The following is a brief analysis of the contents of Books VIII and IX, based on the summary in Stein's edition:
Ch. 1‑5. The Greek fleet at Artemisium: question of supreme command; bribery of Themistocles by the Euboeans.
Ch. 6‑14. Despatch of a Persian squadron to sail round Euboea, and its destruction by a storm. Effect of the storm on the rest of the Persian fleet; first encounter between the two fleets.
Ch. 15‑17. Second battle off Artemisium.
Ch. 18‑23. Retreat of the Greeks; Themistocles' attempt to tamper with the Ionians; Persian occupation of Euboea.
Ch. 34‑39. Persian march through Boeotia, and unsuccessful attempt upon Delphi.
Ch. 40‑48. Abandonment of Attica by the Athenians; the Greek fleet at Salamis.
Ch. 49‑55. Greek council of war; Persian invasion of Attica and occupation of Athens.
p. viii Ch. 56‑64. Greek design to withdraw the fleet to the Isthmus of Corinth. Decision to remain at Salamis, by Themistocles' advice.
Ch. 65. Dicaeus' vision near Eleusis.
Ch. 66‑69. Persian fleet at Phalerum; advice given by Artemisia in a council of war.
Ch. 70‑73. Greek fortification of the Isthmus. Digression on the various Peloponnesian nationalities.
Ch. 74‑82. Unwillingness of the Peloponnesians to remain at Salamis. Themistocles' design to compel them; his message to Xerxes, and Persian movement to encircle the Greeks. Announcement of this by Aristides.
Ch. 83‑96. Battle of Salamis.
Ch. 97‑99. Xerxes' intention to retreat; news at Susa of the capture of Athens and the battle of Salamis.
Ch. 100‑102. Advice given to Xerxes by Mardonius and Artemisia.
Ch. 103‑106. Story of the revenge of Hermotimus.
Ch. 107‑110. Flight of Persian fleet, and Greek pursuit as far as Andros; Themistocles' message to Xerxes.
Ch. 111, 112. Siege of Andros, and demands made by Themistocles on various islands.
Ch. 113. Mardonius' selection of his army.
Ch. 114‑120. Incidents in Xerxes' retreat.
Ch. 121‑125. Greek division of spoil and assignment of honours; Themistocles' reception at Sparta.
Ch. 126‑129. Artabazus' capture of Olynthus and siege of Potidaea, during the winter.
Ch. 130‑132. Greek and Persian fleets at Aegina and Samos respectively (spring of 479). Leutychides' command. Message to the Greeks from the Ionians.
p. ix Ch. 133‑135. Mardonius' consultation of Greek oracles.
Ch. 136‑139. Mission to Athens of Alexander of Macedonia; origin of his dynasty.
Ch. 140‑144. Speeches at Athens of Alexander and the Spartan envoys; Athenian answer to both.
Ch. 1‑5. Mardonius in Attica; his fresh proposals to the Athenians.
Ch. 6‑11. Hesitation of the Spartans to send troops; appeals made by the Athenians; eventual despatch of a force.
Ch. 12‑15. Argive warning to Mardonius; his march to Megara and withdrawal thence to Boeotia.
Ch. 16‑18. Story of a banquet at Thebes, and Mardonius' test of a Phocian contingent.
Ch. 19‑25. The Greeks at Erythrae; repulse of Persian cavalry attack, and death of its leader; Greek change of position.
Ch. 26‑27. Rival claim of Tegeans and Athenians for the post of honour.
Ch. 28‑32. Battle array of Greek and Persian armies.
Ch. 33‑37. Stories of the diviners in the two armies.
Ch. 38‑43. Persian attack on a Greek convoy; Mardonius' council of war and determination to fight.
Ch. 44‑51. Alexander's warning to the Athenians; attempted change of Greek and Persian formation; Mardonius' challenge to the Spartans, and retreat of Greeks to a new position.
p. x Ch. 52‑57. Flight of the Greek centre; Amompharetus' refusal to change his ground.
Ch. 58‑65. Battle of Plataea; initial success of Spartans and Tegeans.
Ch. 66‑69. Flight of Artabazus; Athenian success against the Boeotians; disaster to part of the Greek army.
Ch. 70‑75. Assault and capture of the Persian fortified camp. Distinctions of various Greek fighters.
Ch. 76‑79. Pausanias' reception of the Coan female suppliant; the Mantineans and Eleans after the battle; Lampon's proposal to Pausanias and his reply.
Ch. 80‑85. Greek division of the spoil and burial of the dead.
Ch. 86‑89. Siege of Thebes and punishment of Theban leaders; retreat of Artabazus.
Ch. 90‑95. Envoys from Samos with the Greek fleet. Story of the diviner Euenius.
Ch. 96‑105. Movements preliminary to the battle of Mycale, and Greek victory there.
Ch. 106, 107. Greek deliberation at Samos; quarrel between Persian leaders.
Ch. 108‑113. Story of Xerxes' adultery and cruelty, and the fate of his brother Masistes.
Ch. 114‑121. Capture of Sestus by the Greeks; sacrilege of Artaÿctes, and his execution.
Ch. 122. Cyrus' advice to the Persians to prefer hardship to comfort.
In the eighth and ninth books the central subjects are the battles of Salamis and Plataea respectively. Herodotus describes the preliminaries of Salamis, p. xiand both the operations prior to Plataea and the actual battle, with much detail; and his narrative has given rise to a good deal of controversy. Sometimes it is difficult to reconcile his story with the facts of geography. Sometimes, it is alleged, he is contradicted by the only other real authority for the sea fight at Salamis, Aeschylus. More often, he is said to sin against the laws of probability. He makes generals and armies do things which are surprising; and this is alleged to detract from his credit; for a historian, who allows generals and armies to disregard known rules of war, is plainly suspect, and at best the dupe of camp gossip, if not animated by partiality or even malice.
As to the battle of Salamis, a mere translator has no desire to add greatly to the literature of controversy. But it is worth while to review Herodotus' account. On the day before the battle, the Persian fleet, apparently, lay along the coast of Attica, its eastern wing being near Munychia; the Greeks being at Salamis, opposite to and rather less than a mile distant from Xerxes' ships. During the night, Persian ships were detached to close the two entrances of the straits between the mainland and Salamis. At dawn of the following day, the Greeks rowed out and made a frontal attack on the Persians facing them.
This account is questioned by the learned, mainly on two grounds; firstly, because (it is alleged) the Persians, if they originally lay along the Attic coast, could not have closed the two entrances of the straits without the knowledge of the Greeks; secondly, because Herodotus' narrative differs from that given by Aeschylus, in the Persae, a play p. xiiproduced only eight years after the battle. As to the first objection, the Persian manoeuvre was executed in darkness, and by small vessels, not modern battleships: it is surely not incredible that the Greeks should have been unaware of its full execution. As to the second ground of criticism, — that Herodotus and Aeschylus do not agree, and that Aeschylus must be held the better authority, — it still remains to be shown in what the alleged discrepancy consists. It is a fact which appears to escape the observation of the learned that Aeschylus is writing a poetic drama, and not a despatch. His manner of telling the story certainly differs from that of Herodotus; but the facts which he relates appear to be the same: and in all humility I cannot but suggest that if commentators would re‑read their Herodotus and their Aeschylus in parallel columns, without (if this be not too much to ask) an a priori desire to catch Herodotus tripping, some of them, at least, would eventually be able to reconcile the historian with the tragedian. For Aeschylus nowhere contradicts what is apparently the view of Herodotus, — that the Persians, or their main body, lay along the Attic coast opposite Salamis when the Greeks sailed out to attack them. Messrs. How and Wells (quos honoris causa nomino) say that this was probably not so, because, according to Aeschylus, "some time" elapsed before the Persians could see the Greek advance, and the strait is only one thousand five hundred yards wide. But as a matter of fact, Aeschylus does not say that some time elapsed. His expression is θοῶς δὲ πάντες ἦσαν ἐκφανεῖς ἰδεῖν — "quickly they were all plain to view."
p. xiii Herodotus' narrative of the manoeuvres of Mardonius' and Pausanias' armies near Plataea is, like most descriptions of battles, not always very clear. It is full of detail; but as some of the localities mentioned cannot be quite certainly identified, the details are not always easy to understand; and it must be confessed that there are gaps in the story. For instance, we must presume (though meritorious efforts are made to explain the statement away) that Herodotus means what he says when he asserts in Ch. 15 that Mardonius' army occupied the ground "from Erythrae past Hysiae"; the Persians, therefore, were then on the right bank of the Asopus; yet soon afterwards they are, according to the historian's equally plain statement, on the left bank. Hence there are real obscurities; and the narrative is not without picturesque and perhaps rather surprising incidents; which some commentators (being rather like M. About's gendarme, persons whose business it is to see that nothing unusual happens in the locality) promptly dismiss as "camp gossip." Altogether, what with obscurity and camp gossip, scholars have given themselves a fairly free hand to reconstruct the operations before Plataea as they must have happened — unless indeed "someone had blundered," an hypothesis which, apparently, ought only to be accepted in the very last resort, and hardly then if its acceptance implies Herodotus' veracity. Reconstruction of history is an amusing game, and has its uses, especially in places of education, where it is played with distinguished success; yet one may still doubt whether rejection of what after all is our only real authority brings the public any nearer to p. xivknowing what did actually happen. Strategists and tacticians do make mistakes; thus, generally, are battles lost and won; and unreasonable incidents do occur. However, it is fair to say that most of the reconstruction of Salamis and Plataea was done before August, 1914.
But here, as elsewhere in his history, Herodotus' authority is much impaired by the presumption, popular since Plutarch, of a pro‑Athenian bias which leads him to falsify history by exaggerating the merit of Athens at the expense of other states, especially Sparta. Now we may readily believe that if Herodotus lived for some time at Athens, he was willing enough to do ample justice to her achievements; but if he is to be charged with undue and unjust partiality, and consequent falsification, then it must be shown that the conduct which he attributes to Athens and to Sparta is somehow not consistent with what one would naturally expect, from the circumstances of the case, and from what we know, aliunde, about those two states. Scholars who criticise Herodotus on grounds of probability ought to be guided by their own canon. If a historian is to be discredited where his narrative does not accord with what is antecedently probable, then he must be allowed to gain credit where antecedent probability is on his side; and there is nothing in Herodotus' account of Athenian and Spartan actions during the campaigns of 480 and 479 which disagrees with the known character of either people. Pace the socialistic conception of an unrelieved similarity among all states and individuals, the Athenians of the fifth century, B.C., were an exceptional people; their record is not precisely the p. xvrecord of Boeotia or Arcadia; it seems fair to say, without appealing to Herodotus' testimony, that they were more gifted, and more enterprising, than most. The spirit of the Hellenic world in general, — intense local patriotism, intense fear and hatred of Oriental absolutism and strange worships, — was more alive among the Athenians, probably, than in any other Greek state. Sparta also had her share of these qualities; she too would make no terms with the Persian; only her methods of resistance were different. Primarily, each state was interested in its own safety. To Spartans — disinclined to methods other than traditional, and as yet unaccustomed to naval warfare — it seemed that Sparta could be best defended by blocking the land access to the Peloponnese; they would defend the Isthmus unsuccessfully, as they had tried and failed to defend Thermopylae. This meant, of course, the sacrifice of Attica; and naturally that was a sacrifice not to be made willingly by Athenians. Their only chance of saving or recovering Attica lay in fighting a naval action close to its coasts; nay, the abandonment of Salamis meant the exposure of their dependents to fresh dangers; therefore, they pressed for the policy of meeting and defeating the Persian where he lay by the Attic coast. This policy was to prove successful; and thereby, the Athenians incidentally accomplished what was undoubtedly also their object, the salvation of Hellas; but the primary purpose of both Sparta and Athens, both before Salamis and before Plataea (when the Athenians were naturally displeased by a plan which left Attica a prey to the enemy) was undoubtedly to do the best they could for themselves. p. xviThis, in fact, was always the desire of all Greek states, as of most others in the history of the world; and as the actions of both Athens and Sparta were the natural outcome of that desire, there is no need to suspect Herodotus of unduly favouring the Athenians when he credits them with the plans which led to victory, or of unduly disparaging the Spartans when he describes their delays and hesitations before their march to Boeotia.
If the charge of an excessively pro‑Athenian bias is to be sustained, it must be shown that Herodotus is prone to deny credit to the great rival of Athens. But there is no evidence of that. Sparta receives full measure from Herodotus. No Spartan could conceivably been dissatisfied with the chapters on Thermopylae. Plataea is represented as a Spartan victory; it was the Spartans and Tegeans who in Herodotus' story were the real heroes of the day; the glory of winning "the greatest victory ever won" is definitely given to the Spartan commander-in‑chief. On the other hand Themistocles, the typical Athenian, is treated with a severity which even appears to be rather gratuitous. It is true that Herodotus does not take pains to praise two other Greek states which at various times were at feud with Athens. He tells us that the Thebans "medized," a fact which has not, I believe, been denied, even by Plutarch; it is difficult to see what else he could have said. True, he reports a damaging story about the Corinthians and their failure to take part in the action of Salamis; but he adds, in his candid way, that nobody believes the story outside Attica.
The hypothesis of Herodotus' "obvious pro-p. xviiAthenian bias" is one which is bound to appeal to readers who are laudably afraid of being led away by hero-worship; but it has one fault — it lacks evidence.
With the crowning victory of Mycale, where for the first time a Persian army was defeated by a Greek within the boundaries of the Persian empire, the history of the war comes to an end. But the chapters which conclude Book IX are no anticlimax; they are congruous with the whole, part and parcel of the narrative, and as striking an example of Herodotus' supreme art as any passage in his history. What was it after all (a reader might be supposed to ask) that nerved most of the Greeks to resist Darius' and Xerxes' powerful armaments? The answer is plain; it was fear of the caprice and cruelty of Oriental despots, and desire to protect Greek temples from sacrilege. These concluding chapters illustrate and justify the Greek temper. The methods of Persian absolutism are vividly portrayed in the gruesome story of Xerxes' love and Masistes' death; and the crucified body of Artaÿctes, the defiler of temples, hangs by the Hellespontian shore, overlooking the scene of Xerxes' proudest achievement and display, as a warning to all sacrilegious invaders; so perish all who lay impious hands on the religion of Hellas! . . . The story is now complete. The play is played; and in the last chapter of the book, Cyrus the great protagonist of the drama is called before the curtain to speak its epilogue.
J. A. R. Munro, Journal of Hellenic Studies, XXII.323‑32 and XXIV.144‑65.
Images with borders lead to more information.
The thicker the border, the more information. (Details here.)
A page or image on this site is in the public domain ONLY
if its URL has a total of one *asterisk.
If the URL has two **asterisks,
the item is copyright someone else, and used by permission or fair use.
If the URL has none the item is © Bill Thayer.
See my copyright page for details and contact information.
Page updated: 5 Dec 18