In search of Xerxes: images of the Persian king
Clough, Emma Elizabeth
Doctoral thesis, Durham University (2004)
The figure of Xerxes, the Persian king who invaded Greece in 480 BC, is known to us primarily through Greek sources and the western inheritors of the Greek tradition. Little Persian evidence from Xerxes’ reign survives and our perceptions are, therefore, informed by the image of the king constructed by his enemies whose experience of the Persian Wars was a key moment in their own selfdefinition. As a result, Xerxes is perceived as the antithesis of all that the Greeks represented:
the barbarian despol, a figure to be both feared and mocked. This leads to the marginalisation – both literal and symbolic – of the king even in sources where we might expect him to play a key role in the Persian Wars narrative. My thesis examines the creation and perpetuation of a cultural repertoire within which Xerxes is othered and deprived of a subjective voice. After an examination of the scant Persian evidence for Xerxes’ rcign, it considers the Greek sources of the fifth and fourth centuries BC, beginning with Acschylus and Herodotus and moving into di scussion of the diverse presentations of Timotheus, Ctesias and the orators and philosophers of fourth-century Athens. Later Greek sources – primarily Diodorus and Josephus – are then studied, before an analysis of the Xerxes-traditions in Roman thought. Finally the figure of Xerxes in Greek writing of the second sophistic period is considered.