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Herodotus And ?Rhampsinitus And The Thief? Essay, Research Paper

Herodotus and ?Rhampsinitus and the Thief?

BY: Layla Brown

Herodotus, the first Greek historian, has been

called by some “the father of history” and

by others “the father of lies.” Born in 485 B.C to

a wealthy family at Halicarnassus, in Asia Minor,

he was exiled to Samos soon after his birth because

of his family?s opposition to the Persian

domination of Ionia. During his youth, he traveled

widely, studying the manners, customs, and

religions of the people he encountered. His

histories are made up of tales told to him by

people from Egypt, Syria, Babylon, Colchis,

Paeonian and Macedonia.

He was criticized by several ancient writers for

creating stories and passing them off as the truth.

Herodotus is most famous for the nine books he

wrote on the rise of the Persian Empire, the

Persian invasion of Greece in 490 BC and 480 BC,

and the final Greek victory. Although it received

quite a lot of praise and is still considered a

masterpiece, it?s trustworthiness has been

questioned both in ancient and modern times.

The story that I?m covering is of Rhampsinitus

and the Thief (pg. 277). This is a tale that

Herodotus learned in Egypt and many believe that

this anecdote was told to him by Egyptian priests,

claiming it a true story. Herodotus, himself,

didn?t actually believe this particular story but

he felt it was his duty to report what he was told.

Now, for those of you who didn?t read it, I?ll

quickly give a brief synopsis of the story.

A dying father tells his two sons how to break into

the king?s vault, which he, himself, built. The

father then dies, leaving the family with no way to

support themselves. So the two sons begin their

thieving. They manage to escape with the treasure

three times before the king sets up a trap, in

which one of the brothers gets caught. At his

captured brother?s urging, the other brother cuts

his sibling?s head off, taking it with his, so the

family?s identity would not be known. The next day,

the king was bewildered at the sight of a headless

thief. He then ordered his sentries to hang the

body on the outer wall and arrest anybody seen

mourning the headless corpse.

The two thieves? mother, so absolutely distraught

over the death of her son, threatens her surviving

son, saying that if he didn?t collect the his

brother?s body, she would turn him in herself. With

that, he quickly devised a plan. He got two donkeys

and filled some skins with wine, draping them over

the two animal?s backs. When he reached where his

brother hung and where the sentinels stood guard,

he pulled down the corners of the skins, letting

the wine pour to the ground. He then began to

panic, pretending that he didn?t know what to do.

The guards saw this wine running freely and ran,

with buckets in hand to collect the wine, with the

intention to drink it all themselves. The thief,

pretending to be furious, began to scream and yell

at the guards. The guards, wanting to keep their

wine and not create a fuss with the boy, invited

him to drink with them. Then the guards become to

drunk to stay up and pass out, leaving the thief to

take down his brother?s body, and to shave each of

the guard?s beards, ridiculing them.

The king was furious at what the thief had done,

so he sets his daughter in a room with the order to

consort with all the men that came to her. But

before they enjoy her she must compel each man to

tell her the cleverest thing that they?d ever done.

If a man told a story similar to that of the thief,

then she should hold him and not let him get away.

The thief, seeing through the king?s trap, wanted

to surpass the king in resourcefulness. He then

cuts the arm off a freshly dead man and takes it

with him underneath his cloak. He then meets with

the king?s daughter and confesses to the thieving

and the murder of his brother. The daughter then

reaches to grab him but the thief slips away,

leaving her with a dead man?s arm.

The king is so astounded at the wit and daring of

the thief that he sent word to every city of

immunity and a promise of a great reward if the

thief comes forward. The thief trusts the king?s

word and goes to the palace. Rhampsinitus, the

king, admires the thief so greatly that he gives

him his daughter as a wife and declares that this

man understands more than anyone else in the world,

saying: ?The Egyptians excel all others and this

man the rest of the Egyptians.?

Like many fables and ancient stories,

this one involves a simple nobody, a commoner,

rising above their superior either in physical

strength or intellect. The king and his sentinels

are outsmarted many times by an ordinary boy. The

thief in this case is never referred to as a man,

but as a boy until the last part of the story, when

the king realizes him as being quite clever. The

story focuses on the boy?s progress from boy to

manhood. Along the way he encounters many obstacles

he must overcome or be destroyed. The first

obstacle he was able to over come with ease. He and

his brother broke into the king?s vault without

being detected. However the next obstacle is a

major challenge: his brother is caught and he has

to kill his brother or suffer the destruction of

his family. He had to make the terrible choice. The

obstacles continue to become progressively

difficult. He now has to retrieve his brother?s

body without being detected. Here you see his

bravery, courage, and superior intellect. He is

able to use his mind to escape the trap that was

set for him. This development is crucial to the

story and his growth. The king is furious and set

another trap, this time using his daughter as the

bait. Now the boy is engaged in a full battle of

wits with the king and again his clever mind saves

him. In many fables the hero in order to prove

himself as a man goes off to find a dragon to

slay, defeat, or convert — tame. In this case the

boy becomes a man by defeating and converting his

dragon, the king. The king is a man of honor and

he acknowledges the young man?s superior wit,

pardons him, gives him riches, and his daughter?s

hand in marriage. And he has now earned the right

to be referred to as a man.

On the surface this seems like a simple story.

However it should be viewed as a metaphor for the

stages we go through in life. If you think about

the main characters in movies or books you?ve read,

or even your own lives, you see that growth happens

through the challenges faced. These challenges seem

to be progressively difficult. Look at your own

lives. Your challenges may be different from the

boy?s but there have been events in your own lives

that you had to come to terms with and overcome in

order to be where you are now. There is much to be

learnt from this story if we take the time to look

beneath the surface.

Word count: 1227

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