18. Waiting for Herodotus: The Mindsets of 425 BC
Christopher Pelling [+]
University of Oxford
This scene-setting chapter stops the action at the point when (probably) Herodotus’ Histories are reaching their final form, around the time of Aristophanes' Acharnians (425 BC). It aims to reconstruct something of the assumptions that Herodotus’ audience might bring to the text, accepting that these might be anything but uniform and that the various genres on which they were based might themselves have different norms. Epic, tragedy, and Hecataeus figure heavily, but the chapter also draws on comedy (including Acharnians itself), Hesiod, the Hippocratics, the Presocratics, and the proto-biographic works of Stesimbrotus of Thasos and Ion of Chios; the last two are especially interesting, as they might be responding to Herodotus’ oral presentations just as Herodotus may be in dialogue with them. The issues discussed include the question whether events in the distant or mythical past are assumed to follow the same norms or patterns as events in the here and now; the use of a historicising framework for capturing current truths about society or phrasing ethical test-cases; the relation of historical explanation to other sorts of explanation, e.g. in exploring the origins of diseases or of the kosmos; the extent to which the polyphony often associated with ‘historical consciousness’ is linked with the growth of democracy; and the currently fashionable idea that Herodotus should be seen as ‘defining himself’ other genres. The chapter seeks to reconstruct the expectations that his listeners or readers might have when approaching his work, and to explore how Herodotus himself plays on these.