Whip It

He then prepared to move forward to Abydos, where a bridge had already been constructed across the Hellespont from Asia to Europe. Between Sestos and Madytus in the Chersonese there is a rocky headland running out into the water opposite Abydos. This headland was the point to which Xerxes’ engineers carried their two bridges from Abydos—a distance of two furlongs. One was constructed by the Phoenicians using flax cables, the other by the Egyptians with papyrus cables. The work was successfully completed, but a subsequent storm of great violence smashed it up and carried everything away. Xerxes was very angry when he learned of the disaster, and gave orders that the Hellespont should receive three hundred lashes and have a pair of fetters thrown into it. I have heard before now that he also sent people to brand it with hot irons. He certainly instructed the men with the whips to utter, as they wielded them, the barbarous and presumptuous words: “You salt and bitter stream, your master lays this punishment upon you for injuring him, who never injured you. But Xerxes the King will cross you, with or without your permission. No man sacrifices to you, and you deserve the neglect by your acid and muddy waters.” In addition to punishing the Hellespont Xerxes gave orders that the men responsible for building the bridges should have their heads cut off. The men who received these invidious orders duly carried them out, and other engineers completed the work . . . .

All that day the preparations for the crossing continued; and on the following day, while they waited for the sun which they wished to see as it rose, they burned all sorts of spices on the bridges and laid boughs of myrtle along the way. Then sunrise came, and Xerxes poured wine into the sea out of a golden goblet and, with his face turned to the sun, prayed that no chance might prevent him from conquering Europe or turn him back before he reached its utmost limits. His prayer ended, he flung the cup into the Hellespont and with it a golden bowl and a Persian acinaces, or short sword. I cannot say for certain if he intended the things which he threw into the water to be an offering to the Sun-god; perhaps they were—or it may be that they were a gift to the Hellespont itself, to show he was sorry for having caused it to be lashed by whips.

—Herodotus, The Histories


3 Responses to “Whip It”

  1. 1 Comrade Red May 18, 2012 at 2:52 pm

    Strauss’ “Salamis” is great. That’s where they turned…of course.

    • 2 bluenred May 18, 2012 at 2:58 pm

      It’s not Nice to whip rivers. Neither is it Smart. Do it, and you invite Bad Things to happen to you.

  2. 3 Comrade Red May 19, 2012 at 11:47 am

    The Great King of Kings was young, inexperienced, and naive – his expedition had little to do with the minor irritations and insolence of the Greeks but everything to do with Persian Politics. Of course the Greek Response had, mostly, to do with Greek Politics. Each was blinded by his own desires – but individual character, as it did with Themistocles can shine. Thus do miss-matches such as the business at Thermopylae and Salamis sometimes produce surprise… One inescapably doubts that their lordships know their classics, eh?

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When I Worked

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