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The Old and the Restless - The Egyptians and the Scythians in Herodotus' Histories by Robert J. Hagan

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61 the horses looking over it and being frightened by the sight of the sea” (7.36). Herodotus cannot restrain his interest in the technological achievements of his day. As James Romm remarks, “Even when an aggressor nation forces a river out of its channel to expedite an invasion, as the Lydians do at the river Halys - forcing the ambitions of empire to supersede the sanctity of the terrestrial landscape - Herodotus pauses to admire the ingenuity with which the task might be achieved.” 36 Herodotus has before stated that he will write much about Egypt because of its “remarkable features” (2.35), which include the reconfiguring of the Nile under Min and Sesostris. The Histories gives the colossal war projects of the Persians an amount of attention equal to that devoted to the works of the kings Min and Sesostris, which were ostensibly done in the interest of the kingdom, and which Herodotus implies benefited the people. These bridges and diversions of the Persians are erga megala, some of the great works that Herodotus sets out to preserve for posterity. Whereas the Egyptians tame nature to organize and vitalize the people, Herodotus shows the Persians to view the natural world as another force to bring under their rule, a conveyance that is integral to the reader’s perception of the Persian character in the Histories. Persian Softness In Books Six through Nine, we witness the full maturity of the Persian softness that has grown from its initial roots in the time of Cyrus. The Persians’ soft nature, as displayed by the behavior of their elite, is illuminated by its contrast with the hardness of the Greeks. Compared to the Greeks, who subsist on marginally fertile lands and are hounded by the threat of poverty 36 Romm, J., “Herodotus and the Natural World” in Cambridge Guide to Herodotus, 189.

62 (7.102), the Persians are decadent in their social customs. There are several instances where this is conveyed by Herodotus. There is an episode in Book Eight in which Arcadian mercenaries desert to the Persian side in the wake of the Greek loss at Artemisium. They are asked by the Persians to explain the Olympic games, and the reward for winning. When the Arcadians respond that the prize is a garland, the son of Artabanus, Tritantaechmes cannot hold back mocking the idea: “Well Mardonius, what sort of men are these you have brought us to fight? They make excellence rather than money the reason for a contest!” (8.26). The Persians are by this time so soft that they cannot perceive of a contest that rewards men purely for their physical prowess. Interestingly, Herodotus writes that Xerxes decries this outburst as the mark of a coward. Xerxes thereby denounces the softness within his empire that he himself represents in the Histories. However, the most explicit demonstration of Persian softness brings us back to the subject of food. In Book Nine, when the Greeks have defeated the Persians at Plataea, the Spartan commander Pausanius comes upon Mardonius’ abandoned camp. Pausanius finds Mardonius’ chefs and tells them to make the kind of meal they would make for their dead master. They prepare a magnificent feast, replete with gold and silver furniture. To amuse himself, he asks that they also prepare a Spartan meal, typically a modest and tasteless affair. Pausanius then shows his men the differing meals: “Men of Greece, my purpose in asking you all here is to show you just how stupid the Persian king is. Look at the way he lives, and then consider that he invaded our country to rob us of our meagre portions!” (9.82). The Persian meal displayed by Pausanius differs greatly not only from the diet of the Greeks, but also from the diet the Persians once consumed early in their imperial history. Croesus’ advisor Sandanis described the diet of Cyrus’ Persians as such: “They drink no wine, just water, and figs are the only good