Greek Lit Journal Five
January 14, 2017 (1.5hrs+2hrs)
I didn’t get a chance to read very much before Tuesday morning, save what I read that before class. I spent most of the weekend in a hospital hallway waiting for a room with my grandmother who had a stroke early Sunday morning. Needless to say, school was not my first priority this weekend.
In class, we discussed a few stories from Herodotus Book Three. To begin, we discussed what the third book was about. Because when he had first begun to talk about Egypt and why the Persians had invaded it, Herodotus took a total diversion from his goal to expound on the wonders and the histories of Egypt. Taking the whole Book Two to do this, he finally returned to the main storyline in Book Two.
First, he began trying to sift out the true reason to the primary altercation between the Persians and Egyptians. According to one story, Cambyses just decided that he wanted Egypt under his belt, so he asked Amasis, king of the Egyptians, for his daughter. Amasis was understandably hesistant to send his daughter away, especially knowing that Cambyses merely wanted her for another concubine, decided to attempt to trick Cambyses. He dressed up the daughter of the previous king Apries, as his own daughter, decking her out in jewelry and finery before sending her off to Cambyses. Of course, Nitetis had not forgotten how Amasis had taken her father’s kingdom from him, and ousted Amasis’ true intention of deceit to Cambyses. Finally, Cambyses had a reason to attack Egypt.
In class, we discussed the arrogance of leaders like Amasis. He was so oblivious, so caught up in his own power, that he assumed that anyone would do his bidding just because he demanded it. This story has a similar them to the way King Astyages was so sure that, even though he had brutally murdered and defiled Harpagus’ son, Harpagus wouldn’t dream of faltering in his loyalty to him. Both Astyages and Amasis were almost naïve in their actions, placing so much trust in someone they had openly disrespected and expecting them to just bend over and deny their own selves out of loyalty. They considered themselves untouchables, immortal to any actions of their disgruntled subjects.
Then, we discussed the story of Polycrates
I continued to read after class, and was slightly amused by the opening line in section 3.14: “Ten days after the fort had fallen, Cambyses resolved to try the spirit of Psammenitus” Basically, even though Cambyses had already defeated Psammenitus’ army, he couldn’t just let it go and let Psammenitus take a noble loss. So, Cambyses set about trying to break Psammenitus’ spirit. First, he humiliated Psammenitus daughter, making her dress like a slave and draw water along with other daughters of the nobles. But, while all their other fathers wept, Psammenitus just looked down at the ground in silence. Then, Cambyses made Psammenitus’ son march past Psammenitus with a rope tied around his neck and bridle in his mouth like an animal. Again, while all the other father’s mourned, Psammenitus barely showed any reaction. However, when a beggar came and began begging the soldiers who were executing Psammenitus’ children, Psammenitus began weeping and smote himself on the head. Confused, Cambyses questioned Psammenitus on his actions. Psammenitus replied that it was because it was Croesus, and to see him so fallen from glory was hearbreaking. Cambyses recognized the significance of Croesus and sent word to stop PSammenitus’ son from being executed, but was too late and had been killed and cut into pieces. However, Cambyses had mercy and allowed Psammenitus to live with him. However, Psammenitus started a revolt in Egypt so Cambyses had to kill him.
As I continued to read, I found that Cambyses fell prey to the same affliction of numerous other kings before him: the illusion of untouchability. When he went to Memphis in Egypt, a mythological sacred bull was also visiting, named Apis. The Egyptians began feasting for Apis’ sake, which irritated Cambyses. So, in retaliation, he the priests bring Apis to him and tried to stab the bull in the belly but missed, stabbing it in the thigh to show that the bull was just an animal, made of flesh and blood. The feasts were ended and the priests were scourged and the bull died of his wound.
BY this time, Herodotus keeps alluding that Cambyses was going a little crazy. In 3.29, he referred to Cambyses as “the harebrained person that he was.” Again, in 3.30, he said that Cambyses was “smitten with madnesss for this crime,” referring to the killing of the bull. The first sign of that madness was when he thought his brother Smerdis was going to kill him. Smerdis had been sent away because he was the only one who could pull back the be the Ethiopians had sent as a challenge, so Cambyses sent one of his men to kill him. Then, Cambyses killed his sister, whom he had married. His madness was attributed to what they called the “sacred sickness,” what we now know as epilepsy. In class, we discussed why it was called the sacred sickness. Epiliptic seizures were seen as divine possession. The etymology of the word is “lepto” which means seizure, and “epi” which, as I know from medical terminology, means above. So, Epilepsy means seizure from above, which I think is satisfyingly interesting.