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Invention of the Barbarian – Aeschylus and Herodotus

3. Kingship in Aeschylus’ Persians

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About this Lecture


In this module, we think about how Aeschylus’ Persians engages with the idea of good and bad kingship, focusing in particular on: (i) the possibility that the play was originally performed at the court of Hieron I of Syracuse, and how this might colour our interpretation of the play and its presentation of kingship; (ii) the idea expressed in the play that one-man rule is not an intrinsically bad thing, but depends on the character of the king and the quality of his advisors; (iii) Atossa’s conversation with the ghost of Darius in the middle of the play, and their reflections on what kind of king Xerxes is; (iv) Darius’ fear of Greek retaliation; and (v) the idea of the ‘tyrant’ in Athenian culture and politics.


In this course, Professor Lynette Mitchell (University of Exeter) explores the presentation of Persians and other non-Greeks (‘barbarians’) in Aeschylus’ Persians and Herodotus’ Histories. In the first module, we offer a brief history of the concept of ‘barbarian’ in Greek thought, focusing in particular on the idea of ‘barbarianism’ in early lyric poetry and the division of the world into a Greek Europe and barbarian Asia in the work of Hecataeus (c. 550-576 BC). In the second and third modules, we think about the presentation of ‘the barbarian’ in Aeschylus’ Persians, before turning in the fourth and fifth modules to consider how Herodotus develops the idea of the barbarian in his Histories. Finally, in the sixth module, we think about the extent to which Herodotus is a reliable source for Persian history and, indeed, whether we should think of Herodotus’ Histories as a ‘history’ at all.

Throughout this course, we use Edith Hall’s translation of Aeschylus’ Persians (Aris and Philips Classical Texts, 1996) and Robin Waterfield’s translation of Herodotus’ Histories (Oxford World Classics, 2008) unless otherwise stated.


Lynette Mitchell is Professor in Greek History and Politics at the University of Exeter. She is primary a Greek historian specialising in Greek political history from the archaic period (8th century BC) to the death of Alexander, although she is also interested in later periods (especially the Hellenistic) and in other areas of Classics and Ancient History, including Greek language and historiography. Some of her recent publications include (as co-editor with C. Melville) Every Inch a King: Comparative Studies on Kings and Kingship in the Ancient and Medieval Worlds (2013) and The Heroic Rulers of Archaic and Classical Greece (2013).

Cite this Lecture

APA style

Mitchell, L. (2021, February 10). Invention of the Barbarian – Aeschylus and Herodotus - Kingship in Aeschylus’ Persians [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Mitchell, L. "Invention of the Barbarian – Aeschylus and Herodotus – Kingship in Aeschylus’ Persians." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 10 Feb 2021,