Polychronicon 149: Interpreting the Persian Wars

Teaching History feature

By Tom Harrison, published 4th January 2013

The Persian Version

Truth-loving Persians do not dwell upon The trivial skirmish fought near Marathon.

So begins Robert Graves' poem, The Persian Version. The conceit of the poem is to invert the standard narrative of the Persian war of the early fifth century BC - a narrative drawn from Greek sources such as Herodotus - and to approach them instead from the perspective of the defeated Persians. The Persian perspective (in Graves' imaginary reconstruction) is one which, predictably, minimises the scale of the Persian expedition, which mocks any idea that it was ‘a grandiose, ill-starred attempt to conquer Greece', and which seeks to ‘take positives' out of the experience: the expedition, he writes, was a ‘salutary demonstration'.

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