End of a Journey- Weekly Journal 11- Greek Lit
Thurs April 6 8:00–9:30(class) 1.5hrs
Today in class we spent most of the time discussing the female figures in Herodotus. I thought this was interesting especially since I had taken a look at Artemisia’s character in my last journal. She had sparked the discussion about the women throughout the entire book. Prof. Sandridge mentioned that nearly half of the books of Herodotus have ended with the focus being a powerful female figure. At the end of book one, Tomyris of the Masagetae killed Cyrus, beheaded him and put his head in a bag of blood. This excessive way of “quenching his thirst for blood” came after Cyrus had pushed Tomyris’ son to kill himself after being captured. Next, at the end of book four was Pheretime, mother of a recently slain king. Pheretime, simlar to Tomyris also felt a strong need to avenge her son, so she murdered all of the Barcaens who she had believed to be respondible for her son’s death. Not only did she murder them but she also impaled all of their bodies on the walls around their strong hold. While impaling all of the Barcaens she also cut of the breasts of all of the women and impaled them on the walls next to them. This was a wildly unjust act of vengeance and because it was so uneven in terms of the punishment fitting the crime that the gods decided to step in and punish her for being so cuel towards the Barcaens. As Pheretime returned home, she developed a worm infestation which eventually led to her agonizing death. On an entirely more positive note, book seven ended with Gorgo deciphering a message that had been sent to the Lacedaemonians. An exile among the Medes actually heard of Xerxes gathrring his forces for his expedition against Greece and wanted to warn them somehow. This exile, Demaratus, had to send the message in a masterful way so that those carrying it would not be able to read it or detect it. He took a wooden block, carved the warning into it then melted wax around the wooden block to cover up the message. As the message arrived it perplexed everyone who handled it or tried to decipher it. The only person to figure this out was the daughter of Cleomones and wife to Leonidas(two successive kings), Gorgo. She had been characterized as an extremely witty woman or even female character as she gave advice to her father when she was much younger. She seemed to figure out the riddle behind the wax with ease compared to everyone else who tried their hand at trying to figure it out. Lastly, there is a return to villainy in book eight as Artemesia is the focus towards the end of this book. I spoke about her before in terms of her use of deception and all around shady character. This discussion fostered a wide variety of thoughts, the foremost being that the women of Herodotus seem to be used as either tools to build up the character or story of men throughout the book or they were painted as being completely wicked with the exception of Gorgo. Many of the previous women were either described as someones wife or daughter or they were helping out a male on his path throughout a side story. I drew this same parallel with DC comics and their characters. I often think about the events of Herodotus as a battle between Heroes and villains because I find many of the same concepts and situations that heroes find themselves in, especially in comics, is similar to the situations of Herodotus’ characters. Over the years, being that I have read comics for about 6 years now, I’ve seen many of the stories shift to give many female heroes more of their own independent stories but the female villains have always seemed to be given a stronger voice and characterization. This brings me back to the idea that many of the prominent women of Herodotus were seen diabolical and the few that were good were seen as good in conjunction to male characters with the exception of Gorgo. To give a more concrete example of my thoughts, one of the most famous females DC characters, Wonder Woman, was often portrayed as part of a team with and even secondary to men even though she came from an origin that celebrated female strength and independence. An example of this follows when she is defeated in a fight then calls out for Superman to save her even though, in theory they are supposed to be equally as strong.
To return back to Herodotus, I find it intriguing that many strong female characters are often depicted as being evil if they stand alone or auxiliary to male heroes if they are not. The DC universe has a slew of strong female villains that indpendently terrorize the planet but many of the female heroes rarely ever stand alone. I would imagine that these constructs are a result of societal constructs but this is a much deeper concept that should be questioned through more mediums that DC comics and Herodotus books.
Thurs April 7 11:00am–3:00pm 4hrs
Finally read the final book of Heorodotus actually feels extremely unerhwhelming. I felt that coming into the book there would be none stop action or at least grand occurances that all culminate in a grand finale for the entire book. This book actually felt like it was winding down in terms of tone when compared to all of the other books. The book starts off with Mardonius continuing to march on Greece. While he is planning how he will attack and take the city sates there is an arising conflict between the Spartans and the Athenians. The Athenians send a messenger back to the Spartans to remind them that they agreed to send soldiers to fight the Persians at Boetia. At the time the Spartans were celebrating Hyacinthia and decided to ignore the Athenians. The Spartans had built and fortified the wall to protect the Peloponeese so they felt that if anything happened they were save from the Persians or any other invaders for the time being. The Spartans at this time seemed to be growing very arrogant and a bit cocky, beliving that at this time they were untouchable and out of danger. Athenian, Megarian and Plataen messengers were sent to tell the Spartans that the king of the medes was offering the Athenians a deal. This deal would be that the Athenians would get their land back plus additional land for claiming loyalty to the king, Xerxes. The messengers basically told the Spartans that the Athenians are prideful people and would not take the deal but that they should not be tempted to make enemies between them. The Spartans completely dismissed this message when it got to them and they continued their celebration. Ten days later Chileus spoke about the unity of Greece and how the entirety of Greece would fall if they continued to ignore the Athenians. The leaders of the army listened and their opinions were immediately swayed so they sent an army out to Attica. Under Pausanius’ rule five thousand Spartiates were sent along with seven times as many Helots. The messengers, nearly directly after the army was sent, went to the leaders and began to complain about being ignored, basically calling the Lacedaemonian leaders foolish for acting that way. When they were informed that the army was sent out, the quickly ran after them to catch up. I found this series of events, these ten days, interesting because they foreshadow the upcoming conflict between the Athenians and Spartans. I loosely know about the upcoming events in which there is a disagreement between the Athenians and Spartans which leads to an all out war in which the city states take sides under either the Spartans or Athenians. After having read Herodotus for so long, I find the investigative process of examining a conflict, its causes and effects to be much more interesting now.
At the same time Mardonius, the Persian captain is traveling around and attempting to set his army in the best position for this final fight to take Greece. HE at first sends a message to Athens to give them a last chance to join his forces and take Greece. They are slow to reply and dont respond at all so he takes this as a rejection of his offer and again, burns Athens down. He had traveled there expecting to meet the Athenians but they had long vacated. He then traveled back to Atticus. While waiting there he realized that if he found there, he would be disadvantaged because of the size of his army so he then traveled back to Thebes which had a more even and open field so that his army wouldnt be pinched in to a confined space. While in Thebes, a prominent Theban, Attiganus, invited many of the Persian generals and head Thebans to a banquet. At this banquet there were generals fro both sides of the congflict but no fights or incidents between them broke out. The general Thereunder, ends up talking to a Persian who begins expressing his sorrow towards the current war being waged. This Persian knows that the Persian army is about to be defeated and most of the army and people he knows wil die but he cant control it. He even begins to cry while he explains that it is a heavy burden to know your fate and not be able to do anything about it because it is simply the will of god. His entire monologue spoke about how it is one of the most miserable things in life to know your fate and have to accept it no matter how much it saddens you. I found this entire chapter interesting and very odd. This persian was given a monologue for most of a lengthy chapther and he wasn’t even named. I felt that this was inserted more as a thinking piece rather than actually having to do with the story. Having read most of the book I would expect Herodotus to follow up on this Persian and see what eventually happened o him since he had such an outburst at this banquet.
Tues April 11 8:00–9:30(class) 1.5hrs
In class we spent a great deal of time talking about Lycidas from book eight chapter five. When the Medes sent the message to the Athenians giving them one last chance to surrender and become part of the Persian empire this message was sent to the councilmen. Lycidas was the only councilman who attempted to make an argument for joining the Persians. It is unknown whether Lycidas was bribed or whether he truly believed that the Athenians should try to medize at this point but all of the othe rcouncilmen and Athenians immediately turned on him. He was stoned to death and labeled as a traitor. Before his wife even found out what had happened, two women made their way to his house and stoned his wife and children to death. The class had a discussion about why this was done and why in such excess. Prof. Sandridge said that this was a show of how strong their pride was but this was still an overreaction from all of those who decided to stone Lycidas and his family. Wwhile reading this independently I felt that even though it was harsh, this was done as a precautionary measure so that all Athenians realized and knew that there was no room for any thoughts about disloyalty or medizing. Lycidas was a council member so clearly he would have some influence among the Athenians so merely stoning him may have resulted in sympathizers for his cause so that’s why his entire family was killed to show that anyone even remotely connected to these thoughts of betraying the Athenian people would be put to death. This definitely could’ve been handled a different way and even in a more beneficial way but at a time of war in which unity is one of the most important things for survival as an army and a unit, it is understandable why such grave actions were taken. In the class this also led to a discussion about payback, specifically what is adequate payback or punishment in the eyes of the Greek gods and where is the line drawn. Clearly stoning someone and his family for a suggestion seems to be crossing the line but there was seemingly no response from the gods about this. I honestly feel that disucssiona bout what is just payback and what is exessive really comes down to who is telling the story. Herodotus, being of Greek descent and clearly rooting for his people, didn’t give any instances in which the gods were punishing or even interfering against the greeks for any of their actions or even just to help the war move along. Most of the time, in most mythology, the story teller is the one who decides when divine punishment is needed to be dealt out and finds a way to work the events of the story so that the wrath of the gods appears to be dealt. With the recounting of stories there will always be bias but when tlaking about traditions and the actions of the gods, these ideas and events surrounding divine intervention seem to be extremely ambigious.
Weds April 12 7:00–11:30 4.5hrs
I finished book nine of Herodotus and effectively the entire book and again I felt that it was very anti-climactic just as I felt from the beginning of the book. I knew that the Greeks would win so that took a bit of an edge off of the ending but also the ending story and tone seemed to be on a low note. The last story that Herodotus effectively tells is about Xerxes and one of his scandals that took place immediately after the war. Xerxes had been traveling around with his brother and his brother’s family after basically retreating back into Persian territory. While in Sardis he fell in love with Masistes’(his brother) wife. Xerxes tried multiple times to get her to be with him but she refused and Xerxes did’nt want o use violence against his brother. Throughout this entire process Xerxes actually ended up falling in love with Masistes’ daughter next. Xerxes, in a ploy to get closer to the mother arranged for his own son Darius to marry his niece Artaynte. Unfortunately as he spent more time around Artaynte he grew more affectionate towards her over her mother. Amistris, Xerxes wife soon began to be suspicious of Xerxes actions amongst Masistes’ family. Amistris had woven a very beautiful and elegant cloak for Xerxes that he immediately put on and showed off as he walked around. He presented it to Artaynte very boldly as they met in secret one day. In that moment he was so happy with the cloak and Artaynte’s presence that he told her to ask for anything she wanted and he would grant it to her. She immediately asked for the cloak, the one thing Xerxes didn’t think she would ask for. Xerxes pleaded with her to choose anything else, lands to rule or even her own army but she refused. He reluctantly gave her the cloak and Amestris soon noticed her with it. Amestris’ suspicions were then confirmed but she decided not to punish the daughter and figured that everything that had happened was through the conspiracy of the mother. Xerxes, coincidentally had been holding an event in which he couldn’t refuse anyone’s request so Amestris requested to have Masistes’ wife. Xerxes could not refuse, but immediately warned Masistes after agreeing with his wife. He told his brother that he needed to abandon his wife immediately and that Xerxes would giv ehim a daughter instead. Xerxes pleaded with Masistes to no avail. Masistes got home soon after and found his wife horribly mutilated so he gather the rest of the family and attempted to flee from Persian country. As he fled he vowed that he would exact terrible revenge against Xerxes as soon as he got the chance but unfortunately Xerxes sent men after him, they found him and killed him. This event, being one of the last major ones before the very end of the book, held much different weight than had it been in the middle of the book or in an earlier book. I felt that this story served as a final characterization of Xerxes. This King who had one of the largest empires of all time had just led most of his army to ruin and was utterly defeated yet he doesn’t seem too upset. Xerxes seemed very adamant about destroying Athens, which he did, but generally he lost the war but didn’t seem to have any emotion or care towards this, especially since he had the chance to immediately fall in love twice directly following this loss. Outside of him being the grand leader of a massive army that had been defeated, this also characterizes him as a person. I would call him goofy for lack of a better term. He falls in love with his brother’s wife and daughter, gets caught and tries to soften the effects by offering his brother one of his daughters to marry. In the end he had to have his brother and his entire family killed because he lusted after his wife and daughter. I understand that Xerxes was fairly young at the time but these actions seem to be highly illogical, even for Xerxes, a king known to be irrational and violent. I feel like Herodotus inserted this story to remind the reader that Xerxes is a goofy off the hook character who doesn’t care about anyone else.