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Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Herodotus The Barbarophile

Herodotus was viewed as a Barbarophile (a lover of barbarians) by the Ancient Greeks and Ancient Romans because in his Histories he has disparaged Greek culture and written about non-Greek cultures with remarkable enthusiasm, openness, and tolerance. The Histories contains a glowing account of the achievements of the Egyptian pharaohs and the grandeur of their kingdom, before their lands fell into the hands of the Persians. The book has lot of good things to say about the Persians too. 

Plutarch, who came almost four centuries after Herodotus, wrote an essay, “On the Malice of Herodotus,” which takes Herodotus to task for vilifying the Greek world while falsely praising non-Greek cultures. He accuses Herodotus of being obsessed with non-Greek cultures and ignoring the achievements of Greek culture. He calls Herodotus a “foreigner-lover,” by which he essentially means “Egyptian-lover” and “Persian-lover,” and a lair. Here’s an excerpt from Plutarch’s essay:

“Hitherto no one has dared to expose him [Herodotus] as a liar. Since his principal victims are the Boeotians and the Corinthians, though he spares no one, I think it is proper that I should now stand up for the cause of my ancestors and the cause of truth and show how dishonest this part of his work is; it would, of course, take many books if one wanted to describe all his other lies and fabrications.”

Along with being a historian, Plutarch served as the priest of Apollo at Delphi. Perhaps his antipathy to Herodotus is a result of Herodotus’s criticism of the role that the oracle played in the Persian Wars. Herodotus had suggested that the Delphic oracle was pro-Persian and he gave it no credit for the Hellenic victory at Platae, whereas Plutarch maintained that the Delphic oracle told the Hellenes where the battle must be be fought, and what gods and heroes were to be propitiated in order to ensure victory.

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