Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2009.08.05 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2009.08.05

Elizabeth Irwin, Emily Greenwood (ed.), Reading Herodotus: A Study of the Logoi in Book 5 of Herodotus' Histories.   Cambridge/New York:  Cambridge University Press, 2007.  Pp. xvi, 352.  ISBN 9780521876308.  $99.00.  

Reviewed by David J. DeVore, University of California, Berkeley (

Table of Contents

[The reviewer apologizes for the tardiness of this review.]

This collection of twelve essays, by twelve Anglophone scholars based in four countries, grew out of a Cambridge conference in July 2002. Each contributor applied individual autopsy to a specific logos from Book 5 of Herodotus. As Irwin and Greenwood explain in their "Introduction: reading Herodotus, reading book 5" (pp. 9-19), Book 5 was chosen because it stands at a transitional point in Herodotus' narrative, both thematically (the non-Hellenic ethnographies cease) and ethno-politically (the Ionian Revolt embroils mainland Greeks in Persian affairs). Contributors' only guidelines were "to respond individually as readers" to the text and "to trace the relevance of his/her logos in ever widening narrative contexts" (6). In doing this, the editors "hoped that the project of bringing together different readers to address the same book in concert, but with distinctive voices and guided by different logoi, would provide an apt demonstration of just how much may be required to read Herodotus in all his complexity" (1).

To convey some of the flavor of how the different essays jell as unit when read in succession, what follows summarizes, compares and (to a lesser extent) evaluates the main points from each of the volume's 12 voices.

Elizabeth Irwin, ""What's in a name?" and exploring the comparable: onomastics, ethnography, and kratos in Thrace. (5.1-2 and 3-10)".

Irwin argues that Herodotus juxtaposes her passage's Perinthian-Paeonian battle and the Thracian ethnography not accidentally at a geographical, and therefore textual, hinge. Throughout both logoi, Herodotus encourages readers to symballesthai (interpret and infer), just as the Paeonians' reflection on the onomata in a Delphic oracle delivers their victory over the Paeonians (5.1.2). Irwin further elucidates allusions to Athenian matters in the onomata of this logos, suggesting fairly convincing affinities between Herodotus' Paeonians and his Athenians. (Unmentioned in Irwin's treatment are both people's treacherous tendencies. Where the Paeonians attack the Perinthians after they have agreed to settle their dispute through a tripartite duel (5.1), Herodotus' Athenians constantly threaten or enact treachery toward their allies.)1 Irwin then locates the subsequent Thracian ethnography within a late fifth-century Athenian discourse on Thracians. His representation of their exceptional customs and analysis of their alleged powerlessness is compared to Thrakia in Sophocles' fragmentary Tereus, Thucydides' more directly power- and resource-driven remarks (esp. Thuc. 2.29 and 96-101), and Aristophanes' domesticating parody (Acharnians 141-71). Irwin's conclusion: both logoi present "different (Thracian) ways to talk about the same thing, contemporary Athens" (86).

Robin Osborne, "The Paeonians (5.11-16)".

Osborne singles out sources of power and the consequences of choice as salient themes in Persia's conquest of (most of) the Paeonians. Examples: Darius, on the one hand, can reward his Hellenic henchmen Histiaeus and Coes with tyrannies respectively in Myrcinus and Mytilene, and then conquer Paeonia as more or less an afterthought, for (5.12.1) he "sees for himself, desires, orders" (91). On the other hand, certain Paeonians choose ingeniously to elude Persian mastery by building elevated houses on Lake Prasias and catching fish through trapdoors (5.14-16).

David Fearn, "Narrating ambiguity: murder and Macedonian allegiance (5.17-22)".

Fearn builds on past scholarship about constructions of Greekness, kingship and (to a lesser extent) gender in Alexander of Macedon's assertion of Hellenic kingship.2 To Fearn, Herodotus "raises questions and problems concerning the ambivalence of Macedonian cultural practices" (114) by spotlighting (1) Alexander's symposiastic coup against his father Amyntas; (2) the new king's stealthy murder of Darius' envoys by sending crossdressing assassins to pose as the Persians' customary female symposiasts (a doubly bad performance of Hellenic xenia by Alexander?); and (3) his alleged (κῃ, 5.22.2) victory in the Olympic stadion (which the unreliable hellanodikai affirm, cf. 2.160).3 Like Irwin with the Paeonians, Fearn associates the tyrannical tendencies and ambiguous loyalties of the Histories' Alexander with contemporary Athens. Allusions to mythical exemplars (the Iliadic Paris for Alexander, the Odyssey's Laertes for Amyntas) further enrich this thick explication.

Emily Greenwood, "Bridging the narrative (5.23-7)".

One of the few Herodotean interests that Fearn largely omits, geography, emerges to direct audiences in Janus-like "reading backwards and forwards" (131), according to Greenwood's reading. Backwards: it is while crossing the Hellespont that Darius remembers how Histiaeus had rescued him from Scythia (5.11, cf. 4.97). Forwards: the Persian general Megabyzus' excuse for removing Histiaeus from Myrcinus, namely that Myrcinus supplies the wood and timber that could fund a revolt, "has an anachronistic colouring, calling to mind the importance of Thrace in the Pentekontaetia and the Second Peloponnesian War" (132). Moreover, Darius' recall of Histiaeus may echo stories about Pausanias and Themistocles. Greenwood is also one of the few authors in the collection to note economic structures: she presses the unHellenic juxtaposition of μισθὸν δωρεήν at 5.23.1, showing how the conflation of the asymmetrical exchange of misthos with symmetrical gift-exchange at the court of Darius characterizes both the Persian "commodification of advice" and (following John Gould) the Herodotean "give-and-take" economy of historical causation.4 (Greenwood appears to allude to Darius' now-famous epithet of κάπηλος, earned through his financially-driven administration of the Persian Empire (3.89.3).)

Rosaria Munson, "The trouble with the Ionians: Herodotus and the beginning of the Ionian Revolt (5.28-38.1)".

Munson continues the collection's stress on narrative transitions. Whereas the historian's statement, commonly cited among Herodoteans, that Athens' reinforcements for the Ionian rebels "came to be the beginning of misfortunes [ἀρχὴ κακῶν] for both Greeks and barbarians" (reviewer's translation, 5.97.3) has become a locus classicus among Herodoteans,5 Munson contextualizes the ἀρχὴ κακῶν into a lengthier causal chain: both 5.28 and 5.30.1 held that the Naxian-Parian disputes that prompted Aristagoras' machinations were the ἀρχὴ κακῶν--for Ionian Greeks, at least. Later, the equally famous 6.98 casts the vicious chain of ἀρχαὶ κακῶν beyond Herodotus' chronological boundaries: this proleptic observation of the coming κακά that the struggle for ἀρχή (here, "hegemony/rule/empire") produced points the reader to further evils down into the Peloponnesian War. Munson proceeds incisively through a careful reading of the Ionian protagonists' mixed motives ("imperialism as well as liberation," 156) and parallels between Milesian and later Athenian imperialism. Most fascinating is her creative reading of Aristagoras and Histiaeus as comic characters: she asks, e.g., whether the audience could take Aristagoras seriously when he fancies his rule over Miletus as a βασιληίη (5.35.1).

Simon Hornblower, "The Dorieus episode and the Ionian Revolt (5.42-8)".

Hornblower replicates Irwin's feat of proving a Herodotean digression's larger relevance, here with Herodotus' west Greek diversion from east Greek affairs. First, Dorieus mirrors but also contrasts his brother the Spartan King Cleomenes religiously and militarily. Hornblower also sees parallels between Sybaris in its fight against Croton and the Ionian first city Miletus, and in the verbal echo between Philippus of Croton's loyal liturgies at Cyrene and those of and Cleinias of Athens at Artemesium.

Christopher Pelling, "Aristagoras (45.49-55, 97)".

Pelling reads his title character more tragically than Munson's comic bungler. He investigates two terms associated with Aristagoras: first, διαβάλλειν ("throw words around," "slander" and "trick"/"put one over on," esp. 5.50.2, 5.97.2) fits both Aristagoras' and his interlocutors' acts. Second, Aristagoras' Lieblingswort, εὐπετής, consistently heralds tragically impossible situations (5.31, 5.49.3 and .8, 5.97.1). Pelling then defends Aristagoras' rationality in trying unsuccessfully to diaballein Cleomenes (5.49), in the light of both Cleomenes' own interventionism and previous Spartan expeditions the eastern Aegean (1.69f., 1.82f., 3.46-8, 148).6 Finally, Aristagoras' failed cartographically enhanced rhetoric with Cleomenes provokes a metaliterary reflection: does Herodotus expect his geographically informed apodexis (as at 5.52-4) to be any more persuasive than Aristagoras' (and Hecataeus', 5.36)?

Vivienne Gray, "Structure and Significance (5.55-69)".

Gray resumes the collection's now-familiar quest to uncover themes in her passage significant to the Histories as a whole. The Homeric ploy of pathetic digressions on fallen soldiers' lives indeed supplied Herodotus with a narrative model, though oddly Gray mentions this device not when she contextualizes Herodotus' lengthy tangent on the tyrannicides' Phoenician and Eretrian origins (5.57-62), but in discussing Hipparchus' "warning vision" of 5.56 (203). As for Cleisthenes' reforms (5.66-9), Gray frames them within Herodotus' general interest in ethnic tension and the relevance of names; in contrast to Munson, she plays down the historian's continual disparagement of the Ionians.

Johannes Haubold, "Athens and Aegina (5.82-9)".

Herodotus' digressive archaeology of Aeginetan-Athenian enmity, Haubold argues, constitutes a "shift from a history of the gods to a history of humans...a gradual and complex shift which is never complete and always remains open to modifications" and thus a questioning of epic causalities (230). Particularly sensitive is his treatment of Herodotus' sunkrisis of the two explanations for the failed Athenian theft of Aeginetan cult statues: did the gods prevent a lone Athenian crew from dislodging the statue (5.85), or did a numerically superior Argive-Aeginetan force defeat several ships of Athenian marines (5.86)?7

John Moles, ""Saving" Greece from the "ignominy" of tyranny? The "famous" and "wonderful" speech of Socles (5.92)".

Moles' subtle touch fingers some fundamental questions about Herodotean discourse. Noting nine (!) previous scholarly interpretations of 5.92, he stresses the speech's "strong muthos qualities" (248) and sets about disentangling both internal and external audiences' reception of the speech. First, the Spartan direct audience, though its response goes unmentioned (cf. 5.93), was perhaps shamed when Socles invoked Sparta's past defense of isokratiai against tyranny (5.92α.1). Second, the indirect audience of Sparta's other allies (who go unnamed), while taking courage in Socles' resistance to their Spartan hegemon, would loathe the potential for tyranny represented in the "figured speech" about Cypselus and Periander (5.92e-g). Third, the meta-audience composed of Herodotus' readers would find confirmation of the historian's own hostility toward tyrants,8 though attentive readers might detect discrepancy between Socles' speech and Periander's character elsewhere in the Histories (e.g. a page later at 5.95.2!). Thus, "one man's tyrant can be another man's king,...and...even the tyrant can play a positive role in the imposition of law over previous disorder--even, perhaps...within ultimately 'equal governments'" (258).

A parallel Herodotean "historical irony" applies to the democratic-(in Herodotus' time but not at 5.92)-yet-tyrannical Athens (262). Does Herodotus imply that the Spartan coalition of 504 should have reinstated Hippias and risked the moral outrage of an individual tyrant? "Wrong," answers Moles (263), for in this counterfactual scenario Sparta would have emerged as the tyrannical power had she deposed Athens' isokratia. Less convincing is Moles' parting induction (265f.), from the Herodotus'/Socles' metatextual warning against inherently abominable tyranny, that the Histories as a whole had a specifically moralistic purpose ("a great libertarian text," 268). Besides 5.92, Moles only goes so far as to support his moralistic Herodotus by an appeal to "historiographical tradition"--but he only supports this point by citing ("E.g. ...") Diodorus, Livy and Tacitus (265, nn. 96-8)! Nonetheless, a more explicit and focused debate about whether or to what extent the Histories were moralistic (and what we mean by this) would be welcome, especially after the past generation and more of scholarship since Immerwahr has alerted us to Herodotus' sophisticated narrative and rhetorical techniques.9 How does Herodotean description translate into prescription?

Anastasia Serghidou, "Cyprus and Onesilus: an interlude of freedom (5.104, 108-16)".

Serghidou asserts that "the geographical and cultural liminality of Cyprus furnishes Herodotus with a convenient symbolic counterpart to his treatment of the Ionian Revolt" (272). Thus, though the most rebellious Cypriot poleis, Salamis and Soli (whose names may evoke the Attic polis and lawgiver, respectively), show clear Hellenic acculturation and loyalty, the Salaminian monarch Onesilus shows ("'Eastern'") autocratic traits. How (un-)Hellenic these and other such these cultural structures and practices were remains up for debate, Serghidou shows.

John Henderson, ""The Fourth Dorian Invasion" and "The Ionian Revolt" (5.76-126)".

Ranging the most widely in Herodotus' text is John Henderson's contribution (though the essay keeps coming back to 5.76). In typically idiosyncratic style, Henderson justifies his reading of Cleomenes' "fourth Dorian" invasion of Attica in the context of the Histories' many far-reaching imperialisms and (taking a Foucaultian step past Osborne's essay) concomitant knowledge. He then brings the collection to an (ironically) neat summation by tracing "the poetics--the metapolitics--of esbole" through an "off-centre passage" (297). He pinpoints numerous allusions throughout the chain of invasions in the Histories starting with 5.76 to events in the Peloponnesian War: highlights include the four Spartan invasions into Attica during the Peloponnesian War (whence Henderson's title), the repeated stress on Plataea and Decelea, and Thucydides' Spartan ambassador echoing Herodotus on ἀρχὴ κακῶν (5.97.3, Thuc. 2.12.2f.). Henderson then traces Herodotus' discursive causality from Cleomenes' foreign policies to the Spartan invasion (and the "?fifth? 'Dorian invasion' non-episode" of 5.90-3 (306)) to the Athenian naval awakening, which brings the two mainland Hellenic imperialists to their contemporary status as rival powers. "The Histories are pledged to halt the march of expansionist empires right here, on the outskirts of Attica," Henderson gnomizes (309, among numerous other observations).

As the preceding summaries aim to suggest, the collection achieves its aim of promoting a multiplicity of interpretive experiences for Histories 5. The essays are generally trenchant and nuanced, and cover more than just the themes the editors choose to highlight in the introduction (Greek politics--particularly criticism of Athens--Greek ethnicity, and historiographical representation): Persian power structures, political geography, early Greek rhetorical technique, and the undertones of Herodotus' wordplay also recur frequently. Regularly I found myself rushing back to a Herodotean passage I'd read several times before to observe it from a different angle, or flipping back from, say, Henderson's piece to see whether Irwin reinforced or disputed his point about "political dialectic sloganized through this family of puns" (303 n. 50).

It must be noted, however, that the collection's greatest strength, namely thick coverage of Book 5, may also prove to be its greatest weakness, i.e. a narrow focus. While all the essays contextualize their respective logoi quite solidly and at times brilliantly within the Histories, fewer take the more daring step of drawing fresh conclusions about the totality of Herodotus' project. Put another way: insights concerning a character, an ethnic or political group, or rhetorical and structural tactics come frequently; but original thoughts on characterization, ethnicity, politics, rhetoric, and structural strategy are more scarce.

The thick but narrow focus of the volume as a whole makes it a must-read for Herodoteans, though historiographers and Greek prose specialists too will profit from a careful study of it with Book 5; and certainly, any scholar researching any passage in Histories 5 will have to consult it (with the aid of its excellent index locorum). Most recommended for Hellenists generally are those essays that manage to transcend the confines of specific logoi to reach broader insights about Herodotus' project. This group includes Irwin's (on Herodotus' participation in Athenian ethno-political discourse), Munson's (on causation and humorous characterization), Henderson's (on narratival engagement with contemporary power structures), and especially Moles' (on relations among types of audiences and embedded political theory).


1.   On Athenian characterization in the Histories see most recently E. Baragwanath, Motivation and Narrative in Herodotus (Oxford, 2008), esp. chs. 5 and 9.
2.   Particularly E. Badian "Herodotus on Alexander I of Macedon: a study in some subtle silences", in S. Hornblower (ed.), Greek Historiography (Oxford, 1994).
3.   In adopting (manipulating?) the symposium and the Olympics, presumably so as to affirm their own Selbstdarstellung as Greek, but then inviting the "women" in to satisfy the Persian envoys' nomoi, do the Macedonians parallel the Persians as ("barbarian") appropriators of others' customs (Hdt. 1.135)?
4.   J. Gould, Herodotus (New York, 1989): ch. 4; "Give and take in Herodotus" in id., Gift, Ritual, Memory and Exchange. Essays in Greek Culture (Oxford, 2001). Greenwood's discussion supplements the discussion of Darius as economic innovator in L. Kurke, Coins, Bodies, Games, and Gold: the Politics of Meaning in Archaic Greece (Princeton, 1999), 68-88.
5.   At least since Fornara pressed it in advocating Herodotean opposition to Athenian imperialism. See Fornara, Herodotus: an Interpretive Essay (Oxford, 1971), 12 and 76. In this book alone, the editors (10), Hornblower (171f.), Haubold (244) and Henderson (300) all refer rather casually to 5.97.3, and the index locorum shows a dozen other appeals to 5.97 as a whole.
6.   Though it comes shortly after the Aristagoras-Cleomenes meeting, Pelling does not mention 5.63.2f. Here the first Spartan anti-Pisistratid force invades Phaleron; a second, more successful force comes by land under Cleomenes, who pointedly scraps the marines and succeeds (5.64f.; cf. Henderson at 302). Could this pair of events have amounted to a further signal of a Spartan retreat from naval warfare?
7.   The "Athenian" appeal here to the supernatural diverges from the general scarcity of supernatural agency in most Athenian logoi in Herodotus. See O. Murray, "Herodotus and Oral History" [1987], reprinted in N. Luraghi ed., The Historian's Craft in the Age of Herodotus (Oxford, 2001): 29-34. Murray's trenchant observation that the extent of supernatural elements from logos to logos tends to correspond to putative geographical provenance has not received the attention that it warrants, even though the essay is frequently cited (but cf. Murray's later reflections in "Herodotus and Oral History Reconsidered," also in Luraghi, ed., 2001).
8.   Though Moles does not cite him, Donald Lateiner showed the pervasiveness of Herodotus' hostility to tyrants in The Historical Method of Herodotus (Toronto, 1989), ch. 7.
9.   See e.g., L. Kurke, Coins, Bodies, Games, and Gold (Princeton, 1999): esp. chs. 1-4 passim; T. Harrison, Divinity and History. The Religion of Herodotus (Oxford, 2000): esp. ch. 4; R. Thomas, Herodotus in Context: Ethnography, Science and the Art of Persuasion. (Cambridge, 2000): ch. 4; R. Munson, Telling Wonders: Ethnographic and Political Discourse in the Work of Herodotus (Ann Arbor, 2001), passim; N. Fisher, "Popular Morality in Herodotus," in E.J. Bakker et al. (eds.), Brill's Companion to Herodotus (Leiden, 2002); J. Griffin, "Herodotus and Tragedy" in C. Dewald and J. Marincola (eds.), The Cambridge Companion to Herodotus (Cambridge, 2006); Baragwanath (2008), passim.

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