Tuesday, July 20, 2021


A Loud Giant

Peter Green, The Greco-Persian Wars (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996), p. 89:
Xerxes' pleasure in these harmless junketings was only marred by the sudden death, after a short illness, of his relative Artachaeës, a shambling giant (reputedly eight feet tall) with the loudest voice in Persia. This Stentorian monster, appropriately enough, had been general overseer of the canal workmen. He received a magnificent funeral, and the whole army helped to raise a great mound over his grave. By Herodotus's day the local inhabitants were already sacrificing to Artachaeës 'as to a demi-god', and invoking his name during their prayers. Why not? He had been larger, and louder, than any of them. One commentator remarks that 'respect for mere size is an Oriental characteristic', citing the Mamelukes' surprise at Napoleon's shortness; but there is something very Greek about this metamorphosis too. In the increasingly anthropocentric world of the fifth century BC — 'Man is the measure of all things', said Protagoras — nothing could have been more logical, when one comes to think of it, than to worship an outsize human being.
Herodotus 7.117 (tr. Robin Waterfield):
[1] During Xerxes' stay in Acanthus Artachaees, who had been in charge of the construction of the canal, happened to die of disease. Artachaees was an Achaemenid who was very highly regarded by Xerxes; he was the tallest of the Persians (being only four fingers short of five royal cubits) and he had the loudest voice in the world. Xerxes was deeply upset at his death and gave him a magnificent funeral and burial; the whole army helped to raise his burial mound. [2] On the advice of an oracle, the people of Acanthus have instituted a hero-cult of Artachaees, which involves calling on him by name.

[1] ἐν Ἀκάνθῳ δὲ ἐόντος Ξέρξεω συνήνεικε ὑπὸ νούσου ἀποθανεῖν τὸν ἐπεστεῶτα τῆς διώρυχος Ἀρταχαίην, δόκιμον ἐόντα παρὰ Ξέρξῃ καὶ γένος Ἀχαιμενίδην, μεγάθεΐ τε μέγιστον ἐόντα Περσέων (ἀπὸ γὰρ πέντε πηχέων βασιληίων ἀπέλειπε τέσσερας δακτύλους) φωνέοντά τε μέγιστον ἀνθρώπων, ὥστε Ξέρξην συμφορὴν ποιησάμενον μεγάλην ἐξενεῖκαί τε αὐτὸν κάλλιστα καὶ θάψαι· ἐτυμβοχόεε δὲ πᾶσα ἡ στρατιή. [2] τούτῳ δὲ τῷ Ἀρταχαίῃ θύουσι Ἀκάνθιοι ἐκ θεοπροπίου ὡς ἥρωι, ἐπονομάζοντες τὸ οὔνομα.

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