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Xerxes in Abydus


The strait between Sestus and Abydus. Photo by Jona Lendering.
The strait between Sestus and Abydus.

Herodotus, The Histories 7.44-45

When Xerxes had come to Abydus, he had a desire to see all the army [1]; and there had been made purposely for him beforehand upon a hill in this place a raised seat of white stone, which the people of Abydus had built at the command of the king given beforehand. There he took his seat, and looking down upon the shore he gazed both upon the land-army and the ships; and gazing upon them he had a longing to see a contest take place between the ships; and when it had taken place and the Phoenicians of Sidon were victorious, he was delighted both with the contest and with the whole armament.

And seeing all the Hellespont covered over with the ships, and all the shores and the plains of Abydus full of men, then Xerxes pronounced himself a happy man, and after that he fell to weeping.  Artabanus his uncle therefore perceiving him [...] having observed that Xerxes wept, asked as follows: "O king, how far different from one another are the things which thou hast done now and a short while before now! for having pronounced thyself a happy man, thou art now shedding tears."

He said: "Yea, for after I had reckoned up, it came into my mind to feel pity at the thought how brief was the whole life of man, seeing that of these multitudes not one will be alive when a hundred years have gone by."

Artabanus then made answer and said: "To another evil more pitiful than this we are made subject in the course of our life; for in the period of life, short as it is, no man, either of these here or of others, is made by nature so happy, that there will not come to him many times, and not once only, the desire to be dead rather than to live."

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Notes

[1]
This is impossible. The Persian army was too large to be fed at Abydus.

 
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