Consider Herodotus's description of the ancient Near East, in particular the awesome story of the Lydian King Gyges. Describe what makes Herodotus's history different from something a historian would write today. (Think about your high school history textbook.)

Herodotus's account of Gyges of Lydia is different from something a historian would write today in that Herodotus embellishes the historical event with invented dialogue, character development, moral judgments, and a plot line to hold his readers' attention and impart a lesson.

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Let's begin by looking at how Herodotus tells the story of Gyges of Lydia. We notice right away that Herodotus focuses on King Candaules's emotions. He is passionately in love with his wife, especially with her beauty. Herodotus also makes a judgment about this obsession: it will inevitably lead to...

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Let's begin by looking at how Herodotus tells the story of Gyges of Lydia. We notice right away that Herodotus focuses on King Candaules's emotions. He is passionately in love with his wife, especially with her beauty. Herodotus also makes a judgment about this obsession: it will inevitably lead to a bad fate.

Herodotus then introduces Candaules's bodyguard, Gyges, and he relates a conversation between the two in which Candaules pretty much orders Gyges to look at king's wife naked and judge her beauty for himself. Gyges protests mightily and begs the king not to force him to do something wrong, but the king insists. He even has a plan all in place, and Herodotus allows him to tell it in his own words.

That plan, however, doesn't go well, and Candaules's wife sees Gyges lurking in the bedroom. "Had Gyges dallied a moment too long," Herodotus asks, "mesmerized by the beauty that he had beheld?" Looking for revenge, the queen comes up with a plan of her own and presents it to Gyges (again in her own words). Either he kill the king and take over the kingdom or her followers would dispatch him immediately. He chooses the former and kills the king in his sleep.

Notice some things here. Herodotus writes more in the style of a fictional narrative than the style of an historical record. He develops the characters' emotions and analyzes their actions. He makes judgments about them. He creates a plot line with a conflict, rising action, a climax, and a resolution. He even invents dialogue to put on their lips (we don't know, of course, what they really said). His account reads more like the historical novels of the modern era rather than a history text. While the event at the center of the tale is likely true, Herodotus had no problem embellishing it to capture his readers' interest and teach them a lesson about obsession and its consequences.

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