Wednesday, November 23, 2011

"God as my witness, I thought turkeys could fly."

Herodotus’ “Histories” of the Persian Wars (very liberally ‘translaparaphrased’): Book I sections 53-58

[An excursus into the Dark Ages and reconstruction of the Pre-History of Sparta and Athens. A prelude to a detailed history of both]


The Lydians who were sent to deliver the gifts were also tasked to inquire of the Oracle whether Croesus should undertake a campaign against Persia, and whether it would be wise to forge alliances for the purpose.

On their arrival, they therefore followed custom and ceremony and afterward posed the question thusly: “The King of Lydia and other lands, Croesus, believes that you are among the only genuine oracles of the world, and therefore has rendered unto you these gifts, which are fitting of your powers of divination. He does this so that he may humbly ask if he should make war against the Persian, with such allies as he may procure.”

Both oracles answered similarly. They both predicted that Croesus, should he decide to move against the Persians, would indeed topple a great empire. Furthermore, in the matter of alliances, each of them advised him to seek out the greatest Greek state for coalition.


Croesus was elated when he received the reports, and became fully confident that he would destroy the power of Cyrus. So satisfied was he that he felt compelled to render unto Delphi a further gift. For each man of Delphi, he tendered two gold staters, having first taken pains to determine how many men were resident. The Delphians, in gratitude, returned the favor by granting the right of citizenship to Croesus and any Lydian that cared to acquire it, along with exemption from any taxation, and front seats at state functions. They also promised Lydians priority when consulting the Pythia.


After giving the Delphian men their gifts, Croesus consulted the oracle for a third time. One true answer had tantalized him, and strongly compelled him to seek more. He asked if he would enjoy a long reign. The Pythia answered:

When it happens that a mule shall sit upon the Throne Median
tender-footed Lydian, by pebbly Hermus run.

Do not tarry, and take no shame
in acting the coward.


The answer pleased Croesus, and confirmed him in his confidence, for he thought it ridiculous that an animal, a mule, should ever become King of Media. He inferred the meaning to be that he and his line would rule in perpetuity. He therefore set about following the earlier advice of the oracle; researching the most powerful Greek city, in order to form an alliance.

The consensus was that the Lacedaemonians were the most powerful of the Dorians, while of the Ionians, the Athenians were pre-eminent. These two peoples, one originally Pelasgian, the other Hellenic, were by this time the most powerful of the Greeks. The Ionians are indigenous to their land, the Dorians have always been on the move. Their home, in the ancient days of the reign of Deucalion, was Phthiotis, and in the time of Dorus, son of Hellen, they occupied the land called Histiaeotis, in the environs of Ossa and Olympus. They had been driven there by the Cadmeians. They settled in Pindus and were known as the Macednons. From there they moved yet again to Dryopis, and then finally settled in the Peloponnese, where they acquired their present name ofDorians.


Of the Pelasgian language I can say nothing authoritative, other than to say that it was not Greek. This can be inferred from the nature of the language now spoken by those of the Pelasgian race now living in Creston, above the Tyrrhenian race, who in earlier times were neighbors of those people now called Dorians when these latter resided in the place we call Thessaliotis. Further evidence is given by the language of the Pelasgian peoples that settled at Placia, Scylace at the Hellespont and were at one time fellow countrymen of the Athenians as well as other Pelasgian towns that have since changed their names. Assuming that this is a fair sampling of the Pelasgian race, one may safely conclude that the Athenians, themselves Pelasgian, changed their language once they had been absorbed by the Greek nations. In Creston and Placia one language is spoken, but that language is not that of the surrounding country. This clearly indicates that these people did not change language when they changed locale.


I believe that the Greeks have never changed their language. But, they were vulnerable after having separated from the Pelasgians. Since that branching, they have grown from a small group to their present standing by assimilating foreign elements, amongst which eventually were the ancestral Pelasgians themselves. I don’t think the non Greek Pelasgians ever became particularly numerous or powerful.