Greek Lit Journal Eleven
April 6, 2017 (1.5hrs+3hrs)
In class today, we finished discussing Book 8. This time, we again revisited the significance of the powerful women who appear in Herodotus’ narrative.
We had already met Artemisia in the previous book, when Herodotus introduced us to the allies of the Persian army. Artemisia came from Halicarnassus, the same place where Herodotus was from. She stood out among the other allies due to the fact that she was a warrior herself and led her men into battle. In Book 8, we got to know her even deeper. (Side note: for some reason, whenever I picture Artemisia inmy head, rather than imagining the depiction in the 300 movie, I always picture her as a version of Diana Prince, or more commonly known as Wonder Woman. Anyway, carry on.)
During the battle at Salamis, Artemisia was captaining her own ship, fighting the Athenian navy with the Persians. However, in the heat of the battle, an Athenian ship caught sight of Artemisia’s ship and started to chase it down. Now, unfortunately, Artemisia was boxed in by her own allies’ ships, and couldn’t easily escape, so in a moment of clever trickery, she took action. Herodotus mentioned that there had been rumors that she had had some type disagreement with another of her allies, the captain Damasithymos, in the past; however, there was no solid confirmation of the rumor. Anyhow, to escape the Athenian ship, Artemesia rammed into Damasithymos’ ship and sunk it and was free. When the Athenians saw this, they turned away, thinking Artemisia’s ship was on their side. However, when Xerxes, who was watching the goings on of the battle from his throne a safe distance away, saw that Artemisia had point-blank rammed a ship and sent it to a watery grave, he assumed the sunken ship was Athenian. He praised Artemisia’s unapologetic boldness and exclaimed “My men have become women, and my women men.” (8.88) Meanwhile, Artemisia got off scott free after sinking a fellow comrade’s ship. I think it’s pretty funny, just because that move is the epitome of how Herodotus paints women in his narrative.
With nearly every woman in the narrative, Herodotus has taken care to highlight how manipulative and carefully ruthless each one is. From the very beginning, when the first woman is introduced, we see how methodical women can be. After being exposed to her husband’s servant, she carefully tempered her reaction and waited until she could effectvely retaliate. Then, Queen Tomyris, after her son killed himself after a battle with the Persians, the queen of the Massagetae waited until after her battle was won. Then, she walked through the piles of corpses until she found the body of Cyrus. With a well thought out plan, she filled a bag with blood and placed Cyrus’ decapitated head into it, to give him his fill of blood. Even the blood thirsty queen Pheretime was carefully ruthless as well. She took her venegeance out on the Barcaeans in the most cruel way possible, by impaling men on her walls and cutting off and impaling the breasts of the women on the walls as well. (4.204) Despite being led to an equally cruel death — being eaten by worms — Her vengeance was unmatched in its level of cruelty.
When Gorgo is introduced, she is depicted as clever and wise, advising her father Cleomenes not to agree to Aristogarus’ bribe to join the Ionian revolt. Later on, she reappears as the voice of reason that deciphers the message Demaratus sends on a wooden wax covered tablet. While not really depicted as ruthless, Gorgo is shown to be undeniably clever. Just like Artemisia, these women that Herodotus chose to showcase are talented manipulators and ruthless leaders. Even today, women are often portrayed as manipulative and clever, in the same way the women in herodotus are. For some reason, these characteristics have followed women through history. Honestly, the reason women have to be more thoughtful and manipulative is because often, we do not have the benefit of brute strength or physical advantages.
We also returned to reflecting on Life’s Five Great Stories that we discussed at the beginning of class. THese stories — Social relationships, career, spiritual/intellectual enlightenment, partnerships, and leadership — are all portrayed in Herodotus’ narrative.
For social relationships, we discussed how it seemed like there were no truly pure social relationships for the sake of having each other’s company. For kings and leaders, none of them could be assured they had a purely social relationship because they could never be sure if it was just because they wanted something from them. Many of the seemingly amicable relationships ended up turning sour, as on party would betray the other. As for careers, from everything seen in the Histories, the only relatively safe occupation at that time was to be an oracle or an advisor. However, being an advisor was equal parts dangerous and safe, because, as long as you were in the king’s favor, you would be fine; however, if you ever irritated the king and gave advise he did not appreciate, you could face the king’s wrath and lose your own life. At least as an Oracle, all you had to do was give cryptic messages and receive gifts as payment.
We see the importance of spiritual and intellectual enlightenment when Herodotus describes the Egyptians and they’re beliefs and culture. The most important partnerships in Herodotus were partnerships between countries; alliances made to increase your chances of winning and surviving battles. And leadership speaks for itself; the kings and queens were the only ones in great power.
April 11, 2017 (1.5hrs+3hrs)
In begnning to to discuss Book Nine of Herodotus, an interesting concept was raised. In section 78, the Aeginetans had defeated Mardonius. The leaders, Lampon and Pausanias had a discussion on what to do with the Persian leader. Pausanias was the nephew of Leonidas, the Greek leader that was killed by the Persians when he was defeated. Lampon encouraged Pausanias to kill Mardonius in the same way his uncle had been killed. However Pausanias refused, rebuking Lampon for his desire to have vengeance the same as the barbarian Persians. He claimed that such actions as defiling a dead body were “more fit for barbarians than Greeks.” (9.79) He went on to say that it was his duty to “please the men of Sparta by decent action and decent words.” Basically, Pausanias claimed that their victory was due to the fact that they were better than that. they were more civilized, above such barbaric activities.
In class, the statement was made that “no country will claim their success is because they are more savage or barbaric or cruel; they will claim it is due to the fact that they are more civilized than other countries.” For some reason, as soon as this statement was made, I immediately thought of Superman and Batman. In the comics and tv shows I watched growing up, both of them were governed by a higher moral code than their antagonizers. While their opposing villains would not hesitate to take innocent lives and casualties, the heroes would always stop themselves before treating the villains with the same ruthlessness as they exacted themselves. The heroes would always stop before killing the bad guy, institutionalizing them instead rather than becoming the judge and jury all in themselves. And I think that reflects back on the civilized statement. Both heroes, while neither was perfect, considered themselves above the villain morally. (Despite Superman crossing that line in the most recent Man of Steel installment on the Superman franchise, when he snapped the neck of General Zodd to save the world.)
April 12, 2017 (2hrs)
The craziest story in this book by far is at the very end of Book Nine. Apparently, all this time while the Persians were fighting the Greeks, Xerxes found time for other extracurricular activites. While he was at Sardis, Xerxes apparently fell in love with his brother Masistes’ wife, and had been wooing her with all sorts of gifts, despite the fact that she was not in the least bit interested and rebuffed him every time. Put out, Xerxes married off his son Darius to Masistes’ daughter Artaynte. When the betrothal was official, Xerxes went and moved his soon-to-be daughter-in-law into his house and fell in love with her instead, more successfully this time. Meanwhile, when Xerxes’ wife Amestris found all this out, she made him a fancy cloak that he proudly wre in front of Artaynte. In a good mood, he magnanimously promised that he would give Artaynte anything she wanted. Cleverly, she asked for the cloak. Knowing that if he gave his mistress the cloak that his own wife would find out, Xerxes tried to convince Artaynte to ask for gold or an army, but she insisted on the cloak and won out.
However, when Amestris realized what had happened she instead blamed her mother rather than Artaynte herself. Plotting to herself, she waited until a big feast was held and Masistes’ wife came to the palace. When Amestris demanded that Xerxes give her the wife, Xerxes was obviously uncomfortable and tried to right the mess he’d gotten himself into. He brought his brother Masistes to him and tried to convince him to take one of Xerxes’ daughters instead if he would just put aside his own wife. Of course, Masistes refused — to Xerxes great anger — and returned home as quickly has he possibly could. However, he was too late, for in the time he had been in conference with Xerxes, Amestris had ordered his wife mutilated, chopping off her breasts, nose, ears, and lips and feeding them to the dogs before sending the woman back home with her tongue cut out. Thoroughly furious, Masistes then plotted to start a rebellion against the king in Bactria. However, he didn’t make it that far, and Xerxes sent his army after Masistes and killed him enroute.
This story seems like something out of an ancient version of Keeping up with the Persians, because of the wild rampant indulgence of violence and desires. This whole family was destroyed just because Xerxes couldn’t keep it in his pants (or his loincloth, to be more accurate.) He let his own personal desires get in the way of sensibility and basic human decency. When this king is supposed to be the leader and men are supposed to be trusting him with their lives, their king is being ruled by his second, smaller, less intuitive brain. Disgusting. If I wasn’t sure whether or not I really like Xerxes as a leader or not, I know now. He’s gross.