Myth and Truth in Herodotus’ Cyrus Logos

Charles C. Chiasson

in Myth, Truth, and Narrative in Herodotus

Published in print August 2012 | ISBN: 9780199693979
Published online September 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191745324 | DOI:
Myth and Truth in Herodotus’ Cyrus Logos

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This chapter explores the ostensible contradiction between Herodotus' allegedly true story of the Persian king Cyrus' rise to power (1.95–130) and the mythical features of the logos itself. Unlike sources that falsely exaggerate Cyrus' status or achievement, Herodotus asserts that he overthrew his maternal grandfather, the Median king Astyages, at the urging of Astyages' vengeful vizier Harpagus. In order to make his account of the historical origins of the Persian empire intelligible, credible, and emotionally engaging for his Hellenic audience, Herodotus uses narrative techniques familiar from Greek myth, especially as inflected by Greek tragedy. Moreover, Herodotus makes truth-telling a distinctive characteristic of the young Cyrus, which enhances the effect of tragic reversal in his final military defeat at the hands of the Massagetae — an episode that Herodotus, lacking unimpeachable sources, conscientiously presents not as the truth, but merely in the ‘most persuasive’ (1.214.5) version known to him.

Keywords: myth; truth; Cyrus; Astyages; Harpagus; Greek tragedy; Attic tragedy; Massagetae; metanarrative; thyestes

Chapter.  8565 words. 

Subjects: Classical Literature

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