Thoughts on Book 9 of the Histories of Herodotus

Sharp-eyed readers will note that I never got around to writing something about the final book of the Histories, which we read in an HON 301 course this past spring (the other posts: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8). The end of the semester is always busy, you must understand. You’ll find some scribblings below, but I’d also like to say that I just finished off my summary of the work, which is now on its own page – see the link above. The Histories is very long, very detailed, and not always straightforward in its narrative, so last summer, in preparation for my CIC seminar at the Center for Hellenic Studies, I started summarizing each chapter as I read it, which forced me to pay attention to the contents, and which produced a document I could review if I needed to. Events got ahead of me, however, and so I couldn’t get it done until now. In Herodotean fashion, I dedicate the fruit of my labors to the service of humanity.

As for Book Nine, the main event, of course, is the battle of Plataea (479 BC), the last major episode in the Persian Wars. Following the Persian defeat at the naval battle of Salamis the previous year (detailed in Book Eight), the Persian King Xerxes hightails it back to Asia, leaving his general Mardonius in charge of the war. After wintering in Thessaly, Mardonius moves south into Attica to try to bribe the Athenians into becoming allies, but the Athenians have once again retreated to the island of Salamis for safety. In the meantime, the Spartans are building a wall across the Isthmus of Corinth to guard the Peloponnese; the Athenians are worried that the Spartans will abandon them, and suggest to the Spartans that they just might take up the Persian offer. Fortunately, the Greek alliance holds, and the Spartans, the Athenians, and other non-Medized Greeks march out to face the Persians and their allies in Boeotia, and the Battle of Plataea ensues. It is not pretty, but the Greeks are ultimately victorious, and that is the end of the Persian attempt to conquer Greece. In an edifying parallel development (which Herodotus claims happens on the same day as Plataea), the Greeks fight another battle across the Aegean Sea at Mycale, defeating the Persians there and freeing Ionia once again. 

Herodotus does not shy away from depicting how fractious the Greek alliance is. Athens and Sparta and perennially suspicious of each other, and the squabbling between the Athenians and Tegeans (at 26-27) about which of them would get the place of honor on the wing at Plataea is a marvel to behold. Herodotus gives overall credit to the Spartans for the victory, but he also illustrates that this battle is no Thermopylae – the Spartans voluntarily give up fighting directly against the Persians (the Athenians, they acknowledge, have more experience in this activity), and when they find that the cavalry attacks are too much for them, they are only too willing to retreat to “the Island,” a defensible hill between two streams (although one Spartan captain, Amompharetus, refuses to go, and a mighty quarrel ensues between him and the Spartan general Pausanias about this). Emboldened by this apparent Spartan cowardice, Xerxes orders an attack, and at this point the Spartans rise to the occasion: “In spirit and strength, the Persians were the equals of the Greeks, but they had no armor, and they were unskilled besides and no match for their enemies in cunning. They made their charges singly or in tens… and so they were destroyed” (62).

But I think that the Greek fractiousness serves a literary purpose. Herodotus is not necessarily trying to show how a plucky underdog or a lovable band of misfits can ultimately be victorious over a superior foe, although I’m sure there is some of that. Rather, he is contrasting the Greek penchant for debate with the Persian custom of obedience. When the Athenians and Tegeans argue about placement on the wing, they each present numerous reasons why they themselves should get it. The Athenians are more convincing, and the rest of the Greeks shout their approval of the Athenian position. This is how the Greeks conduct themselves – they debate their issues in public. Compare this to the Persian “debate” prior to their attack at Plataea – in a war council, Artabazus suggests that the Persians retreat to Thebes, and from there attempt to bribe the various Greeks into Medizing. Mardonius, however, fearful that the longer they wait, the stronger their opponents will get, is in favor of attacking right away, contrary to the results of the sacrifices by the prophet Hegistratus. “Against this argument of his, no one took a stand, and so his plan won out. For he and not Artabazus had the supreme power of command from Xerxes.” When Mardonius asks his commanders if any of them knows of any oracles about Persian defeat in Greece, the commanders “kept silent, some because they did not know the prophecies, some because, though they knew them, they did not think that opening their mouths was a safe thing to do” (42). Thus does their leader pull rank, and they are all obliged to follow him to destruction.

Of course, public debate is not always the best way to determine policy, especially in times of war. But the overall message, I think, is the same one that the US tried promulgating during World War II and the Cold War: totalitarian societies always look terrifying from the outside, projecting as they do this image of unity and efficiency. But it’s all an illusion, and based on fear of being sent to a concentration camp or Gulag. The US was a “nation of joiners,” in the words of Arthur Schlesinger, Sr. – that is, American “civil society” was made up of a lot of voluntary groups that people joined because they wanted to, or because there was some tangible benefit to them (e.g. professional organizations, churches, service clubs, choirs, bowling leagues, etc.). It might look like a mess from the outside, that all of society is not moving forward in lock step to some goal, but it gives people a stake in their own country, and when moved to, they will all get together and defeat their enemies. And it is certainly edifying that many of the Medized Greeks abandon their loyalty to Persia the minute they think it is safe to do so.

The utility of public debate is not the only piece of pro-Hellenic propaganda in Book Nine. In numerous places, the Persians (and their allies like the Thebans) believe that all they need to do is to use their wealth to bribe the Greeks into taking their side (e.g. in 4, 41, 87, or 120). They don’t seem to realize that, to most Greeks, there are more important things than money. This lesson is underlined when, after the battle of Plataea, Pausanias orders Mardonius’s servants to prepare a meal in the Persian manner, and his own servants to prepare a meal in the Spartan manner. The contrast cannot be more stark – the Persian meal is a model of decadent luxury, while the Spartan meal is very simple indeed – prompting Pausanias to declare that the Persian king is foolish: given that he is used to such extravagance, what good can he possibly derive from conquering the poor Greeks? (The final chapter of the book [122] further emphasizes that “from soft countries come soft men. It is not possible that from the same land stems a growth of wondrous fruit and men who are good soldiers.”) Finally, there is the elaborate story (at 108-113) about how Xerxes falls in love with the (unnamed) wife of his brother Masistes, and so he contrives to marry his own son with Masistes’s daughter Artaynte, hoping that this tie will bring him closer to his sister-in-law. Instead, he falls for Artaynte, and conducts an affair with her, his own niece. This affair is discovered by Xerxes’s wife Amestris, who places the blame for it on Masistes’s wife; Amestris thus has Masistes’s wife mutilated. As a result of this outrage, Masistes leaves for Bactria in order to raise a revolt there, but Xerxes’s troops overtake him and kill him before he gets there. Now, Herodotus certainly deals with Greek misbehavior and malfeasance throughout The Histories, but to close out his work with such a story of incest and intrigue at the Persian court is surely a deliberate attempt to impress upon the reader who the bad guys are.

One final observation. In Book Nine, there are numerous instances of “prophets,” like Hegistratus, making sacrifices – but these sacrifices are not just to propitiate some god, but to determine his or her will. I suppose this is a form of haruscipy – the examination of the entrails of an animal to see what the future holds – perhaps a replacement for augury, the practice of discerning the will of the gods by the flight patterns of birds (as Calchas does in Book One of the Iliad). So if you don’t have time to consult the Oracle at Delphi (or that of some other well-known shrine like Dodona), you can have a personal seer providing answers to immediate questions. I must say that the Greek faith in such customs is something that has always puzzled me about them, or at least serves as the strongest counter-example to the notion that they are “rational.” Of course, the Oracle isn’t stupid, and often gives ambiguous answers so that whatever happens, it’s always right. But why no one ever saw through this (at least, Herodotus gives no evidence of any skepticism either on his own part or the part of any of his subjects) is a mystery to me. I suppose we have to wait until the fourth century and the further development of Greek philosophy under Plato, Aristotle, and others, before we encounter doubt about Fate.

From Dr. Furnish

Reinhardt professor Tim Furnish draws our attention to a blog post of his from Good Friday in 2014, discussing Isma’ili Islam’s view of the Crucifixion.

For some 14 centuries, the vast majority of Muslims, following mainstream Islamic doctrine, has denied that Jesus was crucified—and thus, of course, that He was Resurrected. The proof text for this Islamic rejection of the central teaching of Christianity is Sura al-Nisa’ [IV]:157:

And [for] their saying, “Indeed, we have killed the Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary, the messenger of Allah .” And they did not kill him, nor did they crucify him; but [another] was made to resemble him to them. And indeed, those who differ over it are in doubt about it. They have no knowledge of it except the following of assumption. And they did not kill him, for certain.

Muslim commentators such as Ibn Kathir, et al., have long maintained that Jesus was taken to heaven and someone else—probably Judas—was crucified in His place. Other Islamic writers over the centuries have held slightly differing positions, but the bottom-line conclusion has always been that Jesus’ Crucifixion is a Christian lie. However, one group of Muslims—the (heterodox) Isma’ili (Sevener) Shi`is—has for centuries held a unique view of Jesus’ Crucifixion, as elucidated in the paper by Khalil Andani, “`They Killed Him Not.’ The Crucifixion in Shi`a Isma’ili Islam” (2011). Andani makes several points herein—that: the Qur’anic text does not deny the Crucifixion per se—but rather that the Jews perpetrated it; over the centuries Muslim commentators have held views ranging “from total denial to actually asserting that the crucifixion did take place historically;” and, most importantly, “it was only the human body or the nahut of Jesus that was killed and crucified upon the Cross while the eternal reality of lahut of Christ can never be killed or crucified.”

Illustrations and links in the original – read the whole thing.

GMG @ KSU

Another awesome meeting of the Georgia Medievalists’ Group took place today at Kennesaw State University. Thanks to Brian Swain for volunteering the venue. This one was particularly stimulating, with lengthy discussion after each paper. These were:

Tom McMaster, Kennesaw State University: “The Virginal Slave? Honor, slavery, and sanctity in the early medieval world”

Wendy Turner, Augusta University: “Irish and English Law on Treatment of the Mentally Impaired”

Alice Klima, University of Georgia: “Statutes as Structure: The Bohemian Monastery at Roudnice on the Elbe”

Brian Swain, Kennesaw State University: “Coping as a Roman Goth During a Roman-Gothic War: The Case of Jordanes”

Some photos:

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Tom MacMaster and Brian Swain.

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Wendy Turner, Andrew Kurt, Jamie MacCandless, and Christina Heckman.

Another RU Blog

My colleague across the hall, Aquiles Martinez, has publicly unveiled Encounters with the Sacred, a blog for Reinhardt’s religion program (he has been authoring it since last August). A sample post:

Any formal study of religion or religions must begin with a clear understanding of the subject matter, namely, what religion is.  And and yet this task is not as easy as it seems because in any society the meaning of words is not absolute or fixed; it is as fluid as its interpretations and applications.

Although the majority of the population of the world continues to identify themselves with a religion, on the basis of some implicit and unmeasured understandings of religion, especially when it comes to answering polls, over the years religious scholars have struggled with the meaning of the term religion, or even with the essential, common traits that would lead them to classify individuals or groups under that label.

Adopting different points of view and using methodologies of analysis that embody different human experiences, many scholars have concluded that a single, definitive definition of religion is neither possible nor advisable.  Since it is a social construct that reflects diversity of perceptions and thoughts, it is up to any person to decide what it means and for others to try to understand these definitions in their corresponding contexts.  And yet a work-in-progress definition of religion is possible, necessary, and desirable, at least to name the subject matter and start a conversation that would elicit a wide range of qualifications, exceptions to the rule, and even critiques.

Recognizing that there is no such a thing as value-free, final definition and that, at the same time, religion is something that average people primarily experience or live and hardly ever stop to formally define it, much less to take into account the ideas of others to see where they all coincide, how could we, then, define religion?

Read on at the link.

New Book by Karen Owen

Very pleased to note that Karen Owen, director of Reinhardt’s Master of Public Administration program, has published a book, Women Officeholders and the Role Models Who Pioneered the Way (Lexington Books, 2016). Buy it at Amazon or at Lexington Books.

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From the website:

Recent electoral seasons in American politics demonstrate women’s keen interest, involvement, and influence as candidates and officeholders. Women possess political ambition, albeit in varying degrees, and as such, women seek opportunities to be politically engaged and affect America’s representative institutions. This book analyzes why American women run for political office, and explores how political role models, identified as publicly elected officials and/or those who have served in the political arena, have greatly motivated women to run for higher political office, including seats in the U.S. Congress and state governorships.

Evidence from personal interviews with ten congresswomen and fifty-five female state legislators reveals the ambitious nature of female politicians, the encouragement of political factors in their decisions to advance in politics, and their perceived responsibility to be role models to other women. Moreover, in studying thirty-five years of elections data, I find substantial support for how female political role models influence female state legislators’ candidacies and electoral outcomes to higher office. This work highlights the importance of women as symbolic representatives; female politicians are instrumental in emboldening a new generation of women to engage in politics. Role models in politics indeed have a purpose and an influential nature.

The Burgess Building

Reinhardt’s most characteristic building has been designated the Burgess Building ever since president J.R. Burgess retired in 1974. This fact was generally unknown, however: the entire time I’ve been at Reinhardt people have simply called it the Administration Building. Here is what it looked like back in 2006:

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The plaque to the right of the main doors was the only public acknowledgement of its true name:

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This afternoon Reinhardt, in the presence of Burgess’s daughter Martha Burgess Blanton, rededicated the building to President Burgess, and unveiled a new inscription on the entablature:

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Portraits of Dr. and Mrs. Burgess were rehung in the main foyer:

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If Dr. Burgess is known for anything it is for the planting of many varieties of tree on the Reinhardt campus. The main strand is known as the Burgess Arboretum and is one of the things that makes Reinhardt’s campus so attractive. From the 1960s, here is Burgess’s master plan of all the trees he wanted planted on campus:

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The audience heard from Reinhardt’s President Kina Mallard, VP of Advancement Tim Norton, President Emeritus Floyd Falany, Board Chairman Billy Hasty, and History Program member Professor Ken Wheeler, whose remarks are reprinted below, by kind permission of the author.

img_3545 Brief Remarks on the Importance of James Rowland Burgess, Jr., and Martha Stallings Burgess in the History of Reinhardt University

This place, Reinhardt and Waleska, appears different from how it looked in 1944, when Rowland Burgess came here to visit Reinhardt and consider becoming its president. Oh, the road to Waleska from Canton was made of beautiful concrete, but once a person entered Waleska the car started to slip and slide in the mud and loose dirt of the town—which had no paved streets. And as Rowland Burgess toured the campus, it was not inspiring. Dobbs Hall was closed in need of repair. It had 55 broken window panes, and Burgess said the wooden steps leading into the building were so rickety as to be actually dangerous. Reinhardt housed the elementary school, had a high school, the Reinhardt Academy, with 40 or 50 students, and as for the college, Reinhardt had 16 collegiate students. But Burgess took the job, and he and his wife Martha and their children moved into the president’s home, which is today our Admissions House. Livestock grazed across the street, and the Burgesses walked across the campus, which was covered in old stumps, privet, and invasive honeysuckle. The place needed a lot of work.

The Burgesses knew education. Martha had had two years at a teacher training college in Athens, Georgia, before she married Rowland. And Rowland knew Methodist higher education. He started his undergraduate years at Young Harris College, overseen by two Reinhardt graduates, Joe and Ella Sharp, and Burgess finished his undergraduate years at Emory. Rowland had Christian conviction—a sermon in his youth emphasized that “the harvest is truly great but the laborers are few,” which convinced him that he wished to “labor for the master.” Rather than go into parish ministry, he went into education and became a school superintendent for several years before coming to Reinhardt in his late 30s.

The work was not glamorous. Rowland Burgess ordered blocks of ice for the cafeteria, which had no refrigerator. He personally opened sewer lines that clogged. And while presidents today read The Chronicle of Higher Education, Burgess subscribed to the Guernsey Breeders Journal in an effort to improve the quality of the herd of cattle on the college farm. That farm included crops of cotton, corn, sorghum, Irish potatoes, sweet potatoes, various vegetables, and of course hay. They had hogs in addition to the cattle. A farm manager kept up with all of it, assisted by students whose job it was to plant, hoe, harvest, milk, bale, and so on. Everything that could be eaten in the cafeteria was eaten there, which kept costs low. But Burgess always had to drive to Atlanta at the end of each year and visit Mr. Dobbs to ask for a check to cover the annual deficit, a check that was usually grudgingly written. Reinhardt College had no endowment; it ran on a shoestring.

Over time, though, the college did well. The end of World War II brought veterans who had the G.I. Bill. One was my old next-door neighbor in Canton, R. J. Chastain. He was a Ball Ground boy who volunteered and wound up as an infantryman in Europe. After the war, Chastain rented an apartment in Canton with some other vets, and they would carpool up to Reinhardt. He had not yet graduated from high school, so he finished his high school diploma here, and then stayed for a couple of quarters of collegiate coursework. He represented a trend, and enrollments grew.

While Rowland presided over Reinhardt, Martha kept taking college courses. She finished her bachelor’s degree, obtained a master’s degree, and by the time the Burgesses retired from Reinhardt in 1973, Martha had taught here for 25 years, retiring as a professor of the behavioral sciences.

These were eventful years. Rowland Burgess had a certain genius for publicity. In 1949, Burgess got a federal grant to hold a “Conservation Field Day” at Reinhardt. The college bought some additional acreage, and in one amazing day tens of thousands of people came to the campus, cleared and improved the new acreage, and enjoyed the highlight, a visit from Harry S. Truman’s vice president, Alben W. Barkley. There are still some old-timers in this area who recall coming to Reinhardt as young people to participate in the biggest “work day” in the school’s history.

These were the years, too, when the Waleskans built an elementary school off the campus, and in the middle 1950s the Academy closed, so that Reinhardt became, for the first time in its existence, a purely collegiate institution. The Burgesses did not miss the high school. Some students had been local, but others boarded here, and many times they came to Reinhardt because they had been kicked out of some school system elsewhere. Rowland Burgess wrote in his memoir that “Years later . . . a lady called to ask if we still took ‘juvenile delinquents.’ I was happy to tell her that we didn’t. She said, ‘Well, I’m glad. You took my niece once and she’s still no good.’”

The Burgesses were shaped by the times. In 1954, the Supreme Court’s unanimous Brown v. the Board of Education decision shook a segregated South. At Reinhardt, one trustee insisted this was why they had to keep Reinhardt open—the public schools would be forced to integrate. When powerful trustees over the next several years said that Reinhardt would never integrate racially, Rowland Burgess would not agree or argue, but just say “We’ll see.” When, in 1966, the federal government wrote to Reinhardt and said federally subsidized student loans could go only to integrated schools, President Burgess created an integrated Reinhardt. He went to Canton and talked with Mr. Bell, the principal of the black school there, and asked about who would be a good student to come to Reinhardt. Bell said Burgess wanted a young man named James T. “Jay” Jordan. Burgess and Bell talked with Jordan and his parents about Jay coming, and he entered Reinhardt in the fall of 1966, Reinhardt’s first African-American student. President Burgess took a strong interest in Jordan’s acceptance by students and everyone else on campus, and in fact things worked out very well. Jordan was a friendly person, a good athlete, a capable student, and he wound up having a good two years at Reinhardt. Other African-American students followed in succeeding years, and so the Burgesses, in their understated way, led Reinhardt into a positive future for the school and its students.

The world changes, and Reinhardt has changed. Our president no longer subscribes to the Guernsey Breeders Journal. The streets of Waleska are paved. Reinhardt has not only survived but thrived and done well. And in all of that, the Burgess influence is still here. One can see it in this very building, which serves our campus. One can see it in the library, which Burgess built. And, of course, one sees it outdoors on a beautiful campus, a good portion of which was planted by Rowland Burgess. The privet and the stumps are gone, replaced by trees and shrubs and flowers that create an inspiring environment in which to read, and study, and learn. Time and again, when people visit me from other schools they remark how uplifting this campus is.

The Burgesses wrote poetry, and published some of their poems. In one poem, reflecting on her teaching, Martha Burgess wrote, “How can she know where her influence begins/ Much less tell where it has its end.” I would argue that that influence has not ended. It goes on in the students of Reinhardt from that time, who are still living out their lives, and the spirit of the Burgesses is still here on this campus—it is a spirit of unselfish service, of long devotion and faithfulness, of Christian generosity, of personal warmth toward people and good humor about life. It is a valuable inheritance, and we can all be grateful for that gift.

Sources:

Burgess, James Rowland, Jr., “Three Times Ten: My Thirty Years at Reinhardt College (unpublished ms., Box 2, Burgess Papers, Reinhardt University)

Flashing Eyes, Trilliums, and Trees: Personal Poems and Verses of James Rowland Burgess and Martha Stallings Burgess (Reinhardt College, 1982)

Hinson, Tyler B., “Laboring for the Master: James Rowland Burgess, Jr. and the Birth of Modern Reinhardt” (unpublished paper, 2010)