Monday, June 21, 2021


Attachment to Home

Herodotus 1.163-165 (tr. Robin Waterfield):
[163] The first Ionian town he [Harpagus] attacked was Phocaea. The Phocaeans were the earliest Greeks to make long voyages by sea; they opened up the Adriatic, Tyrrhenia, Iberia, and Tartessus. The ships they used for these voyages were penteconters rather than round-bodied ships. When they reached Tartessus they became friendly with the Tartessian king, whose name was Arganthonius. He had ruled Tartessus for eighty years, and lived to be 120 altogether. The Phocaeans got to be on such very good terms with him that he initially suggested that they leave Ionia and settle wherever they liked within his kingdom. The Phocaeans did not want to do that, however, so next—because they had told him about the growth of the Persian empire—he gave them money to build a wall around their town. The amount he gave was extremely generous, because the wall makes a circuit of quite a few stades, and all of it is constructed out of huge blocks of stone which fit closely together.

[164] That is how the Phocaeans' wall came to be built. Harpagus marched his army up to it and the siege of the town began. Harpagus let it be known that he would be satisfied if the Phocaeans were willing to tear down just one of the wall's bastions and consecrate just one building. The Phocaeans, however, could not abide the thought of being enslaved and they requested a single day to debate the matter, after which they would give him their reply; they also asked him to pull his army back from the wall while they were deliberating. Harpagus gave them permission to go ahead with their deliberations, despite the fact that he was, as he told them, well aware of what they intended to do. So while Harpagus led his army away from the wall, the Phocaeans launched their penteconters, put their womenfolk, children, and all their personal effects on board, along with the statues and other dedicatory offerings from their sanctuaries, except those which were made out of bronze or stone or were paintings—anyway, once everything else was on board they embarked themselves and sailed to Chios. So the Persians gained control of a Phocaea which was emptied of men.

[165] The Phocaeans offered to buy the islands known as the Oenussae from the Chians, but the Chians refused to sell them, because they were worried that if the islands became a trading-centre, their own island would consequently be denied access to trade. So the Phocaeans made Cyrnus their destination, because twenty years earlier, on the advice of an oracle, they had founded a community there called Alalia. Arganthonius was by then dead. In preparation for the voyage to Cyrnus they first put in at Phocaea and massacred the Persian contingent which Harpagus had left to guard the place; once that job was done, they next called down terrible curses on any of their number who stayed behind and did not take part in the expedition. They also sank a lump of iron in the sea and swore that they would not return to Phocaea until this iron reappeared. As they were fitting out their ships for the voyage to Cyrnus, however, over half of their fellow citizens were so overcome by longing and sorrow for the city and the customs of their native land that they broke their promises and sailed back to Phocaea. The ones who kept their promises, however, set sail from the Oenussae.
Aubrey de Sélincourt (1894-1962), The World of Herodotus (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1962), pp. 185-186:
There is much of Greek life and feeling in this story, which only Herodotus, of ancient historians, could, I think, have told—and he tells it quietly, passingly, and without emotion. What a vivid picture it brings of the scale of things in that ancient world: the little town, isolated by the mountains which run steeply down into the bay of Smyrna where it stood, independent and self-sufficient and all in all to its people—and those so few that in a single day they could reach amongst themselves their tremendous decision, and embark everything they possessed for a new life in a new world. No need for organisation—none of the formal and tedious processes of politics: simply one fiery dispute, and the decision was made. They packed up their traps, and were gone. Nothing, moreover, could more forcibly bring before us the frightful insecurity of life in those days, the perpetual menace of annihilation, the need to live in the constant acceptance of what the morrow might bring; and above all this story—Herodotus had no need to dwell upon its implications which were, to him, a matter of course—helps us who live in circumstances so different, to enter in imagination into one of the primary passions of Greek life—the attachment to home.
Related post: Patriotism.

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