Myth and Truth in Herodotus’ Cyrus Logos
This chapter explores the ostensible contradiction between Herodotus' allegedly true story of the Persian king Cyrus' rise to power (1.95–130) and the mythical features of the logos itself. Unlike sources that falsely exaggerate Cyrus' status or achievement, Herodotus asserts that he overthrew his maternal grandfather, the Median king Astyages, at the urging of Astyages' vengeful vizier Harpagus. In order to make his account of the historical origins of the Persian empire intelligible, credible, and emotionally engaging for his Hellenic audience, Herodotus uses narrative techniques familiar from Greek myth, especially as inflected by Greek tragedy. Moreover, Herodotus makes truth-telling a distinctive characteristic of the young Cyrus, which enhances the effect of tragic reversal in his final military defeat at the hands of the Massagetae — an episode that Herodotus, lacking unimpeachable sources, conscientiously presents not as the truth, but merely in the ‘most persuasive’ (1.214.5) version known to him.
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