I am both sad and happy because I finished Herodotus over the weekend. The final land battle at Plataia had some great humor if you can believe it. Neither side wanted to attack the other for the longest time because the diviners on each side were reading inauspicious portents in the entrails from the daily animal sacrifices. So the two armies sat, staring at each other across a river for something like two weeks. The Persians had cavalry though and kept making forays which the Greeks had no way of defending against.
Finally the Persians decided they couldn’t wait any longer because every day more Greeks arrived to stand against them. So they lined themselves up, planning to do battle at dawn. Well the Spartans noticed that the Persians had placed their elite forces opposite them. They sent word to the Athenians on the other wing of the army asking if they would trade places because the Athenians had fought and won the Persian army at Marathon and all the Spartans who had fought the Persians were dead at Thermopylae. The Athenians, having fought the Persians would have a better advantage since they knew how to fight back
The Athenians said sure! So in the night the two parts of the army switched places. The Persians noticed what was going on and thought the Greeks were up to something so they moved the Persian forces to the other side in front of the Spartans. When the Greeks noticed this they switched places again. So did the Persians who by this time were beginning to think the lauded Spartans were really a bunch of chickens.
What the Persians didn’t understand is that the Greeks were not led by one man like their army was led by Mardonios. The Greek army was made up of all the little city-states and peoples and each one had their own leader. There was a nominal head of the whole army agreed upon by the various leaders but he didn’t really have all that much power. He had to go along with majority rule since he couldn’t make any part of the army do anything they didn’t agree to. So when the Spartans decided they were going to withdraw a little ways away where they thought they’d have a better advantage, the Greek army leaders argued about it and even various leaders inside the Spartan camp argued about it. Most of the Spartans marched off and then the rest followed because they didn’t want to be left behind.
Well the Persians couldn’t stand the sight of the Spartans marching away so they attacked immediately with the largest section of their army. The Spartans sent to the Athenians asking for a little help over on the other end. Athens was on their way but got caught up in another part of the battle and couldn’t make it. But it all worked out okay in the end. Mardonios, the leader of the Persians, was taken down by a Spartan, realizing too late that they weren’t chickens after all. Seeing their leader fall took the wind out of the Persians who soon turned tail and ran for their stockade. The Greeks made short work of the walls and soon they were killing, pillaging and burning the Persian camp.
And what of Xerxes? He was back in Persia by this point and had more or less given up even caring about the Greeks. He was too busy lusting after his brother’s wife. She refused him so he arranged for his brother’s daughter to marry his own son. Xerxes managed to seduce his son’s new wife. But Xerxes’ wife wasn’t very pleased about it. Through twists and turns and intrigues, the brother’s wife ends up mutilated and the brother and all of the brother’s sons end up murdered at Xerxes’ command.
How do you end a book like this? I won’t say, but it was most excellent.