I look forward to our final call with our special guest Robert Strassler, editor of the forthcoming “Landmark Herodotus.” Strassler has spent many years developing this new edition – he commissioned a new translation, wrote more than 100 maps, thousands of margin summaries and critical appendices. Before devoting his time to the classics, Strassler was a businessman in the oil industry. He graduated from Harvard Business School in the early 1960s, made some money in oil and then retired to dedicate his life to developing much better, easier-to-read versions of the classics.
He’s become a good friend to our book group and it’s great that he’s agreed to join us.
Final Herodotus call
Monday, June 4
8pm NYC time, 5pm Laguna Beach
Here are some questions for you to consider in advance of the call.
Andre and Phil
Questions for Strassler?
1. We have had good debate about the structure and style of Herodotus – about the difference between linear and non-linear, modern and post-modern approaches to writing history. Herodotus was not just the first historian but perhaps the first non-linear writer and thinker. What do we want to ask Strassler about this – and about our debate/discussion?
2. What specific questions about the text do you have? What do you want to know from Strassler? How did the text originally come to us? How was it received in ancient Greece? How do historians deal with the “gold-digging” ants and other oddities of Herodotus?
3. Why should modern readers read Herodotus? What did we get out of the text? What does Strassler think is important? Why has he dedicated so much of his life to Herodotus and Thucydides?
4. We are reading the Landmark Thucydides next. What suggestions for approaching that text does Strassler have?
Questions for Books 8 & 9
We are also finishing books 8 & 9 and can discuss these books with Strassler.
1. In Book 8.40-65, Herodotus narrates the momentous conference of Greek leaders – the Salamis conference – as they debate whether to fight the Persians at sea near Salamis, or to defend the Peloponnese at the Isthmus of Corinth, a natural defense. Has Herodotus embellished the decision to fight at Salamis in view of the victory? What of the role of Themistocles and his tricks?
1a. Themistocles later sends another message to Xerxes. Some of this writing by Herodotus may be more commentary on the Peloponnesian wars than on the Persian Wars. Do you see that? What does Strassler think? How does the conflict between Athens and Sparta influence Herodotus’ writings of the earlier Persian Wars?
1b. Regarding references to the Peloponnesian wars, the chapter ends with the Spartans urging the Athenians not to seek treaty with Xerxes. They say: “Again, it would be an intolerable thing that the Athenians, who in the past have been known so often as liberators, should now be the cause of bringing slavery to Greece.” (8, 142; page 552). By the time of the Peloponnesian wars, Athens was seen as a leading democracy that enslaved its empire – supporting freedom for its citizens and slavery for its possessions.
1c. Note: further reference and irony related to this aforementioned quote in Herodotus comes from the fact that the Spartans later make an alliance with the Persians against Athens – and that Persian support plays a critical role in the Spartan victory against Athens.
2. In the debate that Xerxes and his councilors have about the pending naval battle at Salamis, Xerxes seeks the opinion of Artemisia – a “wise advisor” and the only woman naval commander and combatant that is referenced. Her advice to Xerxes is not to hurry – that ‘we can win if he keeps the fleet on the coast.’ She also goes on to observe a key leadership fact: “good masters, remember, usually have bad servants, and bad masters good ones.” What does she mean by that? Do we agree? What do we think of the role of women in Herodotus and of this woman in particular?
3. Given Xerxes’ stubborness and dedication to invading Greece, why does he flee after the loss at Salamis? Does his earlier initial hesitation to invade come back to haunt him? Does he remember his dreams? Why does he now seem to follow the advice of his wise advisors Artemisia and Artabanus?
4. In one of the most astounding reversals in military history, the Battle of Plataea (book 9) resulted in a resounding Greek victory. What is the interplay between Athens and Sparta in the events leading up to this battle? How had the battle affected relations afterwards between Athens and Sparta? What can Herodotus tell us about the Greek city-states in general at this time before his Histories abruptly end?
4a. Note: Platea, the site of Greek united victory in the Persian Wars, plays a tragic role in the Peloponnesian wars – remember, this war between Athens and Sparta had likely begun by the time Herodotus was finishing his book.