Friday, February 17, 2012

Herodotus’ “Histories” of the Persian Wars (very liberally ‘translaparaphrased’): Book I sections 59 -61

Wherein Herodotus pokes fun at the Athenian reputation for not being unosophisticated rubes..


Croesus learned that Athens had been split by factional rivalries, and was at the time under the tyranny of Pisistratus, who was son of Hippocrates. A disturbing portent was said to have occurred when Hippocrates, who himself never held public office, was attending the festival at Olympia. He had slaughtered animals for sacrifice when the cauldron containing the meat and water began to boil over on its own, without the aid of fire. Chilon of Lacedaemon happened to see this. He advised Hippocrates never to wed, nor have children, or if he had already married, to divorce immediately, and disown any son he may have. Hippocrates brushed off this advice, and later Pisistratus himself was born. There was friction in those days in Attica, between people of the coastal villages, led by Megacles, son of Alcmaeon, and the people of inland villages. They were led by Lycurgus, son of Aristoleides. Pisistratus, being desirous of power himself, gathered a third party around himself. Having collected supporters, he presented himself as the champion of the ‘hillmen.’ Additionally, he arranged a clever ruse in order to secure himself an armed contingent of guards. He cut himself and his mules about the body, and then drove into the agora pretending to have narrowly escaped from enemies that had tried to kill him as he was leaving town. In doing this, he relied on his reputation, for he had performed brilliantly during his command of an expedition against Megara. Among several accomplishments, he had captured Nisaea. In light of this past, he asked the people for a personal guard. The Athenians were duped and complied, providing a good number for the purpose. The contingent followed him about, armed with clubs instead of the usual spear. Using this force, Pisistratus was able to take the Acropolis, making himself master of Athens. In this way he came to rule the Athenians. He took pains to rule in accordance with Athenian custom. He did not eliminate any existing offices, and changed no laws. Additionally he adorned the city well and beautifully.


It was not long before the two other parties combined forces. Megacles and Lycurgus were able to drive Pisistratus out of the town. So soon did this happen that in this, Pisistratus’ first period of tyranny, he really had no time to begin to rule. He set no roots. His rivals though, were unable to maintain harmony and fell into conflict. Megacles found himself so beset that he made strong overtures to Pisistratus. He promised to restore Pisistratus to rule if he would but consent to marrying Megacles’ daughter. Pisistratus readily agreed, and then, in what seems to me to be the most ridiculous stratagem recorded in history; they contrived to return the man to power. The Greeks have never been dolts, for centuries they have been distinguished from other races of man by their purported superior discernment and wit. Of all the Greeks, the Athenians were supposed to be the most intelligent and discerning. Be that as it may, it was these same Athenians that were the dupes of this ludicrous trick. It happened that in a village called Paeania there was a very handsome statuesque woman, six feet in stature. Her name was Phye. They fit her out in a suit of burnished hoplite armor, placed her in a chariot, had her pose in impressive mien, and then drove into Athens. Beforehand, they had sent messengers portending Pisistratus’ return and urging the citizenry to welcome him because Athena herself had shown him favor in personally escorting him back to her very own shrine on the Acropolis. These messengers spread this farcical story all over the town. It didn’t take long for the story to filter out to the outlying villages. Remarkably, both villagers and city dwellers swallowed the tale, utterly convinced the woman Phye was the goddess herself. They offered her earnest prayer and received Pisistratus enthusiastically.


After returning to power by this ploy Pisistratus did indeed marry the daughter of Megacles, as he had promised. But, due to a widely accepted story that the Alcmaeonid family had brought a curse upon itself, and because he already had fully grown sons, he did not want to father children with the woman. To prevent conception, he refused normal sexual intercourse, and had recourse to sodomy. For some time the woman kept her silence in the face of the insult, but later, perhaps in response to inquiry, she revealed the truth to her mother. She quickly relayed the facts to Megacles. He was angered at the insult to his daughter and himself. He undertook to resolve his enmity with his political enemies. This development alarmed Pisistratus. He determined to leave the city. He fled to Eretria and consulted with his sons. The view articulated by Hippias, that Pisistratus should make an attempt to regain his power, carried the day. They began to collect contributions from towns that were under any sort of obligation to them. Many towns were generous, but Thebes gave the greatest gift. Over time, they were joined by mercenaries from Argos in the Peloponnese. A man called Lygdamis, from Naxos offered his help, contributing not only funds, but men. To make a long story short, they were eventually ready for the march on Athens. In fact, ten years had passed as they made their preparations.