Literature Study GuidesHistoriesBook 8 The Battle Of Artemisium Summary

Histories | Study Guide

Herodotus

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Histories | Book 8, The Battle of Artemisium | Summary

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Summary

Herodotus records the size and composition of the Greek fleet—271 ships in total. In accordance with their plan, the Greeks sail to Artemisium, where they see the Persian fleet. Some of the Greeks begin to panic, but Themistocles bribes the commander of the fleet, the Spartan Eurybiades, to hold his position. A deserter from the Persian fleet provides the Greeks with vital intelligence, and the Greeks decide to fight. In the ensuing battle, the Greeks capture 30 Persian ships before sailing away. At night, the Persian navy is beset by violent storms. In the next couple of days, more clashes ensue, with the final engagement the most even. When a messenger arrives to inform the Greeks of the defeat at Thermopylae, the Greek navy retreats from Artemisium.

Xerxes tries to hide the massive casualties suffered at Thermopylae, but they are so numerous that Herodotus considers the attempt laughable. His armies, meanwhile, continue their advance into central Greece. Along the way they attempt to occupy the Temple of Apollo at Delphi (home of the oracle) but are repulsed by a landslide caused by a sudden thunderstorm.

Analysis

Although the Greeks have lost at Thermopylae, their real strength rests in their fleet. Arguably, it also rests in Themistocles (c. 524–460 BCE), who is just the cunning leader the Greeks need. Herodotus credits Themistocles with many of the triumphs that follow. However, the rivalry between the Greek cities continues even when they are united against a common enemy. The Spartans must have command of the fleet even though Eurybiades seems an inferior commander to Themistocles.

Even though they have a powerful navy, the Greeks are massively outnumbered by the Persians. This is why they avoid direct confrontation and instead try to launch hit-and-run attacks, or lure the Persians into narrow passages of water.

The Greeks have to retreat from Artemisium. This is not because the Persians have beaten them, but because of the defeat at Thermopylae. The two-pronged defense planned by the Greeks anticipated a victory at Thermopylae. Thermopylae has fallen, and the plan must change.

Herodotus shows his belief in divine intervention with the story of the miraculous delivery of Delphi, home of the famous oracle. Delphi was one of the largest and wealthiest temples in Greece, dedicated to the god Apollo. It was home to a prophetic oracle famous for predicting the future. The Persians sack the temples of many cities, but the gods so favor Delphi that they send a landslide and thunderstorm to shoo the Persian armies away.

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