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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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