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. http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:hul.ebook:CHS_Hollmann.The_Master_of_Signs.2011.
Part 2. Sign Systems
2.1 Portents and Their Interpretation in Herodotus
With portents we are dealing with just such a “mythic” (i.e. supernatural) code: this at least is the convention to which Herodotus seems to subscribe on those occasions when he comments on the process directly. According to this code, portents are signs functioning in a chain of communication between god and mortal as sender and recipient respectively.
2.1.4 The Question of the Sender
But it is not the signs with which the children were originally involved that the god converted to his own end, rather the fact of their deaths while engaged in these activities, and it is precisely this that acts as the signifier or sign vehicle in the semiotic communication which Herodotus describes.
The addressee is clear enough, but the impersonal construction (φιλέει . . . προσημαίνειν) does not specify the sender. When, however, Herodotus rounds off his account of the σημήια μεγάλα (the deaths of the children on the choral tour to Delphi and of those killed by the collapsing school building), he varies the construction:
Here sender and addressee are clearly mentioned, and the incidents are presented squarely in the tradition of Homeric portents, where there is no doubt about the fact that the gods are sending a message. But the impersonal construction Herodotus uses to introduce the passage need not exclude the presence of the divine sender, whom as we see Herodotus refers to so clearly at the end of the passage. In general, such impersonal constructions are not as impersonal as they might seem: the absence of a grammatical subject does not necessarily imply the absence of a logical one.  The sentence ταῦτα μέν σφι σημήια ὁ θεός προέδεξε seems in any case designed to round off the passage in typical ring-composition style, except that the introductory clause is not repeated verbatim, but with variatio (προσημαίνειν-προέδεξε).
It is ὁ θεός who reveals (ἔφηνε, cf. προσημαίνειν and προέδεξε) the event as a portent (here τέρας, cf. σημήια), but the addressee is not merely a selected group, as was the case with the Chian portents, but a much wider audience: humankind (ἀνθρώποισι).
This statement looks at the phenomenon from the viewpoint of probability and appropriateness (oikos, cf. οὐδὲν ἦν ἀεικές), a manner of presentation which implies a looking back after the fact, an interpretation with hindsight, as Benardete notes. But it would be incorrect to say with him that “to interpret this earthquake as ‘fitting’ does not mean the same as to interpret it as an intentional sign. The gap between them is as great as between an impersonal and a divine foreshowing at Chios.” 
In these two passages, then, Herodotus states that the divine is the sender in the chain of communication. Nowhere else is this expressed quite as clearly by Herodotus as narrator.  In fact, the general construction he uses when characterizing something as a teras or phasma is τέρας (φάσμα) ἐγένετο (ἐφάνη) (“a teras/phasma happened/appeared”). This construction does not mention the divine explicitly, but cannot be said to exclude the divine as ultimate sender either. Two figures in Herodotus’ narrative speak explicitly of divine senders: Dikaios, son of Theokydes, who witnesses and interprets for Demaratos the mysterious dustcloud and φωνή coming from Eleusis (8.65), and Artayktes the Persian, in a passage we shall return to below when discussing the question of addressee (9.120.2).
Herodotus makes no comment on this, but his emphasis on Dikaios’ obtaining of witnesses (ταῦτα μὲν Δίκαιος ὁ Θεοκύδεος ἔλεγε, Δημαρήτου τε καὶ ἄλλων μαρτύρων καταπτόμενος [8.65.6], “This is what Dikaios the son of Theokydes said, appealing to Demaratos and others as witnesses”) and the placement of the account, foreshadowing and preparing as it does the way for the account of the battle at Salamis, seem to indicate his acceptance of the divine origin of the phenomena. On a narrative level, the account of the portent presents the two possibilities between which the allies will have to decide, namely, retreat to, and defense of, the Peloponnese, or offering battle at Salamis. This passage shows in which way the gods decide, and gives us a foretaste of the outcome of events, while the decision taken in the world of men is presented later, at 8.78.
Once again, Herodotus makes no explicit comment on this, and the account is related at one remove (λέγεται ὑπὸ Χερσονησιτέων, 9.120.1), but whether or not Artayktes actually believes his own statement, he does ultimately pay for the outrages he has committed, in one of the most powerful scenes of the Histories. 
The use of writing in an Egyptian context implies a professional group of scribes and interpreters. This method of interpretation, an approach which seems to involve the strict use of precedent, is mentioned only here in Herodotus. Nowhere else in the Histories do we find reference to the decoding of portentuous signs by reference to written or oral records.  In those instances where an explanation of a particular reading or decoding of a portent is offered, or even in cases where an explanation is not offered, the portent seems in each case to be addressed on the basis of its own internal logic, without resorting to a body of collected portents. This is not to say that the Egyptian practice of interpretation according to precedent was unfamiliar to the Greek world: Herodotus simply shows more interest in a technique that calls for skill in perceiving systems of oppositions, similarities, and analogies, and not on the application of precedent. This is in fact a general Herodotean characteristic to be found not just in connection with portents, but with other sign systems as well, as subsequent chapters will make plain.
The narrative fully describes the transmission by messengers of the details of the teras from Kroisos to the Telmessians, and the transmission of their reply back to the king. The interpretation of the experts is quite correct, but arrives too late to be of use to Kroisos, who has already been captured by the Persians and who seems fated to derive no benefit from expert advice, whether through his own lack of comprehension (cf. the famous encounter with Solon, 1.29–33) or a failure to receive messages in time. This narrative motif may be contrasted with another scenario (7.37.2), to be discussed below, where advice from experts is provided immediately, without any interference in the chain of communication, but the interpretation advanced by the magoi is flawed.
In the report of the reasoning behind their interpretation what is presented is the significance of the agents in the portent, the snakes and the horses. We are left to ourselves to combine the elements: no great task, to be sure, but nevertheless a narrative technique that we encounter elsewhere in Herodotus’ narratives concerning the interpretation of signs.  What could be regarded as a separate teras in its own right, the sudden appearance of snakes in Sardis, is passed over in favor of the even more striking teras of the horses devouring the snakes, and it is this that forms the object of the interpreters’ attention. Three separate terata combine to form a complex here: the appearance of snakes in Sardis, the horses’ desertion of their normal pastures and their arrival in the proastion, and, thirdly, their devouring of the snakes.
axis of selection
|axis of combination|
Figure 2. Diagram of the teras of 1.78
Skyles is eventually put to death by the Scythians for his desertion to foreign ways (ξεινικοὶ νόμοι, 4.80.5).
When this is announced by the priestess (as has already been noted in ch. 126.96.36.199, σημηνάσης as applied to the priestess refers rather to the secondary conveying of sign information than to interpretation, which the Athenians seem to provide for themselves), the Athenians are all the more willing to abandon the city “since the goddess too had left the akropolis” (ὡς καὶ τῆς θεοῦ ἀπολελοιπυίης τὴν ἀκρόπολιν, 8.41.3). Thus the snake functions as an index of the goddess, being a guardian (φύλαξ, 8.41.2) of her sanctuary. 
Here the olive tree functions as a sign in several ways: firstly, the tree itself is metonymically a symbol of Athena and a marturion testifying to her gift of the tree to the Athenians, her victory over Poseidon, and her claim to be their goddess.  It also acts as an index, since its rapid growth from seeming destruction presumably points to the renewed presence of the goddess. We may think for example of the Homeric Hymn to Dionysos and the sudden appearance and growth of the vegetation associated with that divinity when the ship on which he has been kidnapped by pirates is suddenly overrun with vines and ivy (38–41). Herodotus does not need to label this explicitly as a thôma or teras, but the narrative steers us in this direction, with the introductory sentence “I shall now relate why I mentioned these things” (τοῦ δὲ εἵνεκεν τούτων ἐπεμνήσθην, φράσω, 8.55) promising us a good story, and the details of the account are suggestive and portentous enough in themselves. 
The relationship between signifier and signified is thus seen by Herodotus as an iconic relationship, where characteristics of the horse and the hare are shared by the army of Xerxes.  But this is only part of the reading, a consideration only of the elements of the total message and the relationship between signifier and signified in terms of the axis of selection or substitution. What is vital to Herodotus’ reading is his combination of the elements of the teras (along the axis of combination) and his revelation that the horse and the hare are in fact one and the same, or, to put it another way, that they are two different signs in the complex that ultimately have the same referent. The action of birth then does not just function to create a separate entity, a hare out of a horse, a cowering, timorous, and fugitive army out of a proud and majestic one, but is also an equation of two disparate and seemingly contradictory elements. For Herodotus, the difference in level or hierarchy between parent and offspring in the teras functions on a temporal level to show the present and the future.
2.2 Dreams and Their Interpretation in Herodotus
2.2.1 Herodotean Dreamers
In the account of Kroisos’ downfall, the first manifestation of divine nemesis begins with a dream:
The downfall of the Medes and the rise of Persians are marked by Astyages’ dreams about his daughter (1.107.1; 1.108.1). Kyros’ dream about the rise of Dareios (1.209.1) occurs shortly before his fatal encounter with Tomyris’ army and has the narrative function of signaling firstly Kyros’ insecurity and unrestrained desire for power: he does not realize that the dream signifies not an attempt on the part of Dareios to seize power, but a vision of what will be after his death, which is close at hand. Secondly, the dream acts as a pointer forward toward Herodotus’ subsequent account in book 3 about Dareios’ rise to power. 
2.2.2 Vocabulary of Dreams
2.2.3 Structure of Dreams
The subject of the verb τεκμαίρεσθαι, to which attention has been drawn in ch. 1.3.5 as a term connected to drawing of conclusions on the basis of signs, is here none other than the dream itself, which is imagined as able to use the signs conveyed by royal clothing, or rather, not to rely exclusively on these signs as indices of the royal presence. 
In the second type of Herodotean dream, the message is conveyed purely through a complex of visual signs, with no dream-figure framing the dream or delivering a pronouncement. Examples of this type are Astyages’ dreams involving his daughter Mandane (1.107.1; 1.108.1), or Kyros’ dream of Dareios as a winged figure, overshadowing with his wings both Europe and Asia (1.209.1). The difference between the two types of dreams explains, for example, the different use of the word ὄνειρος: in the first type, the dream is the figure that appears to the sleeper (e.g. αὐτίκα δέ οἱ εὕδοντι ἐπέστη ὄνειρος, ὅς οἱ τὴν ἀληθείην ἔφαινε τῶν μελλόντων γενέσθαι κακῶν κατὰ τὸν παῖδα, 1.34.1), while in the second, ὄνειρος refers to the dream experience as a whole (e.g. Hippias’ dream about intercourse with his mother, 6.107.1–2). Thus, even though the dreams that Xerxes and Artabanos experience have different contents, Herodotus refers to them as the same dream (τὠυτὸ ὄνειρον, 7.14), since the dream-figure is the same.
In the second dream the imagery is once again on a cosmic scale:
Read along the axis of combination, the syntax of the dreams is the same, even if different elements have been substituted along the axis of selection (the all-encompassing urine becomes the spreading vine in the second dream).  The same combination of elements is at work in Kyros’ dream of Dareios, where Dareios stands in the center like a winged genie:
Here the physical scope of the dream is even wider, including Europe, as is fitting for Kyros’ role as the founder of the Persian empire.
The selection of the olive as the overshadowing and dominating element is significant, given its role elsewhere in the Histories as symbol of Greekness.  There is an additional variation in the syntax of the dream, ignored by the magoi in their interpretation, and left to speak for itself by Herodotus: the wreath disappears from Xerxes’ head, pointing to the ultimate failure of his domination. The magoi, too easily satisfied with a reading that on the face of it seems favorable, do not bother (or dare) to read further along the axis of combination and consider the syntax of the entire dream.  They treat it as if it is like the dreams of Astyages and Kyros, which present only one picture, a kind of tableau endlessly repeating the same action, without taking into account the change in the dream’s movement and the fact that there is a sequence of elements that need to be combined.
The vision of Smerdis is not seen directly by the dreamer, but through the medium of a messenger, and it is precisely the acoustic nature of this medium that contributes to Kambyses’ mistaken interpretation. What Kambyses passes over in his interpretation is that there is no exclusive link between the name Smerdis and his brother, that as a linguistic sign |Smerdis| has more than one referent, a confusion which would not have arisen had a dream-figure of his brother Smerdis appeared directly to him.  He ignores the possibility that the Smerdis of his dream could be anyone other than his brother, and has him killed on the strength of it, which, as I have pointed out above, forms an important point in Herodotus’ narrative, marking the beginning of Kambyses’ voyage into madness (3.30.1). 
2.2.4 Interpreters and Interpretation of Dreams
Few, then, of the dreams we find in Herodotus are interpreted by professionals, and we have seen that their results either are ignored by those who consult them, or are flawed because of relations of power and dependency in which the interpreters are caught up.
Hippias, then, is far from ignoring the signs of his own dream, unlike his brother Hipparkhos (5.56.1–2), and applies to them a process of decoding by analogy (συνεβάλετο . . . ἐκ τοῦ ὀνείρου).  This is the only dream related by Herodotus in which the dreamer’s interpretive activity is characterized using the verb συμβάλλομαι: here, as generally in instances of sign interpretation, it describes the perception of connections between signifier and signified and the drawing of conclusions from this recognition.  All this Hippias does, but he adduces additional meaning which the sign complex of the dream does not itself necessarily support: as presented by Herodotus, there is nothing in the details of the dream to suggest that Hippias will die peacefully and at a ripe old age (γηραιός), only his own wishful thinking. 
What is being decoded here are not the signs of the dream’s sign complex, but signs of a different kind. There is firstly the sneeze, whose unusual magnitude (μεζόνως ἢ ὡς ἐώθεε, 6.107.3) and suddenness point firmly in the direction of the portentous, then the disappearance of his tooth into the sand. The putting together of these signs draws from Hippias a groan (ἀναστενάξας, 6.107.4), a non-verbal marker that elsewhere in the Histories introduces moments of dramatic revelation and sudden recognition of the meaning of signs.  But there is no authorial confirmation of Hippias’ reading: Herodotus lets it stand without comment, and just as Hippias constructs his hopes on the basis of his interpretation of signs, so too does he relinquish them on the basis of signs of a different kind.  In this instance, and in the case of Kleomenes, the self-interpreters seem to stand alone on the narrative stage, and Herodotus leaves us to decide whether the signs that these characters react to, and accept as signs, really are such.
2.2.5 Dreams and the Divine
2.3 Oracles and Their Interpretation in Herodotus
2.3.1 Oracle as Mediator between Divine and Recipient
Blackness is interpreted by Herodotus as a sign of the priestess’ Egyptian origin, just as it is for his theory that the Colchians are Egyptians (2.104.2), and it is a sign which the Dodonians transmit (σημαίνουσι) even if they do not recognize it as such.  One might say that at the root of the myth lies an expression of the dual nature of the oracle, its ability to communicate with the divine (the language of birds is characteristic not only of barbarians, but also of the divinely inspired poet) and simultaneously speak a language intelligible to humans. 
καὶ κωφοῦ συνίημι καὶ οὐ φωνεῦντος ἀκούω.
ὀδμή μ᾿ ἐς φρένας ἦλθε κραταιρίνοιο χελώνης
ἑψομένης ἐν χαλκῷ ἅμ᾿ ἀρνείοισι κρέεσσιν,
ᾗ χαλκὸς μὲν ὑπέστρωται, χαλκὸν δ᾿ ἐπίεσται.
Even more striking is the πρόμαντις of Apollo Ptoos, who is suddenly able to dispense with translators and delivers a response in perfect Carian to the consultant, Mys (8.135.2). This might be taken as some form of possession by the god, but there is no specific description of the prophetic μανία for which the Pythia, for example, is elsewhere so renowned.  Herodotus’ description of the oracle of Apollo at Patara in Lykia (1.182) mentions the physical association of the god and the πρόμαντις, who is locked in the temple overnight whenever the god visits, the only time at which the oracle is active.  Only in Herodotus’ description of Amphilytos, the χρησμολόγος ἀνήρ who relates to Peisistratos the oracle of the swarming tuna, is there what seems to be an explicit reference to divine presence: 
The conduit-like nature of the oracle means that its identity may at times be depicted as bound up with that of the god. Thus in the Histories the deliverer of an oracle may be presented as the oracular medium (e.g. ἡ Πυθίη ἔχρησε, 4.156.2), but also as the god himself (e.g. δοκέω . . . τὸν θεόν χρῆσαι, 5.80.1).  This is also reflected in the use of the verb σημαίνω in connection with oracles, which may have as its subject the god or the oracle.  The “I” of oracular utterances is sometimes indistinguishable from that of the god, as in the Pythia’s reply to the Spartans: 
In other instances, however, Herodotus chooses to distinguish the identity of the god from that of his oracle. This is what he does in his presentation of the confrontation between Kroisos and Apollo, where the Pythia justifies the ways of the god to the defeated and disgruntled Lydian. She makes no reference to her own identity, but speaks of Apollo in the third person:
Reference to the god in the third person by an oracle is also found in the oracle given to Arkesilaos:
For four Battoi and four Arkesilaoi, eight generations of men, does Loxias grant you rule of Cyrene.
By pointing out this mistake, Herodotus demonstrates that Mardonios’ confidence in the oracle is unfounded, and in this way he is able to strike yet another note of imminent doom in his narrative leading up to the Battle of Plataiai.  The proud and emphatic first-person usage (ἔγωγε . . . οἶδα)  echoes the Delphic oracle’s proud reply to Kroisos:
2.3.2 The Oracular Code
μὴ ἐλθὼν ἐλθόντος, ἄγαν ἄγαμαι σοφίην σευ.
The Pythia’s general appeal for colonists in Libya is also partially in Doric:
γᾶς ἀναδαιομένας, μετά οἵ ποκά φαμι μελήσειν.
If one subscribes to Herodotus’ opinion, the oracle at 4.155.3 contains one word in Libyan, βάττος, having the meaning ‘king’ in that language. The oracle of Apollo Ptoos in Boiotia is even able to speak to a non-Greek in his own tongue: the πρόμαντις speaks directly to Mardonios’ ambassador, Mys, in his native Carian, dispensing with the intermediary figures of the local citizens (8.135.2).
The term ψευδής is used by Amasis at 2.174.2 in opposition to “true oracles” (ἀληθέα μαντήια). Once again, the term reflects the point of view of the user: here, ψευδής in Amasis’ eyes refers to the fact that a particular oracle has not succeeded in detecting the thefts he has made, not to any deception on its part, and ἀληθής is here literally the sum of its components (α-privative and λαθ-), since the thefts do not escape the notice of the oracle.
Confronted with the uncertainty of human knowledge, men approach the oracle with a desire for the exact knowledge which is the property of the divine, but “the ambiguity of the responses given by the Delphic Oracle does not replace their lack of knowledge of the future with specific predictions, but with a different kind of uncertainty.”  This is not to say that the uncertainty is irresolvable: of the total number of what I have referred to as doubly-encoded oracles in the Histories (37), only one quarter do not receive a decoding or are misinterpreted by the recipient. 
In Herodotus, the connection between σοφίη and the interpretation of oracles is drawn at 1.68.1, where Likhas is credited with decoding the oracle about the bones of Orestes by a mixture of συντυχίη and σοφίη.  The Delphic oracle’s disdain for the Libyan colonists’ σοφίη may also reflect disdain for their ability to interpret the signs of the oracle (4.157.2, quoted above). The oracle itself at times draws attention to this double-encoding and by means of internal clues reminds the recipient of the need for careful consideration: a Delphic oracle to the Siphnians calls for a φράδμων ἀνήρ to φράσσασθαι (3.57.3), to recognize the signs of the fulfillment of oracle.  Similarly, an oracle of Bakis to the Euboians begins with the imperative of the same verb, φράζεο (8.20.2; see ch. 1.3.4, n93 above). The Bakkhiadai are instructed in an oracle to “watch out for these things carefully” (ταῦτά νυν εὖ φράζεσθε, 5.92.β.3). The command seems to work on two levels, constituting both advice to do something (for the Siphnians, to look out for a “wooden ambush” and a “red herald,” for the Euboians, to keep their goats away from the island) as well as a coded instruction to look closely and to interpret both the signs of the oracle and the signs of its fulfillment.
2.3.3 Decoding and Interpreting Oracles
We find, in short, what we have already found to be the case with other professional interpreters in the Histories, namely that professional interpreters of oracles are either wrong or corrupt.  The majority of Herodotean oracles, when their interpretation is described, are interpreted by nonprofessionals, who enjoy both success and failure in their interpretative endeavors. As has been mentioned above, successes in the interpretation of oracles in the Histories far outweigh failures.
They are able to separate the signifier from the signified, dissociating the sound |paion| from its context in the Perinthians’ cry of triumph to the god Apollo, and associating it with the signification it carries in another sign system involving the god, namely his oracle. 
In other words, the readings (γνῶμαι, 7.142.1) of the two groups rest respectively on a literal connection between signifier and signified (a wall is a wall), and on a figurative one, in which the ships substitute metaphorically for the wooden wall, both wall and ship having the function of defense and being composed of wood.  Themistokles’ contribution is not the drawing of this metaphoric connection between signifier and signified (from the passage cited immediately below it is clear that this type of connection had already been suggested), but his appeal to the internal consistency of the oracular text to resolve a question of reference on which previous attempts to argue this interpretation had foundered: 
The reference is to the second oracle given to the Athenians, in which the Pythia addresses the island of Salamis:
ἤ που σκιδναμένης Δημήτερος ἢ συνιούσης.
Themistokles resolves the disturbing expression “You will destroy the children of women” by a semiotic sleight of hand: he simply transfers the referent of “children” from the Athenian people to the enemy. His argument is hardly based on divine inspiration or on a special vision, but on a rhetorical appeal to the internal logic and consistency of the text: if the referent of τέκνα γυναικῶν is the Athenians, then Salamis could hardly be addressed as θείη (“divine”) but would be called σχετλίη (“cruel”). As Manetti comments,
Interpretation by debate occurs also amongst the Thebans, who are in fact instructed by the oracle to put their question about the possibility of revenge on the Athenians to their own assembly:
Here, too, Herodotus presents the debate as one in which the connection between signifier, the expression τῶν ἄγχιστα δέεσθαι (“ask your nearest”), and signified is explored first as a literal one (“nearest” referring to the Thebans’ neighbors) and then as a figurative one (“nearest” in terms of kinship, referring to the island of Aigina, named after one of the daughters of Theban Asopos). He does not merely report the debate, but dramatizes it as two successive speeches in oratio recta, with an anonymous Theban citizen (εἶπε δή κοτε μαθών τις, 5.80.1) presenting the winning reading (γνώμη, 5.80.2). Just as in the case of the oracle about the wooden wall, the assembly must vote on which is the better of the two interpretations, as if an ultimate interpretation cannot be reached: 
Herodotus shows himself directly as interpreter in his account of an oracle given to the inhabitants of wealthy Siphnos. The oracle is given in response to the question whether the Siphnians’ prosperity will be long-lasting:
λεύκοφρύς τ’ ἀγορή, τότε δὴ δεῖ φράδμονος ἀνδρὸς
φράσσασθαι ξύλινόν τε λόχον κήρυκά τ’ ἐρυθρόν.
The account contrasts the Siphnians’ lack of understanding of the oracle, both upon receiving it and upon its fulfillment (τοῦτον τὸν χρησμὸν οὐκ οἷοί τε ἦσαν γνῶναι οὔτε τότε ἰθὺς οὔτε τῶν Σαμίων ἀπιγμένων, 3.58.1), with the interpretative skills of Herodotus, who is able to provide the solution. The form of the oracle is a familiar one (ἀλλ᾿ ὅταν . . . τότε δή, “but when . . . then”), demanding the appearance of a sign as condition for its fulfillment. The task of the interpreter thus becomes not just the interpretation of the oracle, but also the recognition of the set of circumstances which signify the coming into being of the predicted action.  The oracle itself draws attention to this and to the double-encoding of the utterance by calling for a “shrewd man” (φράδμων ἀνήρ) to “be on the lookout” (φράσσασθαι). As at 5.92.β.3 and 8.20.2, the verb φράζομαι can itself be taken as a coded utterance, alerting the recipient to the necessity of reading the oracle on two levels. 
The oracle given to Arkesilaos III of Cyrene also contains elements which remain uninterpreted, though clear enough when read against Greek cultural conventions:
It becomes clear what the oven and amphorae refer to when Arkesilaos has several of his opponents, who have barricaded themselves in a tower, burned alive: the connection between signifier and signified is a metaphorical one, with the tower substituting for the oven, and the unfortunate men for the pots within it.  Arkesilaos realizes the connection too late, but attempts to comply with the rest of the oracle’s conditions by avoiding “the place surrounded by water” (ἡ ἀμφίρρυτος). Here perceiving the signified is not the difficulty, since, as it turns out, Arkesilaos is quite right in his assumption that the feminine adjective ἀμφίρρυτος qualifies a city, but rather determining the referent (which city?).  He understands the referent to be Cyrene, and so avoids this city and goes to Barke, the city of his father-in-law, where both men are, however, recognized and killed in the marketplace by exiles from Cyrene. The “finest-looking bull” (ταῦρος καλλιστεύων) is never explained by Herodotus, but clearly refers to Alazeir, Arkesilaos’ father-in-law.  As with Skyles’ griffins (4.79.1, discussed in ch. 2.1.6 above), here too Herodotus takes for granted the cultural code against which the animal imagery of the oracle must be read,  a code in which the mention of the physically perfect bull, the largest and costliest victim offered in cult, would be likely to activate associations of sacrifice and the well-known image of the death of Agamemnon, slain like a bull at the manger (βοῦς ἐπὶ φάτνῃ, Odyssey 4.534–535=11.411). 
Herodotus underscores the connection between Arkesilaos’ involuntary mistake in interpretation (ἁμαρτὼν τοῦ χρησμοῦ) and his own death, and referring to his willful disregard of the oracle on the one hand (cf. οὐκ ἐμέμνητο, 4.164.1), and his attempt to comply with it on the other by willingly keeping away from Cyrene (ἔργετο ἑκὼν τῆς τῶν Κυρηναίων πόλιος, 4.164.3).
This combination of hamartia and involuntariness is at the heart of Aristotle’s formulation of the hero of tragedy in the Poetics (1453a8–10), and is one of the several ways in which Herodotus’ work and tragedy in general overlap.  The statement of Kroisos after he has listened to Apollo’s self-defense of his actions is revealing for its assessment of the role of personal responsibility borne by humans for the interpretation of signs:
The limitations of human knowledge and the obscure and sometimes unknowable plans of the gods are familiar themes both in the Histories and in Greek literature of the Archaic and Classical periods. Yet figures in the Histories are nevertheless able to avail themselves of information sent by the gods via oracular signs.
2.4 Other Types of Mantikê
2.4.1 Mantikê by Animal Sacrifice
Here the ancestors are directly involved in the process of signification, acting presumably as mediators between divine and human planes and as transmitters of signs. Their tombs, themselves signs in the sense of markers (σήματα), act as a channel for the mantic signs of the dreams. 
Amphiaraus is also mentioned briefly in connection with his oracle in Boiotia and his presenting the Thebans with the choice of having his services either as an ally (σύμμαχος) or as a mantis (8.134.2). Descended from Melampous (7.221) is Megistias of Akarnania, who, as we have seen, foresees his own death and that of others at Thermopylai, but will not leave the field. Elis is the place of origin of several of the manties who are all members of one of the two great mantic families, the Telliadai and the Iamidai: Tellias (presumably a Telliades, 8.27.3); Kallias (Iamides, 5.44.2); Hegesistratos (Telliades, 9.37.1); Teisamenos (Iamides, 9.33.1).  Other manties are Hippomakhos of Leukas (9.38.1); Kleandros of Phigaleia in Arkadia (6.83.2); Euenios and his son, Deiphobos, of Apollonia in Illyria (9.92.2). All the manties mentioned by Herodotus thus have their origin in the western part of mainland Greece and the central Pelo-ponnese, ranging from Apollonia to Phigaleia.  These manties have however much more in common than their place of origin and lineage: many are distinguished by a mixture of ingenuity verging on the unscrupulous and an extreme courage, and find themselves driven into exile because of unfavorable readings they have given the ruler or city by whom they are employed. 
Herodotus’ account of Euenios of Apollonia (9.92.2–9.94.3) provides an interesting variation of this narrative pattern of the cunning mantis who tricks the king or community, where this time it is the mantis who is outsmarted in the deal.  The citizens of Apollonia put out Euenios’ eyes for failing to watch over the flock of sheep sacred to Apollo, but, after a period of infertility and crop failure, they are now instructed by the god to give Euenios whatever compensation he chooses. The Apolloniates approach Euenios, and, without telling him anything of the god’s instructions, ask him hypothetically what compensation he would accept. Euenios chooses, and the Apolloniates then reveal the reason they have asked him, and hold him to his word, though he is furious and considers himself cheated (ἐξαπατηθείς, 9.94.3). Compensation from the gods follows, however, in the form of an inborn mantic ability (ἔμφυτον μαντικήν, 9.94.3).
Herodotus’ narrative stresses the man’s ingenuity as well as his courage: Hegesistratos runs afoul of the Spartans, possibly because of his unfavorable readings or possibly because of manipulations of readings, and is condemned to death by them.  He devises a plan which Herodotus describes in language he reserves for exceptional acts of cunning and bravery: 
Using a knife that has somehow come into his possession, he calculatedly cuts off part of his foot which has been clamped in the stocks, digs his way out of the room, and manages to reach Tegea, traveling by night and successfully avoiding Spartan search parties. It is quite remarkable how Hegesistratos carefully calculates (σταθμησάμενος, 9.37.2) how much of his foot to cut off.  The verb σταθμάομαι is used several times by Herodotus of his method of interpretation and conclusion on the basis of comparison, as when he introduces Dareios’ famous experiment in comparative anthropology:
Especially comparable for the element of cunning intelligence and calculation is Herodotus’ account of the Assyrian thieves in the city of Ninos, who dig a tunnel leading from their homes to Sardanapallos’ underground treasure-chambers, computing the distance exactly (σταθμούμενοι, 2.150.3). Teisamenos’ decision to cut off part of his own body finds a parallel in the story of the Egyptian master thieves, one of whom gets caught in a trap in an underground treasure-chamber and instructs his brother to cut off his head, so that they will not at least be identified (2.121.β.2).  Equally courageous is the action of Megistias, who sees (ἐσιδὼν ἐς τὰ ἱρά, 7.219.1) the unfavorable outcome of the coming action at Thermopylai, clearly recognizing “the goddesses of Doom approaching,” as the epitaph attributed to Simonides by Herodotus puts it (Κῆρας ἐπερχομένας σάφα εἰδώς, 7.228.3), but does not leave the field, even though he is not a Spartan, and has been excused from the battle by Leonidas (7.221).  This is one of several places in the Histories where the gap between knowledge of the future gained through the interpretation of signs and the inability (or, as here, willing refusal) of those who possess this knowledge to avoid the foreseen evil evokes a pathos which functions much like tragic irony. 
Finally, as an example of the influence and negative power of persuasion of manties, there is Kleandros of Phigaleia (6.83.2). After the destruction of most of the adult male population of Argos by the Spartans under Kleomenes, the Argive slaves assume and keep control of the state, until the sons of the Argives who lost their lives in battle grow to adulthood and take back their power, expelling the slaves. The slaves retreat to Tiryns and manage to capture it, and from then on a state of peaceful relations exist between the two groups, which is broken, however, by Kleandros, a mantis who persuades the slaves to attack their masters once more (6.83.2). Kleandros is thus responsible for the lengthy war which follows after this and in which the freeborn Argives eventually gain the upper hand with difficulty.
2.5 The Ainos
Herodotus immediately steps in to explain the point of Kyros’ story: when Kyros had previously asked the Ionians and Aeolians to revolt from Kroisos’ control, they did not do so, but now that everything has changed and Kroisos been deposed, they are prepared to obey him. The Ionians and Aeolians are thus the fish, and Kyros the aulos-player.  But this is not the whole of the message: what are its implications for the Ionians and Aeolians? How do they understand Kyros’ logos? Kyros does not say what he will do to them, but we hear that their reaction is to build walls around their cities and gather at the Panionion (1.141.4), and we are later told of Harpagos’ subjugation of the Ionian cities, the second enslavement of Ionia (1.169.2). The verb used by Herodotus to decribe the Ionians’ construction of city walls, περιεβάλοντο, literally to ‘cast around’, cleverly mirrors the verb used by Kyros to describe the aulos-player’s casting of a net about the fish, περιβαλεῖν, translating the figurative into the literal. Instead of waiting for the net of Kyros to surround them, they surround themselves with a wall, showing that they received and understood the message in Kyros’ ainos. 
It is clear that Kroisos wants Miltiades released, but the expression “like a pine tree” throws the Lampsacenes into confusion. What does it mean? An old man eventually provides the key: 
In fear they release Miltiades.  As in the case of Kyros’ logos, Kroisos’ epos is told in a diplomatic context, an exchange between two foreign powers, and is related by the stronger to the weaker. Once again, the threat lies in the imagery used, drawn this time not from the animal but the plant world, which communicates more effectively than direct and unmarked speech.  In this instance the ainos is not framed, as with other ainoi, as an extended metaphor, but resides concisely in a simile (πίτυος τρόπον). 
The reply is designed to show Histiaios that Artaphrenes knows precisely what is going on, and Artaphrenes chooses to use code to convey this point more effectively (“I know that you know that I know”) and to match Histiaios’ cunning with a cunning of his own. The signifiers in Artaphrenes’ coded reply are carefully chosen and highly appropriate to the figure of Histiaios: the image of the craftsman stitching is suggestive of the traditional image of the trickster as stitcher, weaver, and contriver of plans.  As with Kroisos’ ainos, the reaction to Artaphrenes’ coded message upon decoding is fear and action: in a panic (δείσας, 6.2.1) Histiaios flees to the coast that same night.
The grandfather uses the question as an ainos to convey his message for two reasons: he must obviously use caution in so sensitive a matter, and he must be sure that the message falls on suitable ears. The allusive nature of Prokles’ speech acts as an automatic device of testing and selection, since only the one who feels concern at the mother’s death and the identity of the killer will decode the surface question not as a question but as a statement of Periandros’ guilt. The distinction between the two brothers lies in this ability to decode, and it is clearly shown when Periandros asks the elder brother what his grandfather said to them:
Eventually he remembers, and repeats his grandfather’s words, still presumably with no understanding, but Periandros has noos enough to realize the encoded nature of the utterance and the message lying under the surface: 
When in the hands of the stronger the ainos may threaten, as in the case of Kyros and Kroisos, but it may also warn and persuade in a more diplomatic fashion when the encoder of the ainos is in a weaker or equal position.  The Spartan king Leotykhides, for example, who wishes to persuade the Athenians to release a group of Aeginetan hostages which they are refusing to return, resorts to the rhetorical strategy of an extended ainos and tells the story of Glaukos the Spartan.  Glaukos accepts a deposit of money from a wealthy Milesian and retains a set of σύμβολα, tokens. He undertakes to turn over the deposit to anyone who produces a matching set of σύμβολα (6.86.α). After a number of years, the sons of the Milesian come to Sparta to reclaim the money (6.86.β.1). When they produce the σύμβολα, Glaukos claims that he remembers nothing of the agreement and the deposit, and sends them away, telling them to come back after four months, during which time he will investigate whether or not he ever accepted such a deposit (6.86.β.2). He asks the Delphic oracle whether he should keep his oath to the Milesian and return the money to the bearer of the σύμβολα. The oracle tells him that he can certainly pretend to know nothing of the agreement and profit by it, but reminds him that his descendants may be visited with the awful consequences of oath-breaking. He then asks the god for forgiveness, but the Pythia tells him that to have considered breaking his oath is the same as having actually done so (6.86.γ.1–2).
Kroisos fails to understand both Solon’s explicit statements about the nature of ὄλβος and the implicit warning about his conduct, both the surface meaning and the underlying meaning. Understanding, revelation, and the final solution to Solon’s ainos come only later, as Herodotus shows in the dramatic scene of Kroisos on the pyre, when he calls out Solon’s name and recalls his teaching (1.86.3–5). The interaction between Kroisos, the interpreters, and Kyros now reminds one of that first interchange between Solon and Kroisos. Kroisos’ utterances on the pyre are just as puzzling as Solon’s once were, and to the interpreters (ἑρμηνέες), who can translate his language but not the meaning of his words, what he says is ἄσημα, without meaning or sense (1.86.4).  Yet Kyros is able to make sense of Kroisos’ words, to grasp the message in his noos (1.86.6). 
In other words, we see Herodotus here in his role of transmitter, marshaler, and interpreter of signs.
2.6 Names and Naming
2.6.1 Meaning of Names, Action of Naming
Herodotus thus shows himself fully aware of the double capacity of names both to point and identify and to have meaning in themselves, drawing our attention to the possibility of connections between the bearer and the meaning of the name.  That comparison between the two may reveal an ironic or humorous dissonance has already been seen in the case of Krios, but the experience of Leon shows that the connection may have more serious consequences. Leon (“Lion”) is the name of an Aeginetan sailor on the first Greek ship to be captured by the Persian fleet near Skiathos. As the finest looking on board, he is executed over the ship’s prow by the Phoenician crew as a kind of sacrificial victim:
Herodotus grimly suggests, “Perhaps he benefited to some extent from his name as well” (τάχα δ’ ἄν τι καὶ τοῦ οὐνόματος ἐπαύροιτο, 7.180), presumably meaning that just as the man’s beauty marked him out for slaughter in the way in which the finest animal in a herd is chosen as a sacrificial victim, so too did the nobility of his name, “Lion,” contribute to the Phoenicians’ decision, being a kind of omen.  The ominous connection between the meaning of a name and its bearer may also be experienced in a more positive and less baneful fashion, as with the name of Hegesistratos (‘Leader of the army’). When Hegesistratos of Samos asks Leotykhides for assistance, Leotykhides asks for his name and upon hearing it accepts it as a (good) omen (δέκομαι τὸν οἰωνόν, 9.91.2) and so agrees to give his help.  As Munson (2005:49) puts it, “Herodotus’ etymologies have the mantic character of Leotychides’ discovery of Hegesistratus’ name and of the creation and interpretation of names as represented in Plato’s Cratylus.”
The action of naming goes beyond simply attaching a new sign to the bearer, but may constitute a speech act, since it produces an actual result, making him king (or at least predicting that he will be). Herodotus shows us naming as an act which produces or confirms the status of kingship also in his account of the rise of Kyros. The giving of the name “king” (βασιλέος ὀνομασθέντος, 1.120.4) to Kyros in a children’s game has far-reaching consequences, since by various twists and turns it ends up fulfilling Astyages’ dream that the offspring of his daughter will rule in his stead. To Astyages and the magoi, the context of Kyros’ being named king―a children’s game―limits the sense in which he is “king” and safely defuses the dream’s prophecy (ἐς ἀσθενὲς ἔρχεται, 1.120.3), but Herodotus seems to show that the naming is an absolute act which, once performed (under whatever circumstances), has an enduring effect.
Their manipulation consists in the appropriation (παραλαβόντες) and conversion of a proper name into an ordinary noun, from Κυνώ to κύων, just as Kleomenes converts Κριός to κριός. In the former instance, the distinction is reflected in a formal change, the change from a form with a suffix indicative of a female personal name (cf. Γοργώ) to one with a suffix indicative of a common noun. With the Κριός to κριός change there is no formal change observable, but the context (the mention of horns) makes the change clear. In both cases, the referent is no longer regarded as a person but the very thing which is signified by the signifier. In other words, there is no longer a distinction between the signified (“dog,” “ram”) and the referent (the woman Kuno, the man Krios), and the manipulators reduce the referents to the position of animals, each for their own purposes.
Persian names, then, do not simply identify or mark their bearers, but describe them, presumably not necessarily as they are but as they would like to be regarded. In other words, there is a natural relationship between sense and referent. Herodotus in fact illustrates this principle of Persian onomastics later in the Histories when he gives Greek equivalents for the names Dareios, Xerxes, and Artaxerxes, all of which are fitting names for kings and leaders:
These are the only Persian names whose significance he reveals (apart from the Median Spako), but there are indications that he treats certain other Persian names as if they contained Greek roots, and plays on connections between these familiar roots glimpsed in foreign names and the referents of these names.  μεγαλοπρεπείη (‘magnificence, grandeur’) is visible in the numerous Persian names in Herodotus beginning in Mega-, to the Greek ear suggestive of μέγας (‘great’), e.g. Megabates as if from μέγα- and βαίνω (‘walk’), Megadostes as if from μέγα- and δίδωμι (‘give’), or in those ending in –phrenes, suggestive of Greek φρήν and its plural, φρένες (‘mind, senses’), e.g. Artaphrenes as if ἀρτίφρων (‘sound of mind’).  The name Harpagos resembles the Greek ἅρπαγος (‘hook’) and other words built on the root ἁρπ- (‘grasp, seize’), a not inappropriate description of his character.  The first element of the name of Prexaspes suggests Ionic πρηξ- (πρήσσω, ‘do, act’), as found in the Greek names Πρηξίλεως (9.107.2) and Πρηξῖνος (7.180), and Herodotus seems in one place to play on this perceived connection:
The pronouncing of a name, whether as an initial act of bestowal (ὀνομάζειν, οὔνομα τιθέναι) or as an act of recollection (μνῶμαι, ἐπιμνῶμαι, μνήμην ποιέεσθαι), is a highly significant, not to say semiotic, activity. To bestow a name is to bring about a certain change in reality, or at least to attempt to bring about a change, as when parents harness the glory of a former bearer of a name to the present bearer: so the Athenian tyrant is named Peisistratos after the famous son of Nestor (5.65.4).  The renaming of tribes by Kleisthenes of Sikyon and, in imitation of his maternal grandfather, by Kleisthenes the Athenian demonstrates the connection between naming and the exercise of power and imposition of will. Kleisthenes of Sikyon changes the traditional names of the four Doric tribes (φυλαί), used also in Argos, because of his hatred of Argos and all things Argive:
Three of the four names which he substitutes, however, are, according to Herodotus at least, an expression of tyrannical caprice, designed to humiliate his own citizens (πλεῖστον κατεγέλασε τῶν Σικυωνίων, 5.68.1). He names them after the swine, the ass, and the sucking pig: 
The grandson named for him also brings about changes in the names of the four traditional φυλαί in Athens, and also does so in order not to use the same names as a despised people, in this case the Ionians in general (5.69.1). The name changes involved are, however, different in that they are accompanied by structural changes: not only are the names changed (to those of nine Attic heroes and the Aeginetan hero, Aias) but the number of the φυλαί are increased to ten and their composition changed, with the demes being distributed among the ten φυλαί in such a way as to break up local allegiances (5.69.2). The results of their renaming are thus quite distinct. As Benardete puts it,
Both use names and renaming as a form of social engineering.  The fact that Kleisthenes the Athenian is named after Kleisthenes of Sikyon (ὁμώνυμος, τὸ οὔνομα ἐπὶ τούτου ἔχων, 5.69.1) goes hand in hand with, and seems to explain, his “imitation” (ἐμιμέετο, 5.67.1) of his name changing.  Identity of name is intimately connected with identity of behavior: this may be seen in Herodotus’ treatment of the two queens named Nitokris, one of whom is Babylonian, the other Egyptian.  Apart from sharing the same name, they also have in common a cunning scheme (μηχανή): both lure unsuspecting but deserving victims into a trap involving a closed space.  In the case of the Babylonian Nitokris, it is a trap which operates after her death: she has her tomb built into one of the city gates of Babylon with an inscription inviting any future king of Babylon to open her tomb if he be in need of money, but not to open it otherwise (1.187.1–2). When Dareios conquers the city, he is inflamed by the inscription and opens the tomb, only to find a body and a further inscription telling him that if he were not insatiate and sordidly avaricious he would not open the tombs of the dead (1.187.3–5). The Egyptian Nitokris’ trap is more deadly: in order to revenge her husband, she invites his murderers to a feast in an underground chamber, which she suddenly floods with water through a hidden pipe. 
Ignorance of their names goes together with the fact that there is no place for them in the Egyptian pantheon. In addition, according to Herodotus, the names of Hera, Hestia, Themis, the Kharites, and the Nereidai are unknown to the Egyptians (2.50.2): the implication is that the deities themselves are not worshiped either and that the Egyptians do not have divisions in their system of gods corresponding to the bearers of these names. Furthermore, Herodotus says that all these gods were named by the Pelasgians, except Poseidon, and this god they learned of from the Libyans:
So Poseidon was named by the Libyans: but then Herodotus says they learned of the god (he does not say name) from the Libyans. To learn the name of a god is to also to recognize his existence as a distinct entity and recipient of cult: in one sentence Herodotus can say that the Libyans named Poseidon, and in another that they gave the knowledge of the god himself to the Pelasgians. It is in this sense that the Pelasgians, and thus the Hellenes, took the names of the gods from the Egyptians: as Burkert puts it, we are not dealing with the individual and precise correspondence of phonemes, but the fact that one system of signification and meaning clearly reflects another.  Burkert links Herodotus’ statement about the origin of the names of the gods (οὐνόματα τῶν θεῶν) with another passage in the Histories where Herodotus uses οὐνόματα in a context of dividing and defining. Herodotus cannot understand (συμβαλέσθαι, 4.45.1) amongst other things why there should be three names (Europa, Libya, and Asia) for what is one undifferentiated object, the earth (ἐπ’ ὅτεο μιῇ ἐούσῃ γῇ οὐνόματα τριφάσια κεῖται, 4.45.1).  He does not believe that the divisions made by the names correspond to any divisions in reality. From this it appears that for each name there ought to exist an appropriate category, an approach which Burkert rightly says must be viewed against the background of contemporary fifth-century speculation about the philosophy of language and the belief in the natural and correct relationship between signifier and signified. Burkert compares two passages from Anaxagoras and the Derveni Papyrus in which the actions of differentiation and naming are clearly linked.  Herodotus on one occasion draws attention to a certain correctness or rightness (ὀρθότης) in the relationship between name and bearer which is reminiscent of the doctrine of the “correctness” of names mentioned above: in relaying the Scythian names of various divinities, he comments that Zeus is most correctly called Papaios in Scythian (ὀνομάζεται δὲ σκυθιστὶ . . . Ζεὺς . . . ὀρθότατα κατὰ γνώμην γε τὴν ἐμὴν καλεόμενος, Παπαῖος, 4.59.2). The name probably suggests to Herodotus πάππας (‘papa’, e.g. Odyssey 6.57) and so Zeus’ role as father of gods and men. In this sense, the application of the name Papaios to the deity reflects the nature of the god accurately, and so is “correct.” 
2.6.2 Transmission of Names
Name taboo may lie behind Herodotus’ curious report of a Libyan tribe, the Atarantes, who are said to be the only people who are without names (ἀνώνυμοι, 4.184.1). It is not that the tribe as a whole has no name, merely that they do not have personal names (ἑνὶ δὲ ἑκάστῳ αὐτῶν οὔνομα οὐδὲν κεῖται, 4.184.1). Herodotus suggests no reason for this (just as he has no further comment on the Libyan tribe that has no dreams, 4.184.4) but behind it may lie the practice of name-avoidance, attested in several cultures, and in particular among the Tibbus, a people living in the Tibesti range, the very area which Herodotus is describing here. 
In talking of the predecessors of Sesostris he says:
He may also express his discretion and freedom in mentioning the names of some but not others by saying that he is under no compulsion (ἀνάγκη) to mention the names of all. So, for example, in his discussion of the commanders of ships and infantry on the Persian side, he says the following:
For the same reason, he will not mention (οὐ παραμέμνημαι, 7.99.1) the names of all the commanders of ships, but will single out Artemisia. 
Rendering one’s opponents anonymous while at the same time criticizing their ideas is one of the chief weapons in the arsenal of any polemicist. Herodotus also refuses to transmit the names of certain Greeks who pass off as their own doctrines about the immortality of the soul and reincarnation, which the Egyptians thought of a long time before them:
The suppression of names is an attempt to distribute credit (and kleos) where it is due, but also throws Herodotus’ own contribution, the recognition that these are in fact Egyptian beliefs, into relief, a tactic we have seen in the previous example. In the case of the Delphian who attaches an inscription claiming the Spartans as dedicants of a golden lustral basin that is actually a gift of Kroisos (1.51.4), and the Samian who seizes the property that the eunuch of Sataspes has absconded with upon learning of his master’s execution (4.43.7), Herodotus stresses that he perfectly well knows the name of the person responsible (τοῦ ἐπιστάμενος τὸ οὔνομα, 1.51.4, 4.43.7), but will not mention it (οὐκ ἐπιμνήσομαι, 1.51.4; ἑκὼν ἐπιλήθομαι, 4.43.7). Here I think suppression cannot simply be termed “a purposive desire to consign a small, foul act to oblivion.”  For how can Herodotus assign an act to oblivion precisely by relating it in his Histories? It is rather the agents who are consigned to oblivion, perhaps not because of any distaste on Herodotus’ part.  The effect of the omissions is to draw attention to the narrator’s position of superior knowledge by the very act of his withholding the names.
2.7 Action, Ritual, and Gesture as Signs
2.7.1 Reading Encounters
When the Persians first encounter the Greek style of hoplite warfare at Marathon, they are at a loss to interpret their tactics: the Athenians are few in number, and they advance at a run, without the covering support of cavalry or archers. This the Persians can only construe as destructive madness (μανίην . . . πάγχυ ὀλεθρίην, 6.112.2).  Here the only thing such actions can signify in the Persians’ eyes is behavior devoid of sense.
The verbs φράζω and σημαίνω are already familiar as verbs describing the transmission of a message by signs (cf. ch. 1.2.1, 1.2.2 above). As Munson (2005:73) points out, “Just as sex replaces war, here the universal language of gestures overcomes the language barrier.” Non-linguistic signs also solve the problem of distance: while the range of linguistic signs is limited, because with increasing distance words can no longer be distinguished and perceived clearly, the non-linguistic sign can travel further.  The signals used by heralds to communicate orders to troops, a puff of smoke, or the showing of a shield are all detectable at a much greater distance. 
2.7.2 Actions as Encoded Message
Like many of the messengers in the Histories, he carries a message without understanding that it is a message or what the message is.  Only the intended recipient is in a position firstly to recognize the actions as a set of signs and, secondly, to decode the encoded message, which Periandros readily does:
2.7.3 Gestures as Performative Signs
The pledging of oaths forms an important category in Herodotus’ ethnographic descriptions, and in each case he pays attention to the ritual acts which accompany the verbal component of the oath. Ritual connected with oaths made by Greeks is generally not described by Herodotus, except in the case of the oath of the Phocaeans (described above), the oath of the people of Barke with Amasis the Persian (4.201.2–3: cf. ch. 3.1 on the manipulation involved therein), and the oath of Demaratos’ mother to her son (6.68).  There is good reason in each of these instances for Herodotus to describe the accompanying ritual: the sinking of the iron ingot dramatically demonstrates the resolve of the Phocaeans never to return; Amasis’ manipulation of the ritual accompanying the oath by which he tricks the people of Barke into opening their city gates is crucial for Herodotus’ story; and the thrusting of the entrails of a bull into the hands of his mother demonstrates the intensity of Demaratos’ desire to find out the truth about his parentage and heightens the tone of the account. Otherwise, Herodotus’ description of the oaths of Greeks is confined to their contents. The ritual activity connected with oaths is described precisely where it differs from the familiar Greek practice, hence mainly in non-Greek contexts, or where it is particularly striking. Thus Herodotus says of the oaths of Lydians and Persians:
A similar tendency may be observed in his description of sacrifice in general: non-Greek sacrificial practice is described in detail and is a constant category in the ethnographic portions of Herodotus’ work, but we learn of Greek sacrificial ritual only inasmuch as it is the implicit model against the background of which Herodotus presents the sacrificial practice of non-Greeks. 
2.7.4 Laughter and Tears as Signs
Laughter at the customs of others characterizes Xerxes as well, and acts as an effective token of his folly and ultimate failure. He consistently laughs at Demaratos’ description of Spartan mettle and his assessment of them as a threat to the Persians (7.103.1, 7.105, 7.209.2), and when the Spartans send heralds to him in accordance with an oracle to demand compensation for the killing of Leonidas at Thermopylai, his reaction is a strange mixture of laughter and silence:
His words turn out to be true, but not in the sense he intends, since the compensation (δίκη) that Mardonios gives the Spartans is his own life, when he is killed at the Battle of Plataiai:
Xerxes’ laugh and the lengthy silence which precedes his answer to the Spartans alert us to the ominous nature of the words which follow, and the double-edged nature of the answer is played upon in Herodotus’ description of the Spartan herald’s response: he “accepts” Xerxes reply (ὁ μὲν δὴ δεξάμενος τὸ ῥηθὲν ἀπαλλάσσετο, 8.115.1), just as the oracle instructs them to do (Ξέρξην αἰτέειν δίκας τοῦ Λεωνίδεω φόνου καὶ τὸ διδόμενον ἐξ ἐκείνου δέκεσθαι [8.114.1], “Ask Xerxes for compensation for the killing of Leonidas and accept what is given by him”).  The verb δέκομαι (“accept, receive”), as we have seen (ch. 2.1), may be used in the sense of recognizing and accepting something as a portent or sign. What Herodotus points out explicitly in the case of Kambyses he indicates silently with respect to Xerxes by means of the mere mention of his laughter.
After this explanation a chain reaction follows: first Kroisos (whose presence Herodotus hastily explains and who is there for good reasons) weeps, then the Persian bystanders, and finally Kambyses himself:
All of this happens without words: there is no explanation given by Herodotus for the reactions, only the fact of their tears is recorded, with the verb of weeping twice placed in emphatic position at the beginning of its clause: δακρύειν μέν . . ., δακρύειν δέ . . . Yet behind the simple fact of tears there is a network of connections: each participant “reads” the emotional response of the other, interprets it, and produces his own reaction after comparison, which is then in turn taken up by another.  Kroisos makes a connection between Psammenitos and himself and weeps: he, too, was a king in defeat and subject to the “testing” of another;  he, too, cried out a name after lengthy silence and was asked by his tormentor the reason for this.  When the Persian bystanders see Kroisos weep, as Persians they know his history and the reason for his tears, and they, too, weep in pity in contemplation and comparison of the twin fates of the two men. At the end of the chain Kambyses himself experiences pity as he completes the equation: if Kroisos stands in the same position as Psammenitos, then he is to Psammenitos as his father, Kyros, was to Kroisos. This prompts him to act with mercy, as his father did, and he orders the execution of the son to be stayed.
2.8 Objects as Signs
2.8.1 Transformation of Objects and Their Meaning
Amasis thus constructs an object which acts as a signifier in two ways, firstly as an iconic representation of a god, which is interpreted as such by the Egyptians and accordingly becomes an object of worship (σέβεσθαι), and secondly as the bearer of an encoded message which has to be revealed (ἐξέφηνε) by Amasis to his subjects. 
The Ethiopian’s interpretation nevertheless strikes at the truth: Kambyses simply wishes to take their land:
Kambyses’ gift does not go unreciprocated. Even before he decodes Kambyses’ gifts, the Ethiopian king bids the messengers give Kambyses a bow and relay a verbal message (ἔπεα) to accompany it:
His message thus uses three different sign media: the bow itself as significant object, the gestures made by the king (the expressions οὕτως εὐπετέως and τόξα ἐόντα μεγάθεϊ τοσαῦτα are deictic in nature and depend on demonstration for their comprehension), and, accompanying them, the words of his utterance (ἔπεα). The bow then disappears from the narrative, but not for good. It makes an appearance once more when Herodotus describes the mounting madness of Kambyses. Kambyses sends his brother, Smerdis, back to Persia out of jealousy (φθόνῳ), because he alone of the Persians is able to draw the Ethiopian bow, albeit only two fingers’ breadth (3.30.1). It is this very bow that effectively sets off the chain of events which will culminate in Kambyses’ murder of his brother, the first of his evils (πρῶτον . . . τῶν κακῶν, 3.30.3),  since once Smerdis arrives in Persia, Kambyses has a dream that his brother is sitting on his throne and that his head touches the sky (3.30.2), and so decides to have him assassinated.  The bow thus again plays a role as significant object, carefully placed in the narrative to evoke the Ethiopian king’s words on giving it and, by extension, his penetrating remarks about the injustice and greed of Kambyses (3.21.2).
The Persians understand that the gifts must be treated as signs standing for something: they ask the messenger what the νόος of the gifts is (4.131.2). The messenger confirms that the gifts do stand for something, but will not reveal what it is: if they are sophoi, they will realize what the gifts “say” (λέγει, 4.131.2).  The gifts are presented as talking objects, replacing the herald himself, whose function here is to deliver only the gifts, and not any direct message.  Despite Dareios’ realization that these are gifts of a different kind, his interpretation of them is nevertheless based on the type of gifts and code familiar to him, those of earth and water, tokens of submission: 
Dareios therefore pursues a reading which is based in part on seeing a metonymic connection between signifier and signified (a mouse lives in the earth and so represents the earth, the element with which it is associated; a frog lives in water and so represents water itself).  Gobryas, his advisor, draws a connection based largely on metaphor between each sign object and its significance (the Persians must become birds and fly off into the sky, become mice and sink under the earth, become frogs and jump into the lakes, or be struck by the arrows of the Scythians).  He expresses his interpretation in the form of an actual address on the part of the gifts, making them speak (λέγει), just as the Scythian herald advised:
The series of gifts given by King Euelthon of Salamis in Cyprus to Phere-time of Cyrene culminate in a gift which is designed to put a stop to her requests for a gift which he will not give. Pheretime asks him for an army as a gift, in order that her son may be restored to power. The gift of an army, as we learn from a later passage in the Histories, is a thoroughly typical gift for a Persian to give, even to a woman (this is what Xerxes offers Artaynte instead of the cloak Amestris has given him):
Euelthon refuses her request, but does so indirectly by giving her another gift.  The process is repeated a number of times, with Pheretime replying on each occasion that the gift is fine, but finer still would be what she asked for, an army (4.162.4).  So far, the gifts of Euelthon only have significance by virtue of the fact that they are not what Pheretime has asked for. His final gift, however, is designed to deliver a message in itself:
She is unable to recognize the objects as signs and their encoded message until Euelthon spells it out:
The spindle and distaff, instruments used in the womanly task of spinning, stand metonymically as signifiers for the sphere of female competence, while the material from which they are fashioned, gold, raises them from the status of common objects, marking them as gifts and symbolic objects. 
2.8.3 Objects Formed or Touched by the Gods
They also function metonymically as signifiers, each object being drawn from one of the three spheres of society: the plough and yoke, taken together as a pair (τε καί), from agriculture, the sagaris (battle-axe) from the military realm, and the phialê (for making libations) from the priestly section.  Of the three Scythian brothers, only the youngest is able to approach the flaming objects and take them into his possession (4.5.4).  His elder brothers recognize this action as a sign (συγγνόντας) and give the entire kingship to him, and since then the Scythian kings (members of clan called the Paralatai, descendants of the youngest brother, Kolaxaïs) have retained control of the sacred gold objects (4.7.1), as if the king is subsuming all the functions of society within his own person. 
As in the Scythian version of the foundation myth, it is the youngest of the three sons who passes the test, and once again the golden phialê figures as a significant object.  On the clasp of the belt is a golden phialê, presumably a depiction (ζωστῆρα ἔχοντα ἐπ’ ἄκρης τῆς συμβολῆς φιάλην χρυσέην, 4.10.1), which the mother then transforms into an actual phialê that she hangs from the belt. It is because of this Ur-phialê that Scythians wear phialai suspended from their belts (4.10.3). 
The cavity in the rock, once interpreted as an imprint, the negative impression of a positive object, is like the distinctive mark left behind by a signet ring (σφρηγίς) which points to its owner, and demands a τύπος for its ἀντίτυπος, to use the terms of the oracle given to the Spartans in connection with the bones of Orestes (1.67.4).  The size alone points to the realm of the divine, and Herakles, wanderer in remote regions both west and east, fits the description. 
Just as the presence of Herakles is inferred from an impression of his foot, so in Egypt, in the town of Khemmis, where there is a temple and sanctuary to Perseus, the presence of that hero is deduced from the appearance of one of his sandals, of precisely the same dimensions as Herakles’ footprint, two cubits (all heroes, it seems, take this size shoe). In this instance, the sign does not point back to the remote past but rather to the present:
Objects closely associated with a hero play a vital role in the account of Demaratos’ conception. His mother swears that on the third night after her first night of marriage an apparition (φάσμα, 6.69.1) resembling her husband, Ariston, appeared to her, slept with her, and left the garlands which he was wearing behind him, placing them about her. When her husband returned and questioned her about them, she said that he had given them to her himself after sleeping with her (6.69.2). Ariston then recognizes the hand of the divine (ἔμαθε ὡς θεῖον εἴη τὸ πρῆγμα, 6.69.3) since the garlands were clearly from the nearby shrine of the hero Astrabakos. The garlands, objects originally intended as expressions of devotion in the hero’s cult, and the gift of some worshiper, now become signs of the presence of the one himself worshiped.
These signs are tekmêria as far as Herodotus is concerned, signs as evidence for the involvement of the divine: 
Not only do objects associated with the divine―the things worn, carried, or received by gods or heroes―act as signs for their presence: the bones of heroes themselves make their appearance in Herodotus’ narrative. In the aftermath of the Battle of Plataiai, the bones of a man five cubits in length are discovered (ἐφάνη, 9.83.2). As with the herald’s staff discussed above, Herodotus provides no interpretation of these bones, but the size of the skeleton suggests that it belongs to a hero (a height of four cubits is already sufficiently tall enough to be considered appropriate for a goddess, 1.60.4), and one is led to think of this as evidence for a hero’s presence on the side of the Greeks, just as at Marathon, the figure of an enormous man (φάσμα, 6.117.3), whose beard cast a shadow over his entire shield, is said to have been seen by Epizelos, blind ever since that time. 
2.8.4 Objects as Bearers of Identity
The sphrêgis, or signet ring, works in the same way, not only marking out the bearer by its distinctive device, however, but also leaving visible and tangible marks in the form of impressions made in clay or wax, signs which may mark off and define an object or invest a document with the authority of the seal’s owner.
Polykrates, acting on Amasis’ advice to undergo a voluntary loss and suffering in order to break the cycle of good fortune which he predicts will bring the envy (φθόνος) of the divine upon him, sails out to the open sea and, with the crew as witness, throws the object into the deep (3.41.2).  The apparent irreversibility of the action  suggests a ritual dimension to the act in which Versnel sees the ring as a substitute for Polykrates himself, a pars pro toto “sacrifice.”  On this model, then, the sphrêgis becomes much more intimately connected with the wearer than simply being a beloved possession.
As often in Herodotus, an object used for one purpose or as one kind of signifier becomes used as a different kind of signifier: the ring itself obstinately endures while the meaning invested in it changes. 
The simple negative impression of such a seal brings with it an immense power: the punishment for sacrificing a bull unmarked (ἀσήμαντον, 2.38.3) by the priest’s ring is death.
2.8.5 Clothing and Ornament
2.8.6 Body as Sign-Bearer
Fugitives seeking asylum in the temple of Hephaistos at the Canopic mouth of the Nile mark themselves as the property of the god (ἑωυτὸν διδοὺς τῷ θεῷ, 2.113.2), and thus inviolate, by having “sacred” tattoos (στίγματα ἱρά) placed on themselves. Histiaios uses a slave’s head as surface on which to tattoo a secret message to Aristagoras, bidding him wait until his hair grows back before setting out to deliver the message (5.35.3). 
Peisistratos and Zopyros both rely on the capacity of the mutilated body to signify when they inflict wounds upon themselves: by so doing, Peisistratos manages to convince the Athenians dêmos to provide him with a bodyguard as protection against his enemies, whom he claims have tried to kill him (1.59.4), and Zopyros is able to convince the Babylonians by the marks on his body and his missing ears that he has been maltreated by Dareios and is genuinely deserting to their side (3.154.2). The false Smerdis has no ears because they were cut off as the result of an offense against the king (3.69.5), who marks those who commit crimes against him with signs visible to others in the form of mutilations. The presence of these signs, which, read in terms of the Persian penal code, indicate those who have committed a wrong, acts in turn as a sign of a different kind for Otanes: this Smerdis cannot be the brother of Kambyses, since the latter had both ears intact. In this way Otanes, already suspicious on the basis of other signs in pseudo-Smerdis’ behavior, is able to confirm the identity of the imposter. 
In addition, the corpse becomes its own funerary monument when it is encased in a hollowed-out column of transparent crystal, so that the whole becomes a stêlê, a marker which, among the Greeks at any rate, is normally an entity separate from the corpse itself: 
Just as Kambyses does with the skin of Sisamnes, the Scythians treat the skin of their enemies as if it is the hide of an animal, scraping and burnishing it with the rib of an ox. From it napkins (χειρόμακτρα, 4.64.2) are made and suspended from the bridles of their horses, acting, like the cups made of skulls, as indicators of the bravery of the one displaying them: whoever has the most of them is judged the bravest (ἀνὴρ ἄριστος, 4.64.2). The entire skin of the enemy may be made into a kind of effigy, an iconic representation which is then mounted on a pole and carried on horseback (4.64.3). As with the corpses of the Ethiopians, the body is made into an icon of itself.
2.8.7 Objects as Indicators of Size and Status
The greater the mound, the greater the crime to which it points. Yet the function of the mound is not primarily to act as a sign: the higher the mound, the greater the benefit to the country, since the higher the elevation of the city, the more it is protected from the Nile’s annual flooding. 
Taken collectively, the stones constitute on the one hand a kind of census, and on the other a monument to the greatness of Dareios’ endeavor. Neither purpose, however, is explicitly attributed to Dareios by Herodotus, yet up to this point the narrative of Dareios’ campaign against the Scythians has already been punctuated by a number of monuments: that of Mandrokles, architect of the bridge over the Bosporos, which is in both iconic form (a picture depicting the bridge and the progress of Dareios and his army across it, 4.88.1) and the form of written signs (an inscription, relayed by Herodotus at 4.88.2); and that of Dareios himself in the form of a stêlê honoring the healthful springs of the Tearos and the fact that they have been visited by so distinguished a visitor (4.91.1–2). 
A change in sign function is accompanied by a physical change in the sign vehicle as the arrowheads, each representing one individual, are melted down and a new object formed which also has a new semiotic function as monument (μνημόσυνον), recalling and celebrating the one who has set it up.  Ariantas’ kratêr enacts the metaphor of the body politic, literally fashioning one object from his citizens.
The piquancy of the narrative resides in the fact that each stone represents not one warrior or one royal subject, as in the case of Dareios’ mounds of stones or Ariantas’ arrowheads, but each man with whom Kheops’ daughter has slept, so that the total number of stones indicates the number of times the daughter of Kheops has prostituted herself. But she treats the stones exactly as Dareios and Ariantas regard the stones and arrowheads brought by those under their power, as tokens brought by subjects to their ruler: from what is potentially a record of her shame, she constructs a pyramid which stands besides others (ἐν μέσῳ τῶν τριῶν ἑστηκυῖαν, ἔμπροσθε τῆς μεγάλης πυραμίδος, 2.126.2) and acts as no less proud a monument (even though it is smaller than the others). Collectively, then, the individual tokens function together as a new significant object, a μνημήιον which honors her memory for generations to come.
No matter that Rhodopis’ μνημήιον is only a collection of iron cooking spits big enough to spear an ox (ὀβελοὶ βούποροι, 2.135.4): the novelty of her monument ensures that her memory will be perpetuated, and Herodotus, as with his descriptions of all the other monuments in the Histories, subsumes and weaves her monument into his text, making the objects speak. 
2.8.8 Objects as Memorials and Monuments
Aryandes achieves his immortal monument at the cost of his own life, because he trespasses on the prerogative of the king, who has the exclusive right to strike and mark coinage, just as he alone has the right to mark and mutilate his slaves.  Anyone else who does so is either suspected of treason and executed, as are Aryandes and Intaphrenes, who usurps the king’s right by disfiguring the servants of Dareios when they refuse to let him in for an audience while the king is with a woman (3.118.1–119.2).
Monuments, being signs, require, or at least attract, interpretation, as Herodotus has already shown in the case of the μνημήιον of Rhodopis and in a number of other instances where he corrects the readings of others. Those who interpret (εἰκάζουσι, 2.106.5) the figure of a man carved in rock as a representation (εἰκών, 2.106.5) of Memnon are “far short of the truth” (πολλὸν τῆς ἀληθείης ἀπολελειμμένοι, 2.106.5): it is in fact Sesostris. Herodotus is also able to interpret the stêlai which Sesostris left behind him along the route he followed in returning to Egypt from his campaign against those living in the area of the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf and which commemorate his own prowess and his enemies’ weakness. According to Herodotus, the stêlai fall into two types, the one containing only an inscription, and the other an inscription together with a representation of a woman’s genitalia. Herodotus produces a reading of the two types. In those countries where Sesostris encountered spirited resistance, he erected stêlai with an inscription with his name, country, and the fact that he had subdued them by his might; in those countries where no resistance was given, he put up stêlai of the second type, having the same inscription as those erected in the countries of brave men, but in addition the depiction of a woman’s genitalia, which Herodotus interprets as a contemptuous sneer at the cowardice of his opponents (2.102.4–5). Herodotus thus interprets the stêlai according to a code in which the exposure of the female genitalia indicates contempt, as it does, for example, in the festival of Artemis at Boubastis, where female participants traveling to the festival on barges display themselves in ritual obscenity to those on the shore, to the accompaniment of mocking remarks (2.60.2).