By Agha Iqrar Haroon
“Truth, soon we shall either kill the barbarians or else we are bound to be killed ourselves”.
These are words narrated to King Leonidas when arrived at Thermopylae to his comrades in arms and written by historian Herodotus.
Anybody who reads this para is overwhelmed by the bravery of King Leonidas— and this is (was) what Herodotus wanted from the listener or the reader.
Troy, Helen of Troy, Trojan, Trojan Horse, 300 Spartans, Darius the Great, Alexander the Great, and many more words and names look immortal in human history because historians and poets like Homer, Herodotus, Ptolemy, and Arrian of Nicomedia made them immortal through their literary work.
Interestingly, the majority of such immortal characters are related to battles and wars while myths and metaphysical aspects are surrounding them. Martyrdom and Bravery are tagged with Heroes while Lust, Deceit, and Cowardness are characteristics of losers and villains.
Greek and Roman poets and writers knew the art of influencing the human mind and creating a perception of readers and listeners according to their (writers) own choice. Fascinating myths and metaphysical events lure the human mind easily therefore their work (writers) is a mixture of Myths and Realities.
Crafting Heroes and Villains were the most popular job of poets, historians, and philosophers of the Greek and Roman empires. The reputational approach was used to create a theory of martyrdom to affect the collective memory of the respective era.
Homer and The Iliad
If a student of Communication and Propaganda reads “The Iliad”, he or she can understand that this epic poem which has 15,693 lines is the best work of Propaganda, therefore we can consider Homer as the “father of Propaganda”. There is no doubt that “The Iliad” and “The Odyssey” have an enormous influence on the history of literature and human perception although critical and analytical thinking of readers out rightly rejects events of “The Iliad” and “The Odyssey but readers keep reading them.
Since “The Iliad” is a story of war, therefore it glorifies War Heroes.
“Let me not then die ingloriously and without a struggle, but let me first do some great thing that shall be told among men hereafter.”– The Iliad
In the above-mentioned quotation, one can understand that Homer gives us a martyr’s image by giving emotional weight to social ideas about death and sacrifice. You can find several or such parts in the Iliad as:
“Why so much grief for me? No man will hurt me down to Death, against my fate. And fate? No one alive has ever escaped it, neither brave man nor coward, I tell you – it’s born with us the day that we are born.”— The Iliad
“Like the generations of leaves, the lives of mortal men. Now the wind scatters the old leaves across the earth, now the living timber bursts with the new buds and spring comes round again. And so with men: as one generation comes to life, another dies away.”—- The Iliad
“Any moment might be our last. Everything is more beautiful because we’re doomed. You will never be lovelier than you are now. We will never be here again.”—The Iliad
Homer introduced the brilliant idea of cutting through all the myths and legends surrounding the Fall of Troy to focus on anger (of Achilles), the pity, terror, and horror of war as well as its thrills and delights.
Homer presents the clash of fundamental approaches in The Iliad: straightforward martial power and prowess, as embodied by Achilles, and wisdom or cunning, as practiced by Odysseus.
Herodotus and Greco-Persian Wars
After Homer, historian Herodotus is the second most successful propagandist because he had been the main source of providing us information about historic characters like Croesus, Cyrus, Cambyses, Smerdis, Darius, and Xerxes and the events like battles of Marathon, Thermopylae, Artemisium, Salamis, Plataea, and Mycale.
Herodotus (484 – c. 425 BC) was born in Halicarnassus in the Persian Empire (modern-day Bodrum, Turkey). He is known for having written the book “The Histories” which is a detailed record of the origins of the Greco-Persian Wars.
Herodotus used almost the same techniques that were used by Homer for creating heroes like “300 Spartans” while narrating about the Battle of Thermopylae against the Persian army that took place around 480 B.C.
Herodotus tells us that although Spartan King Leonidas lost the battle, his death at Thermopylae was seen as a heroic sacrifice because he sent most of his army away when he realized that the Persians had outmaneuvered him. Three hundred of his fellow Spartans stayed with him to fight and die.
Alexander the Great
Ptolemy (367 BC – January 282 BC) was a companion and historian of Alexander the Great who became ruler of Egypt, part of Alexander’s former empire. He was the founder of the Ptolemaic dynasty which ruled Egypt until the death of Cleopatra in 30 BC, turning the country into a Hellenistic kingdom and Alexandria into a center of Greek culture.
Ptolemy himself wrote an eyewitness history of Alexander’s campaigns but it was lost.
The Histories of Alexander the Great is the only ancient Latin biography of Alexander the Great. It was written by the Roman historian Quintus Curtius Rufus in the 1st-century AD, but the earliest surviving manuscript comes from the 9th century. We get information about Alexander through this work but his battles and journey to the subcontinent are not included with details in this work.
In the second century AD, a historian Arrian of Nicomedia wrote “Anabasis of Alexander” by using some content from Ptolemy’s writing. Arrian cites Ptolemy by name in his work. Arrian once names Ptolemy as the author “whom I chiefly follow” for narrating campaigns of Alexander.
The Anabasis of Alexander has seven books telling us about the campaigns of Alexander the Great, specifically his conquest of the Persian Empire between 336 and 323 BC.
Arrian says that the Battle of the Hydaspes (was fought between King Porus of the Hindu Paurava kingdom and Alexander the Great in 326 BC.
Arrian says that Alexander attempted to cross the river during a monsoon despite the great Indian force waiting for him on the opposite side. The battle was the result of Alexander’s mission to extend his empire towards India. The battle opened a gateway to develop Greek and Indian cultures that lasted many centuries.
Propaganda methods used by Homer, Herodotus, Ptolemy, and Arrian
If we read the works of Homer, Herodotus, Ptolemy, and Arrian of Nicomedia, we find them “myth-mongers”, creating legends and fables. Their works are still famous and read therefore we understand that documentation of war histories needs a mix of realities and myths and there is no line we can find what is Truth and what is False while reading war historians.
Another feature we find in their work is that eternal power or metaphysical power (gods etc) help Heroes of their choice.
Their Heroes are brave who are not afraid of death.
Their Heroes are good planners, executors, and tireless.
The quest of sacrifice for motherland or for clear cause is in the blood of their heroes.
The appearance of their heroes includes tallness, wide-shoulder, rough and tough hands, wider forehead with thoughtful eyes, and softness on the face.
If we look at today’s world, the above-mentioned qualities are still in use to make any personality a War Hero through Art of Communication and Propaganda.