Herodotus: The Histories: Extracts from Book 8: Artemisia's Good Fortune at the Battle of Salamis | Sabidius.com
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Ancient Greece

Herodotus: The Histories: Extracts from Book 8: Artemisia’s Good Fortune at the Battle of Salamis


Herodotus of Halicarnassus (c.490-c.425 B.C.) has been called the ‘Father of History’. His “Histories”, which provide an account in nine books of the conflict between the Greece and Asia from the middle of the sixth century (B.C.) down to the failure of the Persian invasion in 478 B.C. was the first major prose work in Greek literature. While the New Ionic dialect, in which he wrote, employs word forms which differ in a number of respects from the Attic dialect of Thucydides, Plato and the tragedians, Herodotus’ Greek is relatively straightforward to translate, and he is an inexhaustible source of information about the world of his time. His work is full of interesting digressions and anecdotes, one of which is translated below. It tells of how Queen Artemisia, a Persian ally, escaped from the battle of Salamis (480 B.C.) after the rout of the Persian fleet by the Athenians led by Themistocles. The fact that Artemisia was the ruling tyrant of Halicarnassus, in which city of Caria in Greek Ionia Herodotus himself was born, is no doubt one of the reasons why this story was known to him. Herodotus has earlier expressed his amazement that Artemisia, being a woman, took part in the battle. At that time, Halicarnassus, although a colony of the Greek city of Troezen in the eastern Peloponnese, was a part of the Persian empire, and Artemisia no doubt had little option but to support Xerxes. According to Herodotus, she had already sought – unsuccessfully but, as events transpired with considerable prescience – to dissuade him from seeking to fight a sea-battle with the Greeks, but he does not appear to have held this against her, and after the Persians’ defeat she was apparently influential in persuading Xerxes to return to Asia, himself. The anecdote below, while perhaps not reflecting very well on Artemisia, explains perhaps why Xerxes thought well of her.

The Greek text for this translation is taken from “A Greek Anthology”, JACT, Cambridge University Press, 2002.

Chapter 84. The Persian ships attack, and the Greeks are discouraged from retreating.

Then, the Greeks put to sea all their ships, and the barbarians immediately attacked them as they were under way (lit. being under way). The rest of the Greeks began backing water (lit. backing to stern), and were on the point of running their ships aground, but Armeinias of Pallene, charging ahead, rammed a ship; the ship, being locked together (with the other ship) and (the crews) not being able to separate (them), then indeed the others, coming to the aid of Armeinias, joined in close fighting. The Athenians say the beginning of the sea-battle happened thus, but the Aeginetans (say) that the (ship) which had gone away to Aegina to fetch the sons of Aeacus was the one which began (it). The story (lit. this) is also told that the phantom of a woman appeared to them, seeming to encourage (them) such that the whole of the fleet of the Greeks heard (her) first reproaching (them) thus, “You cowards (lit. O men possessed), how long are you still going to back water?

Chapter 87. In order to escape Artemisia sinks an allied ship.

With regard to some of the others, I am not able to say precisely how each of the barbarian or Greek (contingents) fought; but this happened to Artemisia, on account of which she was esteemed even more by the king. For, when the king’s affairs had fallen into much confusion, at this critical time, Artemisia’s ship was pursued by an Attic ship; and she not being able to flee, for other friendly ships were in front of her, and her (ship) happened to be especially near to the enemy, it seemed good to her to do something which indeed it was advantageous (for her) to have done. For, being pursued by an Attic (ship), (and) being carried along, she ran against a friendly ship of the men of Calynda, and with Damasithymus, the king of the Calyndians, sailing in it. Whether some quarrel with him had happened when they were (lit. them being still) in the region of the Hellespont I cannot say however, nor whether she did it deliberately (lit.out of foresight), nor whether the ships of the Calyndians, having got in the way, came into contact (with her) by chance. But, when she rammed and sank (it), enjoying good fortune, she did herself two advantages. For, when the captain of the Attic ship saw her ramming the ship of barbarian men, thinking that Artemisia’s ship was either Greek or deserting from the barbarians and fighting for (the Greeks) themselves, turning aside, he paid attention to other (ships).

Chapter 88. Artemisia happens to benefit from what she did.

On the one hand, such a thing occurred to her that she happened to escape, and, on the other hand, it happened that she, (though) having done a harmful thing, was especially esteemed by Xerxes. For it is said that the king, watching (the battle), noticed the ship ramming, and that one of those present said, “Master, did you see how well Artemisia is fighting and (how) she has sunk a ship of the enemy, and he asked if the deed really was (that) of Artemisia, and that they affirmed (it), knowing clearly the ensign of her ship; and they supposed that the (ship) having been destroyed was (a ship) of the enemy. For, as it has been said, it happened to her, that the other things brought good fortune, especially the fact that no one from the (crew) of the Calyndian ship had been saved to become her accuser. It is said that Xerxes replied to what he had been told, “My men have become women, and my women men.” They say that Xerxes said this.

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