History of the Peloponnesian War – Book V

 

 

History of the Peloponnesian War

Book V:  After the armistice is concluded, Cleon, emboldened by his success in Pylos, leads an expedition through Thrace to Torone where he takes Torone, destroying some of Brasidas’ fortifications.  He makes Eion his base and Brasidas makes Amphipolis his, whereupon Cleon attacks, however in his delusions of grandeur he misjudges his ability, and tries to retreat too late.  In the fighting, Cleon is killed but his nemesis, Brasidas, is also fatally wounded.

Argos from Mycene (1884)
Edward Lear
source ArtUK

Both sides are eager for peace now, Athens suffering heavy losses, no longer certain of her strength in arms and worried about Sparta taking advantage of her weakness, and Sparta concerned about the devastation of their lands, deserting Helots, the return of the prisoners at Pylos to their important families, the possibility of civil war, their expiring thirty-year truce with Argos, and Peloponnesian cities intending to go over to the enemy.  Negotiations ensue with new leaders, Pleistoanax, son of Pausanias for Sparta and Nicias for Athens, each with their own agendas and with an idealistic view that peace would bring all things good with no repercussions from the war.  The peace treaty is then agreed upon.  Allies of Sparta refuse to accept the treaty, whereupon Sparta forms a fifty-year alliance with Athens, hoping this will dissuade aggression from Argos.  This happens in the winter of the tenth year of the war. Yet as time passes, the two powers begin to suspect each other, as both neglect to act on some of the conditions of the treaty, Sparta dragging her heels the most and being the whiniest.  Thucydides claims this was not a bonafide peace treaty but merely a ceasing of hostility in a war that continued.  
Near Athens (1863-65)
Harry John Johnson
source ArtUK

With the Corinthians once again causing trouble, they attempt to persuade Argos to go against Sparta.  Other states, uneasy with the treaty between the two major players, consider an alliance with the Argives.  More small invasions continue as does political plotting.  The Argives attempt to elicit a treaty with Sparta but changes its mind and makes one with Athens.  Alcibiades opposes Athens’ treaty with Sparta and Nicias pushes for its fulfillment while attempting to delay their treaty with the Argives, however he fails and the treaty is made, yet even so, the Athens and Sparta alliance continues.  The Spartans surround Argive forces, yet a truce is called by their leaders, Agis king of Sparta (remember the Spartan dual-king thing) and the Argive, Thrasylus.  The people on each side are furious at the undemocratic decision, each thinking they could have won; Thrasylus is stoned and has to flee to an altar to save his life and Agis nearly loses his home and is fined.  Instead, they enact a law, giving Agis ten counsellors and he is unable to make a decision without them.  

More fighting between Sparta and her allies and the Argives and her allies, then the Argives make an alliance with Sparta.  With infighting in Argos, the Argives change their minds again and reforge ties with Athens.Athens launches an expedition against Melos and after persuasive arguments, finally kills the men, sells the women and children as slaves, and settles Melos itself.

 

The bay of Milos
source Wikipedia

 

 

⇐ Book IV                                                                                    Book VI ⇒

Cyrus the Persian by Sherman A. Nagel

“The city of Babylon, ‘the beauty of the Chaldees’ excellency,’ ‘the lady of kingdoms,’ lay quiet under the silvery splendor of an oriental moon.”

I just finished reading Herodotus’ The Histories, where the story of Cyrus figures prominently, so when Amanda at Simpler Pastimes Children’s Classic Literature Event appeared for April, I thought what better time to read a children’s book about the same historical figure?

Nagel sets the story of Cyrus in the time of the Jews captivity in Babylon, and their story runs parallel to that of Cyrus before the two intersect.  One hundred years before Cyrus’ birth, the prophet Isaiah named him as the man who would permit the Jews of Babylon to return to their homeland to rebuild Jerusalem and the story allows us to be a part of events leading up to the fulfillment of this prophecy.

King Astyages sending Harpagus to kill young Cyrus
Jean Charles Nicaise Perrin
source Wikipedia

The grandfather of Cyrus, Astyages king of the Medes, is visited by a disturbing dream and his magi tell him that he must destroy the child of his daughter, Mandane, if the child she bears is a boy.  At Mandane’s marriage to the Persian king, Cambyses, Astyages extracts a promise that she will return to him before she gives birth to her firstborn and the promise is fulfilled as Cyrus is born in the kingdom of the Medes.  In fact, so crafty is Astyages that he persuades the parents of Cyrus to leave him with his grandfather, and then sends for his trusted servant Harpagus, commanding him to kill the child.  At the notification of the baby’s death, his parents are grief-stricken but unknown to them and Astyages as well, as Harpagus gives the child over to his chief shepherd, Mitradates, to dispose of the will of God is stronger than all. Upon returning home, Mitradates is distressed to learn of the death of his own child and, on a whim, his wife and he substitute the corpse for Cyrus and pass off his death without a hitch.  Raised as a shepherd boy until, through unexpected circumstances, he comes to the palace an adolescent, he is ultimately recognized as a possible heir to the throne.  With Cyrus back in Persia and Astyages becoming more nervous of his grandson’s power, a force is gathered by Astyages to invade Persia but Harpagus turns loyal to Cyrus based on the king’s cruelty and arranges with Darius, Cyrus’ uncle, that half the army will fight for Cyrus.  At the completion of the battle, Cyrus is victorious. Eventually he will become king of both the Persians and Medes.

At this time as well, Jewish discontent is fomenting due to their religious persecution and captivity by the Babylonians, which the reader experiences through a raid on Rabbi Hermon’s house during a weekly meeting, as the Jews impatiently wait for their prophesied coming deliverer.  We also encounter Jewish history through the activities of Azariah, better known by his Babylonian name of Abednego from Biblical tradition, and his relationship with a Babylonian woman, Iris.  History weaves into story, battles into harmony, and captivity into freedom.  It’s an enduring story that Nagel has obviously thoroughly researched with his attention to historical detail and the relationships he so subtly crafts.  Themes of loyalty, betrayal, persecution, love, friendship, death and perseverance, one can hardly put it down.

Cyrus hunting the great Boar
source Wikimedia Commons

Isaiah 45: 1-3

Thus says the Lord to His anointed,
To Cyrus, whose right hand I have held—
To subdue nations before him
And loose the armor of kings,
To open before him the double doors,
So that the gates will not be shut:
I will go before you
And make the crooked places straight;
I will break in pieces the gates of bronze
And cut the bars of iron.
I will give you the treasures of darkness
And hidden riches of secret places,
That you may know that I, the Lord,
Who call you by your name ……..

⚚⚚⚚⚚⚚⚚⚚⚚⚚⚚⚚⚚⚚⚚⚚⚚⚚⚚⚚⚚⚚⚚⚚⚚⚚⚚⚚

This book contained a number of wonderful quotes of which I’ll share.  There are many but every one is worth reading!

Quotes:

“When one is full of himself, he is empty.”

“Love is a very rare quality.  So many emotions are mistaken for love.  Of all the counterfeits, lust has always been love’s strongest opponent.  Nothing is so wonderful, so conducive to happiness, so health-producing, as the heart union of two lives, where true love reigns and lust has no power.”

“If there is one thing heaven hates in man it is pride.  Not self-respect, but that quality of pride which causes a man to think more highly of himself than he ought.”

“Unholy ambition has brought ruin to many a man who has followed her unhallowed footsteps.  Multitudes of the human family have suffered and died because of the ambition of one.  He that loses his conscience has nothing left that is worth keeping.”

“How often we doubt because we cannot know all that is going on which we cannot see. Faith is believing in God.  It is taking Him at His word.  It is evidence when there is no evidence in sight.  It is ‘the substance of things hoped for.’  Belief is accepting a map; faith is taking the journey.”

“Patience is a pearl oft produced by petty irritations.  The human heart cannot be whole until it is broken.  Care becomes its own cure when it drives us to prayer.  To our prayers God gives answers, but in His love, makes ways and times His own.  Their leaders wisely taught the people not to worry about the future, but to be optimistic.  Nature hates to disappoint the man who is always looking for the worst to happen.  We only live a day at a time.”

“The average man is like a match; if he gets lit up, he loses his head.”

“And Astyages talked boastfully on, like a man who may think he is eloquent when he is only evaporating.”

“Those who throw themselves away usually do not like the place where they land.”

“Best character is developed amid storm clouds and tempests.”

“Conscience is not like a bore; if you snub it a few times, after that it won’t bother you.”

“When one was asked the secret of his happy life, he replied: ‘I have a friend.’  True friends are to be cherished for they are precious.  One should keep a little cemetery in which to bury the failings of one’s friends.  The man who never puts in an honest day’s work on friendship’s railroad, has no reason to expect a sidetrack to his door.  Selfish people may have acquaintances but not friends.  With some people you invest an evening, with others you spend it.”

“Cyrus was naturally of a very affectionate disposition.  He had a great deal of sentiment.  No man is worth much without it but to have too much is suicidal.”

“God has not promised to do for us that which we can do for ourselves.”

“Some of the unhappy folk in our world today are men and women with more money than they know what to do with.”

“It has been said that happiness is made of so many pieces that there is always one missing.  Happiness is never found by searching for it.  Like boys chasing butterflies, happiness is always just out of reach.  It does not consist in a fine house, fine furniture, a sixteen-cylinder car or alot of money.  In many places dwell unhappy hearts.  All of the things enumerated may conduce to happiness but the poor man has access to happiness as well as the rich.

Happiness consists in contentment, in having a clear conscience.  It will be found in acting in an unselfish manner towards others.  You cannot pour the perfume of happiness upon others without getting a few drops on yourself.  Victor Hugo has well written: ‘The supreme happiness of life is the conviction of being loved for yourself, or more correctly, being loved in spite of yourself.'”

Herodotus’ The Histories – Book I

Book I (Clio)

“Herodotus of Halicarnassus here presents his research so that human events do not fade with time.  May the great and wonderful deeds — some brought forth by the Hellenes, others by the barbarians — not go unsung; as well as the causes that led them to make war on each other.”

Immediately Herodotus establishes who he is, that he is conducting an inquiry into events, and that he is an unbiased observer, treating both the Hellenes and barbarians alike, lauding each of their deeds.

He goes on to deal with the cause of the enmity between them:  according to the Persians, those dratted Phoenicians started it all.  They sailed to Argos and kidnapped some women, Io, the daughter of the king being one of them, and that is how she arrived in Egypt.  This version is vastly different than the Io version told by Ovid in his Metamorphoses.  In retaliation, the Hellenes then kidnapped the king’s daughter, Europa, from the Phoenician city of Tyre, again a different version from Ovid’s recounting of Europa’s kidnapping.  Yet not being satisfied with one kidnapping, the Hellenes set out again, this time absconding with the king of Colchis’ daughter, Medea. Now, when Paris, the son of Priam, heard about these kidnappings, he thought nothing of stealing Helen.  Even though the Hellenes were seen as the aggressors who began the hostilities, the Persians thought it plain silly to be so concerned about these women, as they would not have been kidnapped unless they were willing.  Well, okay …..  But to add another twist, the Phoenicians disagree with the Persians, saying that Io had relations with the captain of the Phoenician ship and had to sail away to hide her pregnancy.  Heredotus will not say either way who was right, but he does know the first man to commit unjust acts towards the Hellenes …..

The Abduction of Helen (c.1740-60)
Johann Georg Platzer
source ArtUK

Croesus of Lydia was the first man to subjugate the Hellenes and his rule passed to Kandaules.  Now, Kandaules had a beautiful wife and he insisted on showing her, in all her nakedness, to his servant, Gyges, so he would confirm her loveliness.  Gyges is appalled, but what can he do?  He is told not to allow the queen to know that he has seen her naked, but she spies him slipping out the door and plots her revenge. Confronting Gyges, she says he must either slay Kandaules and become king, or die immediately.  Gyges chooses the former, dedicating much silver as an offering to Delphi, and therefore is able to invade Smyrna and Miletus. Thus runs a list of Lydian rulers and their deeds.

The Imprudence of Candaules (1830)
William Etty
source Wikipedia

Croesus, the son of Alyattes, attacked the Ephesians, the first of the Hellenes to be assailed.  He subdued city-state after city-state: the Lydians, Phrygians, Mysians, Carians, Ionians, Dorians, Aeolians, etc, etc.  At the pinnacle of his wealth, a man named Solon arrived in Sardis with many wise men of Hellas.  He had effected laws for the Athenians at their invitation, then travelled for the ten years the laws were in place so as not to be convinced to repeal any of them.  Croesus was curious as to who was the happiest and most prosperous man in the world, expecting the answer to be him, but Solon frustrated his expectations by naming two others.  When Croesus challenged his answers, he replied that to be considered for this title, it must be judged how a man ends his life; until then he can only be called “lucky”.  Croesus disparaged Solon’s wisdom and was sent a dream that his son, Aryes, would die by an iron spear.  He, with hesitation, allows his son to go on a boar hunt, commissioning Adastos, a slave who he had rescued, to ensure his safety.  Ironically, Adastos accidentally kills Aryes with his spear throw and though Croesus pardons Adastos, the slave kills himself on the tomb of Aryes.

Croesus Showing Solon His Riches (1655)
Casper Casteleyn
source ArtUK

Herodotus relates more stories about Croesus and his ancestors, then returns to the worry of Persia and their possible aggression.  Croesus sends a delegation to Delphi where the god, Apollo, returns his answer, advising him to ally himself with Sparta, and Croesus understands this to mean victory. Finally, he and his Lydian army meet the Persians, led by Cyrus, at Sardis, but the Persians are victorious and Croesus is taken prisoner.  On his pyre, when Croesus recounts the words of Solon, Cyrus has a change of heart and commands his release, but the fire is already raging and only an unexpected storm of rain in answer to Croesus’ prayer to Apollo saves him.  Now friends with Cyrus, Croesus instructs him how to stop the plundering of his city and therefore rescue his army from corruption, then requests the right to question the oracle on his mistaken prophecies, yet he learns that he is the one who had misunderstood and accepts blame.

Priestess of Delphi (1891)
John Collier
source Wikiart

Thus runs more Lydian history and moves to the birth of Cyrus, whose grandfather plotted his death at his birth because of dreams he’d interpreted of Cyrus’ overthrow of him:  Grandfather Astyages discovered that Harpagos, his servant, disobeyed his orders to kill the boy (instead giving him to a herdsman to kill who ended up raising him as his own) under the guise of friendship he gets Harpagos to send him his son, and then serves his son for dinner to the father.  Harpagos unknowingly eats his son, and then all is revealed when Astyages has the son’s head, hands and feet brought in.  This was not a good decision, for, when the wisemen or Magi reveal to Astyages that Cyrus is no longer a problem to his rule and his grandfather allows Cyrus to live in Persia, Harpagos stirs up dissent among the populous who already dislike Astyages’ cruel reign.  The servant contacts Cyrus in Persia and Cyrus raises an army, who defeat the Medes who were not dedicated to fight for their despised leader.  This is how Cyrus became king and later deposed Croesus to rule all of Asia.

King Astyages of Media Orders Harpagos to Kill Young Cyrus (late 18th century)
Jean Charles Nicaise Perrin
source Wikimedia Commons

Herodotus now launches into a monologue of the customs of the Persians.  Fascinating to learn that the Persians will not vomit or urinate in front of anyone.  Good to know. Our sensibilities are all safe.  Fortunately, although they will make business decisions while drunk, they will reconsider the decisions the next day when they’re sober. Strangely though, the decisions they make when they are sober, they will also evaluate while they are drunk.

The Persian (1902)
Vasily Surikov
source Wikiart

Then we swing back to Cyrus: after he conquered the Lydians, the Ionians and Aeolians sent messages asking to be subject to his rule, but since they did not band with him is his battle with Lydia, Cyrus refuses.  Then follows a history of the Ionians, Dorians, etc.  It appears that although these areas are located on the coastline of Asia Minor, the peoples migrated from the Greek city-states, and in fact, Athens is considered an Ionian city although it does not like to be referred to as such.  Halicarnassus, the birthplace of Herodotus (although he does not mention that fact) used to be the sixth Dorian city but now there are only five.

Cyrus not only conquers the Lydians, but conquers all the Ionian coast and we are given more history of the surrounding area.  Next, Cyrus plans to advance on Assyria, and its city of Bablyon is described, including two queens that ruled it, Semiramis and Nitokris. Nitokris is particularly interesting as she made many clever improvements in infrastructure.  She built her tomb in “mid-air” above one of the city gates, saying that if ever a future king was in need of money, he need only open her tomb, but warned that it should only be opened in dire need.  No king dared disturb the tomb until Darius came to power, but instead of money he found a note:

“You would not open up the grave of the dead if you were not so insatiable and shamefully greedy.”

Back to Cyrus who went to war against the son of Nitokris, but before he reached Babylon, he was offended by the River Gyndes that swallowed one of his horses (yes, that’s right, a river) and he spent the whole summer dividing his army in work to destroy it, dividing the river into 360 channels.  Rather childish of him but I suppose he was quite enraged.  Then in spring he marched on Babylon.  He defeated the Babylonian army outside of the city, but many men returned to the city with great stockpiles of food, and Cyrus found himself at an impass.  However, with great guile, he diverted the Euphrates where it entered Babylon, and attacked by the riverbed, taking the inhabitants by surprise and conquering the city.  Herodotus now describes the Babylonian crops and their enormous yields, their boats, their shoes, and their means of marrying off their daughters in an auction for money but if the couple cannot get along, the money is repaid and supposedly the girl returned.  Sadly however, since the Persian capture, the Babylonians are impoverished and prostitute their daughters.  A fascinating custom is that instead of doctors, they carry the sick person to the square and allow others to advise him, very helpful if someone else has had the same sickness and knows of a cure.  Herodotus says that their most disgusting custom is that once per year every woman must sit in the sanctuary of Aphrodite and have intercourse with a stranger.

Cyrus the Great’s Siege of Babylon (1819)
John Martin
source Wikimedia Commons

Cyrus now turned his battle-filled eyes to Massagetai which at this time was ruled by a woman named Tomyris.  Refusing his proposal of marriage, seeing it for what it was, she suggested that he return to rule his people and allow her to rule hers, but if he insisted on battle, either come into her territory or let her come onto his.  The generals of Cyrus suggest that they allow Tomyris onto Persian territory but Croesus convinces Cyrus otherwise.  After having a dream that Darius is plotting his overthrow (which is really an omen of his death), the two sides battle and eventually Cyrus is killed.  Tomyris defiles the corpse by placing his head in a wineskin filled with blood.

Head of Cyrus Brought to Queen Tomyris (1622-23)
Peter Paul Ruebens
source Wikiart

Seven Against Thebes by Aeschylus

“You citizens of Cadmus, he must speak home
that in the ship’s prow, watches the event
and guides the rudder, his eyes not drooped in sleep.”

Produced in 467 B.C. and winning first prize in the City Dionysia drama competition, this play is assumed to be the last of a trilogy of plays which dealt with the Oedipus cycle, the other two being called Laius, and Oedipus, both lost, as was the concluding satyr play, The Sphinx.  Driven mostly by dialogue, this play requires some background history to add some further insight.

Oedipus, king of Thebes, received exile for unwittingly killing his father and marrying his mother.  In return, he placed a curse on his sons, Eteocles and Polynices, that they should divide the nation, each ruling in alternate years. However, after the first year of rule, Eteocles, enjoying his prominence, refuses to relinquish the throne to his brother, causing Polynices to raise a foreign force of Argives, led by the famous “seven”, to regain his inheritance.  It is at this point that the play begins.

Eteocles & Polynices (1725-30)
Giovanni Battista Tiepolo
source Wikimedia Commons

Unlike Aeschylus’ earlier plays, The Persians and The Suppliant Maidens, which begin with a lyrical introduction, Eteocles begins this play with a dramatic patriotic rhetorical speech, appealing to the men of the city to take up arms and defend their honour against the Argives.  A messenger arrives announcing that the Argive army is ready to attack and the Theban army prepares to meet them.  Yet a litany of Theban women’s voices rise above the spectacle, invoking the gods for protection and lamenting the possible repercussions of the battle.  Eteocles loses his patience. These women are unnerving the populous with their pleas to gods and images of doom.  Heaven deliver him from women’s excesses!  And so begins an exchange between them, with Eteocles counselling practicality and proper, balanced emphasis on divine guidance, and the women accentuating the importance of invoking the gods favour. Eteocles demands silence, but the women continue to speak, quite astutely, with regard to the situation, until finally they obey his command.

The messenger enters, and so commences a trialogue between him, Eteocles and the Theban women, the former announcing the Argive heroes, and Eteocles proclaiming the Theban defenders, while the women laud their warriors and invoke divine favour.  Of course, the Argive warriors are the “Seven” against Thebes and each of these attackers has an emblem on his shield.  Curiously, the Argive attacker at the sixth gate, Amphiaraus, is counselling temperance to his leader, proclaiming murder if they continue.  He expects to die a prophet in the land.

Argive                  Attacker’s              Gate                 Theban 
Attacker               Emblem                                           Defender

Tydeus                 Moon &                 Proetid            Melanippus
                                 Stars

Capaneus            Naked man          Electra            Polyphontes
                                   w/ Torch

Eteoclus              Warrior                  Neïs                Megareus
                                climbing
                                 ladder

Hippomedon      Smoking                Onca                Hyperbius
                               Typhon                 Athena

Parthenopaeus Sphinx eating      North               Actor
                                 a Theban

Amphiaraus       None                      Homoloian     Lasthenes

Polyneices          Justice                   Seventh           Eteocles
                               restoring
                               Polyneices

From Eteocles, there is an impious and sacrilegious glory in war, and an obvious antipathy towards the gods, instead proclaiming a complete reliance on men and their ability.  Eteocles does not discount the gods, but does not place an importance on them.  With a curse upon his family, the gods have turned their back on him, and thus, he does likewise.  Now brother will fight against brother, the curse culminating through human choice, although they make it appear as though they have been stripped of their free will by the curse.  The chorus of Theban women have not ceased their beseeching:

“O dearest son of Oedipus, do not
be like in temper to this utterer
of dreadful sayings.  There are enough Cadmaeans
to grapple with the Argives:  such blood is expiable.
But for the blood of brothers mutually shed
there is no growing old of the pollution.”

In the psychology of Eteocles, he cannot escape his fate, in spite of the women pleading for him to use his free will to choose, horrified at his willingness to shed familial blood.  As Eteocles goes to face his destiny, the chorus of women seem to reevaluate its outlook, focusing on the curse as a lament of fate.  When the messenger returns with news of the battle, his proclamation can be of no surprise.  Brother has, in fact, slain brother, and the curse is brought to fruition.  Even though the city is saved, there is no celebration.  Instead, the bodies are carried in, followed by Antigone and Ismene, their sisters, their lamentations of shivering intensity.  The tragedy is a “double sorrow”.

Eteocles and Polyneices (1799)
Giovanni Silvagni
source Wikimedia Commons

Finally, a Herald arrives to announce an honourable burial for Eteocles, since he fought for his city, upholding his ancestors, but in contrast, Polyneices will be cast out to the dogs for bringing a foreign force to attack his city, casting dishonour on his head.  With great resolve, Antigone proclaims that in spite of the edict, she will give her brother a proper burial.  They banter back and forth, the Herald laying her further actions as her own responsibility.  In the end, the chorus divides, half to bury Polyneices, and the other half going the way of Justice.

Originally, The Seven Against Thebes ended with a melancholy mourning for the two brothers, but with the popularity of Sophocles’ Antigone, the ending was re-written fifty years after his death to make a smooth transition between the two plays. While the Seven Against Thebes is not considered as refined or as seamless as Aeschylus’ masterpiece, The Orestia, nevertheless, it contains many wonderful components to its structure.

The battle for the city of Thebes is also presented in Eurpides’ The Phoenician Women.

Translated by David Greene


The Persians by Aeschylus

“Of the Persians gone 
To the land of Greece
Here are the trusted:
As protectors of treasure …..”
Performed in Athens in  472 B.C., The Persians portrays the naval battle at Salamis between the Greeks and the Persians, which occurred seven years earlier.   It is unique from other tragedies, as it was without a prologue or exudos (final scene) of the chorus.  As it deals with contemporary history instead of the common mythic topics, it was not part of a unified triad of plays that Aeschylus appeared to favour, yet interestingly it was performed with two other “lost” mythic plays, Phineus and Glaucus Ponieus.  In comparing this play to later tragedies, these differences raise the possibility of tragedy developing out of an earlier form.

Battle of Salamis (1868)
Wilhelm von Kaulbach
source Wikimedia Commons

The play begins in 480 B.C., and at the palace of Xerxes at Sousa, the Persian elders are lauding the strength of Xerxes and his army as they are engaged in battle with the Greeks:

“And the furious leader the herd
Of populous Asia he drives,
Wonderful over the earth,
And admirals stern and rough
Marshals of men he trusts:
Gold his descent from Perseus,
He is the equal of god.”


Yet their tone of exhortation becomes tinged with concern over the question of victory in this battle, and the mother of Xerxes, the Queen, appearing, echoes their sentiments.  A herald arrives, bringing most unwelcome news:

“O cities of Asia, O Persian land,
And wealth’s great anchorage!
How at a single stroke prosperity’s
Corrupted, and the flower of Persia falls,
And is gone.  Alas!  the first herald of woe,
He must disclose entire what befell:
Persians, all the barbarian host is gone.”


The herald, an eyewitness, bitterly describes the Persians’ defeat at Salamis.  Momentarily speechless, the Queen finally asks about survivors.  Xerxes is still living, but the Herald lists the many dead heroes, casualties of the battle.  The survivors are scattered.
“Ship dashed against ship, till the Persian army
dead stewed the deep like flowers”
source Wikimedia Commons
While Xerxes is a great warrior, his errors in the battle are made apparent.  He harangued his captains publicly, “in ignorance of Greek guile and the jealousy of the gods” …. and, “he conned the future ill.”  In return for his pride and miscalculations:
“All the Persians, who were in nature’s prime,
Excellent in soul, and nobly bred to grandeur,
Always first in trust, met their death
In infamy, dishonor, and in ugliness.”
Lamenting that her dream of defeat has come to fruition, the Queen attempts to assuage her grief by offering prayers and gifts to the gods.  As she offers libations at the tomb of her dead husband, Darius, his ghost rises up, inquiring about the present woe.  When he hears of the tragic defeat, he appears to blame his son’s “youthful pride”, yet he counsels the Queen to receive her son gently when he returns.

Somber laments issue from the Persian council of elders until Xerxes arrives in grievous affliction.  He recounts more of his defeat, his words a song of sorrow until the end:

“Oh alas, woe,
The magic wheel of longing for my friends you turn, you tell
Me hateful sorrows.  Within my frame my heart resounds,
resounds ……”

Death of the Persian admiral (Ariabignes,
brother of Xerxes) early in the battle
source Wikipedia
Wow, this was a very powerful play.  By the Persians’ defeat, Xerxes has not only lost honour for himself, but he is responsible for the loss of honour of generations before him.  Yet the tragedy of the situation is in his overweening pride and his attempt to place himself in a position above the gods.  He ignored the wisdom of his elders, instead choosing to go his own way, and paid dearly for his folly.
Even though, Aeschylus was writing through Persians eyes, elements of a Greek mindset crept in here and there, as in Darius’ horror of the Persians plundering and burning the Greek temples.  And he counsels the Queen for the Persians not to invade Greece because “the Grecian soil is their own ally.”  Very convenient.  Yet there is also a sympathetic tone towards the Persians, as if the Greeks can empathize with the sufferings of battle and the woes of the aftermath of loss.  In fact, the sympathy is startling.  The great daring of such a play perhaps goes beyond both historical and contemporary understanding.  No playwright had risked presenting the enemy, not only from a sympathetic viewpoint, but also showing them as noble and heroic in battle.  The battle at Salamis was a recent event and it is a tribute to the rhetoric of Aeschylus that this play was so well-regarded.  Yet while his feat is indeed admirable, Aeschylus ensures that he remains in control of his creation.  Few names can be traced to real persons, hyperbole is employed and Persians adopt Greek tradition, preventing any person from drawing any concrete truth from his presentation.  His Persian War, while being historically based, is still in the realm of myth, as if he cannot escape it. 

Translated by Seth G. Bernardete

    




Ancient Greek Challenge 2016

Woo hoo!  After some not-so-subtle prodding by yours truly, Keely from We Went Outside and Saw The Stars has decided to host a Greek literature challenge for 2016.  I’m so excited about this challenge as it will allow me to choose books from one of my favourite periods.

General Rules: 
                the Ancient Greek Reading Challenge 2016 runs from the 1st of January to the 31st of December 2016
                I will be accepting sign ups throughout the rest of 2015 and all through 2016. 
                You don’t have to blog about each text, or any, but the purpose of this challenge is to encourage everyone to read Ancient Greek texts so it would be amazing if you spread Ancient Greek love around the blogosphere! 
                If there is enough interest I’ll make check in posts semi often so you can link your reviews or just general comments about this challenge as you see fit. 
                Everything counts for this challenge: plays, essays, non-fiction history, poetry, fragments of texts, criticism etc. As long as it is an Ancient Greek text or a modern text about Ancient Greece it counts! I’ll personally be reading texts from Ancient Greece and the Byzantine Era so you can make this challenge whatever you want it to be. 
                I’ll also love it if you would be interested in writing guest posts here related to this challenge. The more the merrier! 
                Most of all HAVE FUN and spread your passion for Ancient Greek texts. This genre could always use more love. 
The Levels: 
                Level One: 1-4 Texts 
                Level Two: 4-6 Texts 
                Level Three: 7-9 Texts 
                Level Four: 10-12 Texts
                Level Five: 12+ Texts 
I will be aiming for Level Five as I have plans to read as many Ancient Greek plays by the four greats (Euripides, Sophocles, Aeschylus, Aristophanes).
List of (some) Ancient Greek Texts: 
****a lot of ancient greek texts only survive in fragments but i’ve included these in this list if you’re still interested in reading some of them
                Homer: The Iliad and The Odyssey 
                Hesiod: Works and Days and Theogony 
                Archilochus of Paros: Fragments 
                Sappho: Poems 
                Alcaeus: Fragments 
                Pindar: Epinikia and Fragments 
                Aeschylus: The Suppliant Maidens, The Persians, The Seven Against Thebes, Prometheus Bound, Agamemnon, Choephoroe, Eumenides 
                Sophocles: Oedipus the King, Oedipus at Colonus, Antigone, Ajax, Electra, Trachiniae, Philoctetes
                Euripides: Rhesus, Medea, Hippolytus, Alcestis, Heracleidae, The Suppliants, The Trojan Women, Ion, Helen, Andromache, Electra, The Bacchae, Hecuba, Heracles Mad, The Phoenician Maidens, Orestes, Iphigenia Among the Tauri, Iphigenia At Aulis, The Cyclops
                Aristophanes: the Archarnians, the Knights, the Clouds, the Wasps, the Peace, the Birds, the Frogs, the Lysistrata, The Thesmophoriazusae, the Ecclesiazusae, the Plutus
                Herodotus: Histories 
                Thucydides: History of the Peloponnesian War 
                Xenophon: Anabasis, Apology, Symposium, Memorabilia 
                Aristotle: Metaphysics, On the Soul, On Poetics, etc. A complete list can be found here (x)
                Plato: Republic, On Justice, On Virtue, etc. A complete list can be found here: (x
                Theocritus: Idylls and Epigrams
                Callimachus: Hymns, Fragments 
                Apollonius of Rhodes: Argonautica

                 Menander: Fragments 

I’m not sure what I’m going to choose to read, but I have some literature on my Classics Club list that I should get to, and then there are so many other possibilities.

Menander – Fragments
Aristotle – Nicomachean Ethics, Poetics
Ovid – Metamorphoses
Plato – The Republic, Meno, Crito, Phaedo
Plutarch – Lives
Aristophanes – Birds, Lysistrata
Euripides –
Aeschylus – The Suppliant Maidens, The Persians, Seven Against Thebes, Prometheus Bound
Sophocles – Ajax, The Women of Trachis, Electra, Philoctetes

Ooo, I can’t wait to get started!

The Rule of Saint Benedict

“Listen carefully, my son, to the master’s instructions, and attend to them with the ear of your heart.”

Benedict of Nursia lived in Italy during the collapse of the Roman Empire and during his life, the empire was in constant battle with barbarian tribes.  Leaving his home in Nursia, in the region of Umbria during the reign of the barbarian king, Theodoric, Benedict arrived in Rome to attend school but, disgusted with the paganism and dissolution that he witnessed, he eschewed worldly cares, taking residence in a cave at Subiaco, thirty miles east of Rome.

Saint Benedict (circa 1437-1446)
Fra Angelico
source Wikipedia

During three years in his cave, Benedict became admired for his spiritual devotion, and when an abbot in a nearby monastery passed away, Benedict was convinced, against his inclination, to take his place.  But twice, monks envious of Benedict attempted to poison him, from which he was saved by miracles.  He eventually took some disciples and founded a monastery on the mountain above Cassino, located eighty miles south of Rome.  As his fame spread, even the great king of the Goths, Totila, sought out an audience with him.

Benedict called his Rule, “a little book for beginners,” and he covers such disciplines as obedience, humility, contemplation and living in community.  Yet he first introduces us to four types of monks, the cenobites (belonging to a monastery and serving under an abbot), the anchorites or hermits (having lived in a monastery for a long time and their zeal for the monastic life has cooled), the sarabites (detestable monks who have “a character as soft as lead”, and are captured by worldly delights, a law unto themselves), and gyrovagues (drifters who are captives to their own selfish desires).  His rule is to assist the first class of monks.

Some specific areas Benedict covers are church songs and readings, excommunication and re-entry, working hours and manual labour, personal gifts, community rank, etc.  The importance of humility was highly emphasized:

The Rules of Humility

  1. Keep the fear of God always before your eyes
  2. Love not your own will but the Lord’s
  3. Submit to your superior in obedience
  4. In obedience, submit to unjustice and difficulties with endurance
  5. Do not conceal (from the abbott) any sinful thought or wrongdoing
  6. Be content with low or menial treatment
  7. Admit with not only your tongue, but with your heart, of your inferiority
  8. Do only what is endorsed by common rule in the monatery
  9. Control your tongue and be silent unless asked a question
  10. Be not given to ready laughter
  11. Speak gently, seriously and with modesty
  12. Manifest humility in bearing, as well as in heart

There were a number of interesting revelations in the rule, which I found rather interesting.  Benedict states that the Lord usually reveals what is best to the younger monks, yet still the abbot has the final decision.  This is a fascinating merging of both older and younger wisdom in a hierarchical framework which is designed to work best for all parties.

Totila and St. Benedict (1400-10)
Spinello Aretino
source Wikipedia

While Benedict’s rule is, in many ways, strict, I was actually surprised at the flexibility within it.  There is grace for those who stumble and understanding of human weaknesses, as is evidenced by the description of abbots and their moral duties:

“……. He must hate faults but love the brothers.  When he must punish them, he should use prudence and avoid extremes; otherwise, by rubbing too hard to remove the rust, he may break the vessel.  He is to distrust his own frailty and remember not to crush the bruised reed.  By this we do not mean that he should allow faults to flourish, but rather, as we have already said, he should prune them away with prudence and love as he sees best for each individual. Let him strive to be loved rather than feared.”

Apparently prior to Benedict’s rule, the theological view was that each person was struggling towards God, and spiritual direction had a very personal aspect to it.  Benedict’s rule signified a turning point in perception, eventually making the process more regimented than personal.  The Rule has further reaching implications as well, being the forerunner to the rule of law and written constitutions, assisting in the shaping of medieval ideas.

Benedict’s abbey at Monte Cassino was severely damaged by Allied bombing during World War II, having to be rebuilt afterwards.  A bit of trivia:  author Walter J. Miller was part of the bombing raids on Monte Cassino and was severely affected by them.  His dystopian book A Canticle for Leibowitz has echoes of both the monastery and his struggles to come to terms with his part in its destruction.  It’s a great book, if anyone is looking for a recommendation.

Rebuilt abbey of Monte Cassino
source Wikimedia Commons

The Ides of April

Author:  Mary Ray

Illustrator:  Gino d’Achille (cover)
Era:  62 A.D.
Published: 1974 (first publisher unknown)
Award:  None known
Age Range:  12 years old and up
Review:  ★★★★

Senator Caius Pomponius Afer is murdered in his bed and the household slaves are taken into custody to face the sentence of death if even one has perpetrated this crime.  Aulus, Pomponius’ valet and the first slave to happen upon his master after the assassination, is suspected, but when he dies in prison, who will prove his innocence?  Yet the slave list has been neglected and so, no one is aware that two of the slaves are missing. Where is Assinius, the Senator’s steward, who had not been seen days before the murder?  And Hylas, the Senator’s Greek secretary is not in the party.

Arch of Nero (completed 62 AD)
Thomas Cole – 1846
source Wikiart

Hylas, as it turns out, escaped detection in the house and is working steadfastly to find out who committed the dastardly deed.  He is certain that it was not one of the servants, but who could have had the opportunity and motive to commit such a vile execution.  Enlisting the help of Pomponius’ son-in-law, Camillus Rufus, the nobleman and slave investigate, and unearth devious plots that could possibly rock the foundations of Rome’s political body and cost them their lives.

Ray included various historical characters in her narrative including Thrasea Paetus, a Senator and former consul, who lived during the times of three Roman emperors, Caligula, Claudius and Nero.  We also have a glimpse of Seneca and Emperor Nero whom Ray portrays in a realistic fashion.

The Cascatelli (View of Rome from Tivoli)
Thoma Cole
source Wikiart

The real life of Publius Clodius Thraea Paetus is particularly compelling. By his actions in the Senate and in public life, he exemplified a man of honour and convictions, often going against the status quo in favour of principles.  Upon Nero’s murder of his own mother and the Senate’s obsequious behaviour towards the Emperor, Paetus walked out of the Senate meeting, refusing to be part of it.  His opposition to Nero continued and eventually his admirable ethics caught up with him.  Nero contrived charges against him, accusing him of neglecting his senatorial duties and he was sentenced to death by his choice.  At his suburban villa, he elected to have the veins in his arms opened and died with serene dignity.

While the mystery aspect of the story suffers from some contrived plot manipulation, this disappointment is balanced by the rich description of Rome and the historical detail painted within the pages of the book.  It’s certainly a story by which any child would be captivated.

An extended summary of the book can be found at my children’s blog, Children’s Classic Book Carousel.

Deal Me In Challenge #8 – Four of Hearts

The Epic of Gilgamesh

“The one who saw the abyss I will make the land know;
of him who knew all, let me tell the whole story
 ………… in the same way …….
[as] the lord of wisdom, he who knew everything, Gilgamesh,
who saw things secret, opened the place hidden,
and carried back word of the time before the Flood —
he travelled the road, exhausted, in pain,
and cut his works into a stone tablet.”

Gilgamesh, king of Uruk.  Two-thirds god and one-third man, he built the walls of Uruk, the palace Eanna, and is powerful and commanding.  There is no king like him anywhere.  Yet in spite of having many of the qualities that could make him an honoured king, Gilgamesh oppresses his people and they cry out for relief.  The gods create a wild man, Enkidu is his name. They fight and become fast friends, relieving the people of Gilgamesh’s despotism. Many adventures they have together, and many discoveries they make. Together they behead Humbaba who lives in the cedar forest and they also manage to kill The Bull of Heaven.  Yet one of them must pay for this transgression and Enkidu falls ill, dying even as he laments.  A heart-torn Gilgamesh, determined to find Utnapishtim and find the secret of everlasting life, travels through a number of trials to his journey’s end.  “Surely, Gilgamesh,” Utnapishtim tells him, “you can stay awake for just a week, if you are expecting to have eternal life.”  But Gilgamesh fails the test.  In spite of his near godly status, our hero cannot escape the mortality common to all men.

“My friend Enkidu, whom I loved so dear, who with me went through every danger, the goom of mortals overtook him. 

Six days I wept for him and seven nights: I did not surrender his body for burial until a maggot dropped from his nostril.  Then I was afraid that I, too, would die.  I grew fearful of death, so I wandered the wild. 

…. How can I keep silent?  How can I stay quiet?  My friend, whom I loved, has turned to clay.  My friend Enkidu, whom I loved, has turned to clay.  Shall I not be like him and also lie down, never to rise again, through all eternity?”

Gilgamesh
from the Chaldean
account of Genesis
source Wikipedia

I found many paradoxes in this poem: Gilgamesh is a strong leader, yet he also abuses his power; Gilgamesh is two-thirds god, yet he is also doomed to die; Gilgamesh and Enkidu fight in order to bring peace to Uruk; women are portrayed as vehicles for pleasure, yet are also shown as being wise and having foresight; Enkidu is initially a wild-man, yet he is the one who “tames” Gilgamesh; and in spite of often not sleeping throughout most of the poem, Gilgamesh sleeps at the end, which prevents him from attaining immortality.

Yet in spite of the contradictions, the poet is clear that strength over reason is valueless. Gilgamesh learns that it is trust and integrity in the end that bring acclaim: valuing a friend’s life over his own, discovering the wisdom of accepting death as a part of life, and that being a true leader is about good character and responsibility to his subjects, rather than exercising tyranny, oppression and conquest over them.

And in spite of its ancient roots, the poem still resonates with us today.  Here is a video of Captain Picard from Star Trek the Next Generation giving a short summary of Gilgamesh, in the episode “Darmok” (my favourite episode, BTW!) 🙂

About the translation:  The Sîn-Leqi Unninni Gilgamesh story, found in the library of Ashurbanipal, is the most recent Akkadian version (circa 1200 BC), and is considered the “standard” version.  The editors used it as their fragment of choice and because it contained a number of books that had only a few recoverable words, they had to resort to notes and the Old Babylonian version, in order for the reader to get the gist of the story.  For my first read, in hindsight, I may have chosen a more fluid version, but this version was certainly adequate and scholarly enough that you got the full context of the poem.

Translated from the Sîn-Leqi Unninni version by John Gardiner and John Maier

The Sayings of the Desert Fathers

“This book is an account of the virtuous asceticism and admirable way of life and also of the words of the holy and blessed fathers.”

The Desert Fathers were a group of faithful monks and nuns who chose to settle mainly in Lower Egypt, mostly around the desert of Scetes. While some of them lived in groups and had at least some contact with the outside world, some were hermits who preferred to live in seclusion.  Asceticism was also practiced by many to purify their souls.  While Paul of Thebes was the first monk to retire to the desert, Saint Anthony the Great was the one to begin the exodus.  These Desert Fathers served as the early model for Christian monasticism.

As expected, there are many sayings that deal with religion:

Abba Epiphanius:

  • He also said, “Ignorance of the Scriptures is a precipice and a deep abyss.” 
  • Someone else asked him, “Is one righteous man enough to appease God?”  He replied, “Yes, for he himself has written: ‘Find a man who lives according to righteousness, and I will pardon the whole people.’ (Jer. 5:11)

We also find sayings from fathers instructing their disciples:

Abba Agathon:

  • The same Abba Agathon was walking with his disciples.  One of them, finding a small green pea on the road, said to the old man, “Father, may I take it?”  The old man, looking at him with astonishment, said, “Was it you who put it there?” “No,” replied the brother.  “How then,” continued the old man, “can you take up something which you did not put down?”

And fathers who seek harmony:

Abba Paul the Barber:

  • Abba Paul the Barber and his brother Timothy lived in Scetis. They often used to argue.  So Abba Paul said, “How long shall we go on like this?”  Abba Timothy said to him, “I suggest you take my side of the argument and in my turn I will take your side when you oppose me.”  They spent the rest of their days in this practice.

Coptic icon of
St. Anthony the Great
source Wikipedia

Philosophical fathers:

Abba Anthony the Great:

  • He also said, “God does not allow the same warfare and temptations to this generation as he did formerly, for men are weaker now and cannot bear so much.”

Abba Poeman:

  • He also said, “Men speak to perfection but they do precious little about it.”

And somewhat grumpy fathers:

Abba Arsenius:

  • Blessed Archbishop Theophilus, accompanied by a magistrate, came one day to find Abba Arsenius.  He questioned the old man to hear a word from him.  After a short silence the old man answered him, “Will you put into practice what I say to you?”  They promised him this.  “If you hear Arsenius is anywhere, do not go there.”
  • Another time the archbishop, intending to come to see him, sent someone to see if the old man would receive him.  Arsenius told him, “If you come, I shall receive you; but if I receive you, I receive everyone and therefore I shall no longer live here.”  Hearing that, the archbishop said, “If I drive him away by going to him, I shall not go anymore.”
    Saint Arsenius
    fresco at Mt. Athos, 14th century
    source Wikipedia

And lastly, not only sayings from the Desert Fathers, but saying from the “Desert Sisters,” as well:

Amma Syncletica:

  • She also said, “It is good not to get angry, but if this should happen, the Apostle does not allow you a whole day for this passion, for he says: “Let no the sun go down.” (Eph. 4:25)  Will you wait till all your time is ended?  Why hate the man who has grieved you?  It is not he who has done the wrong, but the devil.  Hate sickness but not the sick person.”
  • She also said, “Just as it is impossible to be at the same moment both a plant and a seed, so it is impossible for us to be surrounded by worldly honour and at the same time to bear heavenly fruit.”

I was expecting to have to slog through this book, but what a delightful surprise.  While these Fathers obviously knew their Scriptures and spent time with God, their focus was on themselves: refining their souls and being a good example to those around them. The personalities of each of them shone through in their sayings and, in spite of many of the sayings being quite short and compact, they brought a window into their lives of asceticism, their values and struggles that was very compelling.  An enlightening read that gives not only a fascinating window into this era of history, but also imparts values that are as relevant today as they were in the 3rd and 4th century.