Discussion Questions for Herodotus Books 8 & 9
Dear fellow Herodoteans,
Here are some discussion questions to help you think through Books 8 & 9. Enjoy!
1. In Book 8.40-65, Herodotus narrates the momentous conference of
Greek leaders – the Salamis conference – as they debate whether to
fight the Persians at sea near Salamis, or to defend the Peloponnese
at the Isthmus of Corinth, a natural defense. Has Herodotus
embellished the decision to fight at Salamis in view of the victory?
What of the role of Themistocles and his tricks?
2. Themistocles later sends another message to Xerxes. Some of this
writing by Herodotus may be more commentary on the Peloponnesian wars
than on the Persian Wars. Do you see that? What does Strassler think?
How does the conflict between Athens and Sparta influence Herodotus’
writings of the earlier Persian Wars?
3. Regarding references to the Peloponnesian wars, the chapter ends
with the Spartans urging the Athenians not to seek treaty with
Xerxes. They say: “Again, it would be an intolerable thing that the
Athenians, who in the past have been known so often as liberators,
should now be the cause of bringing slavery to Greece.” (8.142.3; page
661). By the time of the Peloponnesian wars, Athens was seen as a
leading democracy that enslaved its empire – supporting freedom for
its citizens and slavery for its possessions.
Note: further reference and irony related to this aforementioned
quote in Herodotus comes from the fact that the Spartans later make
an alliance with the Persians against Athens – and that Persian
support plays a critical role in the Spartan victory against Athens.
4. In the debate that Xerxes and his councilors have about the
impending naval battle at Salamis, Xerxes seeks the opinion of
Artemisia – a “wise advisor” and the only woman naval commander and
combatant that is referenced. Her advice to Xerxes is not to hurry –
that he can win if “you keep your ships near land, or even if you advance
to the Peloponnese” (8.68.b). She also goes on
to observe a key leadership fact: “bad slaves tend to belong to good people,
while good slaves belong to bad people” (8.68.g) What does she mean by
that? Do we agree? What do we think of the role of women in Herodotus
and of this woman in particular?
5. Given Xerxes’ stubbornness and dedication to invading Greece, why
does he flee after the loss at Salamis? Does his earlier initial
hesitation to invade come back to haunt him? Does he remember his
dreams? Why does he now seem to follow the advice of his wise
advisors Artemisia and Artabanus?
6. In one of the most astounding reversals in military history, the
Battle of Plataea (book 9) resulted in a resounding Greek victory.
What is the interplay between Athens and Sparta in the events leading
up to this battle? How had the battle affected relations afterwards
between Athens and Sparta? What can Herodotus tell us about the
Greek city-states in general at this time before his Histories
Note: Plataea, the site of Greek united victory in the Persian
Wars, plays a tragic role in the Peloponnesian wars – remember, this
war between Athens and Sparta had likely begun by the time Herodotus
was finishing his book.