Caesar, Homer, and more Discoveries in Herodotus

Over this past week, I have slipped in as much reading as I can when I am not busy with other work. I have been working steadily on Homer, and also on Caesar. I am doing this somewhat in preparation for comps, which are this coming week. Anything Latin or Greek could be on the exams, so I have been supplementing my usual fare with extra reading.

Caesar has been interesting; I didn’t think I would enjoy it all that much, but I have actually had a hard time putting it down. He is the only historian I have read who refers to himself in the third person, which lends a really interesting gloss to the events (Apparently, Xenophon does this in his Anabasis, which I have not yet read). It has the effect of simultaneously situating Caesar firmly in the events as the general, but also removes him from the events as the historian. It was an intelligent decision to do so, I think, because then he can give the impression of being an impersonal observer and lend more credibility to his account, while also having eyewitness testimony. Then he can more easily allow readers a more immersive experience since he has removed his identity as the primary mediator of information, so the reader can situate themselves in the same observational position as Caesar. That is the extent of my observations so far on Caesar.

As for Herodotus, I have steadily been growing more nuanced in my understanding of his story-telling. Since I’ve mainly been working on Books 1 and 2, I have the most clear idea of it in those books, but I’ve been connecting some dots across Greek literature. The Greeks seem to connect “eros” with tyranny, and this connection might be another key to Herodotus’ stories (or some of them, at least).

“Eros” is defined here as a kind of sexual love, though when it refers to your country it refers to the excessive love of your country, the sort that leads to reckless behavior on behalf of your country, or towards other countries. Herodotus explores both kinds, I believe.

Part of the reason why Herodotus is so shocking is because he includes a lot of salacious stories of lust and sexual misconduct, but that is part and parcel of why nations become tyrannical or ill-fated. Hence, the women-snatching story; it has clear erotic overtones, as does the story of Kandaules and Gyges. Eros leads to reckless behavior and reckless desires, and that causes many problems, and had implications for the fate of entire nations. It was Gyges’ misconduct that condemned Lydia as a country, and would condemn the Persians as well.

If you further connect this to Pericles’ Funeral Oration and the moment where he asks the Athenians to have “eros” for their country, this is what leads to their demise. They become reckless, and it is a fatal  flaw in Pericles’ exhortation to his fellow citizens.

Perhaps this idea is something underlying Greek thought about history, and it does explain some things rather well. If you have an eros for your own country, it leads to all sorts of problems. I think perhaps part of Herodotus’ point is to analyze nations and the “erotic” connection there, so to speak, especially in how they relate to other countries.  It leads to recklessness on a national level as well as on an individual level, and the behaviors are perhaps rather similar at times.

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3 thoughts on “Caesar, Homer, and more Discoveries in Herodotus

  1. H’m… as regards to Herodotus, when you’ve read a bit more of him, I think you’ll find that his main theme is that of liberty and that it’s worth fighting for… and also that democracy is preferable to tyranny (in those times it wasn’t all that obvious). But he’s certainly a grand storyteller!

    Caesar wasn’t the first who spoke of himself in the third person, Xenophon employed the same method to great effect in Anabasis (also knowns as The Persian Expedition or the March of the Ten Thousand).

    (It’s nice to come across a blog of someone who likes the classics, BTW.)

    Like

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