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Herodotus in his book The History tells us a good deal about how in the course of the 5th Century the Greeks came to define themselves by casting barbarians as a negative foil for those traits which they admired in themselves By barbarians Herodotus means the Others those who were not Greek or European The Persian Wars marked something of a watershed in this regard Prior to the 480s the Greek view of their eastern neighbors did not seem to have been excessively negative or hostile Following the Persian Wars however Easterners came to be portrayed in pejorative terms According to Herodotus they were seen as decadent and effeminate in large part due to their excessive wealth and soft living Their slavish lifestyles particularly in their willingness to serve absolute despots and their grotesque use of eunuchs the practice of circumcision and their strange gods further distinguished them from the Greeks By contrast Herodotus viewed the Greeks as virile and independent proudly fighting in defense of their cities their families their gods and for their own freedom and dignity Thus the theme of The History of Herodotus is the struggle between the East and the West The East represented by the Persian Empire signified tyranny and oppression The West represented by the Greek city-states signified freedom As Herodotus interprets the Persian Wars we see the beginnings of Western Civilization and the association of that tradition with freedomThe Greeks had always been aware that foreign barbarian peoples worshipped different gods and had customs different from their own The rise of ethnographic studies however encouraged a systematic examination of the nature of human culture and society To the Greeks this suggested that customs which they had always taken to be founded in immutable divine power sanctioned by the Olympian gods were in fact merely human inventions which other societies either ignored or directly contravened Herodotus framework in The History is that of Greek interest He provides a
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