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 3: The Use and Abuse of Signs
3.1 The Manipulation of Signs in Herodotus’ Histories
3.1.2 Encoding and Transmission
The commander of the second Spartan campaign against the Peisistratidai is none other than Kleomenes, who himself resorts to precisely the same kind of manipulation when trying to depose Demaratos from the other kingship. Through the services of Kobon, an influential citizen of Delphi, he is able to corrupt the Pythia, who, when doubt is thrown on Demaratos’ legitimacy and the oracle is approached to resolve the issue, gives the reply that Demaratos is not the son of Ariston (6.66.1–3).
The possibility for manipulation is already present in his function of arranger (διαθέτης) of the collection, and, as will be seen below, it is by skillful arrangement, selection, and omission of oracular material that he will attempt to convince Xerxes to invade Greece. But his manipulation here lies in adding wholly new χρησμοί to the corpus of traditional material, in taking over control at the source and manufacturing signs. While the Alkmaionidai and Kleomenes must convince the Pythia to produce the message they need, Onomakritos needs no intermediary and as poet-performer can himself clothe the message in its appropriate form.  His patrons, the Peisistratidai, who are themselves, as has been seen, potential manipulators, expel him from the city, since he has usurped their control.
Onomakritos’ manipulation lies not in the interpretation of words but rather in his control of them: by acting as a secondary transmitter with a filter that allows through only the positive and not the negative, he produces a reaction in the king in favor of invasion, which is in the interests of Onomakritos’ masters, the Peisistratidai, and ultimately himself. 
It is read by the other Persian nobles as a confirmation and fulfillment (ἐτελωσέ μιν) of the first sign, as is made clear by their immediate reaction:
Herodotus comments that the second sign followed upon the first “as if by some kind of arrangement” (ὥσπερ ἐκ συνθέτου τευ), and the word σύνθετος itself mirrors the verb συντίθεμαι, used to describe the agreement (συνεθήκαντο, 3.86.1) of the Persian nobles about the sign of the whinnying horse. The idea of agreement and arrangement suggests also the notion of agreement and convention as the basis of the link behind signifier and signified and what determines the meaning of a sign. Dareios’ success and the fact that the heavens seem to wink at his deception show that the circumstances of the sign’s production do not matter, merely the fact of its appearance. What is completely artificially produced may so resemble the natural as to be indistinguishable from it. 
The conclusion contains the language of compulsion and deceit:
In another case involving erotic passion (ἔρως), invariably a destructive emotion in the Histories, the device of the open-ended oath figures not just once, but twice.  Xerxes promises his mistress, Artaynte, any gift she likes. She asks for the multicolored cloak which he is wearing (the gift of his wife, Amestris), and though Xerxes tries to wriggle out of the request (9.109.3), he is forced to give her the cloak, which then confirms his wife’s suspicions of his infidelity when she sees Artaynte wearing it. Amestris is the master manipulator of signs in this scene: her weaving of the highly variegated cloak (ἐξυφήνασα Ἄμηστρις . . . φᾶρος μέγα τε καὶ ποικίλον καὶ θέης ἄξιον, 9.109.1) seems to go hand in hand with her cunning in weaving a plan in which to ensnare her husband and to destroy her rival.  The cloak itself becomes invested with meaning when it acts as a clear sign of Xerxes’ betrayal. It is Amestris who makes use of the second open-ended promise in this story as a manipulative device to extract from Xerxes an undertaking to send her the wife of Masistes (and mother of Artaynte), whom she regards as her true rival (9.110.1). Herodotus gives the device a particularly Persian flavor by explaining that this occurred at the king’s birthday feast, an occasion on which Persian nomos demands that the king grant any favor asked of him (9.110.2–111.1). Her use of signs does not end here: she has the wife of Masistes horribly mutilated, slicing off her breasts, nose, ears, and lips, and cutting out her tongue (9.112), matched only by the mutilations inflicted by Pheretime on her enemies (4.202.1).
The episode and Herodotus’ comments on it illustrate an important feature of Greek descriptions of trickery and the manipulation of signs, namely that the cleverness of the scheme reflects not only on the perpetrator but equally on those it is designed to deceive. As Pratt puts it:
Clothing as conveyor of information about identity and gender plays a role in two other passages in the Histories.  In the first, the wives of the Minyai, a people descended from the Argonauts and Lemnian women and now settled in Sparta, use dress as a means to free their husbands from prison. While on a prison visit to their husbands, the wives swap clothes with their husbands and the husbands are thus able to escape by assuming a female identity (4.146.2–4).  The same technique is used by Alexandros, son of the Macedonian ruler Amyntes, but in a deadly fashion. In order to prevent his Persian guests from imposing themselves sexually on the Macedonian women whom they have insisted be present at the symposion, Alexandros removes the women on the pretext that they must have a bath before proceeding any further, and then secretly dresses the same number of smooth-skinned Macedonian men in feminine attire and sends them into the dining room (5.20). When the Persians begin to paw them, they draw out daggers and kill them. The manipulation of these visual signs is accompanied by a manipulation of verbal signs, since when Alexandros invites the Persians to enjoy the women, he uses language that works on two different levels. He tells them that the Macedonians are lavishing their mothers and sisters upon them, “so that you may know completely that you are being honored by us with the things which you deserve” (ὡς παντελέως μάθητε τιμώμενοι πρὸς ἡμέων τῶν πέρ ἐστε ἄξιοι, 5.20.4), and asks them to “tell the king who sent you that a Greek, ruler of the Macedonians, entertained you well with both food and bed” (5.20.4). The phrase “with the things you deserve” amounts to a code that works on two planes: a surface level, on which the words are a conventional expression of flattery and subjection, and a hidden, deeper level, on which the phrase is a sinister forewarning of the punishment Alexandros is about to inflict on them for their insulting behavior.
Artayktes’ words, taken on a surface level, appear to Xerxes as a reasonable request, but read on another level they reveal what Artayktes is really asking for. The “house” (οἶκος) that Artayktes mentions has two referents, one unmarked (“house”) and one marked (“house” in the sense of hêrôon), and, as Herodotus points out, Artayktes’ use of the term “your land” turns on the fact that the Persians regard all of Asia as the king’s property (9.116.3).  The coded utterance is in ainetic form, a variety of speech which uses precisely this ability of words to function on two levels, a surface level and a deeper level which is concealed yet open to those with the necessary noos to decode them.  In this way, the message of the ainos is decoded only by those whom it is designed to advise, help, warn, or admonish. Artayktes’ appropriation of this kind of encoding, however, is motivated solely by gain and the desire for personal profit, and he does not of course want Xerxes to understand the true meaning behind the term oikos and the real identification of this man, nor does Xerxes show himself worthy of understanding the message. Artayktes’ manipulation of the ainos parallels and foreshadows his manipulation of the teras of the tarikhoi: his manipulations always contain the truth, which in the case of his second manipulation he is unable to control for his own purposes.
The hare becomes a literal bearer of signs and is allowed to pass without suspicion owing to its status as a gift-object.  (Harpagos disguises his messenger as a huntsman, giving him nets for the sake of verisimilitude: 1.123.4.) The hare thus hides the message it carries, both physically and in the sense that its external appearance as a gift masks its actual function. In a second passage, Histiaios uses not an animal, but a human as sign-bearer to convey his secret message to Aristagoras. The slave, instead of simply secreting the text on his person or in some object, becomes the text himself when Histiaios tattoos the message onto his shaven head and dispatches him once his hair has grown back and covers the letters (5.35.3). 
The issue is to find the signifier in the first place and recognize that there is one. Similarly, in the episode of Thrasyboulos’ famous non-verbal message to Periandros in which he strolls through a field of wheat, cutting down those stalks that project above the others, the messenger does not recognize that this constitutes a message (5.92.ζ.1–3), but Periandros, using his noos (νόῳ σχών, 5.92.η.1), correctly realizes that the actions function as signifiers and decodes the message.  As we observed earlier about the manipulator and his audience, the manipulation reflects equally on the competency of those who are manipulated. Herodotus presents us with two possible motives behind Demaratos’ communication, either good will or Schadenfreude:
There is after all good reason for Demaratos to dislike the Spartans, since they have wrongfully deprived him of his kingship. Viewed in this light, Demaratos’ μηχανή is more than a method of getting his message past the Persians: it is a means to mock and test the Spartans, an additional barb to the already disturbing contents of his message. The Spartans come very close to failure and are saved only by the intervention of a talented individual who is able to match Demaratos’ skill in encoding with her skill in decoding. 
Encouraged by this reaction, Bagaios has another letter read out, which orders them to cease protecting Oroites, and when they throw down their spears, he produces a final letter in which the king orders them to kill Oroites (3.128.5). Once again, the reaction is instantaneous, and the bodyguards promptly draw their Persian daggers and kill the very person it is their function to protect. There are a number of interesting features in this account: most striking is the manner in which signs, functioning here as speech acts, are translated directly into action.  True, the signs must be converted from written to auditory form via mediation of the grammatistês, or scribe, a figure whose sole function here is essentially to act as a transcription and playback machine:
But once the grammatistês pronounces the last syllable, the words produce an instantaneous effect on the bodyguards, and they act like automata. Herodotus’ description focuses on this immediacy of action and unquestioning obedience. No moment of reflection intervenes between the guards’ perception of the words and their performance of the commands:
Upon hearing this, they threw down their spears. When Bagaios saw them obeying the letter, he took heart and gave the last of the letters to the grammatistês, in which had been written: “King Dareios orders the Persians of Sardis to kill Oroites.” When the bodyguards heard this, they drew their daggers and killed him forthwith.
3.1.3 Manipulation of Signs During the Process of Reception and Decoding
The elder brothers are dumbfounded (ἐκπεπληγμένοι, 8.137.5), but Perdikkas knows what to do:
What the king intends as a gesture of contempt, Perdikkas converts into a sign of a different kind. His reply plays on two meanings of the verb δέκομαι, the first in the general sense of accepting wages or presents, the second in the more specific sense of the recognition and acceptance of a portent.  The word which the king uses in a slighting and ironic sense of the brothers’ wages, “worthy” (ἄξιον), is effectively taken up and used by Perdikkas in a sense favorable to himself.  The giving of a patch of sunlight is decoded not as a contemptuous gift of something worth nothing (sun as an element, like air, common to all and hence worthless) but the bestowal of something valuable (sun as gold and symbol of kingship). When one of the king’s advisors conveys (σημαίνει) to the king that Perdikkas’ strange action has meaning (σὺν νόῳ) and what this meaning is (8.138.1), he orders his men to pursue the brothers and kill them. The verb σημαίνω, here used to describe the transmission of a decoded message (cf. ch. 184.108.40.206 above), underscores the advisor’s point that Perdikkas’ actions and words constitute a meaningful set of signs that cannot be ignored. The term σὺν νόῳ stresses the importance of noos, used elsewhere in the Histories in sign-related contexts both in the sense of the message behind the encoded form (e.g. 4.131.2) and the ability to encode and decode signs (see ch. 1.3.2 above). These two aspects of noos are related: as we have seen, one must have noos to detect the noos of the message.
Not only does Artayktes appropriate the portent, putting himself forward as recipient (ἐμοὶ σημαίνει), he constructs a reading based on the double meaning of the term tarikhos (‘preserved’), which may refer to fish preserved by salting (cf. 2.77.4–5, 4.53.3), but also to a corpse treated with preservatives (e.g., 2.86–90 passim).  The portent is in itself remarkable, but even more remarkable is the fact that Artayktes chooses to interpret it the way he does, since it only seems to aggravate his already precarious position. He offers exorbitant restitution:
The people of Elaious will have none of it, nor will the Athenian commander, Xanthippos (Perikles’ father), who orders him to be impaled on the spot where Xerxes began his bridge across the Hellespont (9.120.4). It seems that Artayktes produces his interpretation either under the influence of some kind of atê, a divinely induced destructive folly, becoming like Perdikkas’ boss θεοβλαβής (8.137.4, discussed above), or as a conscious tactic, an acknowledgment of guilt designed to obtain clemency and absolution on easy terms. I would argue that the narrative presents both possibilities. Artayktes’ reading of the omen, though he may not have believed it himself and though it is an appropriation and manipulation of the divine sign, turns out to be correct in an ironic fashion: the dead Protesilaos may indeed be said to have come alive like the writhing tarikhoi and to have “power from the gods to avenge himself against the one who has done him injustice,” since the townspeople of Elaious, who clamor for Artayktes’ execution, are described as taking vengeance on Protesilaos’ behalf (9.120.4).  Artayktes may have thought himself in control through his interpretation, but his very interpretation can be seen as part of Protesilaos’ plan of revenge. There is a suitable symmetry in the fact that Artayktes should be punished by the fruits of his own manipulation, just as in the case of the ultimate revenge (μεγίστη τίσις) of the eunuch Hermotimos, who forces Panionios, the man responsible for castrating him, to castrate his own sons and in turn be castrated by them (8.105–106). 
3.1.4 Herodotus’ Presentation of Sign Manipulation and Manipulators
Just as in the case of the Archaic poets, Herodotus’ depiction of manipulation is a demonstration of his own skill, and this is an aspect of his distinctive narrative persona.
As we will see from the conclusions of the following chapter, however, the evidence suggests that the interpreters of signs, with some interesting exceptions, generally overcome the problem of the distance between signifier and signified.
3.2.1 The Success or Otherwise of Sign Interpreters
3.2.2 Herodotus and Signs
A fragment of Alkmaion of Kroton seems to contrast the gods’ ability for exact knowledge with man’s need to work on the basis of indications and signs: περὶ τῶν ἀφανέων, περὶ τῶν θνητῶν σαφήνειαν μὲν θεοὶ ἔχοντι, ὡς δὲ ἀνθρώποις τεκμαίρεσθαι (DK 24 B 1), “Concerning invisible things, concerning mortal affairs, the gods possess clarity, but it is for men to proceed on the basis of tekmêria.”
The common persona of the writers, polemical, defiant, and self-confident (cf. for example the beginning of On Ancient Medicine  or On the Sacred Disease), also reminds one of Herodotus. In particular, their use of the performative future of φράζω to introduce an explanation of phenomena, seen also in the fragments of Herakleitos discussed above, strikes a reader of the Histories as familiar (see ch. 220.127.116.11 above). The author of Airs, Winds, and Places is particularly fond of this construction, using it six times in all, e.g., ὅκως δὲ χρὴ ἕκαστα τῶν προειρημένων σκοπέειν καὶ βασανίζειν, ἐγὼ φράσω σαφέως (3), “I will clearly show how one should observe and test each of the above-mentioned things.”