20. Myth and History Entwined: Female Influence and Male Usurpation in Herodotus' Histories
Emily Baragwanath [+]
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
The close proximity within the Greek historians of what may strike modern readers as distinctly heterogeneous narrative modes – historical, ‘wie es eigentlich gewesen’ on the one hand, and mythical on the other – is one of the paradoxes underlying their often ambivalent reputations. The notion of a firm history/myth polarity is a largely a modern construction: to the Greeks, the body of their traditional tales was their past and formed a powerful and ever-relevant continuum with the present. As the same time, some thinkers wrestled with the problematic historicity of conspicuously mythic material. Surviving historical texts are eloquent witnesses to the recurrent interaction of mythological and historical traditions. Mythic stories and schemata are pervasive throughout Herodotus’ Histories, right from its tour de force opening narration of mythic female abductions. The work may even offer a glimpse of the process of formal historiography taking shape by both drawing from and defining itself against competing traditions of mythical consciousness. This chapter takes Herodotus as a case study to probe further the nature of this interaction by addressing the mythic themes of women’s value within the household and men’s presumptuous exercise of power to which they are not entitled. Herodotus develops a contrast between mythic and historical modes, with mythical accounts contributing to patterns that other episodes suggestively qualify, while the mythic mode contributes to the historian’s objective of preserving historical events in memory. Yet the mythical narratives also turn out to be part of history, for they have a profound determinating effect on the direction and outcome of historical events.