Thursday, 23 March 2017

Herodotus' The Histories ~ Book VII



Book VII (Polymnia)


"When the report of the battle of Marathon reached Darius, son of Hystapes, who had already been thoroughly exasperated by the Athenians' attack on Sardis, he now reacted with a much more intense fury and became even more determined to make war on Hellas than he had been before."

Yes, Darius is irritated, but Darius always seems to be irritated about something.  And now the pesky Egyptians have revolted so Darius prepares to wage war against both Egypt and Athens.  To top it all off, his sons are now quarrelling to detemine his heir and Darius finally chooses the older son, Xerxes, born to his second wife, as he was the first son born while Darius was king.  While amassing troops for war, Darius dies and Xerxes takes over kingship.  At first, he does not wish to fight with Athens, but Mardonios convinces him with a variety of different arguments, as well as a number of delegations hostile to Athens influence his decision.  However, first Xerxes marches against Egypt, subdues them and imposes even more rigid subjugation on them than his father.

Xerxes then gathers together the noble Persians and states his reasons and expectations for attacking Hellas, backed up by Mardonios.  Only Artabanos, son of Hystaspes and uncle to Xerxes, speaks up, stating many reasons for exercising caution before declaring war and then asking that the king remain behind if the Persians indeed march on Hellas.  Enraged by his uncle's request, Xerxes orders him to remain behind with the women for his faithless words; conflict was inevitable and one country or the other would expand its dominion ---- let it be Persia!  However, later that night, after pondering the discretion of Artabanos, Xerxes realizes that attack would not be prudent. That night a man in a dream visits him, ordering him not to change his mind but nevertheless the next day, Xerxes gathers the nobles and informs them of his reversal of the original plans, for which they are well pleased.  Yet that night the dream comes again and threatens him with a short rule if he does not attack Hellas.  Completely disconcerted, Xerxes calls for Artabanos, describing his experience and asking his uncle to sit on his throne and sleep in his bed that night then, if the dream visits him too, it should be heeded.  Thinking to prove Xerxes' dream pure nonsense, Artabanos retires to bed but surprisingly has the dream as well and awakes shrieking.  Thus, the expedition against Hellas comes to fruition, the largest expedition the Persians had ever mustered.  Xerxes builds a canal through the isthmus near to Mount Athos to avoid the previous disaster of the last Persian fleet.  Apparently the Phoenicians were the cleverest of the builders, digging the trenches much wider at the top so the dirt did not continually fall on them.  Herodotus, however, thinks this display was just to showcase Xerxes' power, as ships could have easily been dragged across the isthmus.

Xerxes' Canal
source Wikimedia Commons

On the march, Xerxes comes to Kelainai where the skin of Marsyas is hung (see Metamorphoses Book VI for the story of Marsyas) and meets Pythios who shows hospitality to the Persians and offers them wealth in their quest.  His offer metes him land, the title of guest friend, and Xerxes' goodwill.  When the king reaches the Hellespont, he sends messengers to Hellas once again requesting earth and water, as his father had.  He then set to work building bridges to cross it but they are destroyed by a storm.  Infuriated, he orders the bridge supervisors beheaded and then proceeds to order 300 lashes to the Hellespont, as well as dropping shackles into the sea while spewing insolent imprecations.  The new bridge is a pontoon bridge made of boats, of which Herodotus gives detailed description, and after its completion, the army waits for winter to pass.  An eclipse occurs which the Magi declare a good omen, but Pythios is disturbed by it and begs Xerxes to release his eldest son from the expedition whereupon, in a rage, Xerxes chops the son in two.

Xerxes punishes the Hellespont
source Wikipedia

The army marches out, and the troops around the king are elated, then when Xerxes reaches Abydos, he decides to review his entire army so he sits on the marble throne and watches ships race.  Suddenly, from his position of contentment, he bursts into tears and his uncle Artabanos, who counselled against the expedition, asks him what is wrong.  Xerxes replies:

"...... I was suddenly overcome by pity as I considered the brevity of human life, since not one of all these people here will be alive one hundred years from now."

They speak of the expedition and Xerxes questions that if Artabanos' dream vision was different, would his counsel still have been the same?  Artabanos explains that he is fearful of his two great enemies, the land and the sea, both of which are formidable. Xerxes counters that it is better to act with fear than to fear everything and not act at all. Finally the army crosses the Hellespont and Xerxes ignores two portents depicting his expedition's failure, as they march towards Hellas.  His land army numbered 1,700,000 men, including Persians, Medes, Kissians, Hyrcanians, Assyrians, Chaldeans, Egyptians, Baktrians, Scythians, Indians, Areians, Parthians, Chorasmians, Sogdians, Gandarians, Dadikais, Caspians, Sarangians, Paktyes, Outians, Mykians, Parikanians, Arabians, Ethiopians, Libyans, Paphlagonians, Ligyeans, Matienians, Mariandynians, Syrians, Phrygians, Armenians, Lydians, Thracians, Meionian Kabales, Cilicians, Moschians, Tibarenoi, Makrones, Mossynoikians, Mares, Colchians, Alarodians, Saspeires, and island peoples from the Erythraean Sea.  A long list but worthwhile I think to even begin to imagine the numbers on the march.  The commanders and generals are listed. Thus follows descriptions of each contingent's dress and means of transport, then Herodotus moves on to recount the fleets of each including a woman commander named Artemisia who was part Halicarnassian and part Cretan.

Crossing the Hellespont
source Wikipedia

Xerxes now surveys and categorizes his troops, then asks of the exiled Spartan king, Demaratos, if the Hellenes would dare to fight against such forces.  Demaratos speaks only for the Lacedaemonians that if confronted, they would fight to the last man.  Xerxes, however, laughs at such a foolish claim, and declares that if they were ruled by one man, he could force them to comply but given their freedom, they would not.  Demaratos insists that they are compelled by a law forbidding them to flee from battle. Nevertheless, Xerxes chuckles at his delusion and sends him away.

Xerxes' route towards Hellas is now described, along with leaders he praises for their support, but more startling is the impact such an enormously amassed expedition has upon the cities and towns through which it passes.  Rivers and lakes are drained dry by the sheer numbers of men and their beasts of burden.  Camels are attacked by lions, en route, yet no other man or animal is touched, and Herodotus is puzzled by this odd occurrence.  In Thessaly, Xerxes is interested in the course of the river Peneios which is surrounded by mountains, and he is content with the area's subjection to him as Thessaly would have been easy to take simply by the damning of this river.  He decides not to send heralds to Athens and Sparta asking for earth and water, as the last heralds of his father were thrown into a pit and a well, respectively.

They crashed into the Persian army ....
Walter Crane
source Wikiart

As Xerxes advanced, many Hellenes who had sent earth and water were confident that they would be passed by, but the ones who had refused were rather terrified.  However, the Athenians, rather than desert their land or submit to Xerxes, instead remained to fight and this was the saving of all Hellas, or so says Herodotus although he admits his opinion may not be the popular one.

"... they repelled the King with the help of the gods.  Indeed, not even the frightening oracles they received from Delphi threw them into a panic or persuaded them to abandon Hellas.  Instead, they stood fast and had the courage to confront the invader of their land."

Themistokles, a prominent Athenian, interprets a second oracle differently than the oracle experts, counselling that they need to use their ships to fight the Persians. Fortunately, these ships had already been constructed for a war with the Aeginetans. Hellas attempts to unite with Argos, Sicily and Crete, while they send spies to Sardis to find out the strength of the Persian army.  The spies are caught and taken to be executed but Xerxes intervenes, allowing them to see the magnitude of his force before sending them home again, hoping that the Athenians would thus surrender to his might. The Argives, however, give trouble and when they are not given half command alongside the Spartans, refuse to participate, yet Herodotus says that their lack of participation was prompted by a visit from the Persians who cited ties of kinship to gain their allegiance.  More bickering ignites between the Spartan and Athenian envoys and Gelon of Syracuse (Sicily).  Gelon wants full command because of the refusal of the two to come to his aid previously, but at the protest of the Lacedaemonians finally agrees to accept half the command, however the Athenians fully refuse to be led at all by him.  He sends them away, then dispatches a messenger, Kadmos, to the Persians after they cross the Hellespont, instructing him to offer money, earth and water to them if they win, but to return home if they lose and Kadmos eventually proves himself an honest messenger.   The Corcyrians agreed to help but then hang back during the battle like cowards, waiting to see which side will prevail.  The Cretans will not help and the Thessalians are more concerned with saving themselves and eventually mediate with the Persians.

Mountains of Thermopylae (1872)
Edward Lear
source ArtUK


The forces of the Athenian alliance prepares to defend the territory, but move from the Pass of Tempe to Thermopylae, where they believe the Persian force will land. Herodotus calculates the Hellene forces at around 2,641,610 men, not including slaves, women and concubines, and the Persian forces at 5,283,220.  The Persians beach some ships at Magnesia but those which have to anchor in the bay are destroyed by a fierce storm, 400 ships in total, the god Boreas helping the Athenians.  On the fourth day the storm ends and the barbarians set sail.  Fifteen ships that set sail later than the others end up sailing into a Greek fleet thinking that they are their own and are captured. Events are not transpiring well for the Persians.  Meanwhile Xerxes marches with the land troops and arrives near Thermopylae where the Greeks guard the pass.  Of the generals commanding the Hellenes, the most prominent is Leonidas, king of Sparta, who became king after his two elder brothers died.  When Xerxes sends out a scout, he spies a group of Lacedaemonians combing their hair and, astonished, returns to Xerxes to report his findings.  The Persian king calls Demaratos who confirms what he had previously told him, that the Spartans would fight despite smaller numbers and that in grooming themselves, they are preparing for battle. Xerxes, however, remains unconvinced and after four days of assuming the Hellenes would retreat against his forces, loses his temper and attacks.  The Medes engage the Hellenes first and are forced to retreat, then the Persians take their place, yet face the same result and again the next day.  The Spartans are far superior fighters and lose few men.  A Hellene named Ephialtres commits a treacherous act, leading the Persians along an unknown mountainous pass which allows the Persian force to destroy the Hellene fighters.  Another account says it was Onetes and Korydallos who perpetrated the treachery, but Herodotus finds this account entirely implausible, given Ephialtres is later exiled and a price is put upon his head.  When the Persians reach the summit, they encounter Phocians defenders who flee at the first hail of arrows, leaving the path clear.  Finding out about the ambush, some Hellenes desert and some remain to fight.

"It is also said, however, that Leonidas himself sent most of them away as he was worried that all of them might otherwise be killed.  But he felt that for himself and the Spartans with him, it would not be decent to leave the post that they had originally come to guard.  I myself am most inclined to this opinion and think that when Leonidas perceived the allies' lack of zeal and their reluctance to share with him in the danger ahead, he ordered them to leave.  He perceived that it would be ignoble for him to leave the pass, and that if he were to remain, he would secure lasting glory and assure that the prosperity of Sparta would not be obliterated."

The Thespians and the Thracians stay behind with the Lacedaemonians, the former because they are willing to remain, but the latter are compelled by the Spartan king against their will for their previous treachery.

Leonidas at Thermopylae (1814)
Jacques-Louis David
source Wikiart

Xerxes waits for the peak hour to attack and then the slaughter is dreadful although many Persians are killed as well, including two brothers of Xerxes.  Xerxes calls to him Demaratos to ask how many Spartans are left in Sparta and if they are as brave as the men fighting now.  The traitor advises the king to capture an island off Sparta as their base to frighten the Lacedaemonians, but the king's brother, Achaimenes, counters his advice and Xerxes listens.  As Leonidas is now dead and his body recovered by the Persians, Xerxes orders him beheaded and his head raised on a spike.

Going back in time, Herodotus explains how Demaratos was able to get a message to the Spartans of the coming Persian invasion, by inscribing a message on the wood of a writing tablet, then putting wax over it so it would appear blank.  When it arrived in Lacedaemon, at first they could not understanding the meaning of the blank tablet until Gorgo, the daughter of Kleomenes had them scrape off the wax.  A message of warning was then sent to the rest of the Hellenes.



Book VI (Erato)                                                                           Book VIII (Urania)

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Top Ten Spring Books



Ah, Spring!  The word is familiar but I think that I've forgotten what it looks like considering our rather chilly winter this year.

© Cleo @ Classical Carousel


However, today it's very rainy and 9 C which is much more normal, so it's not so difficult for my brain to contemplate the coming of flowers and sun and warmer temperatures. Now as for books, let's see what I have slated for this much anticipated time of year as I participate in another Top Ten Tuesday from the Broke and the Bookish.

Source Wikipedia

Books for Spring!


1.


The History of the Peloponnesian War
by Thucydides

Following on the heels of Herodotus' The Histories, this is the second book in my The Well-Educated Mind history project.  I loved Herodotus so I'm looking forward to this one!


2.


The Republic
by Plato

I must admit, I cannot wait to read this!  Am I crazy?  Perhaps, but the only work of Plato I've read is The Apology and I loved it.  I think he and I will become fast friends.



3.


The Last Chronicle of Barset
by Anthony Trollope

I'm shocked at the thought of completing my Barsetshire project.  I'm halfway through The Small House At Allington, so I hope by the end of spring to complete the whole thing.  Woo Hoo!


4.


Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
by Lewis Carroll

This is the read-along for Amanda at Simpler Pastimes' Classic Children's Literature Event for April, which I'm highly anticipating.  It's been at least a decade since I joined Alice in her adventures and I'm looking forward to it.



5.




Finn Family Moomintroll
by Tove Jansson

Ah, I love my family of Moomins and all their fun friends.  It will be so special to revisit this children's classic, perhaps my favourite of all the children's classics. Another book for the Classic Children's Literature Event.


6.



Red Sails to Capri
by Ann Weil

I've read this once before and remember being impressed with the uniqueness of the story, which combined engaging fiction in an historical setting.  I'm definitely interested in a re-read.



7.



The Alexandria Quartet
by Lawrence Durrell

Oh, how painful!  I've started this book and I really enjoy Durrell's writing but the subject matter is certainly NOT uplifting and it's been dragging on.  I know that I'll still be reading it in spring.  Sigh.  Wish me luck.



8.



Dead Souls
by Nikolai Gogol

No promises, but I'm going to try to add this one to my reads.  I must get a move on with my Russian literature project.


9.


The Dream
by Emile Zola

Oh my!  I started the Rougon Macquart series ages ago and have stalled after book number 4.  The Dream or Le Révè is supposed to be excellent, so what is preventing me from starting?  Focus, which right now is on other books.



10.



Mary Barton 
by Elizabeth Gaskell

Will I, won't I?  Will I, won't I?  I feel that I'd like to read something by a woman author such as Gaskell or Eliot or Brontë, but I'm not too specific about the book.  Mary Barton might be my first choice but we'll see.  Spring brings change and this list could change as well! :-)


Saturday, 11 March 2017

A Haunted House by Virginia Woolf


Virginia Woolf is both predictable and unpredictable.  First, with any of her works she is not a writer that is easily deciphered or labelled, and conversely, one never knows when reading her works, precisely what one is going to discover.  In the short story, A Haunted House, Woolf delivers a narrative that is only 10 paragraphs long, yet manages not only to convey a story, but make it perplexingly obscure and delightfully poetic.

The story begins, "Whatever hour you woke, there was a door shutting."  A rather conventional beginning for a ghost story, but Woolf soon begins to weave other nebulous possibilities into its framework.  Two old ghosts appear to be moving through this house, searching for something.  Hundreds of years ago, the woman had died and the husband had left the house only to return to it later.  A young couple sleeps while they hunt always for the treasure that appears either to be lost or just out of their grasp. The ghosts visit the narrator and her husband sleeping in their room and appear to find the treasure in their quiet repose, in their love, and all is "Safe, Safe, Safe." ........

The Haunted House
source ArtUK

Most analyses of this short story categorize it as juxtaposition between the dead and living couple, the dead couples' loss of the "treasure" and their apparent finding of it again in the living couple, as the reader finally realizes the theme of love threaded throughout the story.  Well, yes, I'm certain that's an accurate analysis, but I had another less discernible thought flit through my mind while I was reading:  some of the descriptions and tone reminded me of an author's search for words or meaning to imbue their writing with a sense of life.  The ghostly couple could have represented the writer and the rooms of the house compartments in the mind.  Here's an example:

"..... “They’re looking for it; they’re drawing the curtain,” one might say, and so read on a page or two. “Now they’ve found it,” one would be certain, stopping the pencil on the margin. And then, tired of reading, one might rise and see for oneself, the house all empty, the doors standing open, only the wood pigeons bubbling with content and the hum of the threshing machine sounding from the farm. “What did I come in here for? What did I want to find?” My hands were empty. “Perhaps it’s upstairs then?” The apples were in the loft. And so down again, the garden still as ever, only the book had slipped into the grass."

The allusions to reading, pencil, margin, and book, and the references to the house being empty and the doors open and the search, reminded me of a writer struggling to find the precise words to bring his/her story to vivid life, to make something living from something dead.  Am I crazy?  Perhaps, but with Woolf, the very act of writing always seems to be a part of the writing itself, so closely incorporated that it is difficult to separate the two.  In any case, it was an interesting story, as only Woolf could make a story a page long.  The complete text of the story can be found HERE.

Next week, I've drawn a short story by Edgar Allen Poe, The Tell-Tale Heart.  I remember reading this one in elementary school and being quite scared by it.  We'll see how effective it remains from an adult reading.

Week 8 - Deal Me In Challenge - Nine of Clubs








Thursday, 9 March 2017

Classic Children's Literature Event


Amanda @ Simpler Pastimes is hosting the 5th Annual Classic Children's Literature Event and I am all in!  I love this event and will have participated in four of the five years. It has encouraged me to read such books as Emil and the Detectives, The Forgotten Daughter (an unbelievably good story), The Cabin Faced West, The Adventures of Pinocchio, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Prince Caspian, and The Wizard of Oz.

Event Basics

  • During the month of April, read as many Children’s Classics as you wish and post about them on your blog and/or leave a comment on the event page on this blog. I will have a link page starting the first of April to gather posts so that we may share as we go.
  • The optional RAL title: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. (Optional: also read Through the Looking-Glass. I’m guessing I won’t get through both.) I plan on discussion the weekend of April 21-23.
  • I’m not going to be the “children’s classics” police. Use your own judgement for what fits the category but if you want some guidelines, these are what I’m going by:
  • I think many of us have read more recent children’s books that we may already deem “classics” (for example, many people feel that way about the Harry Potter books), but for this event, I’d prefer if we read books that were written prior to 1967. This will still allow a lot of options, and will hopefully avoid the “but what is a classic” dilemma! (And yes, 1967 is rather arbitrary. Rebel if you wish, but 50 years old seems a good age).
  • Defining “children’s,” especially prior to 1900 or so can be a challenge as some books we think of as “children’s” today may not have been intended that way at the time. Personally, I’d say books appropriate for approximately an elementary-school aged child or preteen (to read or to have read to them) should be fine. I’d personally also count the various fairy tales, even though some of the earliest versions were not exactly family friendly.
  • Feel free to include books from any country, in translation or not. I have limited exposure to non-American children’s lit, so I’d love to learn about books from other countries myself.
  • Feel free to double up with other events or challenges if you wish.
  • And if you need ideas I posted
  • A suggestion list in 2013
  • Some more ideas in 2014
  •  There is no deadline for joining or participating (other than, of course, the end of April).

Most important: Have fun!





This year's read-along will be Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, one of my favourites. As for other books I might choose, I'm still mulling over the possibilities.  Some titles might include:

  • My Father's Dragon - Ruth Stiles Gannett
  • Finn Family Moomintroll - Tove Jansson
  • A Triumph for Flavius - Caroline Dale Snedeker
  • Red Sails to Capri - Ann Weil
  • Roman Ransom - Henry Winterfeld
  • The Princess and Curdie - George MacDonald


Please join us for the month of April if you feel so inclined!




Saturday, 4 March 2017

Herodotus' The Histories ~ Book VI



Book VI (Erato)


"Thus Aristagoras met his end after inciting Ionia to revolt."

Histiaios, the tyrant of Miletus arrives at Sardis after Darius released him in Susa and Artaphrenes inquired his opinion of the Ionian revolt.  Loathsome worm that he is, Histiaios disavows any knowledge of the altercation and bats his eyes in innocence (well, not really, but you know what I mean).  However Artaphrenes already knows his part and is not fooled by his duplicity.  His response arouses fear in Histiaios: "Well, then let me tell you how and why it happened, Histiaios: you stitched up the shoe, and Aristagoras put it on."  In fear for his life, Histiaios escapes towards the coast, now an enemy of the Persians.  Fleeing to Chios, Histiaios is taken in by the Chians which is a big mistake as he lies to them too about his part in the Ionian revolt, saying Darius wanted to uproot them to Phoenicia and vice versa.  Still using underhanded tactics, he writes to Sardis urging revolt, but Artaphrenes intercepts the letters, so in a last ditch attempt, Histiaios begs the Chians to help restore him as tyrant of Miletus, however the people of Miletus do not want the return of his tyranny and repulse him.  Still working his machinations, he seized ships sailing out of the Pontus.

Meanwhile, the Persian army and navy is approaching Miletus with help from the Phoenicians, Cilicians, Egyptians and the recently re-enslaved Cyprians.  When the Ionian ships arrives at Miletus, the Persians are awed by the size of the fleet and get the Ionian tyrants to try to turn the Ionians traitors, but they disdainfully resist.  A Phoceaean general named Dionysios is able to rally the undisciplined troops but soon their laziness overtakes them and as they engage the Persians, one group after another abandons the fight except for the Chians who perform great feats in battle in spite of their fleeing comrades.  Dionysios, when he realizes what is happening, seizes three enemy ships and sails off to Phoenicia to become a pirate.  Herodotus himself is "unable to record precisely which Ionians proved themselves to be cowards or brave and valiant men in this encounter, for now they all reproach one another."  Miletus is overcome by the Persians, their men killed and the women and children taken off to Susa as slaves.  The Athenians were so upset at the city's capture that when Phrynikos composed his play about its seizure, the audience wept and he was fined 1,000 drachmas for reminding them of this evil.  And thus, there were no Milesians in Miletus and other Ionians left to form new colonies so as to not be subject to the Persians.

Captive with rose (1943)
Nicolas Roerich
source Wikiart

In Byzantium and hearing of the battle, Histiaios returns, falling on Chios with an army and capturing it before moving on to other areas.  But the Persian general, Harpagos, is able to halt his advance, butchering most of his army and capturing Histiaios alive.  Yet his reprieve does not last for long.  Worried that Darius would pardon Histiaios if the man was given over to him, Harpagos and Artaphrenes, the governor of Sardis, decide to hang him from a stake and decapitate him, sending the head to Darius who is distressed and orders the head buried as Histiaios had been a benefactor to him.

Quite fascinating ........ as the Persians conquered islands, they would "net" people in that they would have a line of men that stretched from sea to sea and, holding hands, they would move forward, combing every inch of ground for people.  The handsome boys they castrated and the virgins they sent to the king, burning the Ionians cities so the Ionians were subjugated to slavery for a third time, first by the Lydians and then twice by the Persians.  The Phoenicians continued to sail towards Hellespont, conquering almost all the territory for the Persians as they went.  Yet in spite of their merciless domination, the Persians brought laws and process to the Ionians, which promoted peace between peoples.

Blue Sea, Iona (1927)
Samuel Peploe
source Wikiart

King Darius dispatches his son-in-law, Madronios to depose the Ionian tyrants and form democracies before he moves on toward Athens, intending the same, but encounters resistance from the Thracian Byrgoi and after the navy's wreck around Athos, they are forced to return to Asia.

The next year, crafty Darius tests if the Hellenes plan war against him by sending out heralds asking for earth and water (which signify subjection) from various cities in Hellas.  They give what is asked by the Persians but the Athenians take umbrage at the Aeginetan's gift and accuse them of conspiring against them.  The Spartan king, Kleomenes, crosses over to Aegina, intending to arrest the guilty Aeginetans but Krios defies him.  Meanwhile in Sparta, the lesser king, Demaratos, remains behind, proceeding to malign Kleomenes.

Thus, Herodotus launches into a lengthy digression about the Lacedaemonian lineage that produced two kings, which includes twin sons, yet one being honoured above the other.  Still, Herodotus says the Hellenic story traces the lineage back to Perseus and the Greeks, however he believes before Perseus they must have been Egyptian by direct descent.  Bascially, no one really knows.  In war, he lists the privileges of the kings, in times of peace, and also the traditions practiced when the king dies.  As to their professions, they inherit them from their fathers regardless of inclination or talent.

Three Spartan Boys Practicing Archery (1812)
Christoff Wilhelm Eckersberg
source Wikimedia Commons

Returning to Sparta, Kleomenes plots to rid himself of Demaratos by claiming that he is not the rightful son of Ariston, his father, as Ariston had taken his mother from his friend, and Demaratos' birth was too soon after the marriage.  Deposed of his kingship, Demaratos becomes a magristrate for the Persians but is insulted by Leotychidas who was part of the plot to disgrace him and is now king in his place.   Demanding the story of his birth from his mother, she tells him he is either the son of Ariston, or the dead hero Astrabakos, who looked like Ariston but left her with garlands from his shrine as he visited her bedroom as a spirit.  Happy with the answer, Demaratos escapes, pursued by the Lacedaemons but manages to reach the court of Darius where he is furnished with land and cities.  Leotychidas, on the other hand, leads an army into Thessaly but is caught receiving a bribe, is exiled and dies in disgrace but that happens much later.  At the moment, with the two kings against them, the Aeginetans surrender and Krios is taken as hostage along with nine other wealthy Aeginetans.  Fearing Spartan justice, Kleomenes escapes to Thessaly and then Arcadia where he tries to stir up dissent against Sparta and eventually the Lacedaemonians bring him back to Sparta to rule, apparently thinking he would be less of a danger close by.  But Kleomenes proceeds to go mad and his relatives have to confine him to a wooden pillory.  Yet the king is craftier than all and, convincing a guard to give him a knife, he proceeds to multilate himself, beginning at his shins until he has disemboweled himself.  Ugh!  The Argives claim he went mad because of an oracle at Delphi predicting that he would capture Argos which did not come to fruition because of circumstances, but the Spartans say that he was addicted to strong drink because of the Scythians and that was the reason for his madness.   
        
Upon the death of Kleomenes, the Aeginetans demand justice for the treatment of them by the two kings and the Lacedaemon people hand Leotychidas over to them in payment for the Aeginetan hostages taken to Athens.  However, worried of later reprisal, they take Leotychidas to Athens where he asks for return of the hostages and when the Athenians prevaricate, they are told a story of just Glaukos who thought of not returning money entrusted to him and, even though he eventually made the just decision, was punished for pondering evil by having no descendants left to carry on his name. 
Thus the Aeginetans become incensed with the Athenian behaviour and the two wage war on each other, bringing other kingdoms into their dispute and most showing a stubborn implacability that brings about many deaths.

Drawing of a Greek Vase depicting Darius I
source Wikimedia Commons

Meanwhile, Darius is planning to revenge himself on Athens for those who had previously refused to give him earth and water.  Removing the unsuccessful Mardonios from command, he appoints the son of his brother Artaphrenes, Datis, as general who proceeds to sweep through kingdoms, starting with Naxos and making his way to Delos where he promises not to harm the site of the two gods or the people.  After he makes a sacrifice and leaves, an earthquake thunders through Delos and Herodotus supposes it was a portent of evils that were to befall them:

“For in three successive generations, during the reigns of Darius son of Hystapes, Xerxes son of Darius, and Artaxerxes son of Xerxes, more evils befell Hellas than in all the other generations prior to that of Darius.”

In Greek, Darius means “Achiever,” “Xerxes,” Warlike, and Artaxerxes, “Extremely Warlike.”

The Battlefield at Marathon (c.1849)
Carl Rottman
source Wikimedia Commons

The Persians conquer and burn Eretria, then depart for Athens, expecting full victory.  Realizing the Persians are headed for Marathon, the Athenian general, Miltiades (son of Kimon and named after the Miltiades who settled the Chersonese) along with nine other generals send a message to Sparta by the runner Philippides asking for assistance against their foe.  Philippides arrives in Sparta the day after he leaves Athens, assisted by the god, Pan.  After a vote, the Athenians engage the Persians in battle, having spread their army as long as the Persians, but as they are fewer, are not as deep and the Persians begin to prevail in the middle, whereas the Athenians and Plataeans are succeeding in the wings whereupon they come together to fight the Persians in the centre.  Meanwhile,  the Persian fleet heads for Athens and is signaled by a shield from the shore.  At the Battle of Marathon, 6,400 Persians die and 192 Athenians. 


source Wikimedia Commons

The Spartans arrive in Athens too late for battle, travel to Marathon to view the dead Persians and then return home again.  Back to the question of the shield signal, where the Alkmeonids are blamed, but Herodotus speaks of their hate of tyrants and cannot believe that they would commit such a treacherous act.  He gives further history of the Alkmeonids, including a story of the judgement of the suitors, leading to the birth of Pericles.

After the Battle of Marathon, Miltiades gains even greater fame and convinces the Athenians to give him money and ships to lead against a country he will not reveal, to win great fortune.  Given it, he sails for Paros but after besieging it for 26 days, he is thwarted by injuring his thigh and returns home in disgrace to be tried and fined, but eventually he dies from gangrene in his thigh.

Information on the conflict between the Athenians and Pelasgians follow, the Pelasgians finally carrying off Athenian women but find that the sons born of them are displaying an unusual unity between them, so they kill both the sons and wives, causing the ground to cease bearing crops and the women to cease bearing children.  Ordered to offer reparation to Athens, the Pelasgians agree to the Athenian request for their land with a string attached: they will give it when a ship sails with the north wind and completes the journey from Athens to Lemnos in one day, knowing the task impossible.  But one day in the future, Miltiades completes the journey in the indicated time and the Pelasgians have to give possession of Lemnos to the Athenians, although part has to be subjugated through battle.



Book V (Terpsichore)                                                                    Book VII (Polymnia)


Wednesday, 1 March 2017

March ~ A Little of Everything or From the Unexpected to the Strange, to .....??


Snowy Fields
© Cleo @ Classical Carousel
Well, after a very cold January, then a warming period, it was back to snow for the beginning of February.  Lots of it.  Lots and lots of it.  Seriously.  We had about two feet of it in two days, and I can't stress how highly unusual this is. Usually we might get a day of snow, but then it quickly melts.  In this case, it stayed for about five days, but with the curiously cold weather last month, this winter has been an unique experience!  And now, as I write this during the last couple of days of February, it is snowing again, about 5 inches in less than 24 hours!  The good news is that it's the wet snow of temperatures hovering around 0 C and it looks like rain is in the forecast, so it won't last long.  I must say I've enjoyed it but with a couple of days in February with temperatures looking rather spring-like, I won't be sad to see it disappear!

So certainly the snow was unexpected, but I also had something very strange happen to me in the month of February.  I've always had trouble keeping a consistent exercise schedule, perhaps because my life is not very scheduled.  Yet suddenly in mid-February I had the urge to join the local yoga studio.  My readers will not know how strange this is, but my personal friends will.  Yoga has not been something that has interested me in spite of the continual urging of my dear neighbour to join her in class.  Yet out of the blue, I signed up for a two-week trial and away I went.  Honestly, the little push I needed was the fact that they have a Pilates class and I do like Pilates.  In any case, I forced myself to take 4 yoga classes (and 3 Pilates classes) during the two weeks and discovered many surprises!  First, that while my strength is good, my stamina and balance need serious work; also my right side is completely out of touch with my left --- I was wondering if that indicates brain damage, LOL!; and ....... that I actually enjoy yoga, enough to sign up for a regular membership!  So we'll so how it goes with my uncommitted tendencies .....

A Graveyard Sunset
© Cleo @ Classical Carousel

As for reading, on one hand I'm happy that I seem to be more or less keeping up with my Deal Me In Challenge.  I've had so many picks for short stories lately that I hope I get to delve into some of the other categories.  My favourite would be essays but my poor poetry category really needs some help. I don't think I've drawn one poem yet!  I'm progressing nicely through The Histories and absolutely love it .... my only complaint is that I wish I was moving faster.  I'll definitely run into March with this.  And I'm about 25% of the way through The Small House at Allington, so finally I'm on the march with my Trollope project!  I started The Alexandria Quartet by Lawrence Durrell; while the content is somewhat Bohemian and just escapes being pretentious, the writing is really excellent and Durrell's descriptions make you want to stop and savour them.  It will probably be a slow read because of my other commitments, however, I have grand hopes that I'm going to enjoy it.

A Snowy Graveyard
© Cleo @ Classical Carousel
Now, as for March ....... I plan to continue with my yoga and pilates classes, but I'm going to try to add walking back in as the weather improves. Hopefully I might even be able to fit in some bike rides in mid-March but I'm not predicting anything with the weather we've had.  And the due date for income taxes will be fast approaching, so I'm going to have to devote some energy to that task.  Ugh! My least favourite of yearly duties!  On a more creative side, a university near me is doing a production of Jane Eyre in the month of March, so hopefully I'll be able to catch that.  I've seen Pride and Prejudice there before and The Bacchae, so I'm anticipating a good performance.

Now to reading for March ....... finishing up The Histories and A Small House at Allington, I'll be starting Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War.  Otherwise, I want to read The Taming of the Shrew, which I had slated for last month, and perhaps get to Two Gentlemen of Verona. I managed one post for my Great Ideas Project last month, so another this month would be just dandy.  Oh, and I must start a Russian novel as the year is galloping on and I haven't read even one for my Russian challenge.  So who shall it be?  Dostoyevsky?  Gogol?  Turgenev?  Tolstoy?  Does anyone have a recommendation for me?

So with the sun coming out and the snow starting to melt, March will hopefully be an improved month.  I still don't have hopes of increasing my reading time, but other pleasures should increase. And I can live with that.  Happy March, everyone!


February 2017





Saturday, 25 February 2017

The Life You Save May Just Be Your Own by Flannery O'Connor

Farmhouse and Car (1933)
Prudence Hayward
source Wikiart


Imagine a small town in the southern United States on a hot day.  An old woman and her daughter sit on the front porch of their house, the woman suddenly alert while the daughter plays vacantly with her fingers. Down the road, a man materializes, a young man but by his appearance obviously a drifter.  He has "a look of composed dissatisfaction as if he understood life thoroughly." The woman and man greet each other, each eyeing the other with a hesitant speculation and a mutually concealed distrust.  After an introduction, the woman tries to find out more about Mr. Shiftlet but the man adeptly avoids answering, speaking of cars, hearts, lying and the definition of man. With more talk, it becomes clearer that the man is interested in the old car in the yard that had belonged to the woman's deceased husband, and the woman is interested in a suitor for her mentally disabled daughter. Agreeing to stay on for board and food, the man begins to spruce the place up and soon it looks much improved.

As time passes, the woman continues to subtly bargain for a husband for her daughter, as Shiftlet counters, bargaining for the car.  Finally a deal is struck, the two marry and the car becomes his. Yet the material desire of his heart is at war with the obligation to his new unwanted wife.  Shiftlet finds himself with a choice and the struggle within himself is powerfully displayed.

This story was perplexing, and although I haven't read any of O'Connor's other works, I have a feeling that she regularly creates confusion with readers.  While reading The Life You Save May Just Be Your Own, I was struck with impressions rather than feelings, as if I was following an incohesive story.  The story is there, but O'Connor inserts so many phrases that are pregnant with meaning, that you simply can't help analyzing them, wondering if there is some sort of secondary communication.  Let's see what I can make of it.

The Farmer's Daughter (1945)
Prudence Heward
source Wikiart

First of all, does Mr. Shiftlet's name imply that he is a "shifty" character, or does it indicate a possibility of shift or change within him?  Or both?  Initially, he is presented swinging "both his whole and his short arm up slowly so that they indicated an expanse of sky and his figure formed a crooked cross."  There is definitely religious connotations here, but notice the "crooked cross."  There is certainly something very imperfect about this man.  He is also a carpenter, which was the profession of Jesus --- does that mean anything or not?  When the woman tells him that he must sleep in the car, Shiftlet answers, "Lady, the monks of old slept in their coffins."  Here is another allusion to religion and death (although monks slept in their coffins so they would get used to not fearing death, but that's another story).

O'Connor also employs colour imagery in profusion, from the bright colours around Lucynell, the daughter, indicating innocence, purity and happiness, to the black, brown and grey colours worn by the man and woman, from the sun shining forth at the beginning of the story, only to be covered by a cloud at the end.

Portrait of a Man (1911)
Albert Bloch
source Wikiart

There is much speculation as to what O'Connor wanted to convey with this story, and there certainly appears to be deeply imbedded layered meaning.  When writing, O'Connor applied a type of analogical technique that allowed to reader "to see different levels of reality in one image or situation ..... (having) to do with the Divine life and our participation in it ..... was also an attitude towards all creation, and a way of reading nature which included most possibilities and I think that it is this enlarged view of the human scene that the fiction writer has to cultivate if he is every going to write stories that have any chance of becoming a permanent part of our literature."

For me, the impression that stood out was the subtle change in the man.  Initially, he is a tramp, someone who is disconnected to the material, content to wander and take odd jobs.  His exchange with the woman borders on the philosophical on his side and he is likened to a Christ-like figure.  Yet as soon as he espies the car, a possessive desire begins to simmer inside him, causing him to abandon his ideals, and he is satisfied to barter with the mother for Lucynell as if she were an animal or possession.  Because his attention is fixed on a worldly goal, Shiftlet becomes blind to simple pleasures and human empathy.


Portrait of a Boy
Albert Bloch
source Wikiart

If nothing else, O'Connor gives the reader a multitude of possibilities and honestly, this short story was a compelling and intriguing experience.

Next week, for my Deal Me In Challenge, I'll be reading the short story by Virginia Woolf, A Haunted House.

Week 7 - Deal Me In Challenge - Six of Clubs