The “Father of History,” Herodotus chose to begin his great work on the Persian Wars with the tale of Croesus, King of Lydia (546 B.C.). Herodotus wrote his histories to understand what was permanent and true behind the seemingly random events of human affairs. Herodotus found this in the concept of hybris, the idea that the abuse of power leads to the fall of great nations and individuals. The wealth and international power and prestige of King Croesus provided Herodotus with the ideal subject to introduce the central theme of his history. Neither the oracles of the gods nor the wisdom of Solon could save Croesus from destroying himself and his country. This lecture considers the historical kernel of this story and its significance for the rise of the Persian Empire. It also considers the enduring meaning of this story and the question, still central to our own political discussions, of whether a political leader can separate public from private morality.
Questions to Consider:
1. Do you believe that we can or should separate private from public morality?
2. Do you believe that the primary purpose of history is moral instruction?