Herodotus Essay

Herodotus, the first Greek historian, has been called by some “the father
of history” and by others “the father of lies.” Born in 485 B.C
to a wealthy family at Halicarnassus, in Asia Minor, he was exiled to Samos soon
after his birth because of his family’s opposition to the Persian domination
of Ionia. During his youth, he traveled widely, studying the manners, customs,
and religions of the people he encountered. His histories are made up of tales
told to him by people from Egypt, Syria, Babylon, Colchis, Paeonian and
Macedonia. He was criticized by several ancient writers for creating stories and
passing them off as the truth. Herodotus is most famous for the nine books he
wrote on the rise of the Persian Empire, the Persian invasion of Greece in 490
BC and 480 BC, and the final Greek victory. Although it received quite a lot of
praise and is still considered a masterpiece, it’s trustworthiness has been
questioned both in ancient and modern times. The story that I’m covering is of
Rhampsinitus and the Thief (pg. 277). This is a tale that Herodotus learned in
Egypt and many believe that this anecdote was told to him by Egyptian priests,
claiming it a true story. Herodotus, himself, didn’t actually believe this
particular story but he felt it was his duty to report what he was told. Now,
for those of you who didn’t read it, I’ll quickly give a brief synopsis of
the story. A dying father tells his two sons how to break into the king’s
vault, which he, himself, built. The father then dies, leaving the family with
no way to support themselves. So the two sons begin their thieving. They manage
to escape with the treasure three times before the king sets up a trap, in which
one of the brothers gets caught. At his captured brother’s urging, the other
brother cuts his sibling’s head off, taking it with his, so the family’s
identity would not be known. The next day, the king was bewildered at the sight
of a headless thief. He then ordered his sentries to hang the body on the outer
wall and arrest anybody seen mourning the headless corpse. The two thieves’
mother, so absolutely distraught over the death of her son, threatens her
surviving son, saying that if he didn’t collect the his brother’s body, she
would turn him in herself. With that, he quickly devised a plan. He got two
donkeys and filled some skins with wine, draping them over the two animal’s
backs. When he reached where his brother hung and where the sentinels stood
guard, he pulled down the corners of the skins, letting the wine pour to the
ground. He then began to panic, pretending that he didn’t know what to do. The
guards saw this wine running freely and ran, with buckets in hand to collect the
wine, with the intention to drink it all themselves. The thief, pretending to be
furious, began to scream and yell at the guards. The guards, wanting to keep
their wine and not create a fuss with the boy, invited him to drink with them.

Then the guards become to drunk to stay up and pass out, leaving the thief to
take down his brother’s body, and to shave each of the guard’s beards,
ridiculing them. The king was furious at what the thief had done, so he sets his
daughter in a room with the order to consort with all the men that came to her.

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But before they enjoy her she must compel each man to tell her the cleverest
thing that they’d ever done. If a man told a story similar to that of the
thief, then she should hold him and not let him get away. The thief, seeing
through the king’s trap, wanted to surpass the king in resourcefulness. He
then cuts the arm off a freshly dead man and takes it with him underneath his
cloak. He then meets with the king’s daughter and confesses to the thieving
and the murder of his brother. The daughter then reaches to grab him but the
thief slips away, leaving her with a dead man’s arm. The king is so astounded
at the wit and daring of the thief that he sent word to every city of immunity
and a promise of a great reward if the thief comes forward. The thief trusts the
king’s word and goes to the palace. Rhampsinitus, the king, admires the thief
so greatly that he


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