Analyzing Herodotus 'Ultimate Theory'

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Nayla Basma Professor Maude LitHum- Section 024 25 November 2015 Herodotus’ Ultimate Theory Nomos –a Greek concept referring to the customs of people– plays a key role within Herodotus’ Histories. Instead of solely focusing on the Greek civilization, Herodotus describes the traditional principles of several ancient societies in his text. In doing so, Herodotus champions cultural relativism and makes a point that a certain standard of living is required for a certain group of people to live; in other words, everyone follows a set of nomos’ established by the values of their own society. The idea that nomos shapes one’s identity is also explored within the text. Through the description of both Darius’ experiment and the conversations between…show more content…
When Darius asks the Greeks how much money it would take for them to eat their parent’s corpses, they claim that they wouldn’t do it for any money in the world. Darius then asks an Indian tribe how much money it would take for them to cremate their fathers’ bodies post-mortem; in response, they “[cry] out in horror…. [telling] him not to say such appalling things” (3.34). This experiment embodies the concept of cultural relativism. Just as the Greeks find the practice of funerary cannibalism to be abominable, the Indians are appalled by even the thought of funerary cremation. The contrast affirms that every culture has their own set of practices that they themselves consider ethical, and that every culture’s “practices have become enshrined as customs just as they are.” Rituals differ for each culture, so what may seem normal and ethical for one person is not for another person. Hence, the question of morality arises: what is wrong and correct? Herodotus appears to answer this question by proposing cultural relativism: morality simply varies from culture to culture, so humans behave ethically only when they follow the nomos’ of their people. Given that morality is dependent on customs, one can deduce that nomos dictates why people are the way they are and why they do the things they do. Customs provides humans with the standards of how to act in certain situations. To be…show more content…
Xerxes responds to this information by blatantly laughing at the Lacedaemonian’s laws, declaring that the claims are simply boasts are irrational. He refuses to accept that “in actual fact the Greeks were getting themselves ready to kill or be killed to the best of their ability.” The Persian emperor is essentially mocking Greek customs. Thus, as a promoter of cultural tolerance, Herodotus utilizes tautology, or the unnecessary repetition of the same idea, to hint that this tasteless rejection of cultural relativism will not go unnoticed. Upon analysis, it is evident that the events within the two passages follow a basic structure: Xerxes asks Demeratus to explain how the Greeks function, Demeratus hesitantly –yet truthfully– answers the emperor’s inquiries (as seen in the block quotation above), and Xerxes then foolishly rebuffs Demeratus’ answers. This recurrent cycle, which is seen three times, functions to present an air of impending doom, suggesting that Xerxes will eventually be punished for his refusal to accept the customs of others via the defeat of the Persians by the Greeks. However, Herodotus’ goal here goes further than merely illustrating the significance of accepting cultural relativism. Rather, Herodotus uses cultural relativism in the hopes of introducing the idea that people behave the way they do as a result of their

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