Herodotus' Histories, book 1
summary and comments by Jona Lendering
In Antiquity, books consisted of papyrus scrolls. Our division of the Histories in nine "books" goes back to an edition by scholars of the third century BCE, working in the great library of Alexandria. There are strong indications that this is not the original division; probably, Herodotus thought about his oeuvre as a collection of twenty-eight lectures. (On this matter: Silvana Cagnazzi, "Tavola dei 28 logoi di Erodoto" in Hermes 103 [1975], page 385-423. I have deviated from Cagnazzi's division on minor points.)

First logos: the story of king Croesus (1.1-1.94)

The Histories open with a prologue in which the author announces that he will describe the conflict between the Greek and the non-Greek peoples (= Persians) and will explain how they came into conflict. The man who was responsible for this, was king Croesus of Lydia, a country in the west of modern Turkey. He was the first to subject the Ionian Greeks (living in Asia). After some short stories about Croesus' court, Herodotus returns to his main theme: the conflict with Persia. Croesus is worried about the increasing power of his neighbors, and decides to attack them. First, he sends many very impressive presents to the oracle of Delphi; the god Apollo suggests him to ally himself with the most powerful Greek city-state, Sparta. The Spartans, however, are too late to offer help and the Persian king Cyrus captures the Lydian capital Sardes.
     Croesus is taken prisoner, and placed on a pyre, but is miraculously saved by Apollo. Seeing that Croesus is divinely protected, Cyrus allows the former king to send an envoys to Delphi to ask the god if it is the habit of Greek gods to be so unappreciative. The god of Delphi replies that not even he can escape destiny; and even though he had been eager that the downfall of the Lydian monarchy occurred in the time of Croesus' sons rather than in his own, he had been unable to divert the course of Fate. This logos ends with a digression on Lydian customs.

Second logos: the rise of Cyrus (1.95-140)

The next logos deals with Cyrus' rise to power. Herodotus starts his story with a brief account of the origin of the Median Empire. The Medes (in the west of modern Iran) were the first to shake off the yoke of the Assyrians, who used to rule all Asia. Herodotus mentions several Median kings and states that king Cyaxares "captured Nineveh and subdued the Assyrians, all except the territory belonging to Babylonia".
Cyaxares' son Astyages is the next king of the Medes, and his daughter Mandane is married to a Persian named Cambyses, a "man he knew to be of good family and quiet habits". The Persians were subject to the Medes. A child is born: Cyrus. After some nightmares that predict the baby's future as lord of all Asia, Astyages decides to kill the child. Herodotus tells the fairy tale-like story of Cyrus' miraculous escape from danger;  the boy grows up to become the bravest and most popular young man in Persia. Then, he receives a letter from a Median courtier named Harpagus, who has a grudge against Astyages and wants to remove him. When Cyrus revolts, Astyages foolishly makes Harpagus the commander of an army against the rebels; of course, the Median army defects to the Persians, and Astyages is imprisoned. From now on, Cyrus is the king of both Persia and the large Median empire. As we have seen, he added Lydia a few years later.
    This logos ends with a description of several interesting Persian customs. We learn a little bit about their religion, about alcoholic beverages, about the way they greet people, about their dislike of lies, etcetera.

Third logos: affairs in Persia (1.141-216)

Herodotus goes on to tell about Cyrus' adventures after his conquest of Media and Lydia. After his capture of Sardes (above), the Ionian cities that were subject to Croesus send embassies to prevent war, and the Spartans announce that they will support the Asian Greeks. At this point, Herodotus interrupts his narrative to digress on the towns of these Greek settlers in Asia. Cyrus ignores these embassies and returns to Media to defend the eastern provinces of his empire against the Scythians (below); Cyrus' friend Harpagus (above) makes quick work of  the Ionian Greeks and the Lydians, who have revolted.
    This Lydian revolt causes a short discussion between Cyrus and Croesus. Cyrus asks the former ruler of Lydia what to do. Croesus advises the great king to make sure that the Lydians forget how to fight and learn more peaceful arts. Soon, they will succumb to luxury and no longer be a threat. Cyrus recognizes that this is a sound advice.
    Cyrus now rules a large kingdom, stretching from the Greek towns on the shores of the Aegean Sea. to the Persian Gulf in the south. Now he prepares to attack his former ally, king Labynetos of Babylonia. Herodotus gives a long description of its capital Babylon. Cyrus defeats the Babylonian troops and lays siege to their city; he is able to take it by directing the river Euphrates in another direction - when the water is shallow enough, his soldiers enter the city through the old water course. The Babylonians are surprised and surrender. (Click here for a translation of the story of Cyrus' campaign against Babylon.) After a digression on their customs, Herodotus describes Cyrus' campaign against the Massagetes, a nomadic tribe in modern Kazakhstan. Their queen Tomyris, however, defeats and kills Cyrus. This logos ends with a short appendix in which Herodotus informs us about the customs of the Massagetes.
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