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Tyrannos, Rhētōr, and Strategos: Herodotus' Athenian Artemisia

Abstract

Portrayed as the charismatic Queen of Halicarnassus, shrewd adviser to the Xerxes, and fearless admiral at the Battle of Salamis, Herodotus' Artemisia boldly transgresses into the traditionally male-dominated spaces of tyrant, orator, and general. While some have interpreted Artemisia’s lack of punctilio as emblematic of a Persia so politically and culturally backwards that even women (viewed by Greeks as the inferior sex) were entrusted with authority, the significance of her narrative may be more complex. In light of recent scholarship about Herodotus’ generally favorable presentation of women, it appears that each of Artemisia’s three appearances - Histories 7.99, 8.68-69, and 8.87-88 – actually serve to liken the Queen to her Athenian foes. An interpretation of Artemisia as fundamentally Athenian reminds us that the rigid, binary association of a “feminine East” and a “masculine West” in Greek historiography should be called into question.

Portrayed as the charismatic Queen of Halicarnassus, shrewd adviser to the Xerxes, and fearless admiral at the Battle of Salamis, Herodotus' Artemisia boldly transgresses into the traditionally male dominated spaces of tyrant, orator, and general. While some have interpreted Artemisia’s lack of punctilio as emblematic of a Persia so politically and culturally backwards that even women (viewed by Greeks as the inferior sex) were entrusted with authority, the significance of her narrative may be more complex. In light of recent scholarship about Herodotus’ generally favorable presentation of women, it appears that each of Artemisia’s three appearances - Histories 7.99, 8.68-69, and 8.87-88 – actually serve to liken the Queen to her Athenian foes. An interpretation of Artemisia as fundamentally Athenian reminds us that the rigid, binary association of a “feminine East” and a “masculine West” in Greek historiography should be called into question.

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