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8 months ago

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

5 obvious similarities

5 obvious similarities attract Herodotus, from their wide, desert expanses to their great rivers. These likenesses make possible more comparisons and differences. For example, the common wildernesses of Egypt and Scythia bring into focus the differences of how they each make use of their land. As much as it is necessary to ask how these two cultures are different and similar, it is just as important to ask what Herodotus chooses to make of their similarities and differences in the first place. What lesson does he wish to impart to the reader? The heart of the narrative is the campaigns of the Persian kings; Herodotus also tells us in his first passage (1.01) that his reason for writing is "to preserve the fame of the important and remarkable achievements produced by Greeks and non-Greeks." Another of his goals seems to be to describe the works of the cultures that the Persians meet on their imperial conquests, but he does not explain why he describes and compares the Egyptians and Scythians at such length. On a historiographical level, if we look at all the ethnographic material in the Histories, it appears that Herodotus wishes the reader to view the world and its peoples in a sort of grid. Scythia and Egyptians are the extremes (in several ways) and other central cultures like the Greeks and Persians fall into place between them. Through comparisons both explicit and implicit of these two opposite cultures, Herodotus gives the reader a framework against which to compare the many other cultures in the Histories. We cannot learn the erga megala of the Greeks and barbarians without the construction of a grid within which their differences in culture and achievement can be understood.

6 The first part of this project will focus on the differences and similarities between the Egyptians and Scythians that occur in Herodotus' work. The second part will examine how this contrast helps the reader understand the many other cultures discussed in the book, focusing on the Persians in particular, and what these similarities and differences mean to Herodotus in terms of the Histories as a whole.