Cyrus the greatA few days ago, I promised to write a post about Greek history and the story behind the book. As some readers have noticed, the map of Pearseus is essentially that of Greece and Asia Minor. I even called my book Rise of the Prince, in a nod to Herodotus’ seminal work, Cyrus the Great and Rise of Persia. But who was Cyrus, and who was this Herodotus everyone keeps talking about?

Herodotus is a story-teller. He tells the story of Cyrus the Great, grandson of Astyax, king of the Medes. When Astyax has a dream that his baby grandson will destroy him, he orders him killed. He gives the order to his most trusted general, Arpax. In what could be a precursor of Snow White, the general takes instead the boy to a shepherd, whose wife had just given birth to a stillborn baby. The couple raise him as their own, until the boy turns ten and the king learns of the deception.

Astyax allows his grandson to return, once his soothsayers inform him that the dream was mistaken, and that he in fact faces no danger from Cyrus. He pretends to have changed his mind, asking his general to send his own son to play with young Cyrus. When the boy arrives to the palace, Astyax has him killed and feeds parts of his body to his father in a rich banquet to celebrate Cyrus’ return, as punishment for his disobedience. When the general hears what the meal entailed, he hides his rage and simply comments that the meal was as exquisite as everything the king had ever offered him.

As soon as Cyrus grows up, the general approaches him and convinces him to rebel against his grandfather. He then asks the king for the honour of leading the troops against Cyrus. The king, in his infinite wisdom (or, according to Herodotus, blinded by the gods for his sins), accepts. The two armies meet up, only to join forces instead of fighting (seriously now, what mastermind could have foreseen that?)

Not one to take it lying down, Astyax takes the remnants of his army to fight them (after skewering his soothsayers), but his troops desert him and join Cyrus’ forces. Astyax is led to Cyrus in chains, and although Herodotus makes no mention about his exact fate, the fact remains that Astyax disappears from history in 535 BC.

OK, now we know who Cyrus was. But who was Herodotus?

Herodotus, Father of History, shown here smacking himself on the head for forgetting to do his wife's shopping

Herodotus, Father of History, shown here smacking himself on the head for forgetting to pick up his wife’s laundry

As I was telling Charles the other day, Herodotus was a Greek historian, born in Halicarnassus, Caria (modern-day Bodrum, Turkey). He lived in the fifth century BC (c. 484–425 BC). Widely referred to as “The Father of History” (first conferred by Cicero), he was the first historian known to collect his materials systematically and critically, and then to arrange them into a historiographic narrative.The Histories—his masterpiece and the only work he is known to have produced—is a record of his investigation of the origins of the Greco-Persian Wars, written for the benefit of his fellow Athenians. As such, it includes a wealth of geographical and ethnographical information, but also a number of inaccuracies, written in to stroke the winners’ fragile egos. Which is probably why he claimed he was reporting only what had been told to him (what we call “anonymous sources” today).

The Histories of Herodotus is now considered as the founding work of history in Western literature. Written from the 450s to the 420s BC in the Ionic dialect of classical Greek, The Histories serves as a record of the ancient traditions, politics, geography, and clashes of various cultures that were known in Western Asia, Northern Africa and Greece at that time. It is not an impartial record, but it remains one of the West’s most important sources regarding these affairs. Moreover, it established without precedent the genre and study of history in the Western world.

It stands as one of the first accounts of the rise of the Persian Empire, the events of, and causes for, the Greco-Persian Wars between the Achaemenid Empire and the Greek city-states in the 5th century BC. Herodotus portrays the conflict as one between the forces of slavery (the Persians) on the one hand, and freedom (the Athenians and the confederacy of Greek city-states which united against the invaders) on the other.

The Histories was at some point divided into the nine books of modern editions, conventionally named after the Muses.

You promised to tell us the story behind your book

Oh, right. Well, the concept of Pearseus itself came to me after I had read Martin’s Song of Fire and Ice books, followed by Jim Lacey’s The First Clash and Herodotus’ Cyrus the Great and Rise of Persia. The main battle between Greece and Persia took place at the Bay of Marathon.  I grew up on the mountain overlooking the bay, and Marathon itself is a short 20’ drive from my home. As a child, I’ve often visited the tomb where the ancient Athenians buried their dead. So, after reading Martin, I thought to myself, “wouldn’t it be great if someone did what Martin did for medieval England, only with the story of Greece vs. Persia?  And in space?  How cool would that be?”  Then it occurred to me: so, what’s stopping me from writing it?

So, dear readers, if you found my story of Cyrus too much to take in, I can only say that I’m actually sugarcoating it, and that you have an ancient Greek historian to blame…

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