Note: The chapter numbers in brackets indicate chapters I omitted; brackets around ellipses within the text indicate shorter omissions. I. Herodotus’ Introduction to his Work

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The Story of Croesus

(from Book 1 of Herodotus)

Excerpted and translated by Peter Aicher

to accompany the article “Herodotus and the Vulnerability Ethic in Ancient Greece” (Arion 21.2, Fall 2013)
Note: The chapter numbers in brackets indicate chapters I omitted; brackets around ellipses within the text indicate shorter omissions.
I. Herodotus’ Introduction to his Work (Chapters 1-5)
Herodotus of Halicarnassus here makes public his investigations into things past, in order that the remembrance of human events may not wither away with the passage of time, and so that the great and astonishing deeds of Greeks and barbarians alike may have the fame that is their due, beginning with the cause of the great war between them.
Persian chroniclers say it was the Phoenicians who were initially responsible for the conflict, and give the following account of its origins.

After the Phoenicians migrated to the Mediterranean from the Erythraean Sea and settled in the land they still inhabit, they immediately began their long-distance trading, shipping goods from Egypt and Assyria to a number of ports, including Argos, which was then the preeminent polis in the land we now call Greece.

The trouble began (say the Persians) on one of these trading missions to Argos, when the Phoenicians were displaying their merchandise alongside their ships. After five or six days in port, when almost all of the goods had been sold, a group of Argive women came down to the shore led by the daughter of Inachus, who was the Argive king; her name, according to both Greek and Persian accounts, was Io. While the women were milling around the stern of the ship, examining the merchandise and bargaining for items that captured their fancy, the Phoenician sailors made a run for them, spurring each other on with shouts. Most of the women were able to escape, but the sailors managed to seize Io along with several others. Stowing them on board one of the ships, they sailed off to Egypt.

Such is the Persian as opposed to the Greek account of how Io came to Egypt and they reckon her abduction to be the beginning of the wrong-doings. After this (the Persian account continues) some Greek sailors—though unidentified, one can surmise they were from Crete—put in at the Phoenician city of Tyre and abducted Europa, also the daughter of a king. Up to this point, it was an eye for an eye, say the Persians, who judge the Greeks guilty of the second violation when, after sailing a war-ship across the Black Sea to Colchis to acquire the Golden Fleece, they made off with the king’s daughter Medea. The king of the Colchians sent a herald to demand both the return of his daughter and reparation for her abduction. The Greeks responded that the barbarians had not given any reparation for the abduction of Argive Io: nor would the Greeks give recompense for Medea.

A generation later, Alexander, the son of Priam, heard these stories and wished to acquire a Greek wife by abduction, believing that he would not have to pay any penalty: the Greeks, after all, had gotten away with the abduction of Europa. Accordingly, he stole Helen. The first response of the Greeks was to send messengers to demand Helen’s return along with reparations, but when they made their claims, the Trojans cited the theft of Medea: the Greeks had neither paid restitution nor returned her, and here they were demanding satisfaction from others.

Up until this point the offenses were limited to the mutual theft of women, say the Persians, but they insist that the Greeks bear most of the blame for what followed, since the Greeks invaded Asia before the Persians invaded Europe. Although the abduction of women, the Persians reason, is the work of lawless men, an eagerness to begin hostilities over the loss of a woman is the mark of foolish men; sensible men would pay these women no further regard, since it is clear that if the women themselves had been unwilling, they would never have been abducted in the first place. Accordingly, they themselves took no account of the women stolen from Asia, and yet the Greeks, because of a single woman from Sparta, launched an entire fleet, sailed to Asia, and destroyed the power of Priam. From this point forward the Persians considered the Greeks to be their enemies, in light of the Persian claim that Asia and all the barbarian tribes who inhabit it, including the people of Priam, are part of their own domain, while Europe and Greece are a separate part of the world.

Such are the origins of the war according to the Persians, who trace their hatred of the Greeks to the sack of Troy. […] I myself will not attempt to parse the truth and falsehood of these accounts, but will begin instead by identifying the person I know in fact was responsible for beginning the injustices against the Greeks, and will go forward from there with my history, taking into account cities both large and small. Many great cities of the past have since become small, and those that grew to be great in my own day were small in the past, so I will make mention of both, being fully aware that human prosperity does not abide in one place forever.

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