Monday, June 6, 2011
Herodotus’ “Histories” of the Persian Wars (very liberally ‘translaparaphrased’): Book I sections 5 -8
Such as it is, that is the Persian story. In their view the sacking and capture of Troy was what first made them enemies of the Greeks.
As to Io, the Phoenicians do not accept the Persians’ story; they deny that she was forced to go to Egypt. Quite otherwise, the girl while in Argos had dalliances with the ship’s captain, and bedded with him. Later, she found herself pregnant and was ashamed to face her parents. So, she sailed away voluntarily to escape disclosure.
So much for the stories of the Persian and the Phoenicians; I have no intention to pass judgment as to the veracity of either account. I prefer to rely on what I know to be fact, and hasten to point out who it was in actuality who had first injured the Greeks; then, after doing that, I will proceed to my history, and along the way, as I tell the tale, will tell the stories of cities great and small. Indeed, most of those cities that were great in times past are small today, while those that used to be small are great in my own time. Being always cognizant that human prosperity is fleeting, and never abides long in the same place, I shall therefore pay attention to both great and small alike.
6. (Wherein we are introduced to the first great character of the Histories, Croesus the Lydian)
Croesus of Lydia was son of Alyattes. Croesus was ruler of all the people to the west of the river Halys, which flows northward into the Euxine (Black) Sea. It forms the border between Cappadocia and Paphlagonia. Croesus was the first barbarian to come into direct contact with Greeks, both by way of alliance and by way of conquest. He forced tribute from the Ionians Aolians, and Asiatic Dorians. He also formed a pact of friendship with the Lacedaemonians (Spartans). Before his time, all the Greeks had been free polities; for even though the Cimmerians had attacked the Ionians earlier, that action was no conquest, but a mere piratical raid.
The rule of Lydia which had been held by the Heraclids, passed to the family of Croesus, the Mermnadae, in the following way: Candaules (also called Myrsilus by the Greeks) was King of Sardis. He was a descendent of Alcaeus, son of Heracles. Candaules’ father, Myrsus was the last of the Heraclids to rule from Sardis. The first was a man named Agron, son of Ninus, grandson of Belus and great grandson of Alcaeus. Before Agron’s time the ruling family had been that of Lydus, son of Atys. From this Lydus comes the name “Lydians.” Before this time the people were known as the Maeonians. The princes of this ruling family turned over the management of their affairs to the Heraclids as well as a slave girl belonging to one Iardanus. Later on, the Heraclids had their power confirmed by an oracle. In all, they reigned for twenty-two generations, five-hundred and five years total. Son succeeded father right down to the time of Candaules.
Now Candaules was more than usually enamored of his own wife, and was utterly convinced she was the most beautiful woman on Earth. He had in his bodyguard one fellow he particularly liked and trusted, by the name of Gyges. He was son of Dascylus. Candaules not only discussed his most important business with this man, but made him listen to extended tributes to and declamations upon his wife’s surpassing beauty.
One day, the king, (who we will see was doomed to a bad end) said to Gyges: ‘It appears you don’t believe me when I tell you how lovely my wife is. A man will believe the testimony of his eyes over anything he merely hears, so I want you to do exactly as I say, I want you to figure out a way to see her nude.’
Gyges was aghast, and involuntarily gave a cry of horror. ‘Master,’ he answered, “that is an amazingly inappropriate suggestion! Are you telling me to look at the queen when she is not clothed? No. No! When she takes her clothes off she takes on a risk of terrible shame. You know what they say about women. We must learn from experience. Right and wrong were delineated long ago, and I’ll tell you one thing that is certainly right; a man should mind only what is his own business. I have no doubt that your wife is the most beautiful in the world, but for God’s sake do not ask me to act so egregiously against longstanding custom.’
What happened next and how is this connected with Croesus? Stay tuned...