Listening to women

Image taken from Wikipedia

This must be one of the first historical examples (if it isn’t it is still a great story) of why we men should listen to women.

This is the story of Queen Artemisia during the Battle of Salamis, of course. To put it very succinctly (more than I probably should): Xerxes, the King of Persia, had been successful at invading Athens (this happened after the battle of Thermopylae). The problem was that the Greek fleet was still alive, and Xerxes did not like this “unfinished” business. In a very clever move (typically Greek), Themistocles, an Athenian general, convinced his people not to go all the way back to Corinth, but to stay at the Island of Salamis. Here, he sent a message (through another guy) to Xerxes, letting him know that the Greeks were not united and that they were going to disband. Xerxes had a council meeting to decide whether they should go and get those Greeks before each parted on separate ways. Everybody said “let’s go crush them now that they are not united anymore!”. Everybody agreed except for Queen Artemisia, the only female commander in the whole Persian contingent. She told Xerxes “I don’t know man, this does not sound right… No offence but your fleet has not been that successful. Let’s call it a day!” Xerxes was happy that she had spoken her mind, but told her “None taken, but look pretty face, you worry too much, my fleet is humongous, so I will go with the guys on this one”.
She was right of course; the narrows of Salamis were perfect for the Greeks to hide and trap the Persian fleet, while preventing the other Persian ships to aid them (the Wikipedia image makes this clear). Xerxes was so confident he even had a throne placed on the top of a hill, expecting to watch from the “first row” how his fleet destroyed the Greeks. Herodotus recounts that at one point Artemisia crushed a Persian ship trying to escape from a Greek vessel, but Xerxes, thinking she had rammed a Greek ship, said “My men fight like women, and my women like men!”

Who knows, perhaps the myth of Cassandra – she can foresee the future (a gift given to her by Apollo) but then nobody believes her (Apollo also did this, after she rejected him) – is also about men not listening to women. That is just a cheesy interpretation I just made up; actually I prefer the Cassandra complex idea, where we prefer to disregard clear warnings of bad things to come so we can live in a much more comforting denial limbo. In any case, it is a sweet myth regardless of the interpretation!

One more thing, the phrase about women fighting like men brings to my mind a part of that fantastic play by Euripides, “Bacchae”: (This is said by Dionysus – or Bacchus-)

But if in anger the city of Thebes attempt to take the bacchants from the mountain with military force, I shall fight them, commanding my maenads. 

The Maenads are the women that follow Dionysus. He would have been the coolest God ever, if it were not of course for Pallas Athena.


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