Herodotus' Histories, book 3
summary and comments by Jona Lendering

Seventh logos: the Persian conquest of Egypt (3.1-60)

In the first logos of the third book, Herodotus returns to the beginning of Book Two: Cambyses' expedition to Egypt. After initial successes and the execution of the last pharaoh, Cambyses goes crazy. First he tries to attack Ethiopia (giving Herodotus a chance to show his knowledge of the customs of this country on the edges of the Greek world). After Cambyses' failure, he orders several executions. His first victim is the sacred Apis bull, who is mortally wounded by Cambyses in the thigh. Soon the king has his brother Smerdis killed by a secret agent named Prexaspes, because he suspects the prince of an attempt to seize the throne for himself. Nobody knows about this murder. His next victim is the son of Prexaspes, then a group of twelve noblemen. Finally, he ridicules the cult in an Egyptian temple, an incident that causes Herodotus to comment explicitly that this is the best proof that Cambyses was crazy, because only a madman would ridicule foreign customs (click here for the text).

Eighth logos: the coups of the Magians and Darius (3.61-119, 3.126-141 and 3.150-160)

In the next logos, Herodotus tells his most romantic story: the coup d' état of the Magians in March 522. (The Magians were a Median tribe, considered specialists in religious rituals.) One of the Magians looks very much like the murdered prince Smerdis; his name also happens to be Smerdis. Pseudo-Smerdis proclaims himself king; his brother Patizeithes is the mastermind behind this plan. The two gain support from Persia's subjects by acquitting them of their taxes. When Cambyses hears from it, he rushes back to Persia, but when he springs into the saddle, the cap falls of the sheath of his sword, exposes the blade, which pierces his thigh - just in the spot where Cambyses had wounded the Apis. Soon, Cambyses dies.
The Persian elite cannot appreciate pseudo-Smerdis' policy towards the subject peoples, and seven conspirators assemble. Herodotus gives their names as Otanes (the son of the secret agent Prexaspes), Gobryes, Intaphrenes, Hydarnes, Megabyzus, Darius and Aspathines. Before they can strike, Cambyses' secret agent Prexaspes has committed suicide, after announcing to the people the truth about Smerdis. The population of the city is restless. This is the moment the seven have been waiting for, and they kill the two Magians. Next, there is a debate about the future constitution of the Persian empire. The seven decide that Persia has to stay a monarchy, and choose Darius as their king.
    The new shah divides the country in twenty satrapies (districts); Herodotus knows all their names and what kind of tribute they have to pay to the great king. (The Indian satrapy gives Herodotus an opportunity to describe this country, including the gold-digging ants he believes to live there.) He also informs us about the Persian recapture of the rebellious city of Babylon. One Zopyrus, son of the conspirator Megabyzus, cuts off his ears and nose, and defects to the beleaguered city, saying that he was punished by Darius and that he wants to help the Babylonians. These entrust their army to him, but he opens the gates and lets the Persians in.

Ninth logos: affairs on Samos (3.39-60 and 3.120-125 and 3.142-149)

Between the two preceding logoi, Herodotus has told the story of the rise and fall of Polycrates of Samos, the tyrant (= sole ruler). Herodotus first tells about his exceptional happiness: even when he throws a precious ring into the sea, a fisherman will catch the fish that has swallowed the ring. The pharaoh Amasis, who is allied with Polycrates, thinks that a man who is so lucky will one day be punished by the gods, who are envious of human happiness: reason to end the alliance. Nonetheless, Polycrates  is able to hold his position against a joint attack by the Spartans and the Corinthians. After the illness of Cambyses and the two coups, the Persian satrap of Lydia decides to terminate the rule of Polycrates: he is too powerful a neighbor. Promising money, he lures the tyrant of Samos to the continent, where the man is crucified. After this, the Persians occupy Samos.
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