Both Plutarch and Herodotus understood that we frequently learn most about our own history by studying that of other nations. Both would have agreed that the Persian King Xerxes (519–465 B.C.) belongs in any course on famous Greeks. Xerxes is the central figure in Herodotus’s Histories. His actions and character were responsible for the fall of his country from greatness; by studying the folly of Xerxes, Herodotus hoped that the Greeks could avoid the same mistakes and maintain their freedom and power. This lecture examines Xerxes as the model of the despotic ruler, a type still to be found in every walk of life. The lecture looks beyond the stories of history and presents the realities of Xerxes and the Persian Empire over which he ruled.
Questions to Consider:
1. Plato and Aristotle believed that the “tyrant” was a well-defined and real human character. Do you agree? How does Xerxes fit this definition?
2. Can you give other historical examples of a great expeditionary force being defeated by a seemingly much weaker opponent? Is there anything instructive about this in Herodotus’s account of the defeat of Xerxes?
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