The Master of Signs: Signs and the Interpretation of Signs in Herodotus’ Histories

  Hollmann, Alexander. 2011. The Master of Signs: Signs and the Interpretation of Signs in Herodotus' Histories. Hellenic Studies Series 48. Washington, DC: Center for Hellenic Studies.


This book started life as a Ph.D. dissertation, the writing of which I completed largely while seated on a couch with an implacably immobile cat on my lap. These lengthy periods of enforced motionlessness greatly helped concentrate my mind on the text of Herodotus, and I have dedicated this book to her manes in gratitude for her good humor and company during those years.

A dissertation completion fellowship from the Whiting Foundation made the couch-sitting possible in the first place and greatly accelerated the dissertation’s progress.

I thank my readers, Albert Henrichs, Greg Nagy, and Christopher Jones, for their regular and generous feedback during the process of writing. Now, as a supervisor of students myself, I am in a position to appreciate just how much attention and time they gave to me.

Albert Henrichs’ infectious enthusiasm, his encyclopedic knowledge of the Greeks and their religion, and his ability to find interest and excitement in even the smallest scrap of Greek text were a constant inspiration to me and it was somehow fitting that I chose to write on an equally charming and wide-ranging ancient author.

As will be clear from my footnotes, Greg Nagy’s teaching and writing were fundamental in drawing my attention to the language of signs in Greek literature, and it is quite true to say that my book (and indeed its title) would have been unthinkable without his work. I thank him also for his support and encouragement over many years and through difficult times.

Sumi Furiya, Judson Herrman, Andrew Nicolaysen, and Fred Porta, fellow members of Albert Henrichs’ eranos of dissertators, formed the first audience for some of my ideas and their reactions and questions helped me to formulate them more clearly.

Kathleen Coleman read an early draft of the manuscript with great attention and saved me from numerous imprecise expressions and infelicities of style. Those that remain are my responsibility alone.

My time at the Center for Hellenic Studies (2004–2005), though spent largely on a different project, provided me with a wonderful library and an idyllic setting to work further on this book, and the opportunity to interact with other scholars.

At the University of Washington a term’s leave for Junior Faculty Develop-ment gave me valuable time for updating and completion of the manuscript. I am grateful to my senior colleagues in the Department of Classics and to chairs Jim Clauss and Alain Gowing for their encouragement and for helping me balance teaching and research while protecting me from excessive administrative responsibility.

I benefited greatly from the comments of Rosaria Munson, who read an earlier version of my manuscript and whose work on Herodotus has influenced mine.

The editorial and production staff at the Center of Hellenic Studies made the process of formatting the manuscript and transforming it into print much more painless than it otherwise might have been. I am particularly thankful to Jill Curry Robbins for her efficiency and helpfulness in this regard and Joni Godlove for her vibrant cover design using my pen-and-ink drawing.

Chapter 3.1 was previously published as “The Manipulation of Signs in Herodotus’ Histories” in Transactions of the American Philological Association 135.2 (2005) and appears here with permission from Johns Hopkins University Press.

Finally, I would like to express my deep gratitude to my fellow scholar, colleague, and wife, Olga Levaniouk, for her advice on points both small and big and most of all for her love and support at every stage of this journey.