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Invention of the Barbarian – Aeschylus and Herodotus

2. The Barbarian in Aeschylus’ Persians

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About this Lecture


In this module, we think about the presentation of the ‘barbarians’ in Aeschylus’ Persians, focusing in particular on Atossa’s dream at lines 176-99. As we move through the module, we consider: (i) when and where Aeschylus’ Persians was first performed, and the importance of Battle of Salamis (479 BC) as a historical context; (ii) the extent to which the account of the Battle of Salamis in Aeschylus’ Persians differs from that found in Herodotus’ Histories; (iii) the portrayal as the (personified) continents of Europe and Asia as “sisters of one race”; (iv) the historical resonances of Xerxes “[putting] a yoke-strap beneath [Europe and Asia’s] necks; (v) the different reaction of Europe and Asia to being yoked; and (vi) the impression given in Aeschylus’ Persians that while the Greeks and barbarians can appear very different, there is also a lot they have in common.


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).

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APA style

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

MLA style

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

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