When Cicero called Herodotus the Father of History he meant that the Greek was the first to conceive an historical work in an artistic and dramatically unified form. In subordination to this motif he worked up a vast mass of antiquarian and ethnological lore. His History takes us down to 478 B.C. Its dramatic crisis is the destruction of the power of Persia by a handful of Greeks at Thermopylae, Salamis and Mycale; its lesson, that of the Nemesis falling on those who, drunk with pride of power, forget the restrictions of mortality.
I--The westward thrust of Persian power
I Will not dispute whether those ancient tales be true, of Io and Helen and the like, which one or another have called the sources of the war between the Hellenes and the barbarians of Asia; but I will begin with those wrongs whereof I myself have knowledge. In the days of Sadyattes, king of Lydia, and his son Alyattes, there was war between Lydia and Miletus. And Croesus made himself master of the lands bounded by the Halys, and he waxed in power and wealth, so that there was none like him. To him came Solon, the Athenian, but would not hail him as the happiest of all men, saying that none may be called happy until his life's end.
Thereafter trouble fell upon Croesus by the slaying of his son when he was hunting. Then Cyrus the Persian rose up and made himself master of the Medes and Persians, and Croesus, fearing his power, was fain to go up against him, being deceived by an oracle; but first he sought to make alliance with the chief of the states of Hellas. In those days, Pisistratus was despot of Athens; but Sparta was mighty, by the laws of Lycurgus. Therefore Croesus sent envoys to the Spartans to make alliance with them, which was done very willingly. But when Croesus went up against Cyrus, his army was put to flight, and Cyrus besieged him in the city of Sardis, and took it, and made himself, lord of Lydia. He would have slain Croesus, but, finding him wise and pious, he made him his counsellor.
Now this Cyrus had before overthrown the Median king, Astyages, whose daughter was his own mother. For her father, fearing a dream, wedded her to a Persian, and when she bore a child, he gave order for its slaying. But the babe was taken away and brought up by a herdsman of the hill-folk. But in course of time the truth became known to Astyages, and to Harpagus, the officer who had been bidden to slay the babe, and to Cyrus himself. Then Harpagus, fearing the wrath of Astyages, bade Cyrus gather together the Persians-who in those days were a hardy people of the mountains-and make himself king over the Medians; which things Cyrus did, overthrowing his grandfather Astyages. And it was in this wise that the dominion of the Persians began.
The Ionian cities of Asia were zealous to make alliance with Cyrus when he had overthrown Croesus. But he held them of little account, and threatened them, and the Lacedaemonians also, who sent him messengers warning him to let the Ionians alone. And he sent Harpagus against the cities of the Ionians, of whom certain Phocaeans and Teians sailed away to Rhegium and Abdera rather than become the slaves of the barbarians; but the rest, though they fought valiantly enough, were brought to submission by Harpagus.
WHILE Harpagus was completing the subjugation of the West, Cyrus was making conquest of Upper Asia, and overthrew the kingdom of Assyria, of which the chief city was Babylon, a very wonderful city, wherein there had ruled two famous queens, Semiramis and Nitocris. Now, this queen had made the city wondrous strong by the craft of engineers, yet Cyrus took it by a shrewd device, drawing off the water of the river so as to gain a passage. Thus Babylon also fell under the sway of the Persian. But when Cyrus would have made war upon Tomyris, the queen of the Massagetae, who dwelt to the eastward, there was a great battle, and Cyrus himself was slain and the most part of his host. And Cambyses, his son, reigned in his stead.
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