Saturday, August 18, 2007


I started on Herodotus last night. So far I’m up to 1:58 or 59. Herodotus starts out with a story that involves several rapes, or seductions, including that of Helen. In the Western world these rapes constitute a casus belli, and the powers go to war over the women. The Persians are dismissive of this, and seem to take the attitude that one wench is as good as another.

Now I don’t know if any ancient society actually went to war over a woman, or whether they went to war over trade routes and such like things. It does seem though that if the woman was of a sufficiently high social/political status that her rape and kidnapping might be a sufficient cause politically to engender a war. This would seem to indicate a high value placed on women. Now whether it was because of her position as a child-bearer, or an object of lust, or a symbol of power, I won’t speculate at this point. It should be sufficient to point out that the West then valued women, and that it still does, while the East has a record of denigrating them.

Herodotus then continues with an account of Croesus. Here he waxes philosophical, and contrasts the artificial happiness of Croesus with the real happiness of Tellus, Kleobis, and Biton. Croesus, in the expected way in in which he is ultimately called to surrender his life bears a strong resemblance to the gospel character who decides to eat, drink, and be merry. Ultimately both have to render up their lives. In Herodotus though the things that bring happiness are dying for one’s country, or dying for a relative. That sounds like Herodotus is saying that an early death is the greatest good, but I think what he’s saying is that duty is one of the highest goods, and that dying in the exercise of that duty leads one to happiness.