Punishment in Herodotus

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The stories of The Histories, written by Herodotus, have the theme of punishment scattered throughout. Many of the stories are based upon punishment and cruelty, partly because this book tells the story of how the Greek city states fight off the Persians time and time again. However, it is not only in battle it cruelty and punishment seen; the idea of punishment and cruelty for power, revenge, and control is seen throughout the entire work. Among the stories of The Histories, the punishments that Herodotus includes are astonishing in their cruelty or initiative. This is particularly true of certain longer sections including the feast that Astyages prepared to punish Harpagus’ disobedience (1.118–119) or Hermotimus castrating Panionius and his sons in revenge for his own mutilation (8.105). Elsewhere, however, startling punishments are evidence of the variety of human accomplishment, though not always admirable, show the desire for revenge. Such desires can lead to terrible tragedies, which Herodotus recognizes as part of the historical record. Herodotus may dwell on horrors like Hermotimus’ punishment, perhaps to suggest that the tragic cannot be incorporated into the narratives of cities and national politics. Herodotus’ interest in other cultures is evident not only when he records national origins, diet, dress, and other things, he also notes the unusual laws and their corresponding punishments. Herodotus’ record of such punishments tends to highlight what is unique about a particular group of people or culture, as seen especially within the Egypt stories. The Egyptian society, which cultivated the Nile valley and raised many impressive monuments, is reflected in laws that punish idleness with death. The law established by Amasis, that every man, once a year, must go before the provincial governor and declare their source of livelihood, was brought back to Athens by Solon. If the man was unable to prove that his source or income was an honest one, he would...
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