The Mythical Origins of the Medes and the Persians

Myth, Truth, and Narrative in Herodotus$

Pietro Vannicelli


This chapter considers the rich set of traditions Herodotus reports about the origins of the Medes and the Persians. It first investigates the traditions regarding Perseus and his descendants, and highlights the important role played by the genealogical link between Perseus and the Persians in the propaganda against Argos in the aftermath of the Persian wars. It next considers the great army list of book 7, in which the origins the Persians are presented in detail. After illustrating the phenomenon evident elsewhere in the Histories of the double-root of traditions about the origins of a people, with a distinction between the people and their eponymous hero on the one hand, and the ancestor of the royal dynasty on the other, it addresses the possibility of a similar double-root to Herodotus’ traditions about the origins of the Persians and their kings. Various passages of the Histories indeed supply two different approaches to the origins of the Persian Kings, one of which contains Persian elements (a linear genealogy going back to Achaemenes: 7.11.2; cf. 3.75.1), while the other is purely Greek and connects them with Perseus (on Perseus: 1.125.3; cf. 7.220.4).


PERSEUS was one of the most celebrated of the Greek heroes. His story was as follows:–Perseus’ mother Danae was locked in a bronze chamber by her father Akrisios, where she was impregnated by Zeus in the form of a golden shower. Akrisios put both mother and child in a chest and set them adrift in the sea, but they washed safely ashore on the island of Seriphos. Later when Perseus was grown, King Polydektes, command he bring back the head of Medousa. With the help of the gods, Perseus first obtained an invisible helm, magical sword, and winged sandals. He then stole the single eye of the Graiai, three ancient hags, who told him where to find the Gorgones. The hero approached the sleeping Medousa, and beheaded her with eyes turned away, to avoid her petrifying visage. On his way back to Greece, he spied the princess Andromeda chained to the rocks as a sacrifice to a sea-monster. Perseus slew the monster, and rescued the girl, bringing her back to Greece as his bride. On Seriphos, he turned King Polydektes to stone, then travelled to his grandfather’s kingdom to claim the throne. The old man fled, and was later accidentally killed by Perseus at some Games with an awry discus throw.

Perseus was the ancestor through his sons and daughter of the royal houses of Mykenai, Elis, Sparta, Messenia, and distant Persia. His most famous descendant of all was Herakles.

Diodorus Siculus, Library of History 4. 40. 2 :
“Perseus and certain others had gained glory which was held in everlasting remembrance from the campaigns which they had waged in foreign lands and the hazard attending the labours they had performed.”



Xerxes, it is said, before he set forth on his expedition against Greece, sent a herald to Argos, who on his arrival spoke as follows: “Men of Argos, King Xerxes speaks thus to you. We Persians deem that the Perses from whom we descend was the child of Perseus the son of Danae, and of Andromeda the daughter of Cepheus. Hereby it would seem that we come of your stock and lineage. So then it neither befits us to make war upon those from whom we spring; nor can it be right for you to fight, on behalf of others, against us. Your place is to keep quiet and hold yourself aloof. Only let matters proceed as I wish, and there is no people whom I shall have in higher esteem than you.”  (Histories of Herodotus, 7.150)

Ο Διόδωρος ο Σικελιώτης λέει για τους Πέρσες οτι
Ο Δάτις, στρατηγός των Περσών και Μήδος την καταγωγή, έχοντας την παράδοση από τους προγόνους του ότι οι Αθηναίοι ήταν απόγονοι του Μήδου, που είχε συστήσει το βασίλειο της Μηδίας, έστειλε μήνυμα στους Αθηναίους, όπου έλεγε ότι ερχόταν με δύναμη στρατού να απαιτήσει την πατρογονική εξουσία, γιατί ο Μήδος, που ήταν πρόγονός του, επειδή του αφαίρεσαν τη βασιλική εξουσία οι Αθηναίοι, πήγε στην Ασία και ίδρυσε τη Μηδία. Κατά συνέπεια, συνέχιζε, αν του παρέδιδαν την εξουσία, θα τους συγχωρούσε το πρώτο τους λάθος, αλλά και την εκστρατεία που είχαν αναλάβει εναντίον των Σάρδεων, αν όμως εναντιώνονταν, θα πάθαιναν πολύ χειρότερα απ΄ότι έπαθαν οι κάτοικοι της Ερέτριας (πριν από τη Μάχη του Μαραθώνα). Ο Μιλτιάδης, εκφράζοντας τη σύμφωνη γνώμη των δέκα στρατηγών, απάντησε ότι σύμφωνα με τα λόγια των πρεσβευτών έπρεπε μάλλον να αναλάβουν την εξουσία των Μήδων οι Αθηναίοι παρά ο Δάτις της Αθήνας, διότι το βασίλειο των Μήδων το συνέστησε Αθηναίος, ενώ ποτέ δεν ανέλαβε την εξουσία στην Αθήνα άνδρας Μήδος στην καταγωγή. Παίρνοντας τούτη την απάντηση ο Δάτις, άρχισε να ετοιμάζεται για τη μάχη του Μαραθώνα.


About sooteris kyritsis

Job title: (f)PHELLOW OF SOPHIA Profession: RESEARCHER Company: ANTHROOPISMOS Favorite quote: "ITS TIME FOR KOSMOPOLITANS(=HELLINES) TO FLY IN SPACE." Interested in: Activity Partners, Friends Fashion: Classic Humor: Friendly Places lived: EN THE HIGHLANDS OF KOSMOS THROUGH THE DARKNESS OF AMENTHE
This entry was posted in Books and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s