Weekly Journal 11

Thursday, April 6 8:10am-9:30am (1 hour, 20 minutes), Locke Hall

Today’s class focused on the role of women in Herodotus, specifically Artemisia. To get this discussion rolling, Dr. Sandridge began by talking about the three books in Herodotus that end with women. The first example was Tomyris in Book One. Tomyris was the queen of the Massagetae and could be seen as an agent of the gods or an agent of payback (tisis):

“Long they (the Massagetae and Persians) remained fighting in close combat, and neither side would flee. But finally the Massagetae got the upper hand. The most of the Persians army died on the spot and, among them, Cyrus himself, having ruled, in all, twenty-nine years. Tomyris sought out his corpse among the Persian dead, and, when she found it, she filled a skin with human blood and fixed his head in the skin, and, insulting over the dead said: ‘I am alive and conqueror, but you have destroyed me, all the same, by robbing me of my son by trickery. Now it is you and I; and I will give you your fill of blood, even as I threatened.’” (ch. 214)

This fierce love of children draws many parallels to the television series Game of Thrones. In this show, the queen mother Cerses is portrayed to possess a very deep-seeded love for her children which leads her to go to the ends of the earth to protect them. On several occasions, this love for her children have resulted in distasteful situations — or even death — for others. We then jumped to Book Four and talked about Pheretime, queen of Cyrene. In this book, Pheretime impales all of the invades who have encroached upon her home and cuts off the breasts of all the women and places them around the walls of the city:

“Those of the Barcaeans who were most guilty we handed over to Pheretime by the Persians, and she had them impaled all around the walls. In the case of their women, she had their breasts cut off and set these too on the wall around. For the rest of the Barcaeans, she bade the Persians make booty of them, save for the Battiadae and those who had had no share in the murder; and Pheretime turned over the city to these latter people.” (ch. 202)

She then returns home to Egypt where she dies of worms. A prevalent theme throughout this story is the idea of vengeance. As we saw in Book One, Tomyris was able to exact her revenge upon Cyrus with no punishment from the gods. However, in the case of Pheretime, we see that the gods were not pleased with her actions and so allowed her to die a painful death. The question that was running through my mind as we discussed this in class is how much vengeance is too much for the gods? When do we know when we have reached the upper limit of acceptable vengeance? We saw in Book One that Tomyris beheaded Crus and soaked his head in a sack of blood. And in Book Four, Pheretime impales invades and mutilates women. Both are extreme acts of revenge but Pheretime is the only one who gets punished by the gods. Finally we moved to Book Seven and discussed the prominent woman in this book, Gorgo. Gorgo is representative of the cleverness that is accredited to many women throughout the work of Herodotus. She is the one who is able to uncover the message that Demaratus sends to Themistocles on the wooden block covered in wax:

“For when Xerxes had resolved to march against Greece, Demaratus was in Susa and had the information and wanted to convey it to the Lacedaemonians. It was a grave risk if he should be caught sending it, and he had no other means of communication except the following device. He took a double tablet and scraped away the wax on it, and afterwards wrote the King’s design on the wood of the tablet, and after that melted the wax back on the tablet so that the tablet that was carried would have nothing to tell the guards of the roads. When it came to Lacedaemon, the Lacedaemonians could not guess what it meant until, as I hear, Gorgo, who was Cleomenes’ daughter and Leonidas’ wife, noticed the thing herself and confided her discovery to them. ‘Take off the wax,’ she said, ‘and you will find writing on the wood.’ So they did what she said, and they found it and read it, and afterwards they informed the rest of the Greeks.” (ch. 239)

It is clear to see that there is no place for submissive women in Herodotus. However, not all the women who displayed exemplary characteristics are royalty like the last three women mentioned. There was Cleobis and Biton’s mother in Book One who prayed for her sons to have honorable ends. There is also the young girl in Book One who was dressed up as Hera and helped to take over a city. And again, there is Cyno who pretended that her dead baby was Cyrus and raised Cyrus as her own. We find the stories of these women shocking because they go against our expectations. People do not think of power and wit when they think about women; they think of docility and submission.

The class discussion then proceeded to address a topic that we haven’t touched on since the beginning of the semester: life’s five great stories. But this time we talked about them in relation to the stories we have been reading throughout the semester. For the social relationships story, I thought of Hieron and his struggle in finding true friendships while being a despot. For the career story, the class discussed how some of the best careers to have in Herodotus were oracles and advisors. When talking about the spiritual/intellectual enlightenment story, I was reminded of how the Egyptians in Herodotus were obsessed with divination and trying to understand the minds of the gods. As we talked about the partnership story, I was reminded of the alliances that were formed among the Greek city-states when trying to fight off the Persian invasion. And finally, as we reached the leadership story, the class considered what true leadership looked like and the failures and shortcomings of the leaders throughout Herodotus.

Saturday, April 8 2:00pm-4:00pm, 8:30pm-9:00pm (2 hours, 30 minutes), CHS Dorm

Today, I read about the battle of Platea and I could see why some scholars believe that Herodotus was biased towards the Athenians. The way he told this story, it almost makes it seem as though the Greeks owed their freedom to the Athenians. Herodotus raves about the bravery and valor of the Athenians but barely mentions the warriors from the other Greek city-states. For example, in chapter 74 of Book Nine, Herodotus lauds one particular warrior, Sophanes of Athens:

“From this township came Sophanes, and he proved himself the best of the Athenians on that day. There are two stories told about him. One was that he carried an iron anchor fastened to the girdle of his cuirass with a bronze chain. Now as often as he drew near to the enemy he would throw his anchor down, that the enemy, as they moved upon him out of their fixed position in their ranks, might not avail to stir him from his place but that, when his enemies fled, he might pick up his anchor again and pursue them. That is that story. But there is another that is told, and at variance with the first, according to which he bore the device of an anchor on his shield, which he ceaselessly whirled round, never leaving it at rest; there is in this story no iron anchor fastened to his cuirass.”

Here, you can see how Sophanes is described as an almost superhuman type figure. One could argue that Herodotus was simply telling the story to us as it was told to him. But then again, maybe he really did just want to highlight the Athenians more than the other Greeks. I guess we will never know.

Monday, April 10, CHS Dorm

I did not include the time for this entry because it doesn’t really have anything to do with the class but I thought I would include it anyway. I took a nap today after one of my classes and I had a very strange dream. I don’t remember all the details but I will try to relay it the best I can. In the dream, I was a power ranger fighting off some evil villain who had kidnapped an innocent citizen. Later on in the dream, the rest of the power rangers and I had learned that the citizen’s name who had been capture was Lycidas and he was hidden away in a water tower. When I asked the villain why he had locked Lycidas away, his answer was that Lycidas had been guilty of considering a deal from an overlord who was trying to take over the planet.

I know how ridiculous that dream sounds, believe me. When I woke up, I couldn’t help but laugh at the parallels between Herodotus and my dream. And at that moment, I realized that Herodotus had officially invaded my subconscious. Not only did I think about Herodotus during the day in my reading sessions, but now I could not even escape him in the sanctity of my dreams.

Tuesday, April 11 8:10am-9:30am (1 hour, 20 minutes), Locke Hall

We have finally reached the homestretch of Herodotus and I must say, it is a bittersweet feeling. I feel like Herodotus and I have been through so much together and I am sad to see him go. But I know for a fact that I will be picking up this book again.

In today’s class period, we talked about an array of topics in Book Nine. First we talked about the corruption of leaders and how within every city-state there are leaders who can be bribed or are sympathetic towards opposing forces. For example, Hippias of Athens had fell victim to Persian persuasion and so ended up medizing. The class then moved on to the subject of women. And once again, the theme of vengeance and women made an appearance. In chapter five, Lycidas, a Greek counselor, is presented with a proposal from Mardonius to join the Persian cause. When faced with this decision, he proposed that he should bring it to the people and let them decide. The result was fatal:

“One of the counsellors, Lycidas, gave as his opinion that it seemed best, once they themselves had received the proposition that Murychides brought, to submit it to the people. This then was the judgement he openly declared, either because he was in receipt of money from Mardonius or perhaps out of his personal conviction. But the Athenians, both those of the Counsel and those outside, when they learned of this, raised a very storm about it. They surrounded Lycidas and stoned him to death, though they sent Murychides, the Hellespontian, away unscathed. There was a tumult in Salamis about this business of Lycidas; and when the Athenian women head what was happening, one woman summoned another and came and took her along, and they went of their own prompting to the house of Lycidas, where they stoned to death his wife and children.”

I was again visited by the question I mentioned in my last journal: how much revenge is too much? What had Lycidas’ wife and children done to deserve to die? It was not as if they were the ones who were considering joining Mardonius so why did they have to face the same fate that Lycidas did? To me, the boundaries of revenge are completely arbitrary.

Next, the class talked about chapter sixteen and Attaginus’ banquet with the Greek and Persian elites. This was one of my favorite stories because it had such a profound quote: “What comes from God, no man can turn back. Even if what was said was credible, no one would ever believe it. Many of us Persians know all this, but we follow in the bondage of Necessity. This is the bitterest pain to human beings: to know much and control nothing.” I was surprised to see just how applicable this line was in my life. There have been so many instances when I would see my friends going through certain situations that I know the outcome of. And no matter how much warning and caution I gave, my friends would go ahead and do what they wanted to do. By the end of the day, they would come crying to me saying how they should have listened to me. When it comes down to it, there is only so much one can do to control how things turn out. And then I got to thinking, wow, this must be what it’s like to be a parent. Although it’s sometimes hard to realize, for the most part, parents usually know what they’re talking about when giving guidance to their children, mostly because they themselves have experienced it. And so when children disregard their parents’ advise, there is only so much parents can do to control how their children will act.

The class then went on to discuss a recurring theme in the book: Herodotus’ feelings towards barbarians. We took a look at the death of Masistius in chapter 22 who was a Persian commander. Although he was Persian, Herodotus still presented his story in a way that gave him a very honorable death. In the following chapters, we see that the Persians have a strong reverence from their dead when Mardonius weeps over Masistius’ body. We also see, in chapters 78 and 79 that the Greeks also have a deep-seeded respect for the dead. In this way, the Greeks see themselves as better than the barbarians because even in victory, they would never disrespect a body. Also, in chapter 82, Pausanias — the Peloponnese commander — goes to Mardonius’ abandoned tent and mocks the wealth and pomposity of the Persians. It was interesting to see that even with all this wealth, the Greeks still viewed the Persians as barbarians. I guess in this way, wealth does not necessarily translate to civility. Dr. Sandridge explained how he thought that Herodotus was simply showing how the notion of civility fluctuates.

Wednesday, April 12 5:00pm-7:30pm; 10:00pm-11:30pm (5 hours), Health Sciences Library

Wow. 664 pages. 9 books. And one fantastic ending.

As I read the final chapters of Book Nine, I couldn’t help but to be reminded once again of the concept of women and revenge. I had thought that Lycidas’ family had had it bad back in chapter five, but that was before I had read the story of Masistes and his family. I would definitely insert the chapters from this story but that would make this journal unbearably long so I will do my best to summarize what happened. Masistes is one of the late King Darius’ son and Xerxes’ half-brother. In this story, Xerxes becomes infatuated with his brother’s wife and so makes advances to try to win her over. When this fails, Xerxes redirects his efforts towards Masistes’ daughter, Artaÿnte. When Xerxes’ wife, Amestris, discovers that Xerxes is longing after his niece, rather than pin her rage on the daughter, Amestris takes revenge on Masistes’ wife. Now here is where I found the first issue with this story? Why is Amestris angry with everyone except her husband? Neither the wife nor the daughter had done anything wrong. Xerxes is the one who is fixing his eyes on other women. But then I realized that there was only so much that women could do back then. There was no use in being angry with King Xerxes and so she had to redirect her frustrations elsewhere. During the King’s birthday, there is a large feast called the tukta in which people may ask the king for whatever they wish. Knowing this, Xerxes’ wife asked for Masistes’ wife as a gift. Xerxes already knew what his wife would do to her, but being bound by Persian nomoi (custom), Xerxes had to oblige. Long story short, Xerxes’ wife mutilates and kills Masistes’ wife and, because of Masistes’ anger, both he and his children also die. The conclusion that I drew after reading this story is that a scorned woman is a very dangerous thing.