Saturday, September 15, 2007


I’ve started on Book VII, which is the beginning of the end of the Persian wars. Book VII has the story of Thermopylae, while Book VI includes the story of the battle of Marathon.

The translation that I’m reading (Rawlinson’s from about 1860) is slow moving, and has some idiosyncrasies that I don’t care for. First, the use of Latin names (Jupiter) for Greek gods (Zeus). Second, the use of English measures (furlongs) for Greek ones (stadia). There are other issues as well, but those are two major dislikes.

The portrait that Herodotus draws of the Persian rulers, notably Cambyses and Darius, is not flattering. Cambyses seems to have been a nutcase, and Darius, when aggravated, is not much better. Herodotus makes it plain that Darius is, shall we say, mercurial, and is inclined to have people slaughtered on a whim. For example, when a father begs that his sons be allowed to stay behind rather than go to war, Darius has the sons killed so that they can stay behind.

It’s not till Book VI that Herodotus really begins to cast the issue in the Persian wars as tyranny (Persia) vs freedom (Greece). Within that conflict, however, there are those who choose to live under Persian domination, which leads to the paradoxical notion that men can freely choose slavery, and are opposed to any action against the Great King.

This leads to a reflection that President Bush was wrong when he said that freedom was the desire of every human heart. It may be that it should be the desire of every human heart, but the reality seems to be that there really is a considerable desire for slavery, and not just to be a master, which is understandable, but to be a slave, and to abrograte responsibility. I don’t like to draw historical analogies to current politics, but the withdrawal and quietude of some of the Greeks before the Persian menace is distinctly reminiscent of things such as the French betrayal at the start of the Iraq war, or the general rush to dhimmitude of much of Europe.