BMCR 2004.02.03

Herodotus and His World: Essays from a Conference in Memory of George Forrest

, , Herodotus and his world : essays from a conference in memory of George Forrest. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003. xiii, 376 pages ; 23 cm. ISBN 0199253749 $85.00.

This volume collects nineteen essays dealing with a wide variety of both broad and narrow topics related both directly and obliquely to Herodotus. There are close-range studies of the text, both textual criticism per se and literary studies, analyses of Herodotus’ chronology, his military narratives, his religious concerns, and such major topics as his relationship to Athens and his portrayal of democracy. The quality of the submissions is high, but some highly technical pieces may appeal only to a small audience.

Despite the subtitle, only a few of these essays mention the July 2000 Oxford conference at which Forrest was honored and not many more mention Forrest in any way. One contributor even dedicates her piece to an Herodotean scholar other than Forrest. Some readers, those in the distant future perhaps, will miss information about George Forrest, the man, even his dates. The editors give a very brief introduction, referring readers to an article in BSA for Forrest bibliography. The Preface, however, concludes with a sprightly dedicatory poem that in its conclusion rhymes “spectacles” with “testicles.”

The editors have mustered the pieces into four divisions: Narrative, Peoples and Places, Religion, and Herodotus and Athens. Given its genre it is understandable that the volume has no overarching thesis. Moreover, readers looking for Gallic anthropological theory or the latest literary -ism will be disappointed. What we find here is solid, old-fashioned scholarship marshaled often with originality and even touches of humor.

For the purposes of this review we will address first those essays with the broadest topics and proceed to the more specialized works. Further, we will try to make some logical connections that bridge the editors’ categories.

To be sure, the volume ends on perhaps its highest note with Davies’ “Democracy Without Theory.” Here Davies, whose contributions to our understanding of Athenian democracy are well known, writes from a fresh perspective. He treats democracy not as a remote ideal (the “theory” of the title) that the Athenians tried gradually to achieve, but as a set of haphazard pre-existing conditions that accidentally fell into place with certain practical things the Athenians wanted or needed in their state. These needed things were both what they wanted, in a positive sense, and (significantly) what they wanted to avoid. Davies lists five preconditions for democracy (such as a system of laws and a set of political institutions), none of which need be intrinsically democratic. There are, it turns out, six of these political institutions: a king or magistrate, a council, an assembly, festivals and cult practices, codification of law, and finally the creation of tribes or “parts” of the body politic. Davies presents a dizzying series of numbered arguments such as “seven dangers and their prevention” (326-31) and three “generators” (334-35), but readers may find his the most significant contribution in the book.

If division into tribes is an important precondition for democracy, we must mention here the implicitly related piece by Salmon: “Cleisthenes (of Athens) and Corinth.” Salmon argues interestingly that the division of Athenian citizens into ten tribes was inspired by the Corinthian tyrant Cypselus’ creation of eight tribes, an historical irony not lost on this scholar.

In the pages that precede Davies, Fowler makes some conventional but often acute observations about “Herodotus and Athens,” among them the comment that one must ask “which Athens” (305). Fowler also sees complexity in the question of Herodotus’ regard for Athens: he was neither a blind advocate nor a bitter critic. Still, Fowler’s essay seems to rest on a dubious assumption, or at least exaggeration: “The environment in which Herodotus lived and worked [sc. Athens] fundamentally shaped his view of the past” (306). Herodotus has much more to say about Delphi than Athens, and some have even wondered whether Herodotus went to Athens at all. Harrison’s observations on the importance of oracles for Herodotus (see below) seem apposite here.

The Religion section in the book hangs together more comfortably than the rest. Most far-reaching is Harrison’s reprise of parts of his recent book, to ask fundamental questions: “‘Prophecy in Reverse’? Herodotus and the Origins of History.” If the future can be foretold, the past can be retold. We can look for the origins of the historian’s “fatalistic sense of the mutability of fortune” (243) not in Homer but in the theology of oracles. Very similar in approach and extremely charming are the brief reflections of the late Professor Gould: “Herodotus and the ‘Resurrection’.” With exquisite sensitivity, as one would expect, Gould reflects upon how Herodotus would have viewed a WW II incident in which a mural by Piero della Francesca was fortuitously saved from the bombardment of Borgo San Sepulcro.

Also in this section H. Bowden’s “Oracles for Sale” redefines the job descriptions of chresmologoi and manteis and concludes: “It is not tyrants who need oracle mongers, but politicians in a democracy” (274). Then Piérart teases fact from oracular fiction in “The Common Oracle of the Milesians and the Argives (Herodotus 6.19 and 77).”

Because Herodotus so often neglects to mention details which modern military historians would like to know, his reputation in such matters suffers compared to Thucydides, the professional. Nevertheless, Kiesling, Professor of History at West Point, cogently argues the thesis announced in her title: “The Oldest ‘New’ Military Historian: Herodotus: W. G. Forrest and the Historiography of War.” Though she acknowledges Herodotus’s disdain for “recruiting, drill, discipline, and infantry formations” (89), she stresses that he nevertheless shares Thucydides’ assumptions that war is a kind of ultimate reality and that the study of war is an appropriate and necessary human concern. Though Herodotus has obviously no more interest in exact chronology than in details of military maneuvers, Rhodes (“Herodotean Chronology Revisited”) does the numbers and comes up with a straightforward and useful list of events described by Herodotus that can currently be dated (486-87).

On the more literary side, Brock deftly analyzes some of Herodotus’ favorite ways of guiding the reader (or listener) from one point to the next, beyond men and de, to his use of various demonstratives to point us forwards or give us a glance behind (though Herodotus in fact adheres to the Hellenic time schema in which we march backwards towards the future as we watch the past unfold before us). Nothing here will be new to careful readers of Herodotus, but the presentation is exceedingly graceful. In a much different literary vein, Hornblower analyzes a famous revenge anecdote: “Panionios of Chios and Hermotimos of Pedasa (Herodotus 8.104-6).” Here we encounter the testicles foreshadowed in the Preface. We learn to wonder exactly how drastic was the castration here described and therefore to wonder if the story ever could have been true. Hornblower perhaps stretches a point to see here an allegory about colonization and in “Panionios” a significant, made-up name.

The title of Gilula’s “Who Was Actually Buried in the First of Three Spartan Graves (Herodotus 9.85.1)? Textual and Historical Problems,” refers to only one of eight passages here addressed. In all of these otherwise unrelated passages, older scholars have emended the text against ms. evidence on the basis of now unreasonable historical beliefs or conjectures. Though textual criticism tends to dryness, Gilula introduces each lemma with a delightfully puckish subhead query. Typical is “How to move a temple half a mile without exerting yourself too much” (75). The answer is that Pausanias stops his army at a temple of Demeter after a march of tessera stadia (Pingel), where L reads deka.

Dalley asks: “Why Did Herodotus not Mention the Hanging Gardens of Babylon?” The short answer seems to be that the gardens were actually in Nineveh (179). Similar, to the extent that it analyzes something that Herodotus does not do, is Boedeker’s “Pedestrian Fatalities: The Prosaics of Death in Herodotus.” The title could well have been: Why did Herodotus not describe battles as Homer did? And one wonders why the answer is not simpler and shorter than B. makes it and less freighted with bibliography—though that will be useful to students. Harrison, in fact, later in the book answers this question, criticizing “failure properly to distinguish between Homeric and Herodotean contexts” (239).

In by far the longest chapter of this book (41 pages), Sourvinou-Inwood addresses: “Herodotus (and others) and the Pelasgians: Some perceptions of Ethnicity.” For this scholar Herodotus is Pelasgian-friendly, regarding them not as foreigners but as the ancestors of all Greeks. The exposition here is prolix, with copious references to a forthcoming book on the topic. Then, in a brief and rather derivative essay, Alonso-Núñez surveys “Herodotus’ Conception of Historical Space.” Many readers may not be convinced by his assertion (147) that Herodotus makes Persia and not Delphi the center of his universe — presuming that his universe does have a center.

Irad Malkin treats a subject dear to Forrest’s heart in “‘Tradition’ in Herodotus: The Foundation of Cyrene.” Malkin stresses the importance for colonization of nomima, “the sacred calendar, the names of magistracies and institutions, the division into tribes” (164). This essay thus plays well with Davies’ work on democracy at the end of the book.

Brief summary of two extended topographical notes completes our discussion. Matthaiou attempts, with inscriptions, to locate a famous landmark of the battle of Marathon ( Ἀθηναίοισι τεταγμένοισι ἐν τεμένει Ἡρακλέος, Herodotus 6.108.1). Then Hatzopoulos, in “Herodotus (8.137-38), the Manumissions from Leuokopetra and the Topography of the Middle Haliakmon Valley,” also uses inscriptions, from Aigeai, to make some sense of Herodotus’s problematic Macedonian logos.

I have attempted here to make at least some of the widely-divergent essays in this volume enter into conversation with one another, a conversation not explicitly intended by the authors or their editors. That this endeavor has been difficult nevertheless testifies positively to Herodotus’ broad reach and to that of his interpreter, W. G. Forrest.