Initially, there was much exchange between Persians and Greeks, respect
between the cultures.
After the Persian Wars, however, the Greeks perceived the Persians as cartoonishly
Herodotus is not an Athenian (though there is an Athenian bias in his writing). We think
he was half Persian, half Greek. While Herodotus is culturally Greek, and gives us a
Greek perspective of Greek culture, he retains an outside perspective on Greece
(he lived in Asia Minor).
Herodotus’ Autopsy (Seeing For Himself)
Herodotus gives his story using Greece as the yardstick for normalcy. He talks at length
about Egypt, for example, because the Egyptians “seem to have reversed the ordinary
practices of mankind” (meaning Greeks).
After he represents the other culture as the polar opposite of Greeks (alterity), he goes
on to develop a long argument that the Egyptians and Greeks were similar in certain
ways as well (argues that Greeks got gods from Egyptians).
Herodotus Working Method: custom is king. He examines other cultures reflexively; he
shows that the Persians see the Greeks as wacky... exactly as the Greeks see the
Croesus learns the story of Pisistratus: tyrant who used a bizarre trick to re-insert
himself as the tyrant. He dressed a woman up as Athena, and told the people that the
goddess herself approved his rule. The Athenians fell for it.
-Croesus was baffled as to why this worked
-The Persians think their culture is best (they think it’s bizarre to be naked and drink
wine), and would always prefer to do things their own way.
How does Herodotus weave together “cultural difference” (ethnography) and “cultural
conflict” (military history).
-Herodotus traces how each culture conquered by the Persians responded to Persian
invasion. One group surrenders, another fights, etc.
-War is the ultimate form of contact between cultures.
Ethnographic differences between different people effect military decisions. Croesus
initially does not make war on the Persians because they are poor barbarians -- what
will they gain? But if Cyrus makes war on Croesus, then Croesus loses everything.
Culture effects war and war effects culture; the Lydians luxury comes from a previous
conquest, where they were forced to wear soft slippers and engage in trade in order to
pacify them (culture comes from war).
So: What kinds of things does Herodotus tell us about cultures?