2. The Ethnographer and Foreign Languages

Another histōr: Psammetichus and the origin of language

One passage in the Histories appears to raise the anthropological problem of the beginning of human speech and therefore, potentially, of the origin of language differentiation. But it does so in an indirect way, through the eyes of the Egyptian king Psammetichus who is, moreover, interested in a different problem. Psammetichus “wants to know” what nation in the world is the oldest, since the Egyptians have always claimed that they were. With both the power and the inclination to undertake a controlled experiment, Psammetichus isolates two infants from all cultural contacts to see what language (φωνήν, 2.2.3) they will speak after they stop making meaningless noises. [1] He places the children in a remote hut, where only a shepherd is to go in and feed them milk every day by bringing his goats to them, but without ever talking to them or speaking in their presence. After about two years, the children greet the shepherd by clasping his knees, stretching their hands to him, and uttering their first word, bekós, [2] which turns out to be Phrygian for ‘bread’. Faced with the recurrence of this behavior, Psammetichus acknowledges that the Phrygians are the oldest people of mankind and the Egyptians must be second. [3] This, at any rate, is the Egyptian story. At its conclusion Herodotus mentions, and rejects as a typical idiocy, a Greek variant according to which Psammetichus entrusted the children not to a shepherd with goats but to women whose tongues had been chopped off. [4]
From the point of view of the text the focus of this sequence is clearly not the origin of language, but rather the very process of scientific and historical inquiry and its limitations. [5] Among the various inquirers, narrators, and data-interpreters who participate in the narrative, Psammetichus takes all possible care to reproduce artificially the conditions of primitive man for the purposes of his inquiry; he is humane and responsible, as well as ready to accept the politically unwelcome results. [6] The Egyptians in general agree with his conclusions; they preserve the correct memory of the event. The Egyptian priests tell the story to Herodotus, who in turn uses it as a sort of proem to the report of his own investigations on Egypt. The Greeks, irrelevant in every other way, only appear as negative models to show how one people can distort another people’s traditions. [7]
But if Psammetichus is a benign figure and a model for Herodotus himself, he also unwittingly demonstrates (and Herodotus, through him, demonstrates to his audience) that researchers, no matter how resourceful and well intentioned, will not be able to answer all questions nor will they always be aware of the unexamined assumptions that may lead them to believe they can. [8] The most remarkable feature of the Psammetichus sequence is in fact Herodotus’ failure to corroborate the king’s interpretation of his experiment. Its results, as far as the text is concerned, remain ambiguous. [9]
Psammetichus emerges as relatively open-minded with regard to the question he expects the experiment to answer: “What is the oldest people of mankind?” (even though his assigning second place to the Egyptians appears arbitrary). That he tries to find this out through language, however, reveals he has already made up his mind with respect to the underlying issue, the origin of human speech. Psammetichus would not proceed as he does if he did not assume at the outset that innate to all men is not merely the potential for speech and communication, but also a specific primordial language (which he then recognizes to be Phrygian), with ready-made original words signifying what most men have in common, such as bread. [10]
Alternative views on the origin of language were certainly available in Herodotus’ time, but it is hard to assess whether more of his listeners would have marveled at the ingenuity of the experiment or laughed at Psammetichus’ interpretation of its results. Several texts describe linguistic expression as predominantly a matter of culture. In Plato’s version of Protagoras’ myth about the origin of mankind, for example, speech develops over time as a social accomplishment (Protagoras 322a). The author of the Dissoi Logoi, a fourth-century tract perhaps inspired again by Protagoras, mentions the fact that a Greek infant raised in Persia will learn Persian and a Persian infant raised in Greece will learn Greek; this proves that we learn our words, we are not born knowing them. [11] Democritus seems to have described a situation in which different groupings of primitive men, internally interacting with one another, devise different languages. [12] In conjunction with the treatment of language elsewhere in the Histories, these fifth-century insights suggest that Herodotus is sharing with his audience the ironical awareness that Psammetichus’ experiment has a meaning different from that which the king attributes to it. [13]
The children have never had experience of Phrygian, and no word from it or from any other existing “language” (phōnē in the sense of glōssa) would spontaneously come to them. Bekós is a plausible sound for both human infants and animals, and ancient readers already explained it as the children’s imitation of the only phōnē (or ‘voice’) they have heard, the bleating of the goats. [14] This derivation would not make bekós a random sound (see ἀσήμων κνυζημάτων at 2.2.3), in the same way as the children’s clasping of the knees and the stretching of the hands are clearly not random movements. Though it cannot mean ‘bread’, which the children have never seen and cannot name, bekós might still express an instinctive need (e.g. solid food, after all that milk), and as soon as the children utter it, it becomes a “word.” [15] But while some gestures may be assigned, as in this case, to an apparently innate and universal code, all words reproduce other available sounds or words; they will therefore develop differently depending on the environment of the speakers. [16]
If these considerations indicate that the text wants us to interpret Psammetichus’ experiment from a conventionalist point of view, the Egyptian king’s belief in ready-made natural words is not unthinkable either, by fifth-century standards. [17] Plato’s Cratylus features a debate about whether language is related to the world by nature or by convention; conceivably, the former view can lead to the theory of a “natural” (that is to say, cosmic or divine) origin of onomata (‘names’ or ‘words’). This concept does not explicitly appear in the Cratylus, but the pre-Socratic commentator of the Orphic Theogony upholds it in the Derveni Papyrus. [18] In the story of Psammetichus’ experiment, moreover, since the non-verbal act of supplication of the children, which we would regard as highly conventional, is certainly not learned from the goats but innate, the same could be said for their first word. [19]
If we follow Psammetichus’ and the Egyptians’ “natural” interpretation, the discovery of the original human language does not help to explain why all nations do not call bread bekós in the same way as they all supplicate by extending their hands. [20] If, conversely, Psammetichus’ experiment ironically confirms that humans grow up learning speech from what they hear, it provides no information on who the first human speakers were nor what words they spoke. But the issues of first speech or speakers are clearly secondary in the Histories. Herodotus does not debate the Egyptian priests on the anthropological meaning of Psammetichus’ experiment, somewhat as, in the proem to the whole work, he declines to respond to the mythical explanations of the Persian logioi (‘experts of traditions in prose’). [21] In history Herodotus can only productively inquire into events not too distant in time. In ethnography he focuses on current realities, such as the existence of many languages. Languages are, like other nomoi, mysterious in their origin but observable and synchronically comparable by one who studies differences and affinities among men in all areas of culture.

Languages and cultures

In Herodotus’ ethnographic descriptions, language both unifies and divides ethnea (‘peoples’) around the world in not entirely predictable ways. The distinction is no longer simply, as in the Pelasgian passage, between Greek and an unspecified “barbarian language” (1.57.2), but among Scythian, Persian, Egyptian and so on, as well as many “special languages” of smaller nations. In his relentless pursuit for what is the same and what is not, Herodotus records, for example, linguistic differentiation within a single large ethnos or geographical area. [22] Thus at the Eastern extremities of the earth, the Indians include “many peoples (ἔθνεα), who do not speak the same language (οὐκ ὁμόφωνα σφίσι); some are nomadic and some not” (3.98.3). In the Scythian North, not everyone speaks Scythian and distinguishing among different languages helps to prevent inaccurate generalizations. [23] The cannibalistic Androphagoi, who are obviously unique in all respects (ἴδιον ἔθνος, 4.18.3), also have a language of their own (γλῶσσαν … ἰδίην, 4.106); so do the Bald People or Argippaei, sharply identified by their peculiar somatic characteristics, diet, and customs as well as language (φωνήν … ἰδίην, 4.23.2). [24]
Language is only one of the criteria that determine ethnic identity, and it does so to a varying degree. [25] A peoples’ language, usually in addition to other traits, may be different from that of their neighbors and similar to that of their distant nation of origin. The Colchians, for example, descend from the ancient Egyptians left behind by Sesostris’ army and they are similar to the Egyptians in language and their way of life (2.105). [26] Budini and Geloni, whom the Greeks confuse, “do not speak the same language and their material culture is not the same” (4.109.1). The Geloni are originally Greek, live in a polis of wood, honor Greek gods, eat grain, and speak a language (γλώσσῃ) that is partly Scythian and partly Greek (4.108.2). In a poignant case, Hellenicity wins over territorial dislocation of a violent sort: the Eretrians whom Darius has deported to Ardericca of Cissia still preserve, to Herodotus’ day, their ancestral language. [27]
Other times the narrative distinguishes one people from another only by language and one other trait, but not by other characteristics. The Eastern Ethiopians in Xerxes’ army, for example, were only different from the Western Ethiopians “in language and hair” (7.70.1). Conversely, the Sagartians, who are both ethnically and linguistically Persian, wore equipment with mixed Persian and Pactyan features (7.85). In the case of the Carians and Caunians, language appears to count for little as a criterion of identity. The Caunians have a language that has become very similar to that of the Carians (or perhaps the other way around), but they are very different from them and, indeed, from the rest of mankind in customs and religion (1.172.1). The Carians, for their part, consider themselves related to Lydians and Mysians, whose eponymous ancestors were the brothers of their own. Consequently, the Carians admit Lydians and Mysians to their temple of Zeus in Mylasa, but exclude those who are not from their same ethnos even though they speak the same language (1.171.5–6). Descent and religion, rather than language, are here the unifying factors. [28]
In these contexts, Herodotus has almost no other way of characterizing a glōssa or phōnē linguistically, except to say that it is similar or different with respect to the language of someone else. [29] The flatness of these references also prevents them from suggesting any evaluation of the different languages themselves, even though speech or other aspects of certain cultures may point to a varying degree of primitivity. Differing in language and diaitē (‘way of life’) from the quasi-Greek speaking Geloni, the Budini are nomadic and eat lice (4.109.1). A unique attempt at a more colorful description leads Herodotus into the derogatory stereotype that other Greek texts apply to all kinds of barbarian speech. [30] The Ethiopian troglodytes, who eat snakes and lizards and are hunting quarry for the neighboring Garamantes “have a language that is like no other, for they squeak like bats.” [31] When faced with the truly unfamiliar sound of a people’s language, even modern ethnographers find it hard to avoid this type of parallel. [32]
As uninformative as they are, Herodotus’ recurring reminders of a people’s different or special speech confirms that language constitutes a branch of the ethnographer’s study of nomoi, diaita , and ēthea. [33] On a few occasions he attempts to establish a more substantive connection between a linguistic phenomenon and specific features of a culture. The etymology of the word theoi ‘gods’, which the Pelasgians invented to denote the gods collectively, is linguistic evidence for this ancient people’s religious beliefs. [34] The matrilineal system that makes the Lycians unique has an idiomatic aspect: the Lycians take their names from their mothers, not their fathers (1.173.4–5). [35] Certain wretched tribesmen in the heart of Libya, who use curses and foul words against the scorching sun, bear the collective name of Atarantes, but do not have individual names (4.184.2–3). For the Persians, conversely, personal names are an important reflection of their self-image and culture. The narrator suggests this point deliberately, framing it with introductory and concluding statements that refer to the process of historiē:
And also this other thing happens to occur among them (συμπέπτωκε), which has escaped the notice of the Persians themselves but not us: Their names, which are equal (ὅμοια) to their bodies or magnificence, all end with the same letter, the one the Dorians call san and the Ionians sigma. If you pay close attention, you will find that Persian names end in this letter, not just some of them and not others, but all in the same way (ὁμοίως).
From the point of view of their meaning, Persian names connote magnificence (μεγαλοπρεπείη), which coincides with the Persian penchant for external display in the preceding sections of Herodotus’ ethnography. [36] From the point of view of morphology, the consistency of the linguistic rule—“not some of them and not others, but all in the same way”—fits in with the overall “regularity” that characterizes Persian social norms. [37]
In this passage, Persian unity contrasts with the fragmentation of the Greeks, who even use two different names for a single letter, the Dorian san and the Ionian sigma. [38] But in the Ionian ethnography, which as we have seen thematizes Ionian disunity in language and other respects, [39] Herodotus remarks that the Ionians, and the Greeks in general, have names for their festivals that “all end with the same letter [alpha in this case], just as Persians names do” (1.148.2). This gloss formulates an opposition, rather than an analogy, between a unified linguistic rule and the disunity of the society to which the rule belongs. Just as 1.139 looks forward to the Ionian passage by mentioning in implicit antithesis to the Persian rule the san/sigma split among the Greeks, so 1.148.2 explicitly looks back precisely to 1.139 by drawing a limited analogy between Ionians and Persians in the linguistic sphere. The way in which the two passages cross-reference each other and provide complementary indices of analogy and opposition is evidence of Herodotus’ unresolved reflection of the possible relationships between languages and cultures.

Foreign languages and historiē

It is hard to believe that Herodotus maintains that all Persian names end in “s” only because he is deceived by the Greek transcription of masculine Persian names. [40] His characteristically elliptical style seems to have obscured his reference to a phenomenon we are no longer in a position to appreciate very well. This may be, in fact, one of the few passages in the Histories that look at a foreign language from the viewpoints of both speaking/hearing and writing/reading. Herodotus’ observation that the final “s” “escapes the Persians themselves” may point to the fact that he knew, no less than modern scholars, that no letter (gramma) corresponding to san/sigma appeared at the end of Persian names in their written form. But he also appears to have known that the Persians pronounced the sound, which one would expect them to acknowledge with a sign. [41]
The phenomenon of the vanishing “s” in Persian names leads the narrator to imply that he and perhaps other outsiders like him (ἡμέας) are more attuned to noticing certain linguistic peculiarities than the native speakers, and he invites the listener to join him in the process of observation (ἐς τοῦτο διζήμενος εὑρήσεις). [42] Of the possible disadvantages of being an outsider we hear nothing. [43] Herodotus’ glosses of historiē elsewhere in the work rather insist that the undeniable reality of language differentiation does not in the least hamper inquiry about foreign peoples. Because speech is in any case translatable, there are linguistic interpreters (hermēneis), whose job is apparently far easier than that of religious or mantic interpreters. [44] In the historical narrative, these bilingual professionals are instruments of the kings’ power over multiethnic empires. [45] But in the ethnographic sections and in the narrator’s accounts of his own research, they appear to be easily available to ordinary travelers. The polyphonic northeastern region of Europe, for example, is entirely accessible (περιφάνεια), at least as far as speakers can be found. [46] “Because,” says the histōr, “there are Scythians who get to these populations and it is not difficult to learn things from them … The Scythians who come to them transact their business through seven interpreters and seven languages.” [47] In Egypt, the same king Psammetichus who performed the linguistic experiment we have seen sent some Egyptian children to learn Greek from the Ionians, the first alloglōssoi (‘speakers of a different language’) who came to reside in his land (2.154.1–5). Establishing a hereditary cast of interpreters may have been one of Psammetichus’ ways of segregating the foreigners, but for Herodotus it opened up Egypt to the Greeks. [48] One of these Egyptian interpreters once assisted Herodotus himself by deciphering for him an inscription on the base of the Great Pyramid of Cheops. [49] Many other times in the Egyptian logos the histōr reports his interviews with the Egyptian priests or other local sources, and no intermediary enters the picture. [50]
The unproblematic way in which the narrator deals with foreign languages has nothing to do with the actual linguistic competence of the real author Herodotus. Experts in the field rate this rather low by our standards since they regard it as consistent with the obstinate monolingualism of the ancient Greeks in general, at least in the mainland. [51] What is important for an ideological assessment of the text is rather that the histōr Herodotus—the narrator who emerges from the work itself—is, in his own way, a multilingual character, familiar with the principal languages, at ease with languages, and interested in the world’s heteroglossia in the linguistic, as in the cultural, sphere.


[ back ] 1. On kings-histōres in Herodotus, see Christ 1994. On the relative infrequency of controlled experiments in Greek science, see G. E. R. Lloyd 1966.73–79.
[ back ] 2. Actually called an epos (ἔπος), or “‘word’ broadly and in the sense of parole, that is an utterance which here happens to be in the form of one word. What the children are … saying is ‘Give us bread!’” (Hollmann 2000.221).
[ back ] 3. 2.2.1–5. On this passage, see Salmon 1956; Benardete 1969.32–33; Lloyd 1976.5; Campos Daroca 1992.50–55; Christ 1994.84–86; Vannicelli 1998; Dewald 1998.615.
[ back ] 4. 2.2.5. Most scholars believe that the first story is also of Greek origin (see Vannicelli 1997.203), but Herodotus clearly distinguishes an Egyptian and a Greek version.
[ back ] 5. Dewald 1998.615.
[ back ] 6. Christ 1994.186.
[ back ] 7. Cf. 2.45. Munson 2001a.141–142.
[ back ] 8. At 2.28.4, Herodotus also criticizes the experiment by which Psammetichus attempted to discover the depth of the springs of the Nile, thereby trying again, in the words of Vannicelli 1998.204, “to test the limits (spatial, this time) of human knowledge.” Christ 1994.171–172.
[ back ] 9. Griffiths 2001.164. Later Herodotus even appears to disregard Psammetichus’ findings: 2.15.2–3 (on the antiquity of the Egyptians); 7.73 (on the Phrygians; but see Vannicelli 1997.207–209).
[ back ] 10. Human beings are bread-eaters by definition in Homer: see e.g. Iliad 13.321–322, Odyssey 9.191, Vernant 1989, and Detienne 1977 passim, esp. 117. Vannicelli 1997.205–207. Herodotus’ long-lived Ethiopians are an exception (3.22.4).
[ back ] 11. DK 90 B 6.12. Robinson 1979.51–59.
[ back ] 12. Diodorus Siculus 1.8.3–4 (cf. Vitr. 33.24–28), on whose derivation from Democritus, see Cole 1990.60–69. Guthrie 1965.474–475; Rochette 1996.10. On Democritus’ conventional theory of language, see also Classen 1976.242–245. Contrast Epicurus Letter to Herodotus (DL 10. 75), where language difference depends on the different natures (phuseis) of ethnea inhabiting different places. Donadoni 1986.194 quotes a passage of the Egyptian Hymn to Aten in which the god himself has provided for the needs of different peoples of the world, also assigning to each its own language.
[ back ] 13. Benardete 1969.33; Campos Daroca, 1992.50–55; contra Salmon 1956.329.
[ back ] 14. Scholium on Apollonius Rhodius Argonautica IV 257, 62c; scholium of Tzetzes on Aristophanes Clouds 398a; Suidas s.v. βεκεσέληνε. The Greek version Herodotus rejects, where goats are replaced by mute women, would eliminate this level of meaning. Dover 1993.219 cites βρύ (‘drink’) as a baby word in connection to the βρεκεκεκέξ sound of Aristophanic frogs. For the difference and overlap between glōtta and phōnē, see below, note 24.
[ back ] 15. See above, note 2.
[ back ] 16. For stretching of the hands in sign of entreaty or supplication, cf., e.g.1.45.1 (Adrastus, coincidentally a Phrygian); 4.136.1 (Persian soldiers); 7.233.1 (Thebans). Clasping of knees: 1.112.1 (Median woman); 9.76 (Greek woman). Lateiner 1987.113. For other apparently cross-cultural gestures, see 4.113.2 (below, pp. 72–73).
[ back ] 17. Scholars of the old school have been reluctant to accept this, heaping contempt on the naïveté of either Psammetichus and the Egyptians (here mocked by Herodotus, according to Benardete 1969.33) or Herodotus himself (Salmon 1956.329: “Nous ne croyons pas qu’on ait jamais presenté Hérodote comme une des grandes intelligences de l’antiquité”).
[ back ] 18. The Derveni Papyrus was provisionally published by Merkelbach 1982.1–12; see also Laks and Most 1997; Burkert 1970; 1985.128–129; Baxter 1992.130–139. For the suggestion that names derive from a superhuman power, see also Cratylus 438c (cf. 397c). Guthrie 1965.474, 1969.204–219. For the connection between the Derveni papyrus and the Cratylus, see Kahn 1997.
[ back ] 19. On the distinction between ritualized or conventional and other types of gestures in Herodotus, see Lateiner 1987, esp. 90–92 and his chart on pp. 113–116. See also above, note 16.
[ back ] 20. Campos Daroca observes that the Psammetichus episode is the reverse of the tower of Babel story because it illustrates the origin of language, but not that of different languages (1992.52).
[ back ] 21. 1.1–5. For analogies between the two passages, see Campos Daroca 1992.5, who draws attention to logioi at 1.1 and logiōtatoi at 2.3.1 and 77.1. See also the parallel between what Herodotus himself “knows” (οἶδα) at 1.5.3 and what he “thinks” (δοκέω) at 2.15.3. Vannicelli 1997.212–216. According to Dewald 1998.615, each passage represents “a thematic introduction to a research-driven narrative.” For logioi as ‘experts of traditions in prose’ see Nagy 1988.181–182 and 1990.223–224.
[ back ] 22. Campos Daroca 1992.40–42.
[ back ] 23. Campos Daroca 1992.41. See Munson 2001.79–82.
[ back ] 24. Most of these statements, formulated in terms of “same” and “not same,” constitute in fact glosses of comparison. For the role of comparison in Herodotus’ descriptions of foreign peoples, see Munson 2001.91–100. As these two passages show, glōssa and phōnē can be synonymous. However, the latter may also indicate inarticulate sounds or the voice of animals. Long 1987.114; Campos Daroca 1992. Accordingly, Herodotus uses either term for obscure, marginal, or unknown languages (including at 2.2.3, considered above, pp. 19 and 21), but tends not to apply phōnē to mainstream languages such as Persian, Egyptian or Greek. At 2.55.2 and 2.57.2, we find a merely apparent exception, when Herodotus’ Pelasgian sources call an unintelligible language, which they do not realize is Egyptian, a “phōnē of birds” in contrast to the “human phōnē” of intelligible Greek. See below, pp. 67–69.
[ back ] 25. Lejeune 1940–1948.54; Lévy 1991.219.
[ back ] 26. See also 1.57.3 (Crestonians and inhabitants of Plakia); 2.42.4 (Ammonians); 4.117 (Sauromatae).
[ back ] 27. 6.119.4. On dislocation and nostalgia in Herodotus, see Friedman 2004.
[ back ] 28. Campos Daroca 1992.41.
[ back ] 29. See also the four “entirely different” Ionian dialects (1.142.3; above, p. 14). Lejeune 1940–1948.55; Campos Daroca 1992.42, 56.
[ back ] 30. See above, p. 3 and note 15.
[ back ] 31. 4.183.4. For Libya as a land of linguistic anomalies, see Campos Daroca 1992.58, 74. A more prosaic evaluation which correlates primitive language and primitive culture is in Thucydides’ description of the Aetolian tribe of the Eurytanians: ἀγνωστότατοι … γλῶσσαν καὶ ὠμόφαγοι ‘speaking a most unintelligible language and eaters of raw meat’ (Thucydides 3.94.5).
[ back ] 32. So Bailey 1983.53, on the language of the Dowayos: “a crude, unsubtle instrument, little better than animal cries …”
[ back ] 33. Diels 1910.82; Cardona 1970.20–24.
[ back ] 34. 2.52.1. See above, p. 12.
[ back ] 35. Campos Daroca 1992.41.
[ back ] 36. Esp. 1.133–36. Cf. the names at 6.98 (below, p. 48).
[ back ] 37. For the interpretation of this passage I here essentially follow the path of Wolff 1934.161 and Immerwahr 1966.186n111. Persian culture is one that admits of no exceptions; see e.g. 1.137.2. Contra Harrison 1998, ch. 3 “The Greek conceptualization of foreign languages.” For a more philosophical view on 1.139, see Chamberlain 1999.292–296. His interpretation is bold, but has the merit of taking maximum notice of Herodotus’ idea of the relation between an object and its name and of the importance Herodotus gives to the forms of names; it also explains the extraordinary emphasis in this passage on the narrator’s superior awareness and his address to the listener. On the basis for Herodotus’ statement on the ending of Persian names, see below, p. 27.
[ back ] 38. Linguistic and idiomatic variations within the Greek-speaking world recorded by Herodotus are listed above, p. 14 and note 37.
[ back ] 39. See above, p. 14.
[ back ] 40. This is a commonly held opinion (see especially Meyer 1862.194; Diels 1910.85), but then what about Scythian, Egyptian, and other names? I am indebted to Michael Flower for helping me come to terms with this passage. For Medo-Persian names in Herodotus, see Schmitt 1976, Armayor 1978.
[ back ] 41. See Legrand 1946.155; cf. Evans 1991.139n203.
[ back ] 42. It is not clear whether “we” here means “I,” “we the Greeks,” or some other group. For the difficulties in interpreting the first person plural in Herodotus, see Chamberlain 2001.
[ back ] 43. For the problems of language comprehension that the real author Herodotus would have encountered in his study of foreign cultures, see the vivid description by Gould 1989.24–27. Gehman 1914.9–12 collects remarks by ancient authors on difficulties caused by a difference of language.
[ back ] 44. This is the meaning of the word before Herodotus (who reserves it for linguistic interpreters), aside from Aeschylus Agamemnon 1062–1063 (but cf. 616). Lejeune 1940–1948.58; Rotolo 1972.396–397. Campos Daroca 1992.63. For professional interpreters of oracles, omens, and dreams in Herodotus (khrēsmologoi, manteis, oneiropoloi), see Hollmann 1998.221–226 and Hollmann, forthcoming. In Plato’s Cratylus (407e–408a) a hermēneus (ἑρμηνεύς) is an interpreter of speech (logos [λόγος]), if not specifically of foreign languages. For interpreters of foreign languages in Greek and Roman sources, see Gehman 1914, esp.16–53.
[ back ] 45. Campos Daroca 1992.63–68. See below, pp. 73–77.
[ back ] 46. Only beyond the Bald Men the eremos, a physical barrier empty of men, breaks the chain of communications, thereby precluding inquiry (4.25). See Romm 1992.36–37. Cobet 1971.94.
[ back ] 47. 4.24. Of the ethnic groups living above Olbia surveyed at 4.18–23, the number of those speaking Scythian or a mixed Scythian language can in fact be reckoned at seven (Scythians, Sauromatians, Budini, Geloni, Thyssagetae, Iyrcae, Argippaeans, according to Rawlinson 1880.1.21, and cf. Corcella 1993.253). One is tempted, however, to regard the number as symbolic (Fehling 1989.100), as in the heptaglōssos lyre of Pindar Nemean 5.24, seven-stringed and therefore able to perform a variety of local melodic patterns or nomoi (Nagy 1990.90, 355). Cf. also the North Carolina expression “to be silent in seven languages,” quoted by Safire 1999. These metaphors signify that a clear message can be conveyed through several different linguistic codes, used individually or in combination.
[ back ] 48. Donadoni 1986.204–205.
[ back ] 49. 2.125.6. A unique case, as Hartog 1988.239 remarks. West 1985 discusses this and the other inscriptions cited by Herodotus (about half of them foreign).
[ back ] 50. For the frequency of these glosses in Book 2, see Marincola 1987. At 2.105, Herodotus reports to have spoken with both Egyptians and Colchians.
[ back ] 51. E.g. Meyer 1862.192–195; Legrand 1932.74–76. See especially the discussion and bibliography in Harrison 1998, ch. 1 (“Herodotus’ knowledge of foreign languages”). The suggestion by Mandell 1990 that Herodotus must have known Aramaic is not convincing. On Greek monolingualism and lack of interest in foreign languages see especially Momigliano 1975a and 1975b esp. 15. Also Lejeune 1940–1948.57; Rotolo 1972.395–396; Hartog 1988.38–39; Campos Daroca 1992.27; Colvin 1999.70. See however the “Old Oligarch’s” complaint that, unlike the other Greeks, the Athenians use a mixture of culture traits, including language, from all Greeks and barbarians (“Xenophon” Constitution of the Athenians 2.8).