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A history of divergent outcomes showing the power of perspective

The history of a nation either inspires or dooms its people. The battle of Marathon between the Medo-Persia empire and the Athenians in 490 B.C.E. made a Greek boy aspire to becoming a historian. He would grow up to become an astonishing tour de force, hitherto unseen by the world of his day. That young boy was Herodotus, regarded as the father of modern history who lived in the fifth century B.C.E. and wrote The Histories. He was a gifted narrator with a knack for details. Herodotus achievements was remarkable for his day as he could not work on any available official State historical records, as such records rarely existed. To accomplish his goal of explicitness and accuracy, he relied on observation, traditional lore, and the testimony of others regarding the events he wished to documents. Such information gathering required he traveled widely within Greece and as far north as Black Sea and Scythia (area of present-day Ukraine), and south to Palestine and Upper Egypt. Wherever he traveled, he thoroughly observed and inquired from the most seemingly trustworthy sources.

Interesting, accounts from classical Greek historians like Herodotus, as well as other historical accounts reveals what we know of powerful nations like the Medes who left virtually no written records of their exploits, and the Persians. The same Medo-Persia empire whose invasion of his country Greece forged his formative aspirations. It is also worthy of note that the history of how the Persians under Cyrus conquered Babylon which placed the Medo-Persia empire on the path to world domination was recorded by Herodotus. The rise of the Persian empire may not be unconnected with the constituents of its creed as a nation. In the words of Herodotus about the Persians: “They educate their boys from 5 to 20 years old, and teach them three things only, riding and archery and truth telling…. They hold lying to be the foulest of all.” A basic adherence to some tribal creed of ‘keeping one’s word’ is evident in the account of Ezra chapter 6 where Darius The Great, on finding the decree of Cyrus some 18 years after its date of issuance recognize the legality of the Jews position as regards the building of the temple.

In comparison, the same events like the battle of 490 B.C.E. that inspired a penchant for historicity in Herodotus instilled a retaliatory desire in another young ruler called King Ahasuerus or Xerxes I. He is believed to be the same king mentioned in the bible book of Esther. He was the son of Darius I, the vanquished Persian ruler in the battle of Marathon. When Darius died in 486 B.C.E., Xerxes ascended the throne. Six years later, in 480 B.C.E., Xerxes I launched a massive Persian force against the kingdom of Greece in retaliation for the Persian defeat at Marathon. Apparently, he got his pound of flesh in a Pyrrhic victory at Thermopylae when he destroyed Athens. Like his forebear, he suffered defeat at Salamis and later at Plataea, causing him to return to Persia. The Greek stories had it that the end of Xerxes’ reign revolved around marital issues. Xerxes would later be assassinated by one of his courtiers in 475 B.C.E. Xerxes would have been forever lost in history but for accounts such as of Herodotus.

Xerxes and Herodotus forged a path down history evoking distinct reminiscences. Both had at least experienced the wars of 490 B.C.E. but with different outcomes. As rightly encapsulated by Herodotus, “Call no man happy till you know the end of his life. Till then, at most, he can only be counted fortunate.” Key lessons inundate history. Always remember, what we make of history pale into insignificance in comparison with what history makes of us.

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B.C.E. Greece Herodotus Marathon The Histories


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