Discussion Questions for Herodotus Books 8 & 9

Dear fellow Herodoteans,
Here are some discussion questions to help you think through Books 8 & 9.  Enjoy!
Sincerely,
Andre

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?

2. 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?

3. 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.” (8.142.3; page  
661). 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.
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.

4. In the debate that Xerxes and his councilors have about the  
impending 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 he can win if “you keep your ships near land, or even if you advance
to the Peloponnese” (8.68.b).  She also goes on  
to observe a key leadership fact: “bad slaves tend to belong to good people,
while good slaves belong to bad people” (8.68.g) 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?

5.  Given Xerxes’ stubbornness 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?

6.  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?
Note: Plataea, 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.
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