Friday, January 20, 2012
Herodotus’ “Histories” of the Persian Wars (very liberally ‘translaparaphrased’): Book I sections 53 -58
Wherein, after a long delay, the Hallicarnassus Historian and King of all story mongers is back, providing us with a few more sections of his history of the Persian War, and the World as he knew it, while indulging in a speculative pre-history of the Athenians and Spartans, this all being in prelude to detailed histories of both, before he departs on a detailed history of Persia, and every other part of the known world before finally arriving at his subject, the Persian Wars!
But that's all for later. Now, some prehistory of the Sparties and the Athenians, followed by a little recent history of the same (in soon-to-come posts):
53 (Remember, King Croesus the Lydian is thinking of making war on Cyrus, King of the Medes. He's been oracle mongering to see if it's really such a good idea. Herodotus has been giving us a damn catalog of all the bling Croesus has been tendering the Oracles at Delphi and Amphiaraus, the two he thinks are genuine bona fide seers.)
As I was saying, the Lydians who were tasked with the delivery of these gifts to the temples were instructed to ask the oracles if Croesus should campaign against the Persians, and if he should also form alliances for the purpose. So, in each case, upon the messengers’ arrival, they first offered the gifts, using appropriate ceremonials and then put Croesus’s question thusly: ‘Croesus, leader of the Lydians as well as other nations, believes that yours is among the true oracles of the world. He has given gifts that are proper for such accomplished diviners. So, now he begs to ask of you whether he should march against the Persian, and if it would be wise to seek alliances for that campaign.’
Both oracles answered similarly. They replied with the prediction that Croesus would destroy a great empire if he were to move against the Persians. On the matter of alliance, they advised that he seek out the greatest of the Greek city-states, and come to an understanding with it.
Croesus was elated when he heard report of these replies, and became fully confident he was going to be able to defeat Cyrus. To fully express his satisfaction he sent a further gift to Delphi, giving two gold staters for every man. In fact, he took pains to ask the Delphians to give a count of the adult male population for this very purpose. In thanks for the gesture, they in turn granted all Lydians, in perpetuity, the right to claim full Delphic citizenship if they desired to claim it. Additionally, such Lydians as would take the offer were to be exempted from taxes, given front seats, and priority in oracular access.
When Croesus had given Delphi these further presents, he consulted a third time. Acquisition of one true answer to a question had made him eager for more. This time he asked if his reign as King would last a long time. The Pythia’s response:
When the day comes that a mule shall sit upon the throne of the Mede
Then, tender-footed Lydian, by the pebbly river Hermus
Run, and delay not, nor trouble yourself with shame at being a coward.
This reply was immensely satisfying and confirmed Croesus in his confidence. For, he could not foresee how it was even remotely possible that a mule become King of the Medes. He took it as a sure indicator that he and his progeny would retain power forever.
He then turned to the task of determining which Greek city-state was the most powerful, and forming an alliance with it. It quickly became apparent, through his investigations that the Lacedaemonians were pre-eminent among the Dorian cities, and the Athenians were uppermost amongst the Ionians. These two, one originally Pelasgian, the other Hellenic, were generally considered the two most powerful among the Greeks.
The Ionians are indigenous to the peninsula, where the Dorians, on the other hand, have always been on the move. During the reign of Deucalion, Phthiotis was home. In the reign of Dorus, son of Hellen, it was the country known as Histiaeotis situated in the neighborhood of Ossa and Olympus. They were driven from that locale by the Cadmeians and settled in Pindus. There they were known as Macednons. From there they migrated to Dryopis, and finally settled in the Peloponnese, where they acquired their present name of Dorians.
Of the Pelasgian language I cannot speak with authority, but that its origins were not Greek, we can reasonably infer from the features of the language of those now resident in Creston, just above the Tyrrhenians, who were neighbors of those now denominated Dorians, when these latter resided in the country we call Thessaliotis. We can also glean this from the language of the Pelasgians that settled at Placia and Scylace on the Hellespont and were fellow countrymen of the Athenians. Lastly, similar cases can be made about other Pelasgian towns that have changed their names over time.
Granted then, that we can infer these are a fair sampling of the Pelasgians, we can infer that the Athenians, themselves originally Pelasgian, changed language when they were first absorbed into the Greek nations, long ago.
In Creston and Placia the same language is spoken. It is a different language from those of the surrounding country. This clearly indicates that these people, when the relocated to the region, did not change their language.
I am of the opinion that the Greeks have always spoken the same language, but were small and culturally weak upon branching from the Pelasgians in ancient times. They have grown to their present stature by the addition of several foreign elements, amongst which eventually were included the Pelasgians themselves. I don’t think the Pelasgians, originally non-Greek, ever became numerous or powerful.