Literature Study GuidesHistoriesBook 7 Xerxes And Persian Preparations Summary

Histories | Study Guide

Herodotus

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Histories | Book 7, Xerxes and Persian Preparations | Summary

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Summary

Darius is exceedingly angry when informed of the defeat at Marathon. Another vexing event is a rebellion in Egypt. He resolves to crush both the Greeks and the Egyptians. However, he must first deal with the question of his successor. His son, Xerxes, is chosen and Darius prepares his new campaign against his enemies. He dies, however, before he can set out, and Xerxes becomes king. Xerxes is convinced to take up his father's campaign against Greece by his general, Mardonius. Another advisor, Artabanus, attempts to convince Xerxes to abandon the project. Artabanus warns the king that "it is always the great buildings and the tall trees which are struck by lightning." That is, Xerxes's arrogance is likely to be punished by the gods. Xerxes ignores this advice.

Xerxes makes extensive preparations. He gathers an army that "dwarfed" that of Darius on his campaigns. The army is composed of people and equipment from all over the known world. Xerxes also orders the cutting of a canal near Mt. Athos. Herodotus believes Xerxes did this simply to show his power.

To get his army into Greece, Xerxes uses a bridge constructed over the Hellespont. When the bridge is destroyed by a storm, Xerxes orders the strait's waters to be whipped 300 times, and the men responsible for the bridge's construction are executed. The bridge is rebuilt, and Xerxes and his army make the crossing into Greece.

Analysis

Darius dies before he can have his revenge on the Athenians. An epic poet or dramatist might have had him live longer, or given him a more fitting end. Herodotus, who aims to be guided by the true course of events, avoids this dramatic yearning.

Xerxes I (c. 519–465 BCE), successor to Darius I, is the last Persian tyrant Herodotus will cover. He is probably the least capable of the three. However, Herodotus introduces him as a man who will take great care to ensure his invasion of Greece is a success. A hint at Xerxes's future failure rests in Herodotus's dismissal of the canal at Mt. Athos (a mountain in northeastern Greece) as simply an attempt to prove his power and not a matter of practical use. Xerxes's preparations can be read as the careful actions of someone who wants everything to go well. Alternatively, and this is probably Herodotus's intention, they are simply setting him up for an even bigger and harder fall than his ancestors suffered.

Xerxes's temper is revealed when he orders the Hellespont (the narrow waterway between the Aegean Sea and the Sea of Marmara he must cross to reach Greece) to be whipped after a storm. This is a clear sign of his arrogance and his belief that the whole world is his by right. This is a good story, but Herodotus also uses it to show that Xerxes does indeed intend to conquer the world, not just to punish the Athenians.

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