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Prof. Douglas Cairns (Edinburgh)

Honour and Kingship in Herodotus

A Department of Classics and Ancient History seminar
Date15 May 2019
PlaceQueens Building MR2

Classics and Ancient History Department Seminars

In ordinary Greek, timê denotes not only the esteem that one seeks from others, but also the qualities that attract esteem and the claims to which others’ deference should respond. As a quality of an individual that commands others’ respect, timê also encompasses the roles that are bound up with one’s status. The timai that were the offices of the Athenian state both expressed the esteem in which the individual was held and constituted a claim to that esteem: these are the timai that (according to Herodotus at 1.59.5) Pisistratus left undisturbed. It is this sense of timê that forms the biggest single category of applications of the concept in Herodotus.

This paper will concentrate on one of these roles or offices: that of the Persian king, and especially that of Xerxes. Timê is central Xerxes’ invasion of Greece. For Xerxes, the position of king is itself a timê (7.8α.2) and his invasion is motivated by the desire both to enhance his timê and to restore that lost by his father’s failure. His concern for his own timê is both considerable and largely unbalanced by respect for the timê of other individuals or communities. But the presentation of Xerxes’ invasion as hybris suggests that, even for the Persian king, the pursuit of timê must be constrained by respect for the timê of others. Xerxes violates an order which  projects Greek social values on to the natural world, a world permeated by the divine and regulated by the notion that all excess will eventually be corrected. Herodotus’ presentation of the scope and limits of the Persian king’s claim to timê is emblematic of his belief in the power of Greek values, their potential for universalization, and the crucial role of an inclusive notion of timê as their fundamental core.

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