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In what way if at all does Herodotus overemphasize the role of individuals in the conflict between Xerxes and the Greeks?

Extracts from this essay...

Introduction

In what way if at all does Herodotus overemphasize the role of individuals in the conflict between Xerxes and the Greeks? The aim of Herodotus in writing his history is to 'display his inquiry, so that human achievements may not become forgotten in time... [and] not be without their glory' (Book 1, 1). Herodotus' objective is to outline the causes of the conflict between Xerxes and the Greeks, thus he attempts to explain the reason behind the Persian Wars. His account aims to preserve human achievements ('ta genomena ex anthropon') and the role of individuals so that they will not fade through time and that their great and marvelous deeds ('erga megala te kai thomasta') both by Greeks and barbarians will not be without their glory (kleos), having their share in history. Thus, in his aim to praise the achievements of individuals, he often overemphasizes them, providing superficial analysis of events. Though his account contains inaccuracies, bias and error, it is unique as he was the first to attempt writing a universal history and we have no other major source, apart from archaeological findings, to compare it with.

Middle

Being a narrow passage would not give an advantage to the numerically greater Persian army and there Leonidas could defend central Greece, making also a stand to encourage unity. He was 'respected' and 'in command of the whole army', with 'the 300 men whom he brought to Thermopylae being chosen by himself', consequently he was responsible for choosing the most capable! He was such an important figure in the struggle against Xerxes that he was sent in advance of the main army to discourage the medizing of other states. In this occasion, Herodotus leaves aside his pro Athenian bias and experiences the Hellenic proudness of a 'memorable fight' even if it was a loss. Leonidas' army was so successful at first that made Xerxes 'leapt from his seat 3 times, in terror for his army,' however when Ephialtes betrayed a secret passage to the Persians, Leonidas had no choice but to stay and fight in order to give his army time to retreat. 'Honor forbade that he himself should go' as some of the Greeks that accompanied him did. Herodotus here indeed concentrates on individuals as he is focusing only on the Spartan sacrifice, accusing the Thebans that assisted them of 'strongly being suspected of Persian sympathies' and the legend failing to reproduce the Thespian contribution at Thermopylae.

Conclusion

Apart from Artemisium where he used bribery, pro-Hellenic propaganda on the rocks and outstanding maneuvering, his crowning achievement was Salamis. He was among those that believed that the Delphic oracle meant ships when it said that 'the wooden wall shall not fail, but help you', therefore 'he advised his countrymen to prepare to meet the invader' at 'divine Salamis' (Book 7, 141-143). He even managed to persuade the Spartan commander Eurybiades that there was the most appropriate place to fight. Herodotus, also describes an incident that Themistocles sent a slave to Xerxes, urging them to attack them at Salamis since at the time they were divided on opinion as to where to fight but modern historians believe that this was just part of the plan - another brilliant idea of Themistocles that contributed to eliminating the Persian fleet. Salamis was the battle that destroyed the Persian fleet of Xerxes so much that made a future naval advance impossible - all because of Themistocles, despite the fact that Herodotus presents his as supposedly receiving advice from Mnesiphilus on how to act. Themistocles capability stroked a terrible blow, leaving Persians unwilling to encounter Athens again at sea, though Herodotus hardly attributes him any credit.

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