On the European Continent incomplete conquests fell into two patterns. The main stream of migrations, which had overrun Europe from East to West, was reversed about the eighth century: from West to East the French pressed against the Flemings and Germans, the Germans against the Lithuanians and Slavs, the Lithuanians and Poles against the Russians, and the Russians against the Finnish tribes, and ultimately also against the Mongols; each nation was yielding ground in the West, and gaining much more at the expense of its Eastern neighbours; in the East were wide spaces and a reduced capacity for resisting pressure. Similarly the Swedes spread across the Baltic, and the Italians across the Adriatic. The Flemish-Walloon problem in Belgium and the Franco-German problem in Alsace, the numerous problems of Germany’s ragged Eastern border, Poland’s problems both on her Western and on her Eastern flank, and the conflict between the Yugoslavs and the Italians, all originate in that great West to East shift on the linguistic map of Europe. The other pattern of conquests whose consequences were formative of nineteenth-century European history, goes back to the continued Asiatic incursions, of the Avars, the Magyars, and Turks into South-Eastern Europe. The Germans met them at the gate of the Danube, between the Bohemian quadrilateral and the Alps: this is the origin of Austria whose core was the Ostmark round Vienna, with its flanking mountain bastions and its access to the Adriatic. Germans and Magyars in their head-on collision split off the Northern from the Southern Slavs and established their dominion over that middle zone; and next the subjection of the Southern Slavs and the Rumans was completed by the Turkish conquest of the Balkans.
LOOKED at the way we must inevitably see him, backward, Herodotus offers a flat linearity of presentation that is almost impossible not to see as somewhat naive. Looked at ahead, however, from the imagined vantage of his own immense task, his very linearity is a triumph. Herodotus breaks the hold of the circular and cyclic view, which Homer maintains over his events; he does so by expanding a single large event, one he designates as culminating in the “largest expedition of which we have knowledge.’ He expands it all the way back to one before the Trojan War (7.20). He traces this Persian War as far as he can in the known world of space and what can be properly researched in time. This act of inquiry (historie) is cast in a new form, divorced from verse, the standard vehicle used by the earlier society for conveying societal reflections and meanings. Herodotus writes in what is not yet called prose, and he does so without recourse to the isocola of balanced utterance wherein Górgias and Heraclitus had retained a ghost of the parallelism of balances accompanying early verse.1 Herodotus casts off not only verse but also the persistent verselike element in prose.2
Prose in earlier societies is used only for bare record. Even the standard liturgies of cult are conveyed in formulaic repetitions. In an early oral society language free of such rhythms is a language of almost pure matter-of-fact recorded link of word to object, almost a simple “reference,” in Frege’s use of that term. The connection between signifier and signified is made too sharply, too univocally, to confirm or conflict with the systems of myth and cult, which are confined to rhythmed utterance for their expression. The language of the Linear В tablets is a language of inventory, a language not far from mere count-scratchings on a tally stick. Such a record is not easily distinguishable, as a verbal usage, from such a nonverbal point of reference as the standard meter measure now preserved at Paris. The owner tallies up his sheep so that he can check his count at a later time, just as last year’s mark of a child’s height on the wall, compared with this year’s mark, shows how much the child has grown, without reference to feet and inches or meters and centimeters. Writing, in Greece or Babylon or Israel, is first used to codify laws, which are similar points of record, put down in the form of their exact framing for a later checking, as one might check the sheep-count by a tally or a board measure by a yardstick. The “eye for an eye” of the codes of Hammurabi or Leviticus preserves this principle of simple correspondence.3 Of course law and its linguistic expression grow more complex in Greece, notably after Solon, who figures prominently in Herodotus’ opening book, and notably in the period of Herodotus’ lifetime. It has often been pointed out, most elaborately by Benardete, that the events in Herodotus are presented as though they were cases at law.
In Homeric usage the word histor, which never appears in Herodotus, means one who judges or discriminates, presumably after inquiry into the circumstances, in a specific law case.Historie appears in the first sentence of Herodotus’ account, right after his name (“Hōērodotu Halikarnēsseos historiēs apodexis hēde”); it is in the genitive and modifies apodexis, which means “indication,” “showing forth,” “exposition.” It would be hard to find a better lead-word than apodexis to cover the primitive use of prose in the oral societies Herodotus is helping to transcend by redefining them. A standard meter, an inventory, a codified law—all are apodexeis: they merely point out and set forth plainly what is conceived to be, in our language, a fact.
But one fact stands in connected relation to another. The first problem of the historian, once he has taken the epochal step of searching out verifiable facts, is the concatenation of those facts. Facts have “causes” (to use a terminology much questioned since Hume), and “cause” (aitie) is the next term, of major and concluding emphasis, in Herodotus’ prologue. All three terms, historie, apodexis, and aitie, are relative neologisms, though aitie has a Homeric history as an adjective and some corresponding usage in the pre-Socratics.4 All three terms are bound up together in ways it would take a whole examination of Herodotus to account for. Gentile and Cerri find the question of “cause” animating Herodotus also in the related terms arche (“beginning,” “occasion”) and prophasis (“pretext”).
Briefly, an inquiry can result in a showing forth only if somehow a cause is presented.Historie can only be formulated in language if it becomes an apodexis, the sort of linear presentation that is possible in Homer without either inquiry or argued assignation of cause. And historie as inquiry cannot be carried through without assignment of cause, aitie. Herodotus, who also uses aitie of the cause of a single event, here seems to use it of the whole complex Persian war, and in the singular. Historie exemplifies its success by making apodexis and aitie versions of one another.Historie is apodexis plus aitie, facts ascertained and then the principle ascertained that will link them.
In Homer the Trojan War is preordained and preconcluded by a divine action, “a plan of Zeus brought it about” (“Dios d’eteleieto boule”Iliad, 1.5.). This near-formula is echoed in the Theogony, “the thought of great Zeus was fulfilled” (“megalou de Dios noos exeteleieto” 1002). Herodotus, as though to de-mythologize (but not to de-theologize) his undertaking, presents two possible mythic accounts of Europe against Asia as conflicting accounts. He offers the Persian, Greek, and Phoenician versions of the rape of Io on the side of Asian injury to Greeks, and the rape of Helen on the same side. He passes by these conflicting accounts not to go to the root of a single cause for his great war, a topic to which he never returns. Rather, he singles out a historical individual, one who might be recalled by a series of living memories. He singles out Croesus, who was “first to begin unjust deeds,” a fact Herodotus says he “knows himself” and can therefore “point out” (“having pointed out him I know to have begun unjust deeds against the Greeks, I shall proceed further in my account” 1.5.3). Herodotus declares that he will proceed (probesomai) from this certain knowledge (oida) of unjust actions that are “against the Greeks,” but will not do so until he has concluded the whole story of Lydia and Croesus. Later, however, Herodotus will point out that the Lydians are effectually mid-way in custom, as they are in space, between the Greeks and the Persians (1.94). They differ from the Greeks most notably in the custom of prostituting their daughters, and an inversion of this custom begins the dynasty which Croesus concludes. His progenitor Gyges helplessly but guiltily murdered Candaules after being forced to this impasse by the queen whom he has seen naked and who gave him the choice of usurpation or death.
This beginning is not only explicitly declared to be later than other contingent but inextricable happenings; it is designated by a word that includes the notion of contingency by referring to existence as well as to inception (hyparxanta). And Croesus’ attack, more simply than any other attacks, is designated as “unjust deeds “(though finally, I believe, Herodotus may be said to take the pacifist position that all attacks against alien peoples are ill-advised—see 1.87.3ff and 7.139ff). The complex of events is subject to a verdict, as in law. Herodotus is “proceeding” by an act of simple verbal “pointing out” (semenas).
Collingwood (p. 11) distinguishes the kind of record that an official inscription, or an inventory, provides from the kind of question Herodotus asks—the data of history, as we would say, from the writing of history. But this distinction, which is not to be found in Homer, is also not to be found in Herodotus, and if we make it we are in danger of separating elements which it is his achievement to keep together even while he is radically redefining them. In his apodexis Herodotus manages to include an aitie without separating it off. Like the most sophisticated modern fiction, a story for Herodotus both records an actual state of past happenings and contains a message, while retaining the noteworthy flatness of a bare inscriptional record. Dionysius of Halicarnassus (De Thucydide 5, as quoted by Bury, p. 25) says that the earliest historians gave just traditions and records “without adding or subtracting anything.” Now this is demonstrably the practice to which Herodotus confines himself, while at the same time he attempts to preserve the Homeric comprehensiveness, as Hecataeus did not do for history and Pherecydes of Syros would seem not to have done for myth. Starting from a prose record, he reinvents a noncyclic view of a single, large event whose exemplary character must be visualized in its interconnections to be perceived as exemplary. It cannot be taken for granted, and it cannot be said to rest on merely gnomic or culture-bound formulations. In the sense of this comprehensiveness Herodotus goes behind Hecataeus to Homer and repeats him, remaining “most Homeric” (homerikotatos), as Longinus called him (On the Sublime, 13.4), linking him in this trait with Stesichorus, Archilochus, and Plato.
Our easy distinction between fact and fiction is itself perhaps too easy, since ultimately we judge the stories of fiction by their complex correspondence to facts unstatable in other terms. Homer comprises both “fact” and “fiction” as he comprises both the category “myth” and the category “history/’ since the Iliad is at once a record of what happened in the past and a formulation of events in the lives of the Olympian deities. Although Herodotus has redefined his subject of inquiry as the materials of history in our sense, thus shifting the emphasis markedly away from myth, it should not be assumed that he is thereby invoking the other distinction between fact and fiction or can be judged as failing this or that canon for the transmission of fact.
An early distinction between fact and fiction can be found at the beginning of the Theogony:
Rustic shepherds, evil reproaches, mere bellies,
We know how to speak many falsehoods that are like genuine things,
And we know how, whenever we wish, to utter true things.
The terms here echo those used in the Odyssey (19.559-569) to distinguish the dreams that come through the gates of horn from those that come through the gates of ivory. We have here not two categories, but three:pseudea (“false”), etumoisi (“similar”), and alethea (“true”), with connections between them of other than opposition, since the lies the Muses tell are “like the genuine” (thus, it could be argued, invoking a fourth category, that of resemblance); and the “genuine,” the etuma which are always tied to words in Homer, have to be distinguished in the main opposition here from the “true things” with which in loose attribution they are identified. Pietro Pucci has shown some of the complexity that may be derived from this triad of terms. He points out, too, that homoios may mean either “similar” or “identical.”
Moreover, the root meaning of “lay bare” for alethes is present in these circumstances. The utterance of “truths” depends on the caprice of the Muses, who, Hesiod here tells us, revealed these words to him in a vision on Helicon. This particular utterance, which can be applied to itself and considered an utterance of true things, is cast in the formal and interactive context of a ritualistic verbal castigation.5
The favor of the Muses is further accorded here to kings, in a passage that sets forth succinctly the condition of instantaneous communication and command in an oral society. This kind of speaking cuts across the old Indo-European distinction between the function of the king and the function of a priest-poet:
She [Calliope] serves kings at the same time who have respect,
Whomever the maidens of great Zeus do honor
And look on as he is born, of Zeus-nourished kings.
They pour a sweet dew upon his tongue
And the honeyed words flow from his mouth. The people
All look to him to distinguish the ordinances
With straight judgments. He, speaking securely,
Would in his knowing bring even a great strife to cease.
Herodotus’ detachment from this posture, wherein Hesiod identifies his own source with a ruler’s, is radical. His kings or tyrants, who are wholly dependent on advice, calculation, oracle, and divine favor, maintain a preeminence precarious enough to prohibit any of these kinds of messages from converging into such a Homeric-Hesiodic tribal unity. Herodotus is as detached towards his subject matter as the Ionian philosophers who preceded him were towards theirs. He approaches human events with a spirit of inquiry very like that applied by Thales to cosmological events and by Pherecydes of Syros to mythological ones. His limited field is large enough to include both the general principle of Anaximander, a “justice” (dike) which contains more than a hint of legal judgment, and such a specific act of Anaximander as his reputed invention of the first map. Herodotus offers us the sorts of maps complex enough, as Myres argues of his “square” geography, to be formed on two principles, an Ionian (4.36; 5.49; p. 26) and a Persian (4.37; p. 37). These maps are appended to ethnographic data included in the general account.
Such data are presented in a version of the literary technique Shklovski derives from Tolstoi, “estrangement” (ostranyenye), each fact given as if for the first time and afresh. So in Herodotus it is all told as if he were starting from scratch, even when it deals with what must have been generally known (for instance, the climate and geography of Ionia in 1.142), whereas the Homeric catalogue of the ships makes the opposite assumption: that the tribes of whom a count is offered are known to the auditor by virtue of his understanding Greek.
In Hecataeus the genealogies would seem to have been separated from the geography. Herodotus, through the careful and painstakingly linear procedure of his presentation, keeps the two inseparably connected. Nor does he pay exact attention at all times (for example, in 2.145) to genealogical succession, attending to it, even for the gods, only insofar as it bears on the train of his discourse. A map itself is used in 5.48 by Aristagoras to make a strategic point to Cleomenes.
In Herodotus when linguistic communication fails there is the sign language which corresponds to his bare record: the Ethiopians give a bow to the invading Persians, communicating its meaning through interpreters, the “Fish-eaters” who understand the Ethiopians’ language (3.22). And when the Samians have not succeeded in making their need understood to the Spartans, they pass them an empty sack (3.47)—which is still not understood.
The Persians always request of a people not yet subject to them that they send “earth and water” as symbols of submission (4.26; 7.32, and elsewhere). The Scythians, who are simply devoted to “signs” (eikasia) in Benardete’s interpretation (p. 164), give Darius, instead of earth and water, a mouse, a bird, a frog, and five arrows, which it takes two interpreters (4.131-132) to decipher as meaning that even if Darius were at home under the ground, in the air, or in the water, he could not escape the arrows of the enemy. This complex sign, in Cohen’s reading, presents a sort of connected syntax among its particulars. It also responds metonymically with a mouse instead of the requested earth and a frog instead of water.
Herodotus in his own vast linear presentation recognizably adopts a comparable framework with his sign-system, a system whose particulars require that the reader do some of the work of making connections. Thrasyboulos gives a lesson to the fledgling tyrant Periander by knocking the tallest ears of wheat and “adding no word” (“hypothemenos epos ouden” 5.92). The chains still hanging in the Acropolis after the Persians have burned its walls (5.77) are a different sort of silent communication, from past to present, of a complex set of events, the freeing of Chalcidians who have been bound in punishment for collaborating with a Spartan attack on Athens (5.77). But four lines of hexameter about the chains are included to explain them in a different mode than the prose narrative of Herodotus himself. The lines of verse are themselves a fact, a datum, in his prose narrative, like the fact of the chains and the fact of their duration.
The language of Herodotus, in its matter-of-fact linearity, keeps every gesture at once totally detached as it is brought to ascertainment and totally culture-bound, so that both its singularity and its function in series are dependent on a whole complex of events yet at the same time perceptible, as properly presented, in a simple apodexis. In myth the gnomic exists as a kernel at the center of a known story; Pindar strips off the husk and presents the kernel separately. In the stories of Herodo-’ “inquiry,” the events are at once submythic and postgnomic. The association between story and proverbial proposition has become problematic.
Herodotus has, so to speak, arrived at the point Ranke describes, that of setting himself the task of ascertaining and presenting “wie es eigentlieh gewesen ist,” “the way it really happened.” To arrive at this formulation requires a number of prior decisions, and the formulation itself almost begs the many questions it conceals.
How meaning gets coded into a story is a question central not only to the practice of historiography but to any literary presentation whatever. Words come inescapably in sequence; if the words are bound in rhythm above and beyond the sound patterns germane to the language —if they are verse—then to that degree the words are insisting on something that lies below the sequence and determines it. In an oral society this something involves the cyclic pattern which the rituals of the society celebrate and to which they refer. This year’s fertility festival, coming in sequence after last year’s, is made invariant. It is cast in patterns of repetition, verbal ones and rhythmic ones, as well as in patterns of gesture.
It does not matter in which particular year the ritual happens. In that sense ritual, like myth, conforms to the half-truth of Lévi-Strauss’s assertion that it does not matter in what order the events of a myth are told. It does not matter because in structural analysis the underlying structure is all, and the order wherein the binary elements are presented in no way determines the coded interrelation of these elements.
But a myth is also a process. It occurs in time and it must be told in time. It is the young Oedipus who bests the Sphinx, the middle-aged Oedipus who launches a fatal inquiry into the past, the old Oedipus who fades away in the grove at Colonus. At a certain point, the point of literary formulation, it is not enough just to retell the myth. A meaning must be coded into it that further subjects it to temporal strategies of order and inclusion. Inclusion involves exclusion; it is only late mythographers, intent on the particular goal of completeness, who give all the details they have ever heard, most of which we may presume to have existed early. We learn from Apollodorus what Sophocles knew but chose to exclude from his particular presentation.
Homer is already literary in this sense. He chooses to include only material that bears on the wrath of Achilles or the events in the homecoming of Odysseus. Thus in his encyclopedic task he can concentrate mythographic purposes upon particular individuals without questioning larger group actions. These are simply labelled with the formulaic-typifying epithets, as, “bronze-greaved Achaians” or “long-gowned Trojans.” The social picture of the Homeric world we infer from a host of details; and Homer’s vision of human destiny we infer from the presentation of the events, as in most literary works. Group action in Homer provides his typifications, givens that do not question the congruence of group action with individual human destinies. I have discussed elsewhere the complexity of Priam’s embassy to Achilles (Cook, 1966; pp. 114-116); at no point does this complexity rest on other than the situation of an old enemy father begging his son’s body from the victorious supreme warrior.
In Herodotus, group actions do converge with individual human destinies, and yet there is no attempt either to depend wholly on staples of typification or to make this particular series yield a Thucydidean exemplum of universal applicability. The human, the ethnic (Lydian), and the personal (Croesus) are already in unstable relation to one another. The Persians are characterized by a host of tiny stories and customs, as are individual groups among the Greeks, though the Spartans and the Athenians and the Ionians all display characteristics globally Greek which would be known to his readers. Any invasion presents practically and, as Herodotus demonstrates, also theoretically, the problem of unforeseen intricacies of cross-cultural differences.
This process is involved when it brings in the most remote peoples in space, the Ethiopians and the Scythians, the Babylonians and the Egyptians and the Indians. Herodotus builds up the characteristics Homer takes for granted, producing a known world by exact ethnographic construction. And while Homer is writing about a world at some distance in time from his own, Herodotus implies at the outset that he must confine himself to what he himself knows (autos oida, 5.3); his is that history of recent events that Latte indicates to be the common mode of ancient historiography.
We know that Hecataeus, like Herodotus, was encyclopedic. And we know that he also exercised a critical and corrective scrutiny on particular traditions coming to him through Hesiod (Fgt. 19. Jacoby). But Hecataeus, we may presume, was “flat” not only in presentation but in final meaning. Nothing lurked under the story, or so we may again presume. Herodotus takes the techniques of Hecataeus and rebuilds a world as coherent as Homer’s, though it leaves behind the cyclic Homeric universe without even following the philosophers of Herodotus’ youth in criticizing the Olympian gods. In this sense, too, Longinus’ ascription “most Homeric” retains its aptness.
Herodotus presents us in an exacting form with the question of what lurks under the story. The rigorously sequential linearity of his inquiry is rarely broken for the presentation of a moral; and yet, as Benardete keeps reminding us, the moral is everywhere. The story is thinned out as expansively as in a nineteenth-century novel, without many of the telltale stylistic gestures beyond the faintly rhetorical ones noticed in him by Demetrius and Longinus by which we might guess the sort of meaning in the story lurking underneath.6
How can something lurk under a story? Something always does, if the story commands attention.Anna Karenina and even Finnegans Wake are cautionary tales no less than is “the fall of Croesus.” All such stories are expanded “ostensive” definitions, or definitions by example. As Balzac understood (Cook 1960), and as Borges somewhat differently understands, this condition of utterance for expanded stories undercuts the easy distinction between “history” and “fiction.”
In all verbal formulations of myth, including literary ones, something related to the force of the unknown that the myth is devised to name remains and lurks under the story or other sequence. Historiography, in its initial conception as radically devised by Herodotus, takes this force away from the sequence of the story and substitutes something for which the large sequence is itself a pattern, one not susceptible of such cybernetic remapping as Lévi-Strauss’s, and yet still more sequential than any presentation of myth can be. Nor could such a linearity of historiographie presentation yield even to such a summary as might be given for Apollo’s career, for example, in a lexical entry under Apollo. What would be lost in such a lexical entry would be precisely the force of Apollo, by definition an unknown. What would be lost from a lexical entry under Croesus would be the pattern that Herodotus has presented lurking under his story, something defined as known rather than unknown, a result of inquiry into cause and not an unknown cause that can only be propitiated and sung about.
It is in fact natural for the novel, as well as written history, to include large collective social events, not only in popular works but in War and Peace and Finnegans Wake. Morton White’s deliberate characterization of historiographie writing would apply equally to the novel (p. 372), “much of historical explanation takes the form of what Hempel calls an ‘explanation sketch’—something which falls short of an explanation through a failure to express all the generalizations involved.”
What White calls “failure” is of course a necessary condition, as Hexter has pointed out. The apodexis is never complete. And if what a historiographie text presents is to carry a special meaning, something must lurk under the story.
Herodotus clearly does get behind the events he lays out. There is an aitie lurking under his apodexis; if there were not, his data would seem jumbled. The presentation itself is linear, and it proceeds forward in time, first demarcating a time separated from the remote past when it is possible to produce the causal enchainment. He jumps from Io and Helen to Croesus, a figure who enables him to get behind the Persian War, his announced subject.
From then on he moves forward through his events to the very end of the Persian War. But this main forward movement, from past to its future—the apodexis —entails a counter-movement, from past to what preceded the past, to ai tie. Croesus’ invasion gathers momentum until he is countered by Cyrus, whose accession must be explained (1.95-129), just as Croesus’ was (1.5-27). “The Lydians then were enslaved under the Persians” (1.94.7) brings the whole first sequence to a natural term, a succinct apodexis which calls for the aitie lurking under it. “Our account seeks out next in order about that Cyrus, who he was who brought down the dominion of Croesus; and about the Persians, in what fashion they became the rulers of Asia” (1.95.1).
So Herodotus proceeds in general. The Milesian deputy Aristagoras, after a series of complications engendered by a difference of ethnic styles as well as a divergence of interest between Persian and Greek, decides to foment the Ionian revolt (5.24-38); he goes to Sparta and then to Athens to seek aid. This movement forward in time entails a movement backward, to explain what the situation is in Sparta (5.3848) and in Athens (5.55-75), and also the complicated relations, likewise engendered by a divergence of interest and a difference of ethnic styles, between Sparta and Athens themselves (5.79-92). Moreover, Aristagoras is here repeating the pattern of Croesus, who similarly deeided to seek out, in a different style and a different order, the help of Athens. The end of Aristagoras’ campaign is similarly disastrous, but he dies as a result and Croesus does not.
This constant procedure produces a broken and loosely open form of ring composition, as Myres’ outline and table of correspondences (pp. 118-134) show graphically. But it is ring composition with a difference. The flat fact held in view keeps the ring open. The search for a momentary cause loops back, and then the narrative itself proceeds forward in its more direct sequence, that sequence itself constituting a somewhat wider loop. The much-mooted “logoi,” the separate accounts of the Egyptians and the Scythians to which nearly all of the second book and most of the fourth are devoted, constitute such loops, their presentation so flattened out that the lurking aitie (“Who were the Egyptians anyway?”) takes on the character of apodexis. The ethnographic data tend to be either aftermath (6.119f; 1.88-94) or prelude (Egypt, Scythia).
And this is really always the case. Herodotus throughout is making the technique of Hecataeus, the flat prose record, produce the effect of something like Homer, a global explanation.
Herodotus’ investigation involves time, and the Lydians can only be defined as the end product of a series of linear events in time, which can only be conveyed in sentences like “The Lydians, then, were enslaved under the Persians” (1.94.7). Anaximander makes a map in space. And he also defines dike or justice as a supervening principle in all events, physical and other, “according to the ordering of time” (kata tou chronou taxin, Diels 12.B1). Herodotus fuses these two sides of Anaximander’s thought and makes the map in space coordinately dependent on a series of events in time. While he is willing to ascribe non-justice, a-dikia, to individual acts, he is at all points seeking a cause, an aitie, wherein the enslavement of the Lydians is a constituent factor as well as a discrete event.
The prospective condition of inquiry, historie, announces a search for, or a seeking out of, something not obvious as the goal of the sentences of the work that then stretches ahead. This procedure revolutionizes the procedure of Homer, who assumes he can take for granted that his auditors already know, at least in rough outline, what he reinvokes. He does not have to seek it out, to “historein.” He need only be a mouthpiece of the goddess, and command that she “sing the wrath of Achilles, son of Peleus” or “tell” him “about the man of many turns.” For Herodotus the connections have become radically problematic, and the truth-value, instead of being assumed, has to be constituted from scratch, sentence by sentence. The atoll of aitie that rises above the sea of imperception is built up like a coral reef from myriads of integers of reference and verification.
Independent of the gods, something complex and unique lurks in the events. The story, properly presented, reveals what lurks in the events, as for example in the final marshalling of forces by Croesus:
Croesus marched against Cappadocia for these reasons: from a desire to gain land, wishing to add more to his own share, and being especially trusting in the oracle, and wishing to punish Cyrus for Astyages. Astyages, son of Kyaxares, who was both the brother-in-law of Croesus and the king of the Medes, Cyrus, son of Cambyses, had subdued and was holding, him who had become son-in-law to Croesus as follows: a band of nomad Scythians had revolted and got out to the land of the Medes. Kyaxares son of Phraortes son of Deioces was tyrant of the Medes at this time, who treated them well since they were suppliants, so that he held them in high regard and entrusted boys to them to learn the language and skill with the bow. As time went on, when the Scythians were always roving and always bringing something back, once it happened that they caught nothing. When they returned empty handed, Kyaxares (for he was, as it had appeared, quick to anger) treated them roughly and injuriously. (1.73.1-4)
The Scythians then who “judged that they had suffered unworthily (1anaxia)” took one of the Median boys, killed him and dressed him like game, delivered the corpse to Kyaxares and fled to the Lydian capital, where, once again, they “became suppliants” (hiketai, the word repeated from the Median occasion a few sentences before). The Medes asked the Lydians to hand over the Scythians. The Lydians’ refusal occasioned a war between Lydians and Medes that lasted five years, till the sudden occasion of an eclipse (which had been predicted by Thales) made both sides “eager for there to be peace between them.”
Those reconciling them were these: Syennesis the Cilician and Labynetos the Babylonian. These men were eager that there should be a compact and brought about an interchange of marriage: they came to the conclusion that Alyattes should give his daughter Aryenis to Astyages the son of Kyaxares. For without a strong necessity strong reconciliations do not wish to persist. These nations make the sort of compacts that the Greeks do, on which occasion they cut their arms on the surface of the flesh and lick each other’s blood. (1.74.3-75.1)
Hesiod is already a historian in the several senses that Rosenmeyer explores, resting on the distinctions among the five ages of man in the Works and Days (109-201) made by Eduard Meyer, and between Sagengeschichte and Geschichte. On this large scale, even with its verifiable counterparts of the change from bronze to iron technology, Herodotus sees either a legend which at times (2.23) can disappear “to the vanishing point” (es to aphanes), or else, simply and neutrally, small cities becoming great and great cities becoming small (1.2). Where Hesiod’s five ages are devoid of personal names, either historical or divine, as Rosenmeyer points out (p. 279), Herodotus embodies his enchained events in distinct and particular individuals like Croesus and Cyrus, who have a tempo which is at once personal, ethnic, and human, all three intertwined. Like Hesiod, he will offer for small events an alternate explanation (heteron logon, Erga, 106-107); and like Hesiod he is implicitly offering an “explanation sketch,” hitting the high points as Hesiod does in the verb Rosenmeyer stresses from this passage, ekkoruphoso (“touch the main points”). Herodotus never uses this verb, though he does once use a related compound, apokoruphou (“give a summary answer,” 5.73), and something might be made of the difference between the selection Hesiod makes in the ek, “out,” of his prefix and the mere contingency suggested by the one Herodotus here applies, apo, “from.” Herodotus, in any case, is of course more detailed than Hesiod at every point. But he has his eye no less on what lurks under the story, and in avoiding such predecessors he is avoiding the large periodizations of the five ages along with the meters in which they are cast.
Here the linear presentation is all a carefully managed backward loop of explanation, since Croesus is already at the point of invading Cappadocia, and this story explains why. Folk motifs like the Scythian ban-quet-of-Thyestes described above are not exploited for their submythic overtones of relation to the celestial and psychological universe of theogonies. The connection of the motif with Ouranos in Hesiod or Atreus in legend has nothing to do with the meaning Herodotus gives to the motif. It is repeated with variation: Kyaxares’ son Astyages, to punish Harpagus for saving Cyrus, has Harpagus’s son killed and served up to Harpagus for dinner; Astyages then stays around for the result (1.118-119), later fatally forgetting enough to put Harpagus in charge of an army (1.127). But this repetition, like all those in Herodotus, is part of the patient, gradual buildup of case-histories, which reknit the combinations of the personal, the ethnic, and the supervening human. Civilized peoples tend to receive suppliants. The Greeks do, and it is pointed out here that interethnic complications can result when both the Medes and the Lydians receive as suppliants a kind of people, the Scythians, who themselves will receive none. A suppliant comes for a reason—either political, as here, or personal, as in the case of the Phrygian Adrastus whom Croesus unwarily receives in his court—thereby ensuring the predieted death of his son Atys, whose whole upbringing has been framed to avoid that oracle (1.34-43). On the merely personal level, Kyaxares’ predisposition to anger triggers a series that leads to a five-year war, broken up not by a macropolitical resolution between the Medes and the Lydians, but first by the skill of an Ionian wise man, Thales, consuited earlier by Croesus (1.74).
This truce is sealed by the intervention of advisers who may be said to be bringing their own ethnic customs to bear on the question, since this is the only marriage of state carried through in all of Herodotus. A failed one, to be sure, is proposed to Amasis of Egypt by Cambyses (3.1-3). The Cilicians, we have heard (1.28), are one of the only two peoples west of the Halys that are free of Croesus’ rule. They have a good political reason, transcending ethnic style, for wishing these powerful neighbors to make a truce. So do the Babylonians; but, alas, this sort of peace leaves them free to be captured by Cyrus (1.188-191), after having gone into allegiance with Croesus in his expedition, under the very same Labynetos (1.77). Here, earlier on in time, we are given what is also the very first mention of Babylon in Herodotus, a small beginning dovetailed into another story.
The linear story is thus a tissue of analogies which build up case precedent for a law which exists only as its meaning—for an aitie. Kyaxares is prone to anger; that is the defect of the quality of courage attributed to him in the only other expanded mention in the text, coming ironically after this in sequence: “He is said to have been still more valiant than his forebears” and he conquered Assyria (1.103).
We are given three reasons here for Croesus’ aggression. They are not coordinate in presentation: the last requires this expansive explanation. Though given on the same flat, linear plane, their lack of coordination keeps the analogies they inevitably pick up from being coordinate in meaning as well. If any overriding general rule of politics may be deduced from Herodotus, it is this: ethnic groups exist within natural boundaries roughly defined in space. It is always bad policy to drive across such boundaries, no matter what the provocation. And it proves to be, in the biggest and most disastrous expedition of all, the last battles of the Persian wars against Greece, a bad policy for the Persians too, even though they, unlike Croesus, have been provoked. Croesus’ whole expedition stands in implied antithesis to their later ones. But his desire to expand his territory is a natural human desire that the Persians, in less justified activities than their expedition against the Greeks, have also exemplified: in their incursions against the Egyptians and the Scythians and the Massagetae, against the Libyans and the Assyrians and the Babylonians and the Ethiopians—in all directions, actually, except towards Greece, which they do finally attack after they put down the revolt of those closer land-neighbor Greeks, the Ionians, who once formed part of Croesus’ own empire.
Desire for conquest is Croesus’ first reason. His second is reliance on divine hints, hints which Herodotus presents as being at once necessary and untrustworthy. Oracles must be sought, but they should be managed with respect to other considerations. They give clues, not solutions. Croesus is in the process, touched on here, of misreading the biggest clue of all. A great empire will indeed be destroyed if he attacks the Persians, but not theirs; his own.
The oracle is only one of three from Delphi, and only one of the many Croesus has solicited—from Libya, Abae, Dodona, Amphiaraus, Trophonias, and Miletus (1.46). Part of the danger lurking in the prosperity for which Croesus was proverbial even in Herodotus’ own day is that he will overspend in some area. He is shown trying to bribe Delphi with gifts (1.50-41) and covering the map of Greece with his search for divine indications. He has received an oracle that corresponds to a version of his inmost desires, a circumstance which tends to accompany oracles anyway, as Saul Levin has noted. But he had to sift to get that one, and then he misinterpreted it by jumping to conclusions.
The other reason, the third, is on a still different plane, not that of politics or religion but of family. It is a family situation, however, that can be traced right back to politics, since his sister only married the Mede Astyages two generations earlier because of a state marriage brought about through an interethnic tangle involving six peoples (Medes, Persians, Lydians, Scythians, Cilicians, Babylonians). Croesus had been gathering his forces, before this in the narrative but after this in time, by trying to knit together a corresponding ethnic tangle, marching finally with help promised but not fully forthcoming from the Spartans, the Ionians, the Egyptians, and the Babylonians (1.77).
Croesus’ marshalling of forces is doomed to failure, since the Persian empire is so vast it would not need such complicated alliances in order to field an army; or later, as we learn in the Ionian arguments (6.8-9), to float a navy. As the warning advice of Sandanis has just held (1.71), Croesus’ expedition can do no more than effectuate an ethnic transfer whereby the powerful but simple Persians will take over the wealth of the high-living Lydians, assimilating this trait which had become proverbial for Persians rather than Lydians by Herodotus’ own time.
The earlier reason given for Croesus’ marshalling was not ambition, oracle, or family pride, but a partially defensive and preemptive one superior in political canniness to any of those that have superseded it as actual war is approaching. This political reason also includes the prior mention of Astyages, not here designated (since that is not here an aitie) as Croesus’ brother-in-law:
Afterwards the fact that the sovereignty of Astyages son of Kyaxares was seized by Cyrus son of Cambyses and that the affairs of the Persians were on the wax put a stop to Croesus’ grief, and he took on the intent, if he somehow could do it, before the Persians became great, to take over their waxing power (1.46.1).
This is a more sophisticated motive than the blind group self-defense which even animals share.
Astyages, we later learn, had himself tried to be preemptive against the “mule” Cyrus. Cyrus was a half-breed precisely because of the state marriage between Astyages and Aryenis; Astyages had married his own daughter off to the Persian Cambyses in order to forestall the predicted conquest by allying her to someone then of a lower class (1.107-130). Upper has, however, now become lower: Persian, in fidelity to the oracle, becomes dominant over Mede. Astyages, as Herodotus postpones telling us till the general subject “Who was Cyrus,” lives in an only moderate disgrace at the court of Cyrus, not enough, surely, to trigger the revenge of Croesus. It is characteristic of Persians to be in some ways more generous with those they defeat than are the Medes, or the Lydians (unless the particular Persian is personally insane, as is Cambyses); we learn that the last political act of Croesus’ reign was the murder of Pantaleon, his rival for the Lydian throne, by the torture of dragging a carding-comb across his back.
Croesus is to be put to death on a funeral pyre, but the Persian is always prone to magnanimity; one portent and a whispered bit of wisdom are enough to save Croesus. He then plays out as a captive what he had entertained as a ruler with Thales, with Syennesis, and with Labynetos: the motif of the wise stranger. He becomes an adviser to the Persian court, this being a Persian ethnic tendency in other cases (Histiaeus, 5.23-25; Demaratus 8.234-237; Democedes, 3.125). Croesus goes on to outlive Cyrus himself.
Successions, indeed, tend to activate interethnic complications. Another whole tangle, on the Persian side, surrounds the family and political relations of Cyrus. Here the tangles are narrated on the Lydian side from the viewpoint of the captive Astyages, who is an occasion for vengeful attack. Cyrus, like the two sons of Croesus (but also unlike them—they die young), again exemplifies the motif of the boy in the shadow of an oracle.
At the end of the passage quoted above (1.74.3-75.1) a general maxim “strong necessity must bind strong accords” is countered and complemented by an ethnological datum, the licking of blood, a custom primitive enough to be useless from a Greek point of view, but superseded here after all by the marriage compact.
This is the middle of the Lydian history, the normalizing sexual resolution of a state marriage. As it happens we have possibly analogous sexual conjunctions at both the beginning and the end of the Lydian history. At the end we are told, as last and longest in the narrative of Lydian customs, that they have the “shameful” habit of prostituting their daughters. This custom can be seen as an extreme, an acting out of an attitude polar in the area of shame, to the custom that Lydians “and most other foreigners” (barbaroi) do not look at each other naked (1.10), male or female. At the beginning, Gyges himself wisely adduces a maxim that Herodotus surely would not confine just to Lydia: “A woman casts off shame (aidos) in casting off her clothing” (1.8), using for the only time in all of Herodotus the word aidos, which is common in Homer and the shame culture he depicts. It is in the iron framework of this custom that Gyges kills Candaules, beginning the Lydian dynasty and also initiating the curse that it will end in five generations, a curse cited at the defeat of Croesus (1.91). In the pattern of such extremes, even a normative human act like a state marriage is subject to the larger oracular condition that it must contribute to the downfall of a ruler who has inherited his kingdom after such a double violation of the particular Lydian rules of modesty and the general human rule against murder. State marriages are dangerous anyway because the inter-ethnic is inherently unstable.
The verified, small progressions of event here link up, by both temporai progress and logical analogy, with other events in the sequence. The inquiry builds these up step by step. The single passage, as here, and the single story carried along—the Scythians’ banquet-of-Thyestes which I have summarized—has its own flat existence as a fact. It is as such that it enters the tissue of explanation, through a kind of spiralling ring composition. We are given Croesus and Astyages, and much later Cyrus and Croesus, and then Cyrus and Astyages and Croesus. Having Lydians fighting Medes over Scythians in this anecdote, we will soon have (since this is retrospect) the main, final battle of Lydians and Persians, on which follows, as explanation, the ascendancy of the Persians over the Medes. This splinter group of nomad Scythians is never heard of again, but the course of explaining Median domination entails accounting for a period of Scythian domination (1.103-106). Later on, (after Cyrus has met his death by following the advice of Croesus that he should preemptively invade the land of the Massagetae, the Scythians’ neighbors and fellow savages [1.201-214]) there will be a subsequent, abortive expedition against all the Scythians as a people who, at the point we are inspecting, have failed to give Croesus aid.
As for the Babylonians, the Labynetos in this passage, who is better known to history as Nebuchadnezzar, drops out of the story for the time being. His son and namesake, however, will be defeated by Cyrus, son of the daughter who resulted from the union here sponsored by Labynetos. This Babylonian stalemate-conquest, accompanied by the standard ethnographic digression (1.178-200), is surpassed by the severer and more complete later conquest of Babylon by Darius (3.150-160).
Logos in Herodotus means both bare narrative account (apodexis) and explanation of the bare facts (aitie). It is this verbal result which the inquiry, historie, is aimed at achieving. These two meanings, tale and explanation of tale, are inseparable in the word logos, and they are the two meanings that prevail.Logos here takes over from the earlier word for story, muthos, which is used only twice in all of Herodotus, and then with the modern pejorative sense, “false legend.” Just as muthos slowly accrues the full meaning it will have in Plato, a myth in the honorific or descriptive sense, logos will accrue an abstract meaning increasingly divergent from it. Here, though, in Herodotus’ usage as it confirms the theoretical foundations of his practice, logos unifies the presentation of the facts with their explanation, the story with its reason. These two senses, in their union, stand as far simpler than the spectrum of twelve senses with their subsenses that Guthrie reads into Heraclitus’ context.7
We only make sense of Heraclitus if all these senses are operative. And we only make sense of Herodotus if his two senses are seen in the force of their union. It violates his unity of purpose, then, and first of all his verbal uses, if we extrapolate his promised Assyrioi logoi, along with the ethnographic accounts we do have, and separate them as a distinet kind of writing from the flow of political events, presented in a “pediment” composition of story frieze after story frieze. Myres’ division into logoi and pediment units, handy for preliminary structural grouping, cannot be followed in its exclusive separation, though there is a recognizable similarity of digression and expansiveness in the accounts of the Babylonians (1.195-198), the Egyptians (all of 2), the Scythians (most of 4), the Thracians (5.3-8), the Libyans (4.181-190), and even the Persians (1.133-140), as Myres tabulates them (p. 73). And there are still other such accounts.
They function, however, in the same two-edged way that the “straight” narrative portions do, themselves a network of the sort of interrelated analogies analyzed above. The items in the “pediment friezes’’ of this narrative work are never distinct. They can flow without break—and without mythic intervention—into the gnomic, and then into the ethnological, as they do at the end of the passage analyzed above:
Those reconciling them were these: Syennis the Cilician and Labynetos the Babylonian. These men were eager that there should be a compact and brought about an interchange of marriage; they came to the conclusion that Alyattes should give his daughter Aryenis to Astyages the son of Kyaxares. For without a strong necessity strong reconciliations do not wish to persist. These nations make the sort of compacts that the Greeks do, on which occasion they cut their arms on the surface of the flesh and lick each other’s blood.
The names of the mediators give way to the names of both sponsors and principals (itself a full ethnological kinship complement) in the mediated marriage, which gives way to the political maxim, which gives way to the ethnological datum about blood-licking. This datum has to be somewhat ominous; it is a “barbarian” custom, though at no point is an unexamined opposition between barbarian and Greek allowed to operate. The oaths are after all like the ones the Greeks make.
The maxim would hold for all peoples whatever. Even where an ethnological contrast is activated—and the activation of such contrasts occupies all of Herodotus—the unexamined contrast is dangerous, unless an underlying similarity is also posited, as it is here. The question of similarity and contrast between civilized and primitive (our modern version of Greek and barbarian) is a puzzling one, still not resolved just by asserting for it a kind of uneasy identity. Herodotus generally shows us both similarity and contrast, as he does specifically here. As Benardete argues, the point of the separated “logoi,” Egyptian and Scythian and other, is to produce a network of similarities and contrasts. This is clearly true here. It is not, after all, the Scythians, the silent, wild occasion of all this battle and negotiation, who have the custom of blood-licking, but presumably the more civilized Babylonians, Cilicians, Lydians, and Medes, all of them barbarians if set in unexamined contrast to the Greeks. Later the Arabians will have blood-smearing with oaths attributed to them (3.8.1). This is in the context of their giving friendly passage to Cambyses. And still later, on the occasion of the invasion of Scythia, the Scythians themselves are reported as drinking blood mixed with wine to ratify an oath (4.70). Meanwhile there is nothing so subsidiary or incidental about this ethnographic sentence that would permit it, to use a modern format, to be reduced to the level of a footnote. Were this to happen, the “blood-licking” footnote would have an ironic relation to the text. We cannot be sure that Herodotus is not being ironic here, as he certainly is in some instances. But we can be sure that the targets of the irony would not be exclusively the Babylonians, the Cilicians, the Lydians, and the Medes.
Thirty-one times Herodotus uses the word logos8 to refer to his own book comprehensively. And he also refers to the explanation which the book constitutes. The logos is story plus explanation. Other accounts are also logoi, both stories and explanations. When they are in accord, they are “common,” a xunos logos between Greek and barbarian (4.12). The possibility of such additions as the datum abou6t blood-licking, or the whole account of Egypt in Book Two, is posited by the comparative method of letting one account act as an explanation for another. As Herodotus says when he brings Elis in as a third, and Greek, group to explain the customs of two barbarian groups, the Libyans and the Scythians, “For my logos has sought additions from the beginning.” (4.30.1. The word for “additions,”prosthekas, could also be rendered “insertions.”)
Fact, for which another word is ergon, “deed,” is often contrasted with logos, explanation or narrative of facts either in their difference (as 4.8) or their similarity (as 8.107). At the point of Darius’ accession he makes such a distinction to Otanes, “There are many things which it is not possible to show in a logos, but in ergon; and there are others that are possible in logos and no clear ergon comes from them” (3.72). To speak in error, as Herodotus accuses Hecataeus of doing (6.137), is to speak “unjustly.” Hecataeus is three times called a logopoios, a state־ ment־maker, but the same word is also used of Aesop, a teller of tales that are both exemplary and cautionary, like those of Herodotus himself (2.134). All the senses of logos in Herodotus that mean not the bare thing said or the story but a systematic view of the bare thing said may be subsumed under “explanation”—“theory” (2.15, touto to logo chromenoi), “condition” (7.158), “purpose” (3.48), and even “truth,” where logos is coupled with the word “true” (1.20; 5.41) or “right,” orthos, (217; 6.68; 6.53) or “most just,” dikaiotatos (7.108).
Reportage on the hearsay of others’ statements underlies his own big statement at every point. “In all my logos it is established that I write the things said to my hearing by everyone” (2.123). But he distinguishes this process from believing an individual fact. A logos is thus an expianation designed to set out the facts, neutral as to their individual credibility, “I am obliged to say the things said, but I am not obliged to believe them wholly” [Italics—“ge”—are Herodotus’] and let this word hold for my whole account” (7.152).
The accumulations of data in the first four books around Persia, and in the fifth book around those Greeks who are on the Persian doorstep, the Ionians, leads into the account of the close and prolonged engagement between the two peoples in the last four books. As Benardete says (p. 154), “The Persian Wars will prove to be a surface phenomenon that has its basis in the principles and elements he has discovered in the first four books. They will show, as it were, his own logos in action.” The action becomes more purely temporal, in a shorter span but in a closer focus, in the last four books. The shift from a long view of time to a short one in the two halves of the History overrides the uniform linear presentation. “The first part does turn on logoi as the second on erga.”
The History is an explanation of the Persian Wars, and a massive gloss on “Persian” precedes the account of the actual wars themselves. The gloss, however, is presumed to bear on the battle, and the complex of ethnic styles subsumed in the campaigns of Books Six through Nine carries into ergon the logoi of the earlier books. Finally the customs have the same status as the events that illustrate them, which they in turn give an explanation for—“Custom is king of all,” a phrase that Herodotus borrows from a highly privileged informant, Pindar (3.38; Pindar Fgt. 169).
“Custom is king of all,” Pindar’s phrase, is introduced by Herodotus as an ex post jacto conclusion to the cautionary tale of Darius’ staged experiment (3.38). Darius first showed that the Greeks at his court would not eat their ancestors at any price (as the Calliatae among the Indians do); then he tried unsuccessfully to get the Calliatae to burn their dead (as the Greeks do). For both peoples, “a pattern or a custom is established,” this whole phrase rendering the one Greek verb nenomistai.
Herodotus himself is establishing a pattern that differs from, and yet includes, the patterns, the nomoi, which he here says the poet Pindar rightly (orthos) said was king of all. This tale of cultural relativism, and its appended motto from Pindar, is inserted between a set of Persian events, the outrages occasioned by the madness of Cambyses, and a set of Greek events, the career of Polycrates of Samos.
The gnomic and the mythic here exist in separation, and the gnomic is not a conclusion but rather a stepping-stone. As Benardete notes, Herodotus manages to mention six of the Seven Wise Men in the traditional list. They traditionally produce gnomic sayings, and Herodotus says the gnome, the proverbially phrased opinion, of Bias is in one instance “most useful,”chresimotate (1.170). Bias advised the Ionians to abandon their territory and colonize in the West, while Thales, at the same point of the narrative, has given them the equally good advice that they federate around their geographical mid-point, Teos.
Herodotus records such advice, himself offering not advice but the result of an enquiry. Custom presumably kept the Ionians from taking either set of good advice, as custom at an earlier point had kept Croesus from drawing the full conclusion from Solon’s advice. Yet he is saved by whispering Solon’s name on what was to have been his funeral pyre.
Solon’s wisdom is partly occasioned by a mission not unlike Herodotus’ own. He is travelling for theoria, observation—but this is a “pretext,” prophasin (1.29). His real purpose is to give ten years of his absence to the laws, the nomoi or pattern observances, that he has promulgated “so that he should not be compelled to loose any of the laws he had established.” Had he stayed in Athens, the earlier nomos would have undone his nomoi; he would have been heeded, finally, no more than Bias or Thales.
Croesus asks Solon if he has “seen any man more blest than all others” (30). Solon first names the Athenian Tellus, and he gives three reasons for Tellus’ happiness: his wealth, his satisfaction as a parent of noble sons, and his heroic death in battle. On further inquiry, Solon ranks after Tellus the brothers Cleobis and Biton, who, replacing the usual oxen, drew their mother’s cart to the temple of Hera and died of heartstrain.9 But when pressed further, Solon simply puts the days of man into a linear succession (32): 26,250 days. And “In all is man circumstance” (“pan esti anthropos sumphorē”). After some reasoning he gives what is a proverbial conclusion: “we should wait till a man is dead and call him not yet blest but fortunate.”
Of course Solon offers the example of Tellus out of a fund of common Greek, and human, proverbial wisdom. And yet if he had followed just this he would never have promulgated the laws of Athens. He can say this much and still be on safe ground—except that it angers Croesus, who as a Lydian and a king would like more to be made of earthly prosperity. It is a set of tales meant to be cautionary to Croesus, as Croesus’s whole story, in which it is embedded, is cautionary for the progress of the Persian empire.
Thucydides, who never mentions Herodotus by name, is understood to be criticizing him particularly when he taxes the logographoi for “putting things together” (xunethesan) in such a way that, “more persuasive than true,” these things remain unexamined (anexelenkta) and “win out” towards the “mythy” (muthodes) (1.21). Muthodes means both “story-dominated,” as Herodotus surpasses his contemporaries in being, and “false,” a usage which in fact is Herodotus’ own sense for the word muthos. As for the actually verifiable facts taken one by one, Herodotus, in the several cases where his account conflicts with Thucydides’, tends to surpass him in accuracy, as Myres points out (pp. 17-18).
Thucydides, who uses muthodes in the sense of “storytelling” in Gomme’s gloss, has already distinguished the logographoi from the poets. He goes on to characterize his own work as the opposite, as “non-mythy” (me muthodes, 1.22.4), a phrase which must include something more than storytelling, since he does also tell stories. His own work entails “accuracy” (akribeia) thereby, or a “precision” which makes the particular that sort of tight fit with the general that Herodotus neither achieves nor, we may imagine, could achieve. In Herodotus’ time, thirty years or more before Thucydides, philosophical discussion about the relation of the particular to the general had not yet definitely developed into the nearly Platonic point we find in Thucydides’ writing.
The cautionary tale in Herodotus—and all tales in Herodotus have a cautionary side—relates fact to explanation, and thus the particular to the general, in a looser way than the tight pattern of Thucydides would permit. Herodotus gets some of the aura of persisting question from divine myth out of his story by not attaining the strict and austere pattern that Thucydides imposes. Thucydides has one story to tell, a totally exemplary one. Herodotus’ stories hover between the one and the many, and the uncertain or certain presence of mediation between divine favor, human intelligence, and ethnic proclivity keeps the single exemplum from having a universal application. Thucydides returns the analytic intelligence to the method of Homer; it is free to penetrate events and see them once more as cyclic.
Herodotus inserts his reference to the fact that “there is a cycle of human events” (“kuklos tōn anthrōpēōn esti prēgmatōn,” 1.207) in a story. Croesus uses it to counter the advice of the Persian counselors who would have Cyrus defend himself rather than attack the queen of the Massagetae. Croesus, having adduced this principle of the wheel of fortune (the cyclic view become gnomic, and drawn from Croesus’ own bitter experience of ups and downs), goes on to the military principle that attack is the best defense. The advice is qualified by the actual result: Cyrus loses his life on this campaign. Later Croesus almost loses his, too, from Cambyses’ delayed resentment over this very advice (3.36).
Herodotus has taken simple prudence and applied it to the whole course of world history in his time, displacing mythic explanations while putting together an equivalent for the force of finality in myth. Thus the motifs of repetition, “wise alien counsellor” or “misinterpreted oracle,” are not sufficient in themselves to do his work. Still less so are those motifs that we might catalogue in our own indices as repeating patterns from various cultures: the motif of the son marked for death on the hunt (Atys), or the motif of the humble child rescued from a death sentence delivered to avoid an oracle, who then becomes a king (Moses, Christ, Oedipus, Cyrus). Motifs map the recursive, where Herodotus is so fully preoccupied with the successive that he will include the recursive only randomly.
A persistent change underlies these patterns, but it is not really an overriding principle of change. It is “custom,” rather, that is “king of all.” As Collingwood remarks, the Greek commonplace about the necessary variability of fortune is not deterministic (p. 23). The divine power, on its incursion, is said to be “destructive and disturbing” (phthoneron kai tarachodes, 1.32). But the incidence of incursion is itself uncertain, and there is such a thing as divine favor: Cyrus’ survival is such a providential happenstance, and Croesus’ preservation occurs at the hands of Apollo, on whose shrine he had heaped offerings; the last mention of Croesus tells how Croesus saved Miltiades (6.37). What Vernant argues (p. 124) of the dynameis in Hesiod, and what is deducible from two key terms in Anaximander, applies even more forcefully to Herodotus, that in these powers there is a relation between justice (dike) and chaos or the unbounded (apeiron). The instability between particular and general in Herodotus is thus uncertain enough to make a possible irony play over his text.
If we look, with Bury (pp. 69-70) and others, for Herodotus’ governing criteria of inquiry, we find ourselves applying the historian’s passing remarks to individual facts. We may say, with Bury, that Herodotus suspects miraculous occurrences, keeps an open mind before confiicting accounts, and prefers a firsthand account. But all these principles come down to the same thing, really, and none bears on the principle of organization. Homer’s Trojan War is itself a mythic past; if the present is to be measured by a legendary past—as it is occasionally in tragedy from Oedipus Rex to the Ion, as well as in the Trojan plays of Euripides—then different principles are called for.
Advice is often given by agents in Herodotus; and the principles on which it is given are gnomic or analytic. The advice only has a divine cast if it has a divine source, the oracle. Candaules does not heed Gyges’ advice, and he suffers—at the hands of Gyges. Croesus does not heed Adrastus’ advice, and he suffers—at the hands of Adrastus. This is a motif. But Cyrus heeds the advice of Croesus, and still he suffers. It is a divine portent, a dream, that leads him to change his mind. The dream repeats itself; then it comes a third time, to Artabanus; Xerxes heeds the complex of advice, human and divine, and suffers. This too is a motif (as in Mimnermus, 2.15-16, Solon 13.5-6 West, etc.). When Artabanus advises Xerxes not to carry through his intent of dressing Artabanus up as Xerxes and putting him on Xerxes’ throne so that Artabanus can have the same dream, Xerxes does not heed his advice, repeating the first motif. Artabanus does dream the same dream and changes his advice, combining the first motif with the second.
The human is here not sorted out from the divine, and Herodotus is not offering advice himself. He is weaving advice, as a general view of the particular, into his own general view of several particulars. Gods, legend, historical events, and reports, are all presented on the same linear plane. Herodotus’ subject is “deeds great and also wondrous” erga megala íe kai thomasta (1.1), and deeds of men will therefore necessarily prevail. He will later say of Homer and Okeanos, it “carried the myth to its vanishing point” (“es aphaneston muthon aneneikas,” 2.23), and this is in the long ethnographic account of Egypt, which offers both a neutral ground and a point of origin as yet undiscovered for the Greek gods. In his account of the founding of Cyrene he covers some of the same ground as Pythian 4 (4.144-180), of course without any of Pindar’s afflatus of numinous partiality. His neutrality serves not only for Greece, but for the myths of other peoples, for the Persians with their retained Median magi whose presence, as West persuasively argues (though of Heraclitus rather than Herodotus) was pervasive in the Asia Minor where Herodotus grew up.
A neutral openness towards the operation of myth, without recourse at any point to the whole circular relation between general and particular posited by a myth-bound view of events, gives Herodotus’ stark linearity and his proto-ethnography room to come into relation, as law to case and general to particular. To say that law or custom (nomos) is king of all is to be at one remove from nomos, a remove with a power that can be made to cover all of recent history in the known universe.
The distinction made by the Greeks between those who spoke their language and all others—between “barbarians” and Greeks—would seem to have become usual in the Greek language with Herodotus. Homer does use the expression barbarophonoi, “br-br־speaking,” of the Carians (Iliad 2.867), but in a way that may not indicate a foreign language. Pindar’s one use of barbaros (Isthmian 6.24) also refers purely to speech. Heraclitus’ inclusion of the magi among those to whom he preaches (Diels 22.В14) already posits the sort of ethnic equivalence to be found in Xenophanes’ view of the relativism of tribal gods, the Ethiopians making their gods snub-nosed and black, the Thracians mакing theirs blue-eyed and red-headed (Diels 21.В 16). And Heraclitus’ attribution of “barbarian souls” (Diels 22. В 107, “barbarous psuchas”) to those whose eyes and ears are bad witnesses goes even further than this in changing the term from a social description to a psychological one (Nussbaum). Still, the word barbaros does not occur very often before Herodotus; he uses it more than two hundred times. Framing the distinction between Greeks and barbaroi as a regular part of his discourse, Herodotus removes it to a plane of ethnographic neutrality, saying of the Egyptians that they called those who did not speak their language barbaroi (2.158).
The Egyptians are more neatly opposite the Greeks than those other barbaroi, the Persians. And the xenophobia of the Scythians—Herodotus tells of the “penalties they exact from anyone adding a foreign custom” to Scythian, as the half-Greek Scyles was beheaded for doing (4.80)—makes them, in this regard, hyper-Greek. To introduce a lengthy ethnographic account right after the death of Cyrus at the hands of the more savage Massagetae in the North allows Herodotus to kill two birds with one stone, and to do so before the Persians muster for all the complications leading up to the Greek expeditions. He can define both Persians and Greeks by reference to the Scythians who, differing from both, more clearly resemble the Greeks at certain points.
The Egyptians generally resemble the Greeks in being civilized. They also resemble the Persians in this, as Cambyses seems not to recognize, perhaps because he is blinded by the very ethnological differences which Herodotus unfolds before he returns to the conquests of Cambyses, with which he begins Book Two (2.1).
The Egyptians are not only counterparts in Herodotus’ time to the Greeks, a mirror sometimes reversing and sometimes merely reflecting;10 they are also in their dim past a solution to Hesiod’s questions about origins. The Greek gods originated not in a theogonie series, but by distant acculturative borrowing; they originated in Egypt (2.49-52). And yet the Egyptians are not the oldest people on earth. They are the oldest people but one. They themselves wished to inquire who the earliest people were,11 resembling in their curiosity both the Ionian philosophers and Herodotus himself. This is the first thing we are told about them, that Psamettichus located the inquiry in the sphere of—language (2.2). Infants were isolated from birth and carefully watched to discover what their first word would be. Their babble finally produced the word bekos, the Phrygian word for bread. The Egyptians, who stand as an origin for the Greeks in time, themselves have comparable predecessors, the Phrygians. This story sets up the ethnographic relativism on all sides, in time as well as space, through an almost Heraclitean proportion: the Phrygians are to the Egyptians as the Egyptians are to the Greeks. But the Egyptians like the Greeks are endowed in that present, as the Phrygians presumably were not, with the means to inquire into the fact. And that the distinction hinges on language closes the circle on the term barbaroi, underlying which is a vast temporal dispersion. Later the Scythians (“youngest” of peoples, 4.7) stand as counterparts to their predecessors, the Cimmerians (Cimmerian: Scythian as Egyptian: Greek), and as opposites to somewhat older peoples like the Greeks and the Persians.
Herodotus begins the story of the Egyptian campaign with a long ethnographic essay; he has just ended his account of the campaign among the Massagetae with a short one, itself balancing not only the Egyptian account that follows but the Babylonian that precedes (1.192200); to be balanced itself by the more expanded account in Book Four —which mainly balances that of the Southern Egyptians—of those main Northerners, the Scythians, with whom the Massagetae, their neighbors, are confused, as Herodotus here notes. This account of the Massagetae touches on most of the topics still of concern to the ethnological investigator:
The customs [nomoi] they use are the following: Each man marries a wife, but they use them in common. The Greeks say the Scythians do this; it is not the Scythians who are doing it but the Massagetae. When a Massagete man desires a woman he hangs his quiver before her wagon and has intercourse with her freely [adeos; literally, “without fear”]. No particular boundary of the lifecourse is set down for them. But at the point when a man becomes old, those who belong to him gather together and sacrifice him, and some domestic animals along with him. Then they boil the flesh and have a feast. This is accounted the most blessed condition among them; a man who dies from sickness they do not eat but bury in the earth, considering it a [bad] happenstance that he did not get to the point of being sacrificed. They sow nothing, but they live from livestock and fishes, which come unstintingly for them from the river Araxes. They are milk-drinkers. They worship the sun alone among gods, to whom they sacrifice horses. This is the rationale [noos] of the sacrifice: on the swiftest of all the gods they bestow the swiftest of things mortal.
Here we are given the marriage-customs, and even the relation between the incest taboo and the marriage classes (adeos) is touched on, as is a neutral expression for clan organization (“those who belong to him,” hoi prosekontes, a term whose ethnological neutrality is obscured if we render it “kin”). While we do not have here the age-grouping traditional in primitive societies, there is a major discrimination about when one becomes old. This is tied in with funeral customs, a theory of what constitutes a life well lived, diet, source of food supply, economic organization, religion, and even a bit of theology. The modern field investigator could not add much to the list except detail under these headings and analysis. But of course Herodotus’ narrative presentation already constitutes analysis of an important kind. The anthropological insight of seeing people in the relief of their contrasts of mores is fed into the historical insight of seeing a particular sequence of events that interacts with mores.
Herodotus’ succinct list of the customs and ways (ethea kai nomoi, 2.35) in which the Egyptians are diametrically opposed to other nations is preceded by the explanation of this divergence, that their climate is other (ourano heteroio) and their river has a different nature (phusin alloien). Through this principle of mediation, geography has the same status as history in his inquiry, though of course at the point of the inventive link between them both are also transformed. The link of geography to custom, preceding the link of custom to historical event at this point of his account, gives one reason why the geographical account of Egypt largely precedes his ethnographic survey, and also why the question of the exact boundaries of Egypt geographically are partially defined by, and define, the moral properties of this people, as of others. Boundary disputes are partially settled by questions of ethnographic discrimination, and vice versa. The Libyans who do not wish to eat cows’ flesh get a geographical-boundary reply when they ask the oracle at Ammon their dietary question (2.18), and Lévi-Straussian correlations between the map and the sources of diet, as in L’Homme Nu, only serve to put this connection in potentially algorithmic terms.
At the point of geographical remoteness the resemblances between peoples get more remote and the contrasts sharper, as with the Arimaspians who have just one eye (4.14; 27) or the Amazons (4.110-117) or those Indians who have intercourse openly “like animals” and whose sperm is black to match the color of their skin (3.107). Most elaborately examined of the remote peoples are the Scythians of Book Four, where Herodotus is aware that he is actually dealing with various peoples who cover an indefinite but vast space. The accuracy of his account has been confirmed by modern archaeology, which has discovered that the Scyths are the “youngest” of peoples by tracing their arrival north of the Black Sea to about the seventh century B.C., when presumably the Second Millennium kingdom of Urartu (the Cimmerians?) would have fallen. Upon the Scyths there fell from heaven a gold yoke, a plow, a sword (sagaris, possibly “axe”), and a flask (4.5), which would account for the transition from nomadic to agricultural life, both ways of life being represented by Herodotus. The other peoples he surveys in this book may take us, with the Cimmerians and the Hyperboreans, all the way to the Baltic in the north, and across the vast Central Asian plain, whose extent and characteristics he faithfully sketches, to the forebears of the Tibetans, the Mongols, and the Huns. It is by his attention to customs (the Tibetans) and to appearance (the Mongols) that we are still able to ascribe an identification to the tribes he lists.
Egypt itself has an intrinsic interest, with a multitude of marvels (pleista thomasia) and, compared to other lands, more works of account (erga logou), which explains why Herodotus is lengthening his own account (mekuneon ton logon).12
Herodotus thus pursues ethnological inquiry both for its own sake and as an exploratory tool. The union of these two purposes keeps the general harnessed to the particular without either the philosophical abstractness of his immediate Ionian predecessors or the empirical disjunction of Hecataeus. The Egyptians explain the Greeks and the Greeks explain the Egyptians; explaining the Egyptians explains why the Persians were moderately unsuccessful at taking them over, as they were later to be unsuccessful at taking over the Greeks. Among the Greeks and the Persians, a dietary practice leads to decisions, though the Persians make their deliberations when drunk (1.13e), the Greeks when sober. Describing their attempts at conquest locates the Persians in a temporal sequence; they are defined by the unique course of their recent history rather than by recursive attributes of the label “alien” (barbaros) or submission, in their fashion, to an equivalent of the Homeric kingoriented society. For Darius is presented as choosing kingship from among the alternatives of tyranny, oligarchy, and democracy (3.8083). Such a choice is inconceivable in Homeric society, and even, we may say, in Persian. Darius is, so to speak, imagined as pervaded by a Herodotean consciousness in choosing to go with custom and be a king.
Ethnological relativism gives perspective not only to the historian Herodotus, but to the participants themselves, in the events he narrates. The Greeks have had all sorts of earlier interactions with Egypt (2.112121 and passim). The Milesian Thales and the Athenian Solon advise Croesus, and this Lydian in turn over a long span advises two Persian kings. By the very nature of rule in the internationalism of the sixth century and, according to Herodotus’ account, for long before as well as after, any dominant people is caught in the cross-currents of neighbors with like territorial aspirations but different social styles and customs. Croesus’ marshalling of forces is accompanied by appeals, of predictably varying degrees of success, to varied nations. Only a state as large as Persia in the culmination of his account is free of pressure from cross-currents, and even Persia has overreached in other directions before overreaching towards Greece.
The presence of alien advisers in the Persian court is in fact a mark of the sort of sophistication Mardonius evidences when he deplores the Greek practice of slaughtering their enemies on the battlefield instead of negotiating terms (7.9). We measure the Greeks, then, by the Persians, as earlier by the Egyptians; but the Persians are also measured against the complex international standard of Herodotus’History. There is no explicit comment on their custom of burying transgressors alive (7.14). Mere sophistication and mere syncretic tolerance of Lydian advice or Greek medicine will not protect the Persians from the inevitable consequences of their drive to power (even though the principle of accepting advice from former or prospective enemies accords implicitly with Machiavelli’s recommendation in The Prince about coopting former enemies).
Benardete sees the unfolding complex of international confrontation as a tool of logical contrast. It is also perhaps Herodotus’ most persistent temporal theme; time’s progression elaborately tests hard cases as the interweaving of events both binds in all the varied ethnic threads and also twists the fabric in unexpected directions. Always there are, for a given people, and presumably for the Greeks of at least a generation after the Persian Wars who are Herodotus’ audience and contemporaries, the customs to fall back on. Darius gives the nomoi as the crowning reason (3.82) why the Persians should choose monarchy, staying with the custom of their fathers, rather than democracy or oligarchy. At the same time Herodotus shows, with possible irony, forms of both democracy and oligarchy prevailing as the choice is made; the isonomia of democracy operates because the seven conspirators vote by a bare majority for monarchy; oligarchy, because there are only seven. And the unexpected does supervene as always. The king is to be chosen by a test: the man whose horse neighs first will be king. Darius becomes king through trickery—he has a groom surreptitiously bring the scent of a mare within reach of his own horse’s nostrils.
The true historiographer, in Hexter’s analysis, tends to tell a story. In doing so he must include in his story other data than those that would seem to be logically necessary to subsume the particular fact under the heading of a general law. On the side of the general, a logical argument does not constitute historiography. Gorgias’ “defense of Helen” is, rather, an imaginary legal brief, as are all the arguments of his rhetorical successors. There are, after all, legal briefs that are narrative in character and considerably longer than Herodotus. They are still not historiography, for they are dominated by the exclusive principle of subsumption to a legal code, even though we are given both general and particular in a narrative form. The psychological case history, too, is usually dominated by the exclusive subsumption of its data under the general principle of psychoanalytic causality, and the sociological study, pace Morton White, must be prevailingly synchronic and demographic in character rather than historical. It analyzes the characteristics of particular groups according to particular principles at a particular point in time. It is, in fact, endemically rather than exotically ethnological. Such studies, ethnological or sociological, as Oscar Lewis’s La Vida, subsume even verbatim narrative tapes to the general synchronic analysis of social groups.
Farther towards the generalizing extreme of the general-particular spectrum in verbal accounts of human behavior we have nothing so expansive as legal briefs and sociological studies and psychological case histories. We have legal codes, model summaries, statistics—and gnomic aphorisms. These are all generalizing-classifactory aids that can be borrowed by the historian: where the modern historian uses statistics, the ancient one uses the gnomic aphorism, bending it to a historiographie usage, and thereby showing, when compared with a tribal aphorist, an originality and a sophistication as great as those of the statistician compared with a primitive tallier of herds and goods. Herodotus dots his own account with aphorisms, and Tacitus is even more liberal with them.
Toward the general end of the spectrum for verbal discourse about human behavior, then, we can distinguish at least two classes of organized statement that are too dominated by generality to classify as historiography: case histories or briefs, and statistics or codes or aphorisms. In the narrative of history itself there is a sort of visionary point of connecting particular to general which the historian aims at through his vastly detailed cautionary narrative. However fully the data in modern academic historiography may be organized to present a brief, some indirection to the presentation will still remain to lurk under the case—whether presented narratively as a story or not—, some discontinuity between the cumulative answer and the implied question. A recent statistical study of slavery was probably taken correctly to be aimed, indirectly, at the adjustment of complex questions around the coming to a head of the American Civil War. Mere statistics on a social institution, however elegantly framed, would not have this force; there would be nothing lurking under them.
Herodotus has in mind, so to speak, a law that has not yet been encoded and could not be encoded. He then allows data to enter the linear narrative on a principle beyond that of the sort of coherence a brief would have. The historian is expansive by nature. He tells us that these tribes licked blood to confirm an oath. Or that Cambyses was depressed. Or that Mardonius made an offhand remark about the Greeks. Or that the wife of the false Smerdis was very frightened when she was feeling his head to see if he was an earless Mede.
In an individual story, “the accession of Darius” (3.60-86), the historian adds to those data whose particulars are easily subsumable under the general law of an imagined brief, a number of other particulars that are contributing to his vision. These constitute a sort of “visionary filler” above and beyond the account, and the reasons for including them are as hard to uncover as are the reasons why a novelist who sticks to his story about an adulterous union tells us what the menu was at the banquet where Emma Bovary and Rodolphe first struck up their acquaintance. And to code the constituents of this menu for their significations, along the lines of Roland Barthes’s elaborate scheme (1970), would still not account for the logical necessity of their presence in the stream of the story. The historian, too, uses visionary filler, and every detail of it is tested on the new principle Herodotus invents, by the criteria of historie. These criteria would include not only, we may presume, the necessary condition that it be ascertainable as not false, but also the sufficient condition of contributing to what lurks under the story. This would be so for the oral and eyewitness reports of the first half of the Egyptioi logoi or the document-sources he says he is following for the last half (2.99). Herodotus is so magisterially linear that it is hard to isolate data and call them “visionary filler” as distinct from the “causal core” of his narrative. It is both his achievement and the condition he sets, in fact, to suspend our judgment of what exactly the causal core is, whereas in Thucydides and Tacitus it is much easier to tell.
Herodotus was seen a hundred years ago as naive, as lying very close to the particular end of the spectrum. At that end of the spectrum, too, are works that deal with human behavior in the past but do not constitute true historiography—works like the Domesday book, Villani, Geoffrey of Monmouth, Holinshed, Charon of Lampsacus, Seiden—the list would include, possibly, every supposed historian who wrote, every “historical document” we have, between Einhard and Vico. These chroniclers fall so near the particular end of the general-particular spectrum because their data is sorted along lines no more complex than those of random successiveness, or else in too simple a conformity to the Christian principle of divine will (Eusebius, Bede). Here the looseness between general and particular has an unformed character, communicating nothing of the visionary.
Of course even chroniclers have willy-nilly subjected their data to two principles of exclusion. The first, that of Whitehead’s “misplaced concreteness,” is the forever unknowable. As I sit writing, there are millions of data, including all the particulars of the momentary chemical constitution of my body, which arguably have at least some bearing on my behavior, and so on my participation in lived history. But these are forever unknowable. My temperature is not being taken, nor are my blood pressure, blood sugar, and hemoglobin being measured. The second principle of exclusion is that of “displaced concreteness.” The chronicler of the city where I live might know who I am and still not list me by name in the annals of the city.
The true historian, as Hexter tells us, works on a principle of still more discriminating exclusion. He not only counts oxen but not people, as the Domesday Book does; he also decides to exclude the complete Congressional Record debate on the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as mysteriously not bearing on the special general-particular weave he has in mind.
Still more telling is the historian’s principle of inclusion, the visionary filler he chooses to include, and Herodotus here resembles the modern historian in the principle of relating particular to general. The quotation from Namier that is the epigraph for this chapter could be taken for an implied summary of Herodotus.
In the case of Herodotus there is a large accumulation of particulars in time to define and classify an entity, “Persia.” Seeking in the dimmest past for the first incursion of Europe into Asia, which incited Persia to a delayed counterattack, he singles out and “indicates this one man” (touton semenas, 1.5), a particular person, Croesus. We classify Croesus with reference to other aggressors, and there is a typically Lydian form of aggression, which differs from the typically Persian. Lydian is midway between Persian and Greek, both geographically and psychologically. The conquest of some larger entity, Egypt, succeeds upon the conquest of Lydia. Elaborate comparisons, the drawing of some kind of general law from particular cases of aggression, are being built up, as Benardete revealingly argues. The Egyptians are like the Greeks in space—one of a series of projected Persian victims. The Egyptians also resemble the Greeks in time: they stand as the true origin for what is most intimately Greek, the Olympian pantheon and its cult practices. After narrating the partial conquest of Egypt, Herodotus passes to a Greek principality midway between Persia and Egypt, Samos (3.39-59).
Many changes are rung on the motif of aggression, all leading up to the culminating act of aggression: the long, disjunct attack of Persia upon mainland Greece. Particular cases are building up a sense of what is peculiarly Persian and what is universally human in these aggressions. And to wage war there must be a leader, who may have come to power through a power struggle analogous to war. Consequently we are given many story “pediments” of accession.
Accessions, like aggressions and most other things in Herodotus, tend to take on an international cast. The Medes and, at an earlier generation, the Lydians, are complexly involved in the accession of Cyrus. And accessions also have an ethnic flavor. There is a “Persian” style of accession: it usually involves some form of the introjection (rather than suppression: conflict is the defect of this quality of assimilation) that the Persians have performed on the Medians they conquered and left among themselves as dream-interpreters and counselors. The Mede Astyages gives his grandson Cyrus trouble, and four generations later the false Median Smerdis tries to carry off the trick of his Median forebear Deioces and act as the Persian Smerdis through the mechanism of bureaucratic invisibility.13
Four Persian accessions are described, those of Cyrus, Cambyses, Darius, and Xerxes (not counting a fifth interregnum, that of the false Smerdis). To fail to compare these is to assume that Herodotus just plunges randomly ahead. If compared, they may all be seen to conform to a Persian type of accession, a palace intrigue. Thus they differ from changes of power among the Athenians, which conform to a type of democratic power-group struggle; and among the Spartans, which involve interaction between the unstably balanced dual kings; and among the Egyptians, which in a long succession tend to exhibit the Egyptian style of smooth uniformity, here as in other aspects of their national life.
There are particular differences in the Persian accessions, a slackness of conformity between particular and general that allows for the visionary yield of Herodotus’ visionary filler. Darius’ is the longest, and it is also the most crucial. Cambyses’ is the shortest, a sudden happenstance occasioned by Cyrus’ absence on the ill-fated expedition against the Massagetae.
If we look at Darius’ accession, moreover (3.61-87), we find that the linear details each belong to a different sphere, though each belongs to a sphere where there are other Herodotean motifs. Cambyses, to begin with, dies because he is “struck” (etupse) with vexation (3.64), being insane anyway, that killing his brother Smerdis has not defused the dream prediction that he will be succeeded by Smerdis. He is thus preoccupied enough to leave his sword uncapped, and so receives a mortal wound in his thigh while mounting his horse. He is out on horseback because he has been ill-advisedly pursuing military campaigns so far afield that the false Smerdis could get a foothold at home.
Here we have the motif “conquest-obsession” in an especially virulent form, accompanied by the further motif of the indeflectibility of an oracle. Croesus and Astyages and Cyrus had experienced the latter (and so it is still further motif that oracles tend to apply to certain kinds of cases, to conquest-projects and to succession-conditions). Part of the indeflectibility-motif is the ironic feature that trying to prevent an oracle helps bring it about. Astyages’ special version of this feature is that any of his descendants is bound to be the “mule” the oracle says will sueceed him, since he is a Mede married to a Lydian (for reasons involving still other motifs). So it in fact changes nothing for Astyages to marry his daughter into the lower classes, to a Persian, an act that anyway perpetuates the “mule” form.
Smerdis’ takeover conforms to another motif: the effort at total bureaucratic control. His exposure involves still another: loyalty and betrayal in the unstable condition of the interracial marriage. The motif of conspiracy on alertly marshalled power-principles is still another; that of the debate-at-the-power-crossroads is a distinguishably different one with different conditions.
Each of the motifs in itself is a principle classifying particular instances under its general heading. But each of the separate motif-spheres in “the accession of Darius” differs enough from the others—oracles from seclusions and seclusions from conspiracies and conspiracies from discussions—to resist global classification. They must then, so to speak, be referred to the next higher level of englobing motif, that of “suecession” which in this instance includes all these disparate others. A succession is at once a unique instance, and an ethnic type, “Persian accession,” and a general motif in human affairs; and each one includes in its composition events which are “tinier” motifs.
The divine generally dominates all the motifs in Homer, who is also a historiographer insofar as he enunciates a special relation between particular and general, but not in the uncritical way he admits his data without testing them or their sources, and also not in the principle of motive, which is usually just psychological (the wrath of Achilles) or theological (the plan of Zeus). Herodotus puts the theological on the same plane as the psychological and the social and the ethnic, in a way that allows them to be differentiated only provisionally. The linear equivalence into which he organizes them motif by motif and event by event substitutes his own vision of the relation between general and particular (without the philosophizing of his Ionian contemporaries) for that relation between general and particular which is the communicative function of myth in all preliterate societies. Herodotus is a pioneer assimilator. His typical word for conjecture is “putting together” fact and fact, sumballo, a sense found earliest in him and in Heraclitus (B47).
“The godly in its existence is all destructive and also disruptive.” (“to theion pan eon phthoneron kai tarachõdes,” 1.32). This summary statement puts the source of myth in the position of a permanent source of the unexpected, an account of what is otherwise unaccountable. Such a view, which is not far from one modern anthropological explanation of religion in society, allows Herodotus to include the unaccountable in his own account without bending the whole account in its direction. Skepticism, taken by itself in his work, is incidental as it is applied to this or that specific datum, Oceanus or earthquakes at Delos. His belief, on the other hand, is more thoroughgoing in its effect on the narrative. Standing on a par with other accounts of events, it bends the whole narrative away from even a denial of the Homeric-Olympian view. The Olympian gods are accepted, and so are the chthonic mysteries, along with the oracles, which had proliferated in Greece since the time of Homer (who mentions only the one at Dodona). Their effect remains the same, while their relation to other factors in the mix of general and particular has undergone radical alteration. If its “existence is all destructive and disruptive,” the godly may not always be isolated as a factor in some unexpected event; it gets no mention in the sudden death of Aristagoras (5.126), though it does bear on the death of Cambyses (3.64).
Herodotus, in other words, is far more remarkable in his radical alteration of the relation of myth to language, of the gods to narrated time, than he is for his particular attitudes to the gods, where it is the old belief and not the new skepticism which determines the presentation of his inquiry, the apodexis of aitie. On the one hand the gods are always destructive and disruptive. On the other hand Herodotus performs a fantasy derivation upon the word theos; he derives it from the verb tithemi, to put in order, in the Pelasgian language, “They called them gods from the fact that they put all things in order and possessed all laws” (2.52). The power of fantasy for Herodotus in this attribution is shown in the fact that this is one of the few places where he contradicts himself in the text, for he had earlier said that the Pelasgians had an unintelligible tongue (barbaron glossan hientes, 1.57).
The gods as establishers of order, of both kosmos and nomoi, and the godly as a disruptive influence, have contradictory effects that together make up the antinomic power that myth tends to address in the first place. Herodotus turns this power, so to speak, into an intellectual principle, for in Herodotus’ history we have an account where disruptive particulars are loosely referred to a general order without being abstracted. Once the godly is on the same plane as all other happenings, differing only in its hidden, omnipotent source and its unpredictable effect, it can be seen either as disruptive or as ordering, depending on whether we take the short view of an episode in one place or the long view of a century in the known world, a long view it is Herodotus’ fundamental concern to establish, as he clearly says in his prologue reference to the rise and fall of cities.
“The godly in its existence is all destructive and also disruptive” is said by Solon as something he knows (epistamenon) to Croesus’ whom he is trying to warn. The giver of nomoi might well see the gods not as establishers of nomoi of their own but rather as a disruptive force. In saying this, of course, Solon is only acting in a way typical of the wise man. The gnomic saying is a version of what he goes on to say differently, “call no man happy till he is dead.” He says it in response to Croesus’ question about why Solon seems to be taking so little notice of Croesus’ own royal prosperity (eudaimonie). Solon replies, in effect, that daimon is ominously buried in eudaimonie, even if the less dynamic term to theion be applied to it. He is implicitly correcting Croesus’ language while explicitly correcting his idea, by removing it to that other plane, which the example of Cleobis and Biton illustrated, since they died unexpectedly and yet are to be accounted blest.
Here, as generally in Herodotus, the gods are seen only as they bear on a context, except when they are detached for ethnological inspection; and then the whole inspection is contextual in another sense. If the Greek gods were originally Egyptian in origin though Pelasgian in name (2.51-53), this tells us something about all three peoples, about their relations to the gods, and about their relations to each other. In another context the god delivers a distinct but cryptic message, the oracle.
It is congruent with his historical circumstances as well as with his incorporation of the divine in his historical narrative that oracles flourished particularly in the Greece where Herodotus was born. If he has from time to time what Eduard Meyer (p. 15) calls “grosse Scheu vor allen göttlichen Dingen,” he would seem to be scrupulous in his report of oracle-consultations and to be careful not to discredit their “truth” (8.77); oracles never fall within the purview of “displaced concretewness”—they are not something he would ever choose to omit, even though in some respects he is “not desirous of narrating such accounts as I have heard of godly things” (2.3). In this passage he goes on to adduce his crucial principle of human relevance for including them, “I consider that all men know about them equally; the ones I mention specifically, I shall mention when constrained by my account. They [the priests of Heliopolis] all agreed as follows . . .” (2.3.4). (I have rendered the aorist subjunctive by adding the adverb “specifically.”)
The oracles in Herodotus operate in a tension to the political events on which they provide either a window that a Cleisthenes (5.72) refuses to look through or a mirror that a Croesus takes for a window. If they are fulfilled, the fulfillment is not personal and not episodic: rather it tends to involve a significant and pregnant event, such as the fall of Lydia. Oracles surround Croesus at every point, and they crop up on the Greek side of the final long defense against the Persians. Dreams figure more prominently in Persian affairs than oracles do. The Persians, like the Greeks, are at once subject to, and heedless of, divination; but they have dreams and the Magi instead of the oracle and a priestess.
Among the Greeks the oracle serves as just another factor in the three-cornered struggle between Athens, Aegina, and Thebes (itself acted upon by Athens’ relations with Sparta, and involving Chalcis and Boeotia). What Namier says of nineteenth-century Europe (p. 170) could apply with equal force to the Greece of just before the Persian Wars—and for nearly a century after: “The game of power politics, in whatever terms it was played, normally made a neighbor into an enemy, and therefore the neighbor’s neighbor on the opposite flank into an ally.” Still another bribed oracle (5.63) is involved here, and the complications around the oracle tend to mirror, ominously, the complications of these struggles among Greeks (Kirchberg).
When the oracle stands fully on the ground of the supernatural, it tends to be simple, and just to fill in an ethnographic picture, as when the Italian Metapontines are told by the oracle at Delphi to believe in the reality of the ghost of Aristeas of Proconnesus, who appeared among them as he had appeared among those on his side of the known world (4.15). Referring the oracles largely to the crucial events in the activities of the polis points already to the desacralization that Vernant (p. 151) claims the polis to sponsor in general, as happens with astronomy in its growth away from the sacral Babylonian matrix. It is perhaps significant that seldom or never are Herodotus’ magi shown consulting the stars, and that the invention of the calendar by the Egyptians is presented in wholly secular terms, when for them it was intricately covered by religious significances and a sacred nomenclature (2.4).
The handling of the oracle by Herodotus instances in its political effect another version of his treating the sacred exactly as he does the secular. Arion (1.23-24) has the same status as Croesus and Xerxes, Darius and Cleomenes. And the same would seem to be true of Heracles (4.6; 2.45) and Perseus (7.61, 150), who exemplify what Ranke calls a “fusion of saga and history” in Herodotus (“Verbindung des Sagenhaften und Historischen,” quoted by Schadewalt, p. 198).
The gods are “material for what happens in poems” (hoi en poiesi genomenoi, 2.82), but Herodotus describes this function, at a hard and neutral remove from it, as he credits Homer and Hesiod with giving a theogony to the Greeks (2.53.2). Ascribing the Greek gods to the Egyptians allows him at once to de-theogonize them, to typify them beyond their names and some accidental functions, to relativize their ethnic individuality, and to place them firmly in the linear time line of his sequential account.
Herodotus’ judgment on events, as Myres (p. 46) and Heinrich Bischoff (p. 310) show, appears in the text indirectly, typically as a warning given by one person in the narrative to another. This approach when it is brought to bear on the traditional source and cause of events, the gods, keeps them massively in place as a sort of constant while Herodotus deliberately and at great length organizes the variables of his inquiry in time.
To become “the father of history,” Herodotus had to invent a sense of time beyond the “arrangement” (taxin) of Anaximander. Later Plato would go a step further, replace Hesiod’s stages of culture on his “great year” version of Herodotus’ millennial time span, and define time as the moving image of eternity (Timaeus, 38).
It is significant that Herodotus gives his longest spans of time among the Egyptians, who are “most adept at accounting” (logiotatoi) for the memory of human events (2.77). The change from eight gods to twelve was made “seventeen thousand years” before the reign of the sixth-century monarch Amasis (2.43), whereas Homer and Hesiod lived no more than four hundred years before Herodotus himself (2.53). It is in Egypt that the Phoenix occurs every five hundred years (2.72), a phenomenon linked with a transcendence of seasonal time in the mythology Detienne (1971) analyzes. Herodotus, like an Ionian physiologist, sees an archaeological range of time, ten or twenty thousand years, in the silting up of a river bed (2.11). Like Xenophanes, whom he perhaps follows in this, Herodotus supposes a primeval sea on the evidence of the seashells he has observed on mountaintops.
Otherwise he rarely gives time designations, except to coordinate events, the eclipse Thales predicted or the mention of Gyges in the poem of Archilochus. Inaros and Amyrtaeus (460-455 B.C.) are inserted into events of seventy years earlier, “flatly,” without any comparative timemarking, a practice Herodotus tends to follow when referring to events after the Persian Wars (3.15).
“In long time” (en to makro chrono), Solon says to Croesus, “there are many things to see that one would not wish, and many things to suffer” (1.32). The simple undifferentiated progress of time allows Herodotus sometimes to make his moral judgments implicit, as when he simply describes without any comment the un-Greek cruelty of the Persian practice of impalement or the caprice of Darius, who kills all the sons of Oiobazus because that old man had asked that at least one of them be spared the Scythian expedition (4.84). Xerxes goes Darius one better, cutting the body of Pythias’ eldest son in half in response to a similar request (7.39). The entire army is marched through with half this body on either side. To be sure, the Athenians do crucify the Persian Artayctes for violating women in a temple (7.33).
At other times he can also make the moral judgments explicit, as Pohlenz notes (p. 92). As Herodotus says of Pheretime at the very end of the Libyan campaign (4.205), “while alive she festered with worms, so that indeed for men whose vengeances are too violent, these become occasions for grudge (epiphthonoi) with the gods.” An evenness of time allows him to be indifferently implicit or explicit in his moral judgment, and also indifferently specific or general in the inferences drawn; the paratactic style here permits a “so that indeed/’ or “as therefore” (hos ara) to keep the relation between the instance and the gnomic maxim from being rigorously tight. The possibility of either stating or implying a sense to the event allows Herodotus that play of consciousness we call irony, which enters significantly in the same verbal set as his objectivity. It will undergo a rich development in Plato’s tonal definition of Socrates.
His judgments tend to be inconclusive; but then inconclusiveness is a feature of the loose fit between particular and general that characterizes the handling of time by historie. Herodotus’ whole work is inconclusive in a sense other than that it is unfinished, as Hermann Frankel describes this aspect of Herodotus’ paratactic style (p. 85), following Aristotle’s hints (ouden echei telos, Rhetoric 1409a). A linear range permits all possibilities, as Herodotus says, using the phrase “makro chrono” somewhat differently (5.9), “Anything might happen in the long span of time” (“genoito d’an pan en tō makrō chronō,” 5.9).
Paula Phillipson finds in Hesiod an “immense tension between the powers of Being and Becoming,” (diesen ungeheuren Spannungen zwischen den Mächten des Seins und des Werdens). The same tension between becoming and being is observable in two philosophers who are close contemporaries of Herodotus, Parmenides and Empedocles. Herodotus does not set up an abstract and terminological inquiry as they do. Rather, he patiently unravels all the complications of a single large event, thereby single-mindedly resolving such “tensions” in thought. On the plane of his events we are at the point of “becoming” till after the battle of Salamis, and even then there are a few particulars to recount, themselves of a highly interwoven complexity. And we are also, point for point, at the point of “being.” Structure and function, type and process, have been identified. The gnomic and the mythic have neither parted company nor been forced into a new union; they are simply utilized, along with every other datum, for a view of data in which what is to be analyzed and the mode of analysis have been identified with each other;historie makes the apodexis an aitie.