya (though perhaps not the circular view of time or transmigration) - they did see life as full of suffering and selfish desire as the root cause. Buddha's eight-fold path for the elimination of desire too would have struck a chord with Stoic teaching.

  27. Parallels are risky business but would a stoic worldview regain prominence in some distant future (prominent people articulating it with force and clarity)?(That may also lend credence to the Hindu worldview of circular time. J)One can argue that this is a characteristic of post-modernism but the latter has no quarrel with selfish gain and has little resembling stoicism. It does, however, pooh-pooh ideologies and the unbending faith in linear progress.

  28. The section on Persians derives from the Encyclopedia Britannica 1998 and two general histories.

  29. A History of the Arab Peoples by Albert Hourani, 1991, Warner Books. 

  30. In 586 BCE, Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon (the northern part of Mesopotamia, the other two being Sumer or Akkad in the south and Assyria in the middle) captured Jerusalem, destroyed the kingdom of Judah and the Jewish Temple, and according to the custom of the time sent the conquered peoples into captivity in Babylon. Some decades later, the Babylonians themselves were overthrown by Cyrus the Mede who authorized the return of the Jews to the land of Israel and rebuilt the Temple at state expense. In the Hebrew bible, Cyrus is accorded a degree of respect given to no other non-Jewish ruler and to few Jewish rulers. The last chapters of the book of Isaiah written after the captivity include these words: 'He [Cyrus] is my shepherd, and shall perform all my pleasure: even saying to Jerusalem, Thou shalt be built; and to the Temple, Thy foundation shall be laid' (Isaiah 44:28). (Source: The Middle East by Bernard Lewis, 1997, pp 27-28.)

  31. Here is a subject matter outline of Histories.

  32. The Malice of Herodotus by Plutarch

  33. Important differences remain with the modern Orientalists, who operated as an adjunct to imperialism, superior military power, and racism. Also, the Greeks had no notion of linear progress (or cumulative knowledge leading 'forward') and did not see the 'Orientals' lagging behind, or believed in anything like the 'white man's burden'. The common thread lies is the prejudice of cultural superiority and the kind of observations and judgments, often subconscious, prompted by it. 

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