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What do you want me to prove next?

[Originally published at the now defunct group blog explananda.com]


Posted on October 16, 2006
Tags: classics

There is simply not enough Herodotus blogging in the world, so let’s make our own modest attempt to remedy that, shall we?

I just love the batshit crazy way that Cambyses tries to refute the Persian claim that he was nuts. Here he is speaking to Prexaspes:

“I’ll soon show you if the Persians speak the truth, or if what they say is not a sign of their own madness rather than mine. You see your son standing there by the door? If I shoot him through the middle of the heart, I shall have proved the Persians’ words empty and meaningless; if I miss, then say, if you will, that the Persians are right, and my wits are gone.”

Without another word he drew his bow and shot the boy, and then ordered his body to be cut open and the wound examined; and when the arrow was found to have pierced the heart, he was delighted, and said with a laugh to the boy’s father: “There’s proof for you, Prexaspes, that I am sane and the Persians mad. Now tell me if you ever saw anyone shoot so straight.”

Prexaspes knew well enough that the king’s mind was unbalanced, so in fear for his own safety he answered: “Master, I do not believe that God himself is a better marksman.” (Book III.35)

Which sidesteps the question of whether the successful shot proved anything. And what a way to sidestep the question! I understand that Prexaspes was afraid, but if you greet the murder of your own son with “Nice shot,” you run the risk of appearing to grovel.

Comments


Author: OneFatEnglishman
Date: 2006-10-17

Herodotus blogging should certainly be the wave of the future, and if I could persuade somebody else to pay my mortgage and buy all my food, I’d be inclined to do it myself. But I wonder if I’m suffering from delusions: I was convinced H. had something to say about Persian noses somewhere, and I simply couldn’t find it. Any idea where it is, or am I imagining it.

This is a wonderful passage by the way, which I’d completely forgotten. Whose translation? Your own?



Author: Chris
Date: 2006-10-17

Not my translation. I’m reading the Penguin edition, since a) it’s just my bedtime reading; b) I’m used to philosophical Greek, and I would have to look up too many words; and c) it has not much to do with my area of research.

Can’t remember a Persian noses passage, but I’ll keep my eye open for it.

On another note, did you know that you can get contemporary news in Classical Greek?



Author: OneFat Englishman
Date: 2006-10-17

That’s fun, but it only rubs in to me how rusty my Greek is. I shall have to get my trusty old LSJ back from the guy I lent it to.



Author: peter
Date: 2006-10-17

I’m reminded of a passage in the Three Kingdoms where a poor farmer kills and cooks his wife to help out a defeated lord fleeing from the battlefield. I think that even goes beyond grovelling.



Author: Chris
Date: 2006-10-17

Peter, That’s awesome.



Author: DC
Date: 2006-10-17

Truly, that is superb.

But: as you know Chris, I’ve been reading (in part re-reading) Plato recently and it strikes me that the archaic, painstaking, unnaturalistic expression found in (translations of) Greek classics is intensely irritating.

Do other people find this too? Have there been reputable attempts to make the speech more realistic, or at least less grating to the (my?) modern ear? Seriously, every time I read “do not” instead of “don’t” in what is supposed to be a dialogue…it ticks me off.

Basically, why was everyone so anal (as regards their speaking style) in ancient Greece?

[Cue jokes about “Platonic” relationships etc.]



Author: Chris
Date: 2006-10-17

DC, What translations are you reading? It makes a huge difference. With Plato, I find the Hackett translations generally pretty good. I can recommend specific ones if you’re interested. There’s a bit of what you complain about, but less than a lot of translations. Don’t tell me you’re reading Jowett or something like that.



Author: DC
Date: 2006-10-18

Penguin Classics - Desmond Lee.



Author: Chris
Date: 2006-10-18

No, no. Try this