When he was celebrating in dramatic poetry the great Greek victory over Xerxes, Aeschylus understood the meaning of Salamis as the victory of free men over what the Greeks saw as the lashed and herded slaves and mercenaries serving in the war of a despot. The Persians soars high above petty localism and patriotic bluster, though, not least because we see not the battle but the Persians themselves in their opulent court, hearing piece by piece the terrible news, until Xerxes himself comes on stage to mourn his loss. We actually sympathize with them, and we should, because we and they face the same fate as human beings; and if we Greeks allow our victory to blind us to our frailty, we too will know the despair of Xerxes.
The Persians were barbarians, the Greeks thought, not because they were weak (they were mighty) or stupid (they were clever) or rustic (they built lavish cities). They were barbarians because they were not free. Or, to put it more precisely, they had become accustomed to living under despotism; they lacked the will to rise up against their overlords and govern themselves, city by city, by the use of their own minds and strong arms. The barbarian may arouse pity, if he can no longer conceive of what it would be to stand tall and speak candidly; by this definition, the lowlier of the Calormenes in Lewis' Chronicles are pitiable barbarians. Or he may arouse a kind of half-comic aversion, as do the Cyclopses in the Odyssey, who gather in no assemblies, pass no laws, unite for no large-scale industry or agriculture, and do not give homage to the politically organized gods of Olympus, but mind their own petty business, each of them ignoring his neighbors -- as the bleeding oaf Polyphemus finds to his discomfiture. Or the barbarian may be one of the privileged few who cause others to truckle to his will, like the semisavage tyrants of Sicity (Agathocles, Hiero, Dionysus).
Whatever the case, the barbarian is missing something central to being human: living as a free man with duties and responsibilities in a community, taking part in spirited debate, and not having to duck and scrape when some big shot from a distant Persepolis descends with the imperial decree. The free man is both a dutiful son of his country and a father for it; the city commands his allegiance, but it is also in part his creation, his patrimony, which he will pass along to his descendants in turn. The Greeks claim that when this political liberty -- it is not the radical individualism of a Cyclops in his cave -- is lacking, that itself is barbaric, regardless of whether the people possess sweet and gentle manners. My family and I are preparing to go north for the summer, where the people of Canada have had the liberties of their small communities snatched from them by a bad constitution and a tyrannical court. They are, as one defender of liberty has put it, a Nation of Bastards, wards of the state. This novel kind of barbarism does overgo the barbarism of Persia, though, because the ancient Persians were willing enough to grant their outlands a measure of home rule; witness Cyrus's humane returning of the Jews to their homeland. Chief Justice McLachlin of Canada will not allow such local variations for a Calgary or a Thunder Bay. When it comes to detaching Canadians from the very culture that gave rise to Canada in the first place, only a mockery of debate is allowed. And only the shreds and patches of political opposition, too. Approach the presence, Clayton, Terence, Angus. Bow with awful reverence prone, flat as the Canadian shield. I'm not gloating over you, my friends of the permafrost. We in America will soon be leaving our nose-prints in the dirt, too.