The Republic ~ Book II

The Republic
Jean-Leon Gerome
source Wikiart

Book II:

 

Pleasure (1900)
Eugene de Blaas
source Wikiart

Glaucon protests that Socrates has not made a reasonable enough explanation of why Justice is preferable to injustice.  First, he says, there are three classes of good:

 

  1. Pleasures that are enjoyed for themselves
  2. Good that is valued because of its consequences
  3. Good that is desirable both for itself and what comes out of it.
Really it seems that Glaucon believes Justice would fit into the second category, a type of in-between good.  

Then he tells a story of a shepherd called Gyges and his magic ring that helped him to become king (see Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Book I).  If one could act however one wanted without threat of punishment or recrimination, wouldn’t everyone act thus?  Why should Glaucon be just if he can get away with being unjust? (Essentially he is asking: What is Justice on the level of an individual?)  It’s only our fear of getting caught that holds us to the course of Justice, and Justice itself is a social construct.  The Social Contract theory implies that people don’t really want to be just but because chaos would result from such a “free-for-all” society and therefore we enter into a “social contract” where we give up free reign on our desires for a greater good; certain rules are imposed on an individual that aren’t part of their nature for a common good. 

King Candaules of Lydia (1858)
Jean-Leon Gerome
source Wikiart
Socrates proceeds in a round-about manner.  Instead of directly commenting on how Justice works in an individual, he instead begins to examine how the same Justice works broadly within a state and then will apply what he discovers to the soul of man.  And thus Plato starts to establish his Republic.  The Republic begins with the need for a community ……. the need we have for each other for the basic provisions in life: food, clothing, shelter.  In the Republic, everyone has a trade or purpose, a division of labour that works best to run the city efficiently.  Right now, the city’s basic needs are met with simplicities, and no luxuries such as furniture, artists, meat, courtesans, perfume, etc. To Socrates, this city is true and healthy.  It’s important to note that in English, we use the word “soul” but the Greek word is actually “psuche” [ψυχή] (the root word for psyche) which can be used in a variety of different ways, such as: mind, self, individual, etc.  (Soul = that part of the human being which is not the body).
The Soul Breaking the Bonds …
Pierre-Paul Prud’hon
source Wikiart

Glaucon is perplexed.  What about the luxuries?  What Socrates has described only meets basic animal needs.  Socrates allows Glaucon his desires and adds in his wishes, but emphasizes that adding meat and sweets will cause inflammation and surely the physicians will be in more demand — he was obviously initially advocating vegetarianism for health.  Interesting ….   In any case, all these luxuries will increase competition, and therefore eventually war is inevitable.  Socrates will not say whether war is good or bad, he only examines the effect it will have on the Republic.  The city will therefore need an efficient soldier but they too must be specialists in their field. However, they must also exhibit a certain temperament, one that is combative and even aggressive, yet tempered by courage of spirit and controlled by rational behaviour.  Given their character and profession, they must be trained carefully to ensure they do not harm their own people.  How is that to be done?  Through education.  They must be trained to be hostile to their enemies and benevolent to their people, not indiscriminate with their behaviour.

Socrates now critiques the education of children.  In spite of the reverence given to the poets Hesiod and Homer, Socrates believes that the stories they have created will damaged the foundation of a good republic.  How can the gods be both good and bad?  Anything divine must be wholly good and it is impossible for it to be bad, therefore (Homer, in this case) is telling tales that are “impious, self-contradictory, and disastrous to our commonwealth.”  All such stories should be censored in a healthy city.  Also, death should never be depicted as something to be feared, so the Guardians of the city are not afraid to die in their defense of it; their defensive behaviour is part of the promoting of Justice and we do not want to impede them being just.

I had to admire Socrates in this section.  Even though he at first appears to advocate a simplistic city that he feels is the most healthy and functional, he bows to Glaucon’s wishes for luxuries, perhaps realizing that it would not be sensible to attempt to eradicate these human desires, and therefore, gives up his “perfect” city for one that is more realistic.  Plato is realizing the flaws in human nature and attempting to work within them.  Quite wise, I would say.

⇐ Book I                                                                                                       Book III ⇒


The Republic ~ Part I (Book I)

The Republic
Jean-Leon Gerome
source Wikiart

Book I:

The dialogue begins around the year of 410 B.C. at the port of the Piraeus, a town five miles from Athens.  As we read of the overthrow of the Athenian democracy in 404 B.C. in Thucydides’, History of the Peloponnesian War, Socrates begins to ask the questions about the benefits of democracy and builds his Republic on those ideas.  He begins by questioning the benefits and results of Justice.

Returning home from a religious festival with Glaucon (one of the brothers of Plato), Socrates becomes involved in a conversation with Cephalus, an old man.  Cephalus is certain Justice consists of being honest in your dealings with others and fulfilling your obligations, a very traditional Greek worldview.  When Socrates challenges this definition, the son of Cephalus, Polemarchus (who, in history, was executed by the Thirty Tyrants) expands on his father’s ideas, yet Socrates challenges his conception that Justice is treating your friends well and harming your enemies.  Man is libel to be mistaken in his assessment of both, and doesn’t harming someone make him less of a person?  Therefore, if you make someone less than they are, how can one be said to be just in his treatment of them?  

The Madonna of Justice (1620-25)
Bernardo Strozzi
source Wikiart

Thrasymachus, a well-known Sophist*, bursts into the conversation, insisting on a different defintion of Justice: the actions of those in power, as they dispense them on their subjects.  Thrasymachus is embodying the view of a relativist where there is no objective definition; Justice is only whatever the stronger imposes on the weaker.  Socrates counters, asking if a ruler always makes decisions in his own best interest, which Thrasymachus admits not.  Socrates then gives an example of physician or ship’s captain; is their interest in themselves or their patients or sailors?  The latter, of course, so “no skill or authority provides for its own benefit,” but for the benefit of the weaker, which contradicts the assertion of Thrasymachus.  I rather think Thrasymachus’ views would be a recipe for chaos.

Now the larger question is tackled by Socrates …. Is a life of Justice preferable to a life of injustice?  Socrates refutes Thrasymachus’ view, concluding that the virtue of a soul is Justice and injustice its defect.  Thus, “the soul robbed of its peculiar virtue, … cannot possibly do its work well ….. and living well involves well-being and happiness,”and therefore, “only the just man is happy.”  However, Socrates has not yet given a fixed definition of Justice.

* in ancient Greece, Sophists were paid teachers who were experts in using philosophy and rhetoric to promote excellence and virtue, yet are often portrayed as using fallacious reasoning and obscuring moral principles

⇐ Introduction                                                                                        Book II ⇒

History of the Peloponnesian War by Thucydides

“Thucydides, an Athenian, wrote the history of the war between the Peloponnesians and the Athenians, beginning at the moment that it broke out, and believing that it would be a great war, and more worthy of relation than any that had preceded it.”

Ah, the lovely Landmark editions!  Where would I be without them?  I would have no idea the location of Thrace or Thessaly or Corinth, etc. and therefore have less of a concept of the complicated dynamics that influenced various states in their struggles to fit into the puzzle of Hellenistic supremacy!

Thucydides account of the war between Sparta and Athens falls just after the events recounted in Herodotus’ The Histories.  Athens, high on her victory over the very powerful Xerxes, king of Persia, during the Persian Wars, is feeling rather self-important and she appears to be rushing around with her forces, conquering states here and subduing enemies there.  And while Athens becomes more powerful, the Lacedaemonians of Sparta are left to conduct their somewhat mundane and traditional existence.  But Athens’ power begins to worry them and while they were allies during the Persian Wars, this brotherhood appears to be heading towards a separation that could prove bloody as well as costly.

Index of Posts:

Book I / Book II / Book III / Book IV / Book V / Book VI / Book VIIBook VIII

Thucydides, indeed, gives a fascinating account of a mega-war between two superior powers that were at the height of their military powers, a war that would not only engulf their nations, but many of the city-states surrounding them and would even spread to Italy with the disastrous Sicilian expedition launched by Athens.  At first, the reader perhaps can sympathize that Athens might want to expand her influence or that Sparta might want to assert herself for balance, but soon the war grows like a cancer wherever it touches, prompting Thucydides to make an insightful observation:

“Think, too of the great part that is played by the unpredictable in war: think of it now, before you are actually committed to war.  The longer a war lasts, the more things tend to depend on accidents.  Neither you nor we can see into them: we have to abide their outcome in the dark.  And when peole are entering upon a war they do things the wrong way round.  Action comes first, and it is only when they have already suffered that they begin to think.”

How right he was!  One goes into a war with laudable intentions, but soon enough greed and power and hegemony begins to infect the general purpose and beyond anyone’s control the conflict becomes a nine-headed hydra.

After reading Herodotus, Thucydides’ narrative at first felt dry and sparse.  It definitely took determination and some plodding through a literary desert to keep going, but the reward was unexpected and quite amazing.  The fact that Thucydides did not colour the actions of others with his own palate (or at least, very little) allowed these actions and decisions to stand out in stark contrast and emphasized the selfless bravery, the strategic plotting, the blind stubbornness of leaders, the diplomatic brilliance, the plain stupidity of many and the various other exploits of all those involved in this lengthy and tragic war.

One wants to catalogue the evils of war, but Thucydides made me realize that war is much more complex that just an event; in fact, it seemed like the war was simply a side-issue that was a symptom of a much larger problem.  The problem of people ……. their greed and small-mindedness and selfish ambition.  It’s a scenario that’s played over and over throughout history and the actions of these people are always catastrophic at the most and injurious at the least, no matter if the venue is war, or political strife, or family matters, or any other large or small issue that our human faults and failing play into. Next I’m reading The Republic by Plato, a man whose life was coloured by this lengthy war.  It will be interesting to read the conclusions he draws.

 

 

 

The Republic ~ Introduction

“Socrates: I walked down to the Piraeus yesterday with Glaucon the son of Ariston to make my prayers to the goddess.”

Well, I’ve finished History of the Peloponnesian War (except for my final post), yet I’m afraid I’m going to continue on the same track with The Republic and put a number of my readers to sleep.  But I am enjoying this history project ….. as we’ve meandered through Herodotus, then Thucydides, and now Plato, you do see changes and developments within the Greek culture and worldview that can’t be ignored.  And since our civilization, to a certain extent, grew out of it, I believe it’s valuable to learn something about that development.  I anticipate that Plato will be more interesting, but possibly more frustrating.  It doesn’t seem like it was only the ancients who wanted to strangle Socrates …..

Introduction

Plato was born is the year 428/7 BC and his childhood and early youth were overshadowed with the Peloponnesian War, giving rise to a fundamental questioning of the best way to live.  As Thucydides observed in his history that “in peace and prosperity both states and individuals are actuated by higher motives, because they do not fall under the dominion of imperious necessities; but war, which takes away the comfortable provision of daily life, is a hard master, and tends to assimilate men’s characters to their conditions,” and thus Plato saw political life as a type of war for power, money or prestige.

Upon Pericles’s death at the beginning of the war, there ended the reign of a philosopher king, a man whom grew in wisdom through his conversations with the pre-Socratic philosopher, Anaxagoras, and therefore was able to employ both political intelligence and enlightened prudence to his governing of the state.  With his demise, a great chasm began to appear between politics and philosophy.  “To Plato, this drifting apart of the men of thought and the men of action was a disastrous calamity, indeed the root of the social evils of his time.”  (Cornford p. xxiv)  Instead of two separate avenues, each should be united in the other to allow man his full expression.

Plato (1560)
Paolo Veronese
source Wikiart

By mid-life Plato opened his Academy, basing his conversational instruction on his mentor, Socrates, whom he’d studied under since his early twenties.  Plato sought an answer to the problem that if knowledge was a means to power, and power to wealth, then society was doomed to a materialistic cycle that left men blind to not only the consequences of their actions, but led them to mistake the path to true happiness: “which every soul pursues as the end of all her actions, dimly divining its existence, but perplexed and unable to grasp its nature with the same clearness and assurance as in dealing with other things, and so missing whatever value those other things might have.” (5a95 E, p. 216).  With his astute insight, Plato presents a problem that is ubiquitous, a universal dilemma.

The translator, Conford, suggests that in reading Plato, ask yourself why you agree or disagree with Plato’s utopian design, and in response, suggest an alternative.  In this way, through time, you can experience an abstract participation in Plato’s Academy and perhaps determine, as Socrates implied, that it’s just as important to discover what you don’t know, as what you do.

Arcadian Ruins (c. 1720)
Giovanni Paolo Panini
source ArtUK

Book I ⇒


The History of the Peloponnesian War – Book VIII

 

Isle of Chios
Frederic Leighton
source ArtUK

History of the Peloponnesian War

Book VIII:  While Athens is paralyzed in disbelief about the catastrophic Sicilian expedition, Sparta takes advantage of their weakness and begins to foment strife among Athenian allies. They instigate revolts in Chios and Miletus, as well as other areas that pay tribute to Athens. The Athenians fight back with some success. Various battles and political strategems abound, with Alcibiades coming to the forefront, inciting unrest and disagreement wherever he goes, a result of his selfish manipulations. Finally the Peloponnesians suspect him of subterfuge as he is now tight with the Persian, Tissapherne, and the Athenians mistrust him as well. It is unclear as to whether Alcibiades’ urging is the main catalyst, but suddenly Athenian groups break from their beloved democracy and revolt against it, sending envoys back to Athens to overthrow the democracy and establish oligarchies along the way. Their actions are so ill-planned that the areas they convert are so intoxicated with their new freedom that they begin self-government and the intended plan of the reform set to them by the Athenian envoys is completely ignored.Sparta and Persia form an alliance and Alcibiades is up to his usual no-good, playing off Sparta and Athens against each other with the help of Tissapherne, the corrupt Persian governor.
In Athens, mistrust and subterfuge is rampant as no one knows who to trust and any opponent of oligarchies is murdered.  A “party” named the Four Hundred overthrows the democracy in Athens and takes control, and another oligarchic party in Samos plans the same, but they are thwarted by a number of pro-democratic Athenians who vow to have nothing to do with the oligarchs in Athens, intending to restore democracy by fighting on their own.
Eretria, Euboea, Greece
Edward Lear
source Wikiart

Alcibiades begins to pander to the Athenians again and Sparta is concerned about desertion if they do not win a decisive battle. Meanwhile, back in Athens there is discontent and people are now jockeying for position if the oligarchy falls. The oligarchs send an envoy to Sparta asking for peace and indeed, these cowardly oligarchs would have rather lost their liberty and their country than see a return to democracy. Murders and unrest abound and people are so panicked that some call for rule under the Five Thousand even though there is no proof that that body even exists. A Spartan fleet reaches Eretria in Euboea and the Euboeans revolt from Athens which promotes panic in the city but the Spartans are too obtuse to sense this opportunity, or so our learned author claims. Athens quickly disposes of the oligarchs, installs the Five Thousand, enacts new reforms and recalls Alcibiades. A victory for the Athenian fleet at the Hellespont restores their confidence.

The Acropolis of Athens (1883)
Ivan Aivazovsky
source Wikiart

Finally Thucydides’ narrative breaks off in the middle of the 21st year of the war in 411 B.C., and we learn no more directly from the author. The war ended in 404 B.C., so we miss seven more years of fighting, political posturing, strife and discontent. Among the war incidents not disclosed, we miss two partial Athenian victories at Cyzicus and Arginouse and her final defeat by the famous Spartan commander Lysander at Aegopotami, where he captured almost the entire Athenian fleet in the Hellespont. After this embarrassment, Athens had but no choice than to sue for peace. Sparta decided to allow Athens to remain as a city, but demanded her fleet, the demolition of the Walls protecting her, and freedom for all states that were once part of the Athenian empire. From a powerful, vibrant democracy to a broken, isolated dependent, the loss of freedom must have been heavy indeed to this once great city.

This final chapter though was quite riveting and exposed the perils and weaknesses of human nature like no other has done so far.

The History of the Peloponnesian War – Book VII

 

A Dream of Ancient Athens
Sydney Herbert
source ArtUK

History of the Peloponnesian War

Athenian navy, Sicily
source Wikimedia Commons
Book VII:  Gylippus has great success in Syracuse, turning the tide of the war in favour of the Sicilians, capturing outposts and generally making a great nuisance of himself.  Nicias is ill with a kidney condition and writes to Athens to send more armaments, as Alcibiades has turned traitor, Lamachus is dead and he is the only general left.  They immediately send Eurymedon with ten ships which is hardly encouraging, and Demosthenes sets to gather more reinforcements to leave in the spring.  Meanwhile Gylippus prods the Syracusans to engage the Athenians in a sea battle and although they lose, he is able to capture three forts with loads of supplies and this feat is labeled “the first and foremost cause of the ruin of the Athenian army”.  Athenians ships fail to stop other Spartan ships from leaving Peloponnese and an Athenian supply vessel is destroyed, further damaging the Athenian cause, and with a Spartan invasion at Decclea, a second war front springs up for the beleaguered Athenians.  Thucydides relates complete disbelief that, in spite of all they had suffered and the emerging war on the home front, they still stubbornly clung to their Sicilian expedition. 
 

Destruction of the Athenian army
at Syracuse
source Wikimedia Commons
Demosthenes and Eurymedon arrive and Demosthenes pushes for immediate attack, feeling that Nicias missed his chance for victory with procrastination at the outset.  His attack fails and he counsels for immediate withdrawal as the troops with have more use at Athens.  Nicias disagrees with his counterpart.  NOW, in spite of never being in favour of the expedition, he wants to remain, citing information that the Syracusans are running out of money and his confidence in his fleet.  The two argue but when Gylippus returns, they all agree to leave, however an eclipse of the moon stays their departure and Nicias “who was somewhat over-addicted to divination and practices of that kind,” refuses to depart.  It is an unwise decision as Eurymedon is killed in battle and the Syracusans surround the whole Athenian fleet in the Great Harbour.  The Athenians with their whole fleet attempt to fight their way out, but are routed.  They retire and both Demosthenes and Nicias wish to try again the next day but the soldiers are demoralized and refuse to man the ships so they plan their escape route overland.  Exhausted, the army encounters opposition wherever they go and eventually are killed or captured, with very few escaping.  Both Demosthenes and Nicias surrender and are chopped to bits; Thucydides stresses that Nicias did not deserve this fate.  The losses for Athens are the most catastrophic imaginable.
Destruction of the Athenian army in Sicily
source Wikimedia Commons
⇐ Book VI                                                                                      Book VIII ⇒

History of the Peloponnesian War – Book II

Peloponnese region
courtesy of Ian Gkoutas
source Wikimedia Commons

History of the Peloponnesian War

Pericles Funeral Oration (1877)
source Wikimedia Commons

Book II:  This book takes the reader from the beginning of the war to the third year in the winter season.  An altercation between Spartan and Athenian allies provides the spark for Sparta to invade Hellene lands and so the war begins, with descriptions of battle and raids and refugees. and even the great Athenian general Pericles donates his land to the Athenian government for political reasons.  His eulogy over dead fighters (his famous funeral oration) gives a particular insight into Hellenic culture and character:

“Our constitution does not copy the laws of neighbouring states; we are rather a pattern to others than imitators ourselves ……  We throw open our city to the world, and never by alien acts exclude foreigners from any opportunity of learning or observing although the eyes of an enemy may occasionally profit by our liberality …. We cultivate refinement without extravagance and knowledge without effeminacy; wealth we employ more for use than for show, and place the real disgrace of poverty not in owning to the fact but in declining the struggles against it.  Our public men have, besides politics, their private affairs to attend to, and our ordinary citizens, though occupied with the pursuits of industry, are still fair judges of public matters; for, unlike any other nation, we regard the citizen who takes no part in theses duties not as unambitious but as useless, and we are able to judge proposals even if we cannot originate them; instead of looking on discussion as a stumbling-block in the way of action, we think it an indispensable preliminiary to any wise action at all …… But the prize for courage will surely be awarded most justly to those who best know the difference between hardship and pleasure and yet are never tempted to shrink from danger …. “

Soon after, an horrendous plague hit Athens, which started on Lemnos and is speculated to have originated in Ethiopia.  Thousands upon thousands of Hellenes began to die and Thucydides was one of its targets, although obviously he didn’t die and was an expert on its progression, both from having the disease, to observation and inquiry.

Anaxagoras and Pericles
Augustin Louis-Bell
source Wikimedia Commons

Pericles is then disparaged by the people for the deprivation and struggles they are facing during the war, and he gives a rather stirring speech in his defense, after which the people throw their support behind him, albeit not without a fine to assuage their previous grumblings.  Thucydides’ description of Pericles is very complimentary:

“For as long as he was at the head of the state during the peace, he pursued a moderate and conservative policy; and in his time its greatness was at its height.  When the war broke out, here also he seems to have rightly gauged the power of his country.  He outlived its commencement two years and six months, and the correctness of his foresight concerning the war became better known after his death.  He told them to wait quietly, to pay attention to their marine, to attempt no new conquests, and to expose the city to no hazards, during the war, and doing this, promised them favourable results.  What they did was the very contrary, allowing private ambitions and private interest, in matters apparently quite foreign to the war, to lead them into projects unjust both to themsevles and to their allies —- projects whose success would only conduce to the honor and advantage of private personas, and whose failure entailed certain disaster on the country in the war.  The causes of this are not far to seek.  Pericles indeed by his rank, ability, and known integrity, was enabled to exercise an independent control over the multitude — in short, to lead them instead of being led by them; for as he never sought power by improper means, he was never compelled to flatter them, but on the contrary, enjoyed so high an estimation that he could afford to anger them by contradiction.  Whenever he saw them unreasonably and insolently elated, he would with a word reduce them to alarm; on the other hand, if they fell victims to a panic, he could at once restore them to confidence.  In short, what was nominally a democracy was becoming in his hand government by the first citizen.”

Then follows many general descriptions of battles that take us through to the end of the third year of the war: Plataea is wooed by Archidamus, king of the Spartans, but decides to remain loyal to Athens and are besieged by the Peloponnesians for their decision; Acarnania, in western Hellas, is attacked by the Peloponnesians and defends itself, causing a Peloponnesian retreat.

The Acropolis of Athens (1883)
Ivan Aivazovsky
source Wikiart

Book I                                                                                            

History of the Peloponnesian War – Book I

Confusion
Achraf Baznani
source Wikiart

I swore I would never do this again ……. After being completely drained by my The Histories posts, I made a pact with myself NOT to do the same with Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War.  After all, how much brain power can one person have?  But my post for the book is getting longer and longer and longer, and honestly I’m getting more engaged with Thucydides narrative, somewhat dry though it may be.  I was admittedly bored until about halfway through, but now it has suddenly become interesting and I’m eager to keep reading.  So, with some renewed energy and in an effort not to overwhelm everyone (including myself!) with an hideously long book review, I’ve decided to take the plunge and travel book by book.  Most of the reviews won’t be as long as Herodotus, in fact, some will be rather short.  I’m certain everyone is sighing in relief!

So without further ado, Book I of History of the Peloponnesian War:

History of the Peloponnesian War

Peloponnesian War Alliances
source Wikipedia

Book I:  Think of two brothers embroiled in an enormous disagreement, trust and unity quickly eroding to jealousy, self-importance and suspicion.  Athens incenses Corinth by placing their fleet so they are unable to attack Corcyra and then they woo Potidaea, a colony of Corinth. Now Corinth is livid and appeals to Sparta with their grievances.

I quite liked this comparison between the two nations, Athens and Sparta, offered by the Corinthians:

“….. you will encounter in the Athenians, how widely, how absolutely different from yourselves.  The Athenians are addicted to innovation, and their designs are characterized by swiftness alike in conception and execution; you {Sparta} have a genius for keeping what you have got, accompanied by a total want of invention, and when forced to act you never go far enough.  Again, they are adventurous beyond their power, and daring beyond their judgment, and in danger they are sanguine; your wont is to attempt less than is justified by your power, to mistrust even what is sanctioned by your judgment, and to fancy that from danger there is no release.  Further, there is promptitude on their side against procrastination on yours; they are never at home, you are most disinclined to leave it, for they hope by their absence to extend their acquisitions, you fear by your advance to endanger what you have left behind.  They are swift to follow up a success, and slow to recoil from a reverse.Their bodies they spend ungrudgingly in their country’s cause; their intellect they jealously husband to be employed in her service …… To describe their character is a word, one might truly say they were born into the world to take no rest themselves and to give none to others.”

Theatre of Ancient Sparta
source Wikipedia

While the Spartan delegation counsels war with Athens, their king, Archidamus, cautions that they must build their alliance and gather resources as the war must prove to be long and arduous.  Thence, we hear of a number of alliances and misalliances involving both states plus further introductions to a more crafty Themistokles and an arrogant and violent Pausanias, that appears to be in direct contrast to his portrayal by Herodotus.  Pausanias, inflated by his successes in the Persian Wars, attempts to solidify his power by courting Persia’s regard and is eventually questioned by Sparta.  Tricked into revealing his crimes, he flees to the temple where he is confined and ultimately perishes of starvation.  Likewise, Themistokles is an anathema in Athens, and to preserve himself, pursues the favour of the Persian king, now Artaxerxes, is appointed governor by him and eventually dies. However, the Spartans vote for war, encouraged and praised by the shrewd Corinthians, and Athens vows to defend herself, inspired by the stirring speeches of Pericles.  All-out war seems imminent, but it doesn’t happen just yet.

Herodotus’ The Histories ~ Book IX

Book IX (Calliope)

“When Alexandros returned and conveyed to Mardonios the response of the Athenians, Mardonios set out from Thessaly and swiftly led his army toward Athens.”

This is the last book in The Histories, and my goodness, I’m glad!  I’ve loved this read, but these posts are taking longer and longer to compile.  I’m not quite sure why.  Is Herodotus’ storytelling getting less compact?  Is there just more action happening?  Or is my brain beginning an Herodotus-overload?

Public Domain

Upon receiving word from Alexandros, Mardonios begins his march.  The Thessalians gladly allow him to pass through their land but the Thebans try to dissuade his advance, counselling him to bribe the Hellene leaders rather than engage a force that he cannot defeat.  Overcome with a raging desire to subdue Athens, Mardonios stubbornly refuses to listen.  He moves forward but finds Attica devoid of Athenians because they are all still at Salamis.  Sending a messenger to Salamis, Mardonios offers them goodwill and land for their willing subjugation.  When an Hellene council member, Lykidas, supports the offer, he is stoned to death by his indignant kinsmen, and their wives, too, stone the wife and children of Lykidas.  The puzzle of the Athenians still being in Salamis becomes clear when we learn that they had been waiting for the Lacedaemonian army to come to their aid, but the Lacedaemonians are celebrating festivals and building their wall, delaying their departure.  In spite of the Athenians sending a terse message to their compatriots to come to their assistance, the Spartans delay for another ten days and Herodotus is puzzled by their conduct.  Are they no longer worried about Persian aggression because their wall is nearly complete? Who knows?  Finally Chileos declares that if they do not help the Athenians, they will be in great danger and a Spartan army of 5,000 is launched, led by Pausanias.  And so Mardonios’ plan failed, as he was hoping the Athenians would accept his offer, but with the Spartans on the move, he demolishes what is left of Athens and burns it, for it is not a good place for battle, being hostile to calvary with only one small route for retreat.  Instead he heads to Thebes.  Upon hearing that the Spartan army are in Megara, he turns his troops that way, hoping to demolish them.  But receiving word that they have united with the Hellenes, he withdraws to Boeotia, beginning to build a fortification there.  A story is told of a banquet in Thebes and a Persian who reveals his belief that few of them will remain alive after this campaign and begins to weep.  They cannot reveal their grief because they must follow orders.  “The most painful anguish that mortals suffer is to understand a great deal but to have no power at all.”

Plain of Plataea
William Miller
source Wikimedia Commons



The Spartans and other Peloponnesians set out from the isthmus and arrive at Eleusis where they are joined by the Athenians who have crossed from Salamis.  Taking position in the foothills of Mount Cithaeron, they refuse to come down to the plain and Mardonios sends his forces, led by Masistios (called by the Hellenes, Makistios) to engage them.  The Hellenes are able to fend off the attack and Masistios is thrown from his horse and killed.  Fighting ensues over the corpse but the Hellenes prevail and emboldened by their victory, move from Erythrai down to Plataea for a better position and better access to water.  An argument develops between the Tegeans and Athenians as to who should lead the left wing: the Athenians win because of their graceful argument that they should be the leaders, however they will fight to their utmost wherever they are placed.  Now Herodotus describes the deployment of the troops, the Hellenes having 110,000 men, the Persians (barbarians) 300,000.  More and more Hellenes join their brothers each day and not much happens as each side is hesitant to begin the conflict because of the oracles they had received at the time of their sacrifices, if either side should initiate battle.  Finally, Mardonios becomes impatient and, ignoring the advice of Artabazos and the oracles, prepares his army for battle.  Late that night, Alexandros of Macedon rides to the Athenians and tells them of the Persian plans, asking for liberation of Macedon if they succeed in victory. The Hellenes line up their armies with the Persians and after some maneuvering, Mardonios insults the Spartans calling them cowardly and when no response is given, he spoils the water source for the whole Greek army.  The Hellenes plan to move their army to an island off Plataea, but after a day of fighting, most of the army goes to Plataea to the sanctuary of Hera.  A Spartan commander refuses to budge though, and Pausanias must stay behind to convince him. Finally, Pausanias takes the Spartan army off through the hills while the Athenians turn to march towards the plain.  The stubborn Spartan commander, when he sees the army moving away, relinquishes his plan and follows.

When Mardonios sees the deserted camp of the Hellenes, he disparages the Spartan bravery, calling them cowards.  Quickly he marches off after who he thinks are fleeing Athenians, but is really the moving Spartan army.  So eager is he to stop their retreat that his army flies off without any organization.  Pausanias quickly identifies the pursuit and sends a message to the Athenians to come to their aid, but they are delayed by Greek allies of the Persian king and they are unable to reach the Spartans.  At first, the battle seems to swing in favour of the Persians, but soon the sacrifices prove favourable, and lacking the tactical skill, the Persians army begins to fail.  Mardonios is killed along with 1000 of his special contingent, the Persians flee and with Artabazos now in control, he takes his forces towards the Hellespont.  When other Hellenes hear of the rout, they charge after the barbarians in disorder but many are killed and the rest disperse.  The Spartans fight the Persians at their walled camp but as soon as the Athenians arrive, they are overcome and slaughtered.  Out of a force of 300,000, a mere 3,000 survive.  Herodotus lists the heroes on each side.  A concubine woman of a Persian arrives and clasps the knees of Pausanias as a suppliant; he promises protection to her.  The Mantineians arrive and are so upset that they missed the battle they return to their homeland and banish their military leader; so too, the Eleans.

Battle of Plataea (1854)
John Russell
source Wikimedia Commons

In Plataea, a man named Lampon of Aegina advises Pausanias to win great renown by imitating the Persians’ treatment of Leonidas, by cutting off Mardonios’ head and suspending it from a stake.  Pausanias’ response, while polite and diplomatic, echoes of scorn and distaste:

“My friend from Aegina, I commend and appreciate that you mean well and are trying to look out for my future interests, but this idea of yours falls short of good judgment.  After you have raised me up on high, together with exalting my homeland and my achievement, you cast me down to nothing by encouraging me to abuse a corpse, claiming that if I did so, I would have a better reputation.  But this is a deed more appropriate to barbarians than to Hellenes, though we resent them for it all the same.  In any case, because of this, I could hardly please the Aeginetans or anyone else who approves of such deeds as this.  It is quite enough for me to appease the Spartans by committing no sacrilege and by speaking with respect for what is lawful and sacred.  As for Leonidas, whom you urge me to avenge, I tell you that he and the others who met their ends at Thermopylae have already achieved great vengeance by the countless souls of those who lie here dead.  As for you, do not ever again approach me with such a suggestion or try to advise me, and be thankful to leave here without suffering harm.”

The spoils are gathered and one-tenth are given to the god at Delphi.  Pausanias is awed by Xerxes’ tent which was left to Mardonios.  The corpse of Mardonios disappeared and was presumed buried by an unknown person and Artontes, his son, gave rewards for the treatment.  The Hellenes now march against the Thebans who allied with the Persians, asking for them to hand over the conspirators.  The Thebans refuse and battle ensues.  Finally the leaders are given over, but instead of a trial, Pausanias sends them to Corinth to be executed.

The Serpent Column commemorating
the Greek victory
moved from Delphi to Constantinople
source Wikipedia

Fleeing Plataea, Artabazos attempts to conceal the truth of the defeat of Mardonios from the Thessalians, in fear for his life.  He eventually reaches Asia.  Herodotus begins the story of the battle of Mycale in Ionia:  Samian envoys approach the Greeks to encourage them to attack the Persians to commence an Ionian revolt.  The Greek fleet sets sail, but the Persians retreat, beaching their ships to meet with their land forces leaving the Hellenes to land and prepare for battle.  Miracluously, even  though the battle of Mycale and the battle of Plataea took place on the same day, the former in the afternnoon and the latter in the morning, news of the victory at Plataea was able to reach the men at Mycale and inspire them.  The battle is fierce and the Hellenes put the Persians to flight. The Hellenes counter the plan of the Spartans to evacuate the Ionians to Hellas and the islanders are left as allies of the Hellenes.  The Greek fleet then sails to the Hellespont.

While Xerxes is stationed at Sardis, he becomes infatuated with his brother, Masistes’ wife.  Unable to find a way to possess her, he marries her daughter to his son and then becomes enamoured of the daughter.  When he gives the daughter, Artaynte, a robe woven for him by his wife, the game is up and his wife mutilates the mother.  In anger, Masistes leaves to raise a revolt against Xerxes in Baktria, but Xerxes’ forces pursue and kill him.

When the Greek forces find the bridges already broken at the Hellespont, the Spartans return home but the Athenians stay to make trouble for the Chersonese.  When the people in the region who were allies of the Persians hear the Athenians are about, they flee to Sestos and the siege of it by the Athenians is arduous until they finally win victory. The Athenians return home with the spoils.

The history ends with a telling of Cyrus who reprimanded Persians who wished to move to another country for the riches.  He said:

“because soft places tend to produce soft men, for the same land cannot yield both wonderful crops and men who are noble and courageous in war.”

❊❊❊❊❊❊❊❊❊❊❊❊❊❊❊❊❊❊❊❊❊❊❊❊❊❊❊❊❊❊❊❊

Wow!  I can’t believe that I actually finished!  While this book took some concentration to get all the factions and states straight, I’ll always be indebted to Herodotus for giving me a much, much better understanding of the Persian Wars.  Now on to Thucydides who, I’ve read, starts where Herodotus left off.  Already it’s a much drier read but nevertheless, fascinating.

Book VIII (Urania)                                                                         

Herodotus’ The Histories ~ Book VIII

Book VIII (Urania)

“These are the Hellenes who were assigned to the fleet.”

Herodotus catalogues the Hellene ships that fought at Artemision.  Seeing the size of the enemy fleets, the Hellenes prepare to desert, but Euboeans bribe Themistokles to remain, who in turn pays off others and the battle begins.  The Persians decide to surround the Hellene ships at Artemision by covertly hiding behind islands and approaching from another direction.  However, a man named Skyllias of Skione, a lauded diver, decides to desert the Persians and, after jumping from a ship, swims nine miles under water to reach the Hellenes.  Herodotus counters this story with his own opinion that Skyllias came by boat .  Nevertheless, he reveals the plans of the Persian fleet and the ships that were sunk in the storm.  The Hellenes decide to sail out to meet the barbarians and become encircled by the superior force of Xerxes, who thinks them mad.  Employing their breakthrough maneuver, the Hellene ships are able to take thirty of Xerxes’ ships and capture a prominent personage, the king of the Salaminians.  As night falls, the two sides withdraws, with some desertions of ships over to the Greek side, however the Hellenes decide to retreat and Themistokles attempts to woo the Ionian and Carian forces who are fighting with the Persians, thinking that bringing them to the side of Hellenes will turn the tide of the fighting.  He puts a plan into motion to burn Euboean flocks to hide their departure, but a messenger arrives from Thermopylae, relating the fate of the Hellenes there.  Deciding it imperative to leave immediately, messages are left for the Ionians and Carians urging their desertion.  The Persians investigate the Hellenes’ flight, then Xerxes, up to his old tricks, conceals the Persians losses at Thermopylae by burying most of his dead and leaving only 1,000 on the battlefield (in actuality there were 20,000 killed) whereas the Hellene losses show 4,000 men.

The Bank of Thessaly (1926)
Giorgio de Chirico
source Wikiart

The Thessalians attempted to threaten the Phocians into given them money in exchange for protection from the invading forces, but because of previous resentments between the two, the Phocians refused and that is why the Thessalians gladly guide the barbarians as they advance towards Hellas.  The people flee, but the barbarians ensure that they burn and raze every place to the ground.  While they continue their rape and plunder, another Persian force is heading towards Delphi to capture its wealth for King Xerxes.  When they hear of the advance, all the Delphians leave the city except sixty men and a prophet.  And just as the barbarians approach the temple, thunderbolts shoot out of the heavens and two peaks of Parnassus crack off, crushing the forces under their stones.  Terrified, the barbarians take flight and the Delphian men pursue them, killing a great number.

When the Greek fleet leave Artemision, they decide to anchor at Salamis after learning the Peloponnesians are not joining them but instead are building a wall to protect Peloponnese and they also want to evacuate their women and children from Athens to obey an oracle.  When the Greek fleet at Troizen learns that the others are at Salamis, they set out to join them, making a much bigger fleet than at Artemision and all are commanded by the Spartan, Eurybiades.  Here follows a catalogue of ships from the different states and islands.  As the generals hold council, Xerxes has been trompsing through Boeotia, Attica and finally reaches Athens.  There are a few Athenians left to defend it, but the Persians wrap their arrows in hemp and light them on fire to burn down the barricade.  When held at an impasse, the Persians manage to climb the unscalable cliff to the Acropolis and finally capture it, murdering the suppliants, plundering the sanctuary and setting fire to the whole.  When the Hellenes learn of the ruin of Athens, they are deeply disturbed and Mnesiphilos advises Themistokles not to let the fleet leave Salamis for fear that they will panic and disperse to their various states to protect themselves.  Gathering Eurybiades, Themistokles convenes the generals and convinces them to stay and battle at Salamis.

Themistocles
source Wikimedia Commons

As Xerxes was successful in his march, others joined him so that his loses were hardly visible.  After his victory at Athens, he consults the men on board his ships to see what they advise.  All recommend a battle at sea, yet only Artemisia, the woman commander, advises against it.  While impressed by her response, Xerxes nevertheless follows the majority and gives the order to set sail for Salamis.  Their movement causes terror among the Hellenes, however the Peloponnesians were still completing the wall they had started after learning of Leonidas’ defeat at Thermopylae, and the work continues day and night as a race against time.

As the Hellenes begin to argue again as to the best course of action to take, Themistokles sends his servant, Sikkinos, to Xerxes’ camp to convince the Persians to engage the Greek fleet at Salamis before they flee.  He is victorious in his own right and the Persian fleet leaves for Salamis where the Hellene generals are still arguing, unaware that they are being surrounded by the enemy.  Meanwhile, Aristeides returns from exile, and Herodotus believes that in spite of his circumstances, that he was “the best and most just of all the Athenians.”  Although an enemy of Themistokles, he puts away his enmity and tells him of the encircling of the Persian fleet, whereupon Themistokles asks him to reveal the news to his contemporaries.  Doing as he is bid, Aristeides reveals their position, yet he is not believed by the commanders until a Tenian trireme arrives and confirms his story.  Thus, the battle begins.

Xerxes I
source Wikimedia Commons

Most of the Ionians fight well for the Persians, in spite of Themistokles’ previous attempt to get them to desert.  However, many of Xerxes’ ships are destroyed versus very few Hellene ships because the Hellenes remained in battle formation and fought together whereas the Persian force was disorganized and, more to the point, many of the men did not know how to swim.  Whenever a Hellene ship was wrecked, the men simply swam to shore.  Artemisia wins acclaim for herself in two very suspect manners: 1) she rams a friendly ship, whether by accident or design Herodotus does not know, and the Attic/Hellene ship pursuing her either thinks she is on their side, or has, deserted to their side, and ceases pursuing her, and;  2) as King Xerxes watches from his station at the base of mount Aigaleos, one of his men commends Artemisia for sinking an “enemy” ship and Xerxes, proud of her feats, remarks, “My men have become women, and my women, men!”

With the great confusion of his fighters, the Phoenicians come to Xerxes and attempt to blame the Ionians for treason, yet as Xerxes observes an Ionian act of bravery, he becomes impatient with the Phoenicians and orders their heads to be cut off so they will learn not to “slander their betters”.  In the battle, Persian ships attempt to flee but are pursued by the Aeginetans.  The Aeginetans are the premier naval fighters at Salamis, followed by the Athenians.  There is a story of the Corinthians fleeing the battle, only to be encountered by a ship sent by some god, the crew of which tell them of a Hellene victory.  Finally convinced, they sail back but the battle is over, however this is an Athenian story and the Corinthians tell a story of their courage of which the rest of Hellas is in accord.

Battle of Salamis (1868)
Wilhelm Kaulbach
source Wikimedia Commons

Aristeides gathers hoplite soldiers and proceeds to kill all Persians on the island of Psyttaleia.  Much wreckage from ships washes ashore, fulfilling many oracles and Xerxes eventually grasps the magnitude of the disaster before him and, worried that the Hellenes will break apart the Hellespont and trap him, he makes plans to return home.  To cover his intentions, he begins construction of a causeway to Salamis and also prepares for another battle, fooling everyone but Mardonios who is familiar with the king’s mind.  Xerxes sends a messenger home to announce the Persian catastrophe and the Persians appear to be more worried about the safety of their king than his success.  Mardonios, reluctant to give up the battle, counsels that Xerxes return home with the majority of forces, but if he leaves him 300,000 troops, he will deliver Hellas to him, enslaved.  Xerxes summons Artemisia to consult her and she advises to follow Mardonios’ plan as, if it succeeds, Xerxes will take much of the credit, and if it fails, Mardonios is no great loss.  Such is his terror, Xerxes adopts her counsel, trusts her to take his sons to Ephesus and gives Mardonios his men.  When the Greeks learn of the flight of the Persian fleet the next morning, they set off in pursuit, stopping on the island of Andros.  Themistokles advises that they should sail directly to the Hellespont and destroy the bridges, but Eurybiades goes against his advice, saying that if the Persians are trapped, they will take Hellas little by little.  The other commanders agree to leave them a flight path, and Themistokles then advises the Athenians not to pursue the barbarians.  His advice is intended to gain favour with the Persians if he ever needs their assistance and he sends his servant, Sikinnos, to relate to them that he has convinced the Athenians to let the Persians leave unmolested and with the Hellespont intact.  The manipulator!  He then proceeds to besiege Andros for refusing to pay him, and extorts money from other islands without the other commander’s knowledge.  Xerxes withdraws and Mardonios with him, deciding it is not the time of year to wage war and is content to wait.  The Persian troops suffer starvation and plague and whoever is left is detained at the Hellespont, as the bridge of ships was damaged in a storm.  Another story goes that Xerxes went by sea to Asia and the boat was overcome by a storm.  The helmsman made men jump into the sea to lighten the load and when they reached land safely, Xerxes gifted him with a crown of gold for saving his life, then decapitated him for the destruction of the lives of the men.  Herodotus does not believe this story; if it was true, of course, the rowers would have been thrown overboard, not the notable Persians!

Xerxes at the Hellespont
Adrien Guignet
source Wikimedia Commons

Unable to take Andros, the Hellenes return to Salamis to make offering for their victory.  They then sail to the isthmus to present a prize to the two men who showed the most valour in the war.  Of course, every man places the first vote for himself, but the majority of the second votes go to Themistokles, however because of jealousy, they will not award him a prize.  Themistokles travels to Lacedaemon where they graciously presented him with an olive branch, a fine chariot and a escort of 300 Spartans called “the Knights”, the only time anyone has received such honours.

As the Persian king retreats, some areas revolt, particularly Poteidaia.  After Artabazos finishes his escort of Xerxes, he attempts to subdue the Poteidaians but the people hold out against his siege and discover their general’s treasonous activities.  When the barbarians try to cross the sea at low tide, a flood tide comes and drowns many of them.  Meanwhile, the Persians wait to hear of the success of Mardonios, confident of his victory.

Mardonios decides to consult oracles and sends Mys to find all that he can, and at the Theban oracle, it gives a prophecy in the barbarian tongue instead of Greek to the surprise of all.  After reading the oracles, Mardonios sends Alexandros of Macedon (not Alexander the Great), to Athens to try to convince the Athenians to desert to the side of the Persians; Herodotus is unsure if this was because of the prophecy of the oracles or not.  He then recounts how the Temenids settled Macedon where Silenos was captured in the garden of Midas (see Metamorphoses – Book XI)  And thus, Alexandros arrives  in Athens and attempts to convince the Athenians to support the Persians, particularly emphasizing the strength of Xerxes and Mardonios’ troops, whereupon the Lacedaemonians, distressed at the Athenians’ possible betrayal, entreat the Athenians to hold firm and not allow the enslavement of the Hellenes.  In a rather elegant speech, the Athenians unequivocally refuse to reach an agreement with Xerxes and chastize the Lacedaemonians for believing that they would ally themselves with such a ruler who has destroyed their city and gods.  The urge the Lacedaemonians to prepare for war.

View of the Acropolis (1849)
Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres
source Wikiart

Book VII (Polymnia)                                                                           Book IX (Calliope)