The Illegal, Murderous Rapist: Herodotus Subtweets a Tyrant

I covered a class for a colleague today and read this bit from Herodotus for the first time in many years. It was, well, just a little eerie.

Herodotus 3.80

“Otanês was first urging the Persians to entrust governing to the people, saying these things: “it seems right to me that we no longer have a monarchy. For it is neither pleasing nor good. For you all know about the arrogance of Kambyses and you were a party to the insanity of the Magus. How could monarchy be a fitting thing when it permits an unaccountable person to do whatever he pleases? Even if you put the best of all men into this position he might go outside of customary thoughts. For hubris is nurtured by the fine things present around him, and envy is native to a person from the beginning.

The one who has these two qualities possesses every kind of malice. For one who is overfilled does many reckless things, some because of arrogance and some because of envy. Certainly, it would be right for a man who is a tyrant at least to have no envy at all, since he has all the good things. Yet he becomes the opposite of this towards his citizens: for he envies those who are best around him and live, and he takes pleasure in the worst of the citizens—he is the best at welcoming slanders.

He becomes the most disharmonious of all people—for if you admire him only moderately, then he is upset because you do not support him ardently. But if someone supports him excessively, he is angry at him for being a toady. The worst things are still to be said: he overturns traditional laws, he rapes women, and kills people without reason.”

᾿Οτάνης μὲν ἐκέλευε ἐς μέσον Πέρσῃσι καταθεῖναι τὰ πρήγματα, λέγων τάδε· «᾿Εμοὶ δοκέει ἕνα μὲν ἡμέων μούναρχον μηκέτι γενέσθαι· οὔτε γὰρ ἡδὺ οὔτε ἀγαθόν. Εἴδετε μὲν γὰρ τὴν Καμβύσεω ὕβριν ἐπ’ ὅσον ἐπεξῆλθε, μετεσχήκατε δὲ καὶ τῆς τοῦ μάγου ὕβριος. Κῶς δ’ ἂν εἴη χρῆμα κατηρτημένον μουναρχίη, τῇ ἔξεστι ἀνευθύνῳ ποιέειν τὰ βούλεται; Καὶ γὰρ ἂν τὸν ἄριστον ἀνδρῶν πάντων στάντα ἐς ταύτην τὴν ἀρχὴν ἐκτὸς τῶν ἐωθότων νοημάτων στήσειε. ᾿Εγγίνεται μὲν γάρ οἱ ὕβρις ὑπὸ τῶν παρεόντων ἀγαθῶν, φθόνος δὲ ἀρχῆθεν ἐμφύεται ἀνθρώπῳ. Δύο δ’ ἔχων ταῦτα ἔχει πᾶσαν κακότητα· τὰ μὲν γὰρ ὕβρι κεκορημένος ἔρδει πολλὰ καὶ ἀτάσθαλα, τὰ δὲ φθόνῳ. Καίτοι ἄνδρα γε τύραννον ἄφθονον ἔδει εἶναι, ἔχοντά γε πάντα τὰ ἀγαθά· τὸ δὲ ὑπεναντίον τούτου ἐς τοὺς πολιήτας πέφυκε· φθονέει γὰρ τοῖσι ἀρίστοισι περιεοῦσί τε καὶ ζώουσι, χαίρει δὲ τοῖσι κακίστοισι τῶν ἀστῶν, διαβολὰς δὲ ἄριστος ἐνδέκεσθαι.

᾿Αναρμοστότατον δὲ πάντων· ἤν τε γὰρ αὐτὸν μετρίως θωμάζῃς, ἄχθεται ὅτι οὐ κάρτα θεραπεύεται, ἤν τε θεραπεύῃ τις κάρτα, ἄχθεται ἅτε θωπί. Τὰ δὲ δὴ μέγιστα ἔρχομαι ἐρέων· νόμαιά τε κινέει πάτρια καὶ βιᾶται γυναῖκας κτείνει τε ἀκρίτους.

 

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Royal Domestic Violence

Earlier, Cambyses marries one sister (3.31) and murders another. This one is unnamed.

Herodotus, Histories 3.32

“There are two stories regarding her death just as in the case of Smerdis. The Greeks report that Cambyses made a puppy fight with a lion cub and that this woman was watching. When the puppy was being defeated, another puppy—its sibling—broke its leash and was helping him. Together, the two puppies overpowered the lion cub.

Cambyses was pleased when he saw this, but she was crying as she sat alongside him. When Cambyses saw that she was crying and asked why she was, she responded that she cried upon seeing the puppy try to avenge his brother because she was thinking of Smerdis and realizing that there was no one who would avenge him.

The Greeks claim that she was executed for Cambyses for this response. The Egyptians, however, say that when the two of them were sitting at a table the woman took up some lettuce, plucked off the leaves, and then asked her husband if the lettuce seemed better plucked or with its leaves still. When he said he liked it more intact, she said that “but you must recall that you have stripped the house of Cyrus just like this lettuce.” In rage over this, he leaped on her even though she was pregnant. She died after miscarrying.”

Ἀμφὶ δὲ τῷ θανάτῳ αὐτῆς διξὸς ὥσπερ περὶ Σμέρδιος λέγεται λόγος. Ἕλληνες μὲν λέγουσι Καμβύσεα συμβαλεῖν σκύμνον λέοντος σκύλακι κυνός, θεωρέειν δὲ καὶ τὴν γυναῖκα ταύτην, νικωμένου δὲ τοῦ σκύλακος ἀδελφεὸν αὐτοῦ ἄλλον σκύλακα ἀπορρήξαντα τὸν δεσμὸν παραγενέσθαι οἱ, δύο δὲ γενομένους οὕτω δὴ τοὺς σκύλακας ἐπικρατῆσαι τοῦ σκύμνου. καὶ τὸν μὲν Καμβύσεα ἥδεσθαι θεώμενον, τὴν δὲ παρημένην δακρύειν. Καμβύσεα δὲ μαθόντα τοῦτο ἐπειρέσθαι δι᾿ ὅ τι δακρύει, τὴν δὲ εἰπεῖν ὡς ἰδοῦσα τὸν σκύλακα τῷ ἀδελφεῷ τιμωρήσαντα δακρύσειε, μνησθεῖσά τε Σμέρδιος καὶ μαθοῦσα ὡς ἐκείνῳ οὐκ εἴη ὁ τιμωρήσων. Ἕλληνες μὲν δὴ διὰ τοῦτο τὸ ἔπος φασὶ αὐτὴν ἀπολέσθαι ὑπὸ Καμβύσεω, Αἰγύπτιοι δὲ ὡς τραπέζῃ παρακατημένων λαβοῦσαν θρίδακα τὴν γυναῖκα περιτῖλαι καὶ ἐπανειρέσθαι τὸν ἄνδρα κότερον περιτετιλμένη ἡ θρίδαξ ἢ δασέα εἴη καλλίων, καὶ τὸν φάναι δασέαν, τὴν δ᾿ εἰπεῖν “Ταύτην μέντοι κοτὲ σὺ τὴν θρίδακα ἐμιμήσαο τὸν Κύρου οἶκον ἀποψιλώσας.” τὸν δὲ θυμωθέντα ἐμπηδῆσαι αὐτῇ ἐχούσῃ ἐν γαστρί, καί μιν ἐκτρώσασαν ἀποθανεῖν.

Possible seal image of Cambyses II

Tacitus on Germanic Standards for Women and Child-Rearing

Some of the rhetoric here seems a bit familiar…

Tacitus, Germania 19-20

In that country, no one finds vice amusing; nor is seducing or being seduced celebrated as a sign of the times. Even better are those communities where only virgins marry and a promise is made with the hope and vow of a wife. And so, they have only one husband just as each has one body and one life so that there may be no additional thought of it, no lingering desire, that they may not love the man so much as they love the marriage. It is considered a sin to limit the number of children or to eliminate the later born. There good customs are stronger than good laws.

There are children there naked and dirty in every house growing into the size of limbs and body at which we wonder. Each mother nourishes each child with her own breasts; they are not passed around to maids and nurses.”

nemo enim illic vitia ridet, nec corrumpere et corrumpi saeculum vocatur. melius quidem adhuc eae civitates, in quibus tantum virgines nubunt et cum spe votoque uxoris semel transigitur. sic unum accipiunt maritum quo modo unum corpus unamque vitam, ne ulla cogitatio ultra, ne longior cupiditas, ne tamquam maritum, sed tamquam matrimonium ament. numerum liberorum finire aut quemquam ex agnatis necare flagitium habetur, plusque ibi boni mores valent quam alibi bonae leges.In omni domo nudi ac sordidi in hos artus, in haec corpora, quae miramur, excrescunt. sua quemque mater uberibus alit, nec ancillis aut nutricibus delegantur.

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A Silly Reason For Sacrificing a Horse

Polybius, 12.3 [Other Errors Made  by Timaeus]

“And then again in his details about Pyrrhus he says that the Romans still recall the memory of the destruction at Troy when they shoot a warhorse on a certain day in front of the city in the Campus Martius because the sacking of troy happened because of a wooden horse—a fact which is the most childish thing of all. For, he would need to say that all the barbarians are the descendants of Trojans, since almost all of them when they are about to start a war or are taking a risk toward great danger, sacrifice and slaughter a horse, interpreting what is going to happen from the fall of the animal.

Timaios does not only show is inexperience in this bit of stupidity about the horse, but also it seems to be a great bit of pedantry when he supposes so naively that they go through the practice of sacrificing a horse because Troy was taken by one!”

Καὶ μὴν ἐν τοῖς περὶ Πύρρου πάλιν φησὶ τοὺς Ῥωμαίους ἔτι νῦν ὑπόμνημα ποιουμένους τῆς κατὰ τὸ Ἴλιον ἀπωλείας ἐν ἡμέρᾳ τινὶ κατακοντίζειν ἵππον πολεμιστὴν πρὸ τῆς πόλεως ἐν τῷ Κάμπῳ καλουμένῳ διὰ τὸ τῆς Τροίας τὴν ἅλωσιν διὰ τὸν ἵππον γενέσθαι τὸν δούριον προσαγορευόμενον, πρᾶγμα πάντων παιδαριωδέστατον· ὕτω μὲν γὰρ δεήσει πάντας τοὺς βαρβάρους λέγειν Τρώων ἀπογόνους ὑπάρχειν· σχεδὸν γὰρ πάντες, εἰ δὲ μή γ᾿, οἱ πλείους, ὅταν ἢ πολεμεῖν μέλλωσιν ἐξ ἀρχῆς ἢ διακινδυνεύειν πρός τινας ὁλοσχερῶς, ἵππῳ προθύονται καὶ σφαγιάζονται, σημειούμενοι τὸ μέλλον ἐκ τῆς τοῦ ζῴου πτώσεως.

ὁ δὲ Τίμαιος περὶ τοῦτο τὸ μέρος τῆς ἀλογίας οὐ μόνον ἀπειρίαν, ἔτι δὲ μᾶλλον ὀψιμαθίαν δοκεῖ μοι πολλὴν ἐπιφαίνειν, ὅς γε, διότι θύουσιν ἵππον, εὐθέως ὑπέλαβε τοῦτο ποιεῖν αὐτοὺς διὰ τὸ τὴν Τροίαν ἀφ᾿ ἵππου δοκεῖν ἑαλωκέναι.

“The Procession of the Trojan Horse. “ Domenico Tiepolo

Tawdry Tuesday, Imperial Edition: Fun with Domitian

Suetonius, Life of Domitian 22

He was a man of extreme lust: he used to refer to his endless intercourse as “bed-wrestling”, as if it were a type of exercise. There was a rumor that he used to depilate his concubines himself and that he used to go swimming with street prostitutes. Even though he repeatedly refused a wedding to his brother’s daughter who was offered to him for marriage when she was still a virgin because he was overcome with the Domitia affair, he seduced her not long after she was married to someone else and while Titus was still alive. But, soon, he loved her openly and with the utmost passion once she was deprived of father and husband, to the point that he was the reason for her death when she was forced to abort a child conceived with him.”

XXII. Libidinis nimiae, assiduitatem concubitus velut exercitationis genus clinopalen vocabat; eratque fama, quasi concubinas ipse develleret nataretque inter vulgatissimas meretrices. Fratris filiam adhuc virginem oblatam in matrimonium sibi cum devinctus Domitiae nuptiis pertinacissime recusasset, non multo post alii conlocatam corrupit ultro et quidem vivo etiam tum Tito; mox patre ac viro orbatam ardentissime palamque dilexit, ut etiam causa mortis exstiterit coactae conceptum a se abigere.

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A Tyranny Gained Through Luck

Sallust, Letter to Caesar 2.3

“While the courts just as in previous eras have been run by the three orders, those political factions still rule them: they give and take what they may, giving the innocent the runaround and heaping honors on their own. Neither crime nor shame nor public disgrace disqualifies them from office. They rob, despoil whomever they please. And finally, as if the city has been sacked, they rely on their own lust and excess instead of the laws.

And for me this would only be a source of limited grief if, in their typical fashion, they were pursuing a victory born from excellence. But the laziest of people whose total strength and excellence come from their tongue are arrogantly administering a tyranny gained through luck and from another person! For what treason or civil discord has obliterated so many families? Who whose spirit was ever so hasty and extreme in victory?”

Iudicia tametsi, sicut antea, tribus ordinibus tradita sunt, tamen idem illi factiosi regunt, dant, adimunt quae lubet, innocentis circumveniunt, suos ad honorem extollunt. Non facinus, non probrum aut flagitium obstat, quo minus magistratus capiant. Quos commodum est trahunt, rapiunt; postremo tamquam urbe capta libidine ac licentia sua pro legibus utuntur.

Ac me quidem mediocris dolor angeret, si virtute partam victoriam more suo per servitium exercerent. Sed homines inertissimi, quorum omnis vis virtusque in lingua sita est, forte atque alterius socordia dominationem oblatam insolentes agitant. Nam quae seditio aut dissensio civilis tot tam illustris familias ab stirpe evertit? Aut quorum umquam in victoria animus tam praeceps tamque inmoderatus fuit?

 

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The Most Evil Pain: A Lot of Knowledge, But No Power

Herodotus, Histories 9.16

After dinner when they were drinking together, the Persian next to him asked [Thersander] in Greek what country was his and Thersander said Orkhomenos. Then he responded “Since you are my dinner companion and have had a drink with me I want to leave a memorial of my belief so that you may understand and be able to make some advantageous plans.

Do you see these Persians dining and the army we left in camp by the river? In a short time you will see that few of these men remain.” The Persian stopped saying these things and cried a lot.

After he was surprised at this confession, he responded, “Isn’t it right to tell these things to Mardonios and those noble Persians around him?”

Then he responded, “Friend, whatever a god decrees is impossible for humans to change: for they say that no one wants to believe what is true. Many of us Persians know this and follow because we are bound by necessity. This is most hateful pain for human beings: when someone knows a lot but has no power.”

I heard these things from Thersander of Orkhomnos and he also told me that he said them to people before the battle occurred at Plataea.”

2] ὡς δὲ ἀπὸ δείπνου ἦσαν, διαπινόντων τὸν Πέρσην τὸν ὁμόκλινον Ἑλλάδα γλῶσσαν ἱέντα εἰρέσθαι αὐτὸν ὁποδαπός ἐστι, αὐτὸς δὲ ὑποκρίνασθαι ὡς εἴη Ὀρχομένιος. τὸν δὲ εἰπεῖν ‘ἐπεὶ νῦν ὁμοτράπεζός τέ μοι καὶ ὁμόσπονδος ἐγένεο, μνημόσυνά τοι γνώμης τῆς ἐμῆς καταλιπέσθαι θέλω, ἵνα καὶ προειδὼς αὐτὸς περὶ σεωυτοῦ βουλεύεσθαι ἔχῃς τὰ συμφέροντα. ’

‘ [3] ὁρᾷς τούτους τοὺς δαινυμένους Πέρσας καὶ τὸν στρατὸν τὸν ἐλίπομεν ἐπὶ τῷ ποταμῷ στρατοπεδευόμενον: τούτων πάντων ὄψεαι ὀλίγου τινὸς χρόνου διελθόντος ὀλίγους τινὰς τοὺς περιγενομένους.’ ταῦτα ἅμα τε τὸν Πέρσην λέγειν καὶ μετιέναι πολλὰ τῶν δακρύων.

[4] αὐτὸς δὲ θωμάσας τὸν λόγον εἰπεῖν πρὸς αὐτὸν ‘οὐκῶν Μαρδονίῳ τε ταῦτα χρεόν ἐστι λέγειν καὶ τοῖσι μετ᾽ ἐκεῖνον ἐν αἴνῃ ἐοῦσι Περσέων;’ τὸν δὲ μετὰ ταῦτα εἰπεῖν ‘ξεῖνε, ὅ τι δεῖ γενέσθαι ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ ἀμήχανον ἀποτρέψαι ἀνθρώπῳ: οὐδὲ γὰρ πιστὰ λέγουσι ἐθέλει πείθεσθαι οὐδείς. ’

‘ [5] ταῦτα δὲ Περσέων συχνοὶ ἐπιστάμενοι ἑπόμεθα ἀναγκαίῃ ἐνδεδεμένοι, ἐχθίστη δὲ ὀδύνη ἐστὶ τῶν ἐν ἀνθρώποισι αὕτη, πολλὰ φρονέοντα μηδενὸς κρατέειν.’ ταῦτα μὲν Ὀρχομενίου Θερσάνδρου ἤκουον, καὶ τάδε πρὸς τούτοισι, ὡς αὐτὸς αὐτίκα λέγοι ταῦτα πρὸς ἀνθρώπους πρότερον ἢ γενέσθαι ἐν Πλαταιῇσι τὴν μάχην.

 

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