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«In King Cambyses’ Vein»: Reconsidering the Relationship between Thomas Preston’s Cambises and Herodotus

Francesco Dall'Olio


The relationship between Thomas Preston’s early Elizabethan tragedy Cambises (printed 1569) and the Book III of Herodotus’ Histories has often been downplayed, owing to the lack of printed editions or translations of Herodotus in England at the time and the much more evident connection between the tragedy and the second book of Richard Taverner’s Garden of Wysedome (1547). However, a closer look at the play’s sources reveals how a connection may exist, and how the version of the story Preston staged may be influenced by the tale of Cambyses as presented by the ancient historian. The insistence on the relationship between the king and his subjects (a central issue in both Preston’s tragedy and its sources) may derive from Herodotus, especially if viewed in contrast with the previous versions of the story in medieval literature, the focus of which was mainly on the ethical exempla they provided. Through a comparison of those texts, and a consideration of the availability of Herodotus’ work at the time, either in print or in manuscript form, this paper will then suggest that the version Preston staged in his tragedy is closer to Herodotus than the previous literary tradition.


Cambyses; Johannes Carion; classical reception; Herodotus; Persian Empire; Thomas Preston; Richard Taverner; tyranny – Cambise; Johannes Carion; Erodoto; impero persiano; Thomas Preston; ricezione dei classici; Richard Taverner; tirannide.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.7358/erga-2020-002-daol

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