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ANCIENT HISTORY > ARCHIVE - * Supplemental - Herodotus and his Prose Predecessors

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message 1: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bentley | 44207 comments Mod
This is a supplemental thread. This is not a no spoiler thread; here readers may post discussions related to those who came before Herodotus and any of his prose predecessors which influenced him or The Histories. Who were these ancients and what did Herodotus gain from their contributions if anything?

I am recommending the Cambridge Companion to Herodotus by Carolyn Dewald and John Marincola to help further this discussion. This is an excellent companion to anybody reading Herodotus and there is an essay in this addition which will aid in this discussion.

Please note:

This thread's discussion must be confined to this topic area. The entire book may be discussed here if it is focused on this thread's topic. Off Topic discussions should be relegated to the Off Topic Cafe.

For those readers who do not want to read any spoilers; participate only on the weekly threads located at the top of the group board. As everyone is aware, the book/section threads are the official "no spoiler threads" and if discussion veers off course or into portions not yet discussed in the book, then one needs to mark it and note that the text that is to follow is a Potential Spoiler.

These supplemental threads do not have this same rule; so if you are reading HERODOTUS for the first time, you might want to remain on the weekly BOOK/SECTION threads until you are much further along and not visit the supplemental threads.

Of course, the approach the reader takes is left up to them and we are providing both options.


message 2: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bentley | 44207 comments Mod
Oldesq, I was using it on line and I then purchased it.

message 3: by [deleted user] (new)

You're tempting me to get to B & N. I'm rained in! chicago had almost 7 inches of rain yesterday and THEN hurricaine Ike hit last night! Basement flooded, highway closed, I almost got stuck under a viaduct yesterday. So, I'll have to wait!

message 4: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bentley | 44207 comments Mod
Wow, I did not know that Chicago was feeling the wrath of IKE. Sorry about your basement. Be safe please. I actually ordered the Cambridge Companion on line; they did not have it in the store.

So if you still have internet access and have power; you should be able to order it on line. It will come in a couple of days.


message 5: by Virginia (new) - added it

Virginia (va-BBoomer) | 210 comments I, too, wish you safety in your weather calamity. I'm the weather person here, and have been obsessed with the Weather Channel for several days now. You had a moist mixture of a warm and cold front, then you got Ike on top of that, and Ike's remains are the producer of the rain you are having. So, again, stay safe; it's moving relatively fast. The NY area today has New Orleans-type dewpoint in the 70's, and temps in the mid to upper 80's - like mid-July. Just for today though; can't wait for it to be over. Tough on arthritics!
Sorry for the off-topic; feel free to move me, Bentley.

message 6: by [deleted user] (new)

LOL! Your expertise is much appreciated! The rains have stopped. The rivers are flooding, the streets are flooded, it's a mess. It just seemed so strange to have all of that rain BEFORE Ike got here.

message 7: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bentley | 44207 comments Mod
Hi Guys..I hope that Vanessa is safe and her family is safe. Virginia is right..just talk about all of this on the Off Topic Cafe..but the above is OK for now.

Virginia you are quite the meteorologist.


message 8: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bentley | 44207 comments Mod
Herodotus and Hekataios

The most important prose predecessor to Herodotus seems to have been Hekataios (like Thales and Anaximander, a citizen of Miletus). Herodotus presents Hekataios the logopoios (which might roughly be translated, “prose author” as still alive and advising the Ionian Greeks during their revolt against Persia (499-493, see Hdt. 5.36 and Hdt. 5.125). Elsewhere, Herodotus cites Hekataios’ story about Athenian dealings with the non-Greek Pelasgians (Hdt. 6.137). At Hdt. 2.143 he tells us that Hekataios traced his own genealogy sixteen generations back to descent from a god. When Hekataios visited Egypt, Herodotus tells us, the priests found it implausible that either mortals should be descended from gods or that a genealogy should be so short. They did not merely recite a genealogy, but showed to Hekataios statues of more than 340 generations of high priest, who had passed this position from father to son.

At Hdt. 2.143, Herodotus may portray Hekataios as both provincial and credulous, but he also implies that he is familiar with Hekataios’ “Circumnavigation of the Known World” (gês periodos). According to Porphyry, a late (3rd century AD) and not very reliable author, Herodotus borrowed from Hecataeus his descriptions of the crocodile (Hdt. 2.70), the hippopotamus (Hdt. 2.71), and the mythical phoenix (Hdt. 2.73). Herodotus certainly had Hekataios’ version of events in mind in many other passages as well.

message 9: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (last edited Sep 15, 2008 09:34PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bentley | 44207 comments Mod
Robert Fowler in The Cambridge Companion to Herodotus wrote a segment on Herodotus and his Prose Predecessors. He stated: "Herodotus is frequently argumentative and judgemental. From the very first chapters he rejects foolish opinions, weighs up conflicting evidence, makes firm pronouncements on method: were it not for his winning charm, one could find all this very irritating (as indeed some readers have). For all its prominence, however, scholars have only recently begun to relate this feistiness to Herodotus' conception of himself as an historian. For it is obvious (now) that he must be arguing with someone, and a close study of the intellectual terrain over which these battles and negotiations are being conducted can do much to illuminate Herodotus situation as a writer.

Fowler also mentions Heraclitus of Epesus (c. 500 BCE) as the first in what Fowler calls his enigmatic style that philosophers really have to know (historas einai) a lot of things well. Philosphers in this period could mean any intellectual or scientist. Was Herodotus also a kind of philospher among other things?

Fowler and others have pointed out that "the rhetoric is palpable, and bespeaks a highly competitive environment, in which authors are as much concerned to discredit rivals as to persuade audiences of their own views. They say that Herodotus is thoroughly at home in this environment."

message 10: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bentley | 44207 comments Mod
Fowler points out that one of Herodotus' trademarks "is his frequent expressions of uncertainty; he often declines to judge between conflicting accounts. This is partly intellectual honesty, but it is also very persuasive rhetorically (unkind critics have called it the trademark of the liar)."

Source: The Cambridge Companion to Herodotus - page 32

The question that I ask is Herodotus really telling the truth?

message 11: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bentley | 44207 comments Mod
Fowler also indicates that "if we may credit Herodotus with first applying historie to the past, with all that that entails, it is not of course the case that Herodotus was the first to write about the past. Homer and other poets were already historians; the great legends counted as history. Beginning in the late sixth century, Greeks began to write these legends down in prose. Hecataeus of Miletus was the first to do so."

The backbone of the narrative was provided by the complicated genealogies of gods and heroes; the poetic foundation document underlying all mythography, as the Greeks came to call this activity once 'myth' and 'history' had been distinguished, was not Homer but the Hesiodic Catalogue of Women Before Herodotus began his career, several major works of genealogies were already in circulation: those of Hecataeus, Acusilaus, and Pherecydes.

He goes on to note that Herodotus was also not the first to write about foreign peoples and customs (Hecataeus once again did that before Herodotus).

Many contemporaries state that Herodotus in his accounts of the phoenix, the hippopotamus and the hunting of crocodiles lifted word for word with minimal changes from Hecataeus.

Some feel that Herodotus was being spiteful and jealous of Hecataeus and his account of genealogy and that he speaks as if he was generating opinions versus factual accounts.

Fowler also states that Herodotus did not distinguish much between oral and written sources in terms of reliability. H's world at that time was very oral in nature so one in his eyes was not more reliable than the other.

Fowler believes that no other work prior to Herodotus has such a breath taking sweep.

Source: Same as above - Cambridge Companion (Fowler) pages 29 - 45

message 12: by [deleted user] (new)

As someone who is often uncertain, I prefer to see it as open-mindedness. I think it's the exact opposite of dishonesty. I see him almost more of a reporter than a historian. He may have faulty information but he credits the sources.

When you think of Socrates, who came after, everything was open to question, he claimed to know nothing. When someone thinks they know, they no longer have to search. One of the hallmarks of the East and what, I believe, hampered their progress, was that they followed authority. Traditional learning was handed down. It was the miracle of Greece and it's "uncertainty" that led to every kind of progress.

message 13: by [deleted user] (new)

What about the Odyssey that wrote about the Lotus-Eaters, Phoecia, etc. That was a travel-log too and I think Herodotus follows in the tradition of the Iliad and the Odyssey. I see a direct line in these tales. The Iliad records history as directed by the gods. The Odyssey begins with the gods saying that man tried to blame them for everything but basically, the fault lies in themselves and not in their stars. The gods are there but not as active as in the Iliad. They say that man makes his life worse than it would otherwise have been by his bad decisions. Herodotus, in this sequence, eliminates, almost entirely, the gods as cause for man's troubles. He gives responsibility to individuals and their decisions. It's a progression that gives man power over his life. Again, that separates the east from the west.
I'm simplifying, I know there are exceptions and there's fate, but fate can also be seen (as someone once said) as a result of someone's character. I believe that this leap forward is what resulted in everything good that we have created. And now, that the entire world is Westernizing, the East is benefiting as well.

message 14: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bentley | 44207 comments Mod

Vanessa, I tend to agree; I see him as a philosopher and maybe on assignment. Where did he get all of the funds for these travels. He certainly was not independantly wealthy. But on the other hand I think he can be spiteful and get his digs in. It is interesting in a way, he reported on third hand information which was in part oral traditions and legends as if they were gospel truth and reality.

K made mention of the East following authority in TWH. Interesting comments Vanessa. Uncertainty does not bother me unless it is feigned uncertainty.

message 15: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (last edited Sep 16, 2008 12:35AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bentley | 44207 comments Mod

Yes, Homer got his due as did the others. The progression from the gods to man shows more a dose of reality and accountability.

Sometimes I feel after reading H that not much progress has been made between the East and West views and that this progress is still cloaked with distrust and deep misunderstandings and ridicule.

Is the East benefiting from us or vice versa. I wonder sometimes when I travel and I see in Milan (for example or in Beijing) across from the most celebrated Italian restaurant in the city a McDonalds or hidden in a corner of the Forbidden City a non-descript Starbucks (which has been closed thank goodness).

Yikes, I felt a sense of embarrassment.


message 16: by [deleted user] (new)

LOL! I hadn't thought of the Starbucks problem! We're wiring the world! I wonder if there will be a caffeine war the way there were Opium wars.

message 17: by [deleted user] (new)

Maybe I've been living in Herodotus' world too long but could it be a kind of modesty? When a nation has such tremendous success it incites jealousy and can make us hubristic? Certainly other countries hate us because of our success. This may be a stretch. LOL

I was just reading on another site that the reason the Greeks felt that hubris was the ultimate sin was that it puts individual will above what is good for the state. I haven't thought about this yet but I thought I'd throw it out there for any ideas.

message 18: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (last edited Sep 16, 2008 06:06AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bentley | 44207 comments Mod
Response to Oldesq:

On the site of the Forbidden City itself (albeit in a nook with no fanfare), Starbucks really did not fit in with the ambience. To me, it was like putting a Walmart in the middle of Nantucket. The Sony and Samsung store fit in with its surroundings. The beautiful little square of Duomo Square in Milan has such fine restaurants and upscale Italian shops and right smack dab across from it is the golden arches (garish and out of place - even though slightly subdued). I am not sure all of the locals wanted these establishments; there was quite an uproar in France over MickeyD's. I guess it is taste and one has to feel at least I do that our garishness doesn't have to permeate the world.

Response to Vanessa:

I actually agree with what you stated in paragraph one. Whenever I see the sign of capitalism and another unhealthy food establishment plopped down in the midst of another culture and standing out like a sore thumb; I do feel uncomfortable. I think it detracts from the surroundings rather than adding to it.

I think it does show America's hubris. That scares me a little. Are the MickeyD's really helping Italy or Paris (I doubt it); I could live without another fast food burger while visiting abroad. And I don't think I need to proliferate a Starbucks in the middle of the beautiful icon (the Forbidden City). I think Oldesq has a point about foreign establishments that fit into the environment; I would be though as upset even if a Walmart came and upset Nantucket's pristine beauty and simple elegance or even my down town center. I feel that some of these things (established as symbols of America only serve as a spreading blight); do we need a Starbucks on every corner in NYC; are we so used to entitlement, etc.


message 19: by [deleted user] (new)

A friend of mine just came back from Vienna, a place famous for its coffee shops. She enjoyed going to the cafe that Freud used to hang out in. It was a major attraction for her. But a new Starbucks is being built in Vienna! And all of the young people want to go there!

The owner of Starbucks was on 60 minutes a while back and I can't feel anything but admiration for his success. He was a poor boy who grew up in Brooklyn, in the projects. His father had an accident and they had no insurance. He vowed that if he ever started a business he would make sure that his employees were all insured. He also pays above market value for all the coffee beans he buys. He's the American dream. But I still don't like the coffee!!!!

message 20: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bentley | 44207 comments Mod
Response to Vanessa:

Isn't that something; Viennese coffee and they want Starbucks. I do like Starbucks coffee; but do not need it in Vienna.

Starbucks is not a bad company; but I think it has been over expanded and may be saturating even its own market.

But I still feel there are some places where I don't want to see a chain or a Starbucks (Yellowstone, the Arctic Refuge, by a beautiful lighthouse, or the Forbidden City).


message 21: by [deleted user] (new)

I understand. When we were in New York last year we went to the Greenwich Village/Soho area where we'd spent a good part of our youth. I generally don't mind chain stores, give the people what they I want I say. But I practically cried when I saw, I think it was Broadway. Claire's Jewelry, The Gap, Starbucks, on and on and on. Might as well have stayed at home!

message 22: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bentley | 44207 comments Mod
Yes, these chains make every wonderful place look like the same old blight. Sad.

message 23: by [deleted user] (new)

If anyone is interested in seeing A.P. David's idea of Greek Choral dancing you can Google A.P. David. The first link has an attached youtube of his students doing the dance. Of course this is his educated guess as to how it was done.

message 24: by [deleted user] (new)

Did anyone see The Biggest Loser last night? It was it's own little Herodotean morality play. One couple came on with tremendous hubris. They thought they would have no problem with the challenge, they would come out on top. It would be a snap for them. Everyone else was nervous and worried. Well, guess who lost? And I have to admit, I felt the satisfaction of the Ancient Greeks. Now I'm left wondering, was it their over-confidence that caused their loss? Is that why it's "pride before the fall"? Or so wejust enjoy seeing prideful people fall but they don't fall any more often than anyone else (think Trump)? And how does this interact with confidence, which is so essential to any undertaking? I can't believe I'm seeing The Biggest Loser through Herodotus' eyes!

message 25: by [deleted user] (new)

Thank you Oldesq for a great post! I had no idea that hubris was a crime in Greece. I wonder if that relates somehow to what I read about putting the individual over the state?
I'll have to look into it a bit more, maybe hubris is not the exact transla†ion. That's always the difficulty when reading a translation, isn't it?

The couple on Biggest Loser, or Trump for that matter, do make other people feel small. Is that victimization? That's why we don't like them. You're right, there's a real subtlety to this question.

message 26: by [deleted user] (new)

OK, I looked it up. I think the difference is between hubris the trait and acts of hubris, the crime. If Trump's hubris causes him to treat people with contempt, not pay his taxes, etc. then he's committing acts of hubris and he's a criminal.

The people on the Biggest Loser could be accused of being rude or insensitive but I don't think that's a crime. It is mean. If their hubris caused them to ignore the rules of the game, sneak food, not excercize along with everyone else, etc., then they will be held accountable. Then they could be penalized for their hubris.

The thing is, other people will penalize hubris, because they don't like being treated as inferior. So I guess the lesson is... false modesty!!!! LOL!

message 27: by [deleted user] (new)

You're right Oldesq. I just got back from my bike ride while listening to the tape on Ancient Mesopotamia. According to the prof the Greek idea of hubris was not just about actions. It was the idea that the gods will get you eventually so don't think you have it made. Everyone gets cut down to size eventually. I find myself struggling with this mind set as a religious POV, for obvious reasons. Perhaps it was to lessen jealousy amongst people? I do understand schadenfeude and envy. The Greeks thought of their gods as human-like, right? No better? So maybe what they're saying has to do with human nature?
Actually, this all sounds like something my mother would say!
Don't get a swelled head! She never praised, ever. There was also the fear of the "evil eye". I felt so vindicated when that couple lost on the show!

BTW, the prof also said that Persian women had more political power than Greek women and the Greeks looked down on them for that. She said the Persian women were "schemers" which doesn't sound so powerful to me. My head is spinning!!!!!

message 28: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bentley | 44207 comments Mod
The Cambridge Companion to Herodotus (Cambridge Companions to Literature) by John Marincola

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