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

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

Part 3: The Use and Abuse of Signs

3.1 The Manipulation of Signs in Herodotus’ Histories

3.1.1 Introduction

Herodotus’ Histories contain many examples of figures who by a certain ingenuity and cunning manage to turn an unfavorable situation to their own advantage. [1] These figures have in common an ability to think quickly and to outwit others, and they make use of techniques which, when evaluated in strictly ethical terms, are unscrupulous, deceitful, and dishonest. They are figures of the trickster type, familiar to audiences not merely of Herodotus but of Greek literature in general. Among their earliest manifestations are the Homeric Odysseus and Penelope and the Hermes of the Homeric hymn. In the case of the Histories, they have been examined by Camerer (1965), Lateiner (1990), Dewald (1993), and in particular Bencsik (1994), and as a general phenomenon in Greek literature by, for example, Detienne and Vernant (1978) and Pratt (1993). With the exception of Dewald’s important study of significant objects in the Histories, the fact that to a large degree the trickster’s skill lies in the use and abuse of signs of various types has not been explored. [2] Out of the sixty-nine instances of trickery I have identified in the Histories, I find that thirty-three involve a manipulation of signs (see Appendix). By the latter expression I mean an attempt in various ways to interfere with or hijack the process of signification and, in so doing, to achieve a result that is favorable to the manipulator’s own ends. Trickery will naturally often involve the use of signs, but this may be only incidental to the essence of the trick, for example when persuasive or lying speech is used, such as when Kleomenes tricks the Argives he has surrounded in a wood into coming out of hiding. He calls each man by name, claiming he has received ransom for him; when the man emerges, he is killed (6.79.1–2). Contrast this instance of trickery with one which immediately precedes it in Herodotus’ narrative, where the Argives penetrate the Spartan system of military signals, so that they are able to anticipate Spartan actions (6.77.3). Once the Spartans find this out, however, they change their code, confound their enemy, and kill a large number of them (6.78.1–2). Here the trick consists precisely in meddling with and manipulating the system of signs.

At each step in the chain of communication by signs there is a certain window of opportunity for interference and manipulation, and the Herodotean manipulators of signs examined in this book make full use of these moments. For this reason we will use the process of sign communication as a framework to structure our investigation in this chapter. The vast majority of Herodotean manipulators take advantage of the process of encoding and transmission, while there are by my reckoning only five instances where sign manipulation takes place during the process of reception and decoding. The instances we will discuss below have been chosen to illustrate particular types of sign manipulation and are drawn from the various sign systems found in the Histories.

3.1.2 Encoding and Transmission Oracles

Let us begin with the process of encoding and transmitting signs and, in particular, the manipulation of signs through appropriation of the means of sign production. This type of manipulation involves simply seizing the source of sign transmission and making it produce signs favorable to one’s own objectives, rather like rebels whose first move is to capture the local radio or television station. [4] It is a tactic (characterized as a scheme or μηχανή at 5.90.1 and 6.123.1) used by Kleisthenes and the Alkmaionidai, who bribe the Pythia so that she will produce oracular responses enjoining the Spartans to liberate Athens and expel the Peisistratidai (5.63.1). For the Spartans, the Pythia simply relays the words of the god and they never suspect that she may be being used to transmit the words of men. Their respect for the oracle is so strong that it overcomes their ties to the Peisistratidai, their ξεῖνοι. As Herodotus puts it (5.63.2), “They considered the affairs of the god of more importance [πρεσβύτερα] than those of men.” The Spartans as a whole are presented by Herodotus as not particularly talented in the field of sign interpretation, though individuals among them such as Likhas (1.67.2–1.68.6), Kleomenes, and his daughter, Gorgo (7.239.2–4, discussed below), do demonstrate this ability in full measure. Kleomenes, in his own right no mean manipulator of signs, is able to resist Aristagoras’ attempt to manipulate him by means of the signs of a map, thanks to the intercession of Gorgo (5.49–50). He forces Aristagoras to reveal unwittingly the real relationship between the signifiers of the map (marks representing the coast of Asia Minor, Sardis, and Susa and their positions relative to each other) and the signified, the real cities and the real distances between them (three months from the sea to Susa!) (5.50.1–2). Aristagoras has to leave because he can neither control nor mask the true connection between signifier and signified any longer (οὐδέ οἱ ἐξεγένετο ἐπὶ πλέον ἔτι σημῆναι, 5.51.3), despite his considerable skills (τἆλλα ἐὼν σοφὸς καὶ διαβάλλων ἐκεῖνον εὖ). [5] It is one of the few moments when Herodotus expressly talks of the failure of an attempt to manipulate signs, using a wrestling metaphor to describe Aristogoras as being “thrown down” in this plan: ὁ δὲ Ἀρισταγόρης . . . ἐν τούτῳ ἐσφάλη (5.50.2). [6]

Athenian audiences do not emerge particularly well either, as shown by Peisistratos’ notorious deception of them using the statuesque Phye (1.60.4, discussed below), and Herodotus’ remark concerning Aristagoras’ success in deceiving the Athenians:

πολλοὺς γὰρ οἶκε εἶναι εὐπετέστερον διαβάλλειν ἢ ἕνα, εἰ Κλεομένεα μὲν τὸν Λακεδαιμόνιον μοῦνον οὐκ οἷός τε ἐγένετο διαβάλλειν, τρεῖς δὲ μυριάδας Ἀθηναίων ἐποίησε τοῦτο.


It seems that it is easier to mislead many people than it is to mislead a single person, if Aristagoras was unable to deceive Kleomenes the Spartan when he was on his own, but managed it in the case of thirty thousand Athenians.

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).

Oracular manipulation of a further kind is revealed when Onomakritos, arranger (διαθέτης) of the oracles of Musaios and χρησμολόγος, is caught inserting a spurious oracle into the collection:

ἐξηλάσθη γὰρ ὑπὸ Ἱππάρχου τοῦ Πεισιστράτου ὁ Ὀνομάκριτος ἐξ Ἀθηνέων, ἐπ’ αὐτοφώρῳ ἁλοὺς ὑπὸ Λάσου τοῦ Ἑρμιονέος ἐμποιέων ἐς τὰ Μουσαίου χρησμὸν ὡς αἱ ἐπὶ Λήμνῳ ἐπικείμεναι νῆσοι ἀφανιοίατο κατὰ τῆς θαλάσσης· διὸ ἐξήλασέ μιν ὁ Ἵππαρχος, πρότερον χρεώμενος τὰ μάλιστα.


Onomakritos was expelled from Athens by Hipparkhos, son of Peisistratos, when he was caught by Lasos of Hermione in the act of inserting into the oracles of Mousaios an oracle to the effect that the islands of Lemnos would disappear under the sea: it was for this reason that Hipparkhos expelled him, although he had made extensive use of his services before.

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. [
13] His patrons, the Peisistratidai, who are themselves, as has been seen, potential manipulators, expel him from the city, since he has usurped their control.

He is shown to be equally adept at performing manipulation by means of the selective transmission of oracles. As arranger of the oracles of Mousaios (7.6.3), he legitimately practices selection in admitting or rejecting oracles: now he illegitimately transfers the process to the selective transmission of parts of an oracle. He is brought to the court of Xerxes by the exiled Peisistratidai, the very same people who expelled him from Athens. There he recites to Xerxes from his collection of oracles, suppressing any prediction unfavorable to the Persians and relating only those parts favorable to their endeavors:

εἰ μέν τι ἐνέοι σφάλμα φέρον τῷ βαρβάρῳ, τῶν μὲν ἔλεγε οὐδέν, ὁ δὲ τὰ εὐτυχέστατα ἐκλεγόμενος ἔλεγε, τόν τε Ἑλλήσποντον ὡς ζευχθῆναι χρεὸν εἴη ὑπ’ ἀνδρὸς Πέρσεω, τήν τε ἔλασιν ἐξηγεόμενος.


Whenever there was something in [an oracle] spelling disaster for the Persians, of this he would make no mention, but would select the most optimistic parts and recite those, [for example] that the Hellespont would be yoked by a Persian, explaining this as the invasion.

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. [
14] Dareios and the horse’s whinny

The device of a sign artificially created and, like Onomakritos’ forged oracle about the islands near Lemnos, designed to be indistinguishable from a sign produced according to legitimate and recognized means, is also seen in the account of Dareios’ rise to the throne. The seven Persian conspirators agree amongst themselves to leave the selection of a king from their number to the random appearance of a sign: the one whose horse is the first to whinny at dawn will be king (3.84.3). Dareios, with the help of his cunning groom Oibares (described as ἀνὴρ σοφός, 3.85.1), is able to produce this sign artificially. [15] During the night, Oibares brings Dareios’ stallion’s favorite mare near him and eventually allows him to mount her in the place where the test is to happen in the morning (3.85.3). At dawn, when the horses are led forth to this place, Dareios’ horse catches a trace of the mare’s scent and whinnies (3.86.1). As an ironic contrast to this wholly manipulated sign comes a sign of a different kind, one impossible to produce by any human means:

ἅμα δὲ τῷ ἵππῳ τοῦτο ποιήσαντι ἀστραπὴ ἐξ αἰθρίης καὶ βροντὴ ἐγένετο.


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:

ἐπιγενόμενα δὲ ταῦτα τῷ Δαρείῳ ἐτελέωσέ μιν ὥσπερ ἐκ συνθέτου τευ γενόμενα· οἱ δὲ καταθορόντες ἀπὸ τῶν ἵππων προσεκύνεον τὸν Δαρεῖον.


These supervening events confirmed Dareios [as king], as if they had happened by some sort of arrangement: the others leapt down from their horses and prostrated themselves before Dareios.

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. [
17] Manipulation of oaths

The Persian general Amasis, after nine months of besieging the city of Barke in Libya, is able to take the city by the simple stratagem of an oath. Herodotus introduces his account with an expression that invariably acts as a sign to the audience that a manipulation is about to occur (what Bencsik terms a Signalsatz): “Amasis contrives the following” (Ἄμασις . . . μηχανᾶται τοιάδε, 4.201.1). [24] Amasis invites the inhabitants of Barke to swear to an agreement that they will resume paying tribute to the king and that, for their part, the Persians will not visit them with any consequences for their previous disobedience (4.201.2). As with many oaths, the verbal signs of this oath are combined with a visual symbol to ensure irreversibility: the conditions agreed to will be binding “as long as this earth is as it is” (ἔστ᾿ ἂν ἡ γῆ αὕτη οὕτως ἔχῃ, 4.201.2). [25] The seeming impossibility of the ground under their feet ever vanishing acts as a guarantee of the oath, and the people of Barke agree to the terms. But, unknown to them, they are standing on only the thinnest layer of earth, since Amasis has had a ditch dug and then covered with boards and a thin layer of soil to simulate the appearance of real earth (4.201.1), just as Xerxes’ Persians fool their horses into crossing the bridge over the Hellespont by strewing the bridge’s planks with earth, thus convincing the horses that they are on solid ground (7.36.5). [26] Once the oath is sworn, and the city gates have been opened, Amasis quite literally removes the oath’s foundation by pulling up the boards and revealing the gaping hole over which they have been standing, and then orders his soldiers to seize the city (4.201.3). Herodotus in fact mirrors this removal of the foundation by a play on words: he says that Amasis and his men break up the planking “in order that their oath might remain firm” (ἵνα ἐμπεδορκέοιεν, 4.201.3). The irony of keeping an oath “on steady ground” (ἔμπεδος = ἐν πέδῳ) by removing the ground on which it was sworn is surely intended by Herodotus, and draws attention to his own role as a talented shaper and presenter of signs. [27] Through his physical manipulation of the earth Amasis thus manipulates the sign system by which the oath is constituted by removing the agreed-upon symbol of the oath’s validity and artificially creating the conditions which render it inapplicable.

The oath extracted by Etearkhos from Themison (4.154.2–4) demonstrates two kinds of manipulation, one involving manipulation by means of oath, the other manipulation of the oath itself. The Cretan ruler Etearkhos, hard pressed by his “all-scheming” (πᾶν . . . μηχανωμένη, 4.154.2) second wife to get rid of his daughter, tricks a visiting merchant from Thera, Themison, into agreeing to throw her into the sea (4.154.4). He is able to do so by using the device of the open-ended oath, in which one party requests the other to swear to do whatever he requests him to do (4.154.3), revealing the request only after the oath is sworn. The scheme is seen elsewhere in the Histories (further examples below), but only here does the deceived respond with a deception of his own. Once Themison realizes that he has sworn to drown Etearkhos’ daughter, he protests and dissolves his guest-friendship with Etearkhos, but nevertheless takes her on board his ship, sails out to sea, and throws her into the water—after having tied a rope about her middle. The girl is submerged and then hoisted back on board. In this way Themison replies to Etearkhos’ manipulation with a countermanipulation, relying on a very literal use of the verb καταποντῶσαι (“submerge in the sea”) and fulfilling the terms of the oath, if not Etearkhos’ intention.

The open-ended oath is also used by the Spartan king Ariston, who obtains his friend’s wife by these means. Herodotus introduces his account with the usual vocabulary of trickery:

μηχανᾶται δὴ τοιάδε· αὐτός τε τῷ ἑταίρῳ, τοῦ ἦν ἡ γυνὴ αὕτη, ὑποδέκεται δωτίνην δώσειν τῶν ἑωυτοῦ πάντων ἕν, τὸ ἂν αὐτὸς ἐκεῖνος ἕληται, καὶ τὸν ἑταῖρον ἑωυτῷ ἐκέλευε ὡσαύτως τὴν ὁμοίην διδόναι.


[Ariston] contrived the following: he undertook to give his companion, who was the husband of this woman, any one item of his entire property he chose as a gift, and he bade his companion grant precisely the same to him.

The conclusion contains the language of compulsion and deceit:

ἀναγκαζόμενος μέντοι τῷ τε ὅρκῳ καὶ τῆς ἀπάτης τῇ παραγωγῇ ἀπιεῖ ἀπάγεσθαι.


[The companion], forced however by his oath and by the misleading deception, went off to fetch [his wife].

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. [
28] 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. [29] 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). Body used as signifier in manipulation

The most extreme manifestation of this is the tactic of the Persian Zopyros, who is so determined to win the honor of being the captor of Babylon that he mutilates himself, slicing off his nose and ears, in order that the Babylonians will believe he is a genuine defector from the Persian side and will admit him into the city, where he will be able to sabotage their defenses (3.154.2). Zopyros’ self-inflicted mutilations are read against a specifically Persian code, in which wrongdoers and those who have offended against the king are inscribed with indelible signs of their offenses, ever-present and ever-speaking tokens of their crimes. [33] His ability at manipulating signs goes hand in hand with an ability to recognize them, since the realization that Babylon is susceptible to capture is suggested to him by a combination of signs (3.153.1–2). The first sign comes in the form of a φήμη, a chance utterance pronounced by a Babylonian soldier and intended as a taunt: “What are you sitting here for, Persians? Why don’t you go home? You’ll capture us when mules give birth!” (3.151.2). This Zopyros subsequently interprets as having a deeper and divinely inspired meaning (σύν . . . θεῷ, 3.153.2). The second sign comes in the form of a teras: a mule does in fact give birth some months later. [34] Zopyros is able to read the two signs against each other, and his combined reading is a secret weapon which he guards jealously:

ὡς δέ οἱ ἐξηγγέλθη καὶ ὑπὸ ἀπιστίης αὐτὸς ὁ Ζώπυρος εἶδε τὸ βρέφος, ἀπείπας τοῖσι ἰδοῦσι μηδενὶ φράζειν τὸ γεγονὸς ἐβουλεύετο.


And after it had been reported to Zopyros and he, not believing it, had seen the offspring for himself, he forbade those who had seen it to report the event to anyone and began to think up a plan. Clothing as signifier

We have seen how the body can act as a surface on which signs in the form of wounds and mutilations may literally be inscribed. That which surrounds the body, clothing, may also act as a signifier, providing information about ethnicity, status, sex, and identity, as is evident from Herodotus’ ethnographic excursuses in which dress is an important category in describing a people. [35] As a marker and bearer of signs, clothing may also be manipulated for specific ends and made to convey a deceptive message. [36] Peisistratos makes use of this when he installs himself as tyrant for a second time with the help of Megakles. He finds a particularly tall and striking village girl named Phye, dresses her up in the panoply of the goddess Athena, places her on a chariot, and then sends messengers ahead to announce that the goddess herself is bringing Peisistratos back from exile (1.60.4). To the vast discredit of the Athenians, who pride themselves on being first among Greeks in intelligence, the scheme actually works:

μηχανῶνται δὴ ἐπὶ τῇ κατόδῳ πρῆγμα εὐηθέστατον, ὡς ἐγὼ εὑρίσκω, μακρῷ (ἐπεί γε ἀπεκρίθη ἐκ παλαιτέρου τοῦ βαρβάρου ἔθνεος τὸ Ἑλληνικὸν ἐὸν καὶ δεξιώτερον καὶ εὐηθίης ἠλιθίου ἀπηλλαγμένον μᾶλλον), εἰ καὶ τότε γε οὗτοι ἐν Ἀθηναίοισι τοῖσι πρώτοισι λεγομένοισι εἶναι Ἑλλήνων σοφίην μηχανῶνται τοιάδε.


For Peisistratos’ return from exile [Peisistratos and Megakles] engineered by far the most simpleminded scheme, as I find (since long ago Greeks have been set apart from the barbarians in terms of being cleverer and more removed from foolish simplemindedness), if they were then able to contrive such a scheme amongst the Athenians, reputed to be first among the Greeks in sophiê.

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. [
38] 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). [39] 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. Manipulation and coded utterances

Manipulation by coded utterance is used on a more extensive scale by the Persian Artayktes. Appointed commander of the Hellespontine region by Xerxes, he decides to get his hands on the sanctuary of the hero Protesilaos, the first Greek casualty in the Trojan War (Iliad 2.698–702), and on the considerable property attached to it. He does so by a request to Xerxes, framed in such a way as to enable him, on the surface at least, to preserve some semblance of a claim to the sanctuary and its contents.

δέσποτα, ἔστι οἶκος ἀνδρὸς Ἕλληνος ἐνθαῦτα, ὃς ἐπὶ γῆν τὴν σὴν στρα-τευσάμενος δίκης κυρήσας ἀπέθανε. τούτου μοι δὸς τὸν οἶκον, ἵνα καί τις μάθῃ ἐπὶ γῆν τὴν σὴν μὴ στρατεύεσθαι.


Master, there is a house of a Greek here who marched against your land, got his due, and died. Grant me this man’s house, so that in the future people may learn not to invade your land.

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). [
40] 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. [41] 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. Concealment of signs

What has been described above is a cloaking device in which a deeper meaning is overlaid by a surface meaning. The cover is provided by the sign itself in that the signifier (e.g. the word οἶκος, ‘house’, in Artayktes’ request to Xerxes) has two meanings, one of which, the signified, conceals the other, the referent. The concealment of signs may also be achieved by physical means (steganography), a technique which does not rely on the sign’s own polysemic ability, but merely on its removal from the human gaze. Herodotus presents three clever variations on this principle, all involving the concealment of written signs from the watchful eyes of Median and Persian guardians of the royal roads. [42] Harpagos, who is plotting to depose the Median ruler Astyages and put Kyros the Persian on the throne, gets his message through in an ingenious fashion:


He contrived the following: he prepared a hare and made a slit in its belly, and without pulling any of its fur off, but [leaving it] just as it was, he inserted into it a letter, having written down what he wanted to say.

The hare becomes a literal bearer of signs and is allowed to pass without suspicion owing to its status as a gift-object. [
44] (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). [45]

Finally, Demaratos, deprived of his right to the Spartan kingship and now a member of Xerxes’ entourage, uses perhaps the ultimate method of concealment, a sign-bearing surface which bears no signs. He sends a message to his compatriots in Sparta warning them of the imminent Persian invasion and, in order to avoid its interception by Persian spies, devises the scheme (μηχανᾶται τοιάδε, 7.239.3) of writing not on the wax surface of the writing tablet, but directly on the wooden surface of the tablet itself, which he then covers with a layer of wax. The tablet thus presents the aspect of a tabula rasa and reaches its destination unhindered. But there remains the crucial step of detection and decoding by the recipient. Harpagos (1.123.4) and Histiaios (5.35.1) at least give instructions to their respective messengers so that the recipient will know where to look for the message, but this is not the case with Demaratos’ dispatch. As will be suggested below, this is for reasons other than concern about the safe passage of the message. When the Spartans receive the tablet, they see only an empty surface, bereft of any signs, and as Herodotus says, they are unable to “put it together” (οὐκ εἶχον συμβαλέσθαι, 7.239.4). [46] They can find no signifier to join together with any signified, and are rescued from their aporia only by Gorgo, daughter of Kleomenes, who is able to find meaning in the absence of signs and interprets the lack of signs as a kind of sign itself: [47]


Gorgo herself came up with a suggestion: if they rubbed off the wax they would find the letters on the wooden surface.

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. [
49] 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:

Δημάρητος γὰρ ὁ Ἀρίστωνος φυγὼν ἐς Μήδους, ὡς μὲν ἐγὼ δοκέω καὶ τὸ οἰκὸς ἐμοὶ συμμάχεται, οὐκ ἦν εὔνοος Λακεδαιμονίοισι, πάρεστι δὲ εἰκάζειν εἴτε εὐνοίῃ ταῦτα ἐποίησε εἴτε καὶ καταχαίρων.


For Demaratos, since he had fled to the Persians, was not in my opinion—and likelihood is on my side―well-disposed towards the Spartans, and one may conjecture whether he performed these actions out of good will or in fact with a sense of pleasure.

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. [
50] Written signs and manipulation

Writing as a means of deception and manipulating others takes center stage in Herodotus’ account of Bagaios, the Persian who kills the troublesome governor Oroites on Dareios’ behalf. The theme of concealment is present here again, but in a different sense from that in the examples considered above, in which writing is concealed. In the present instance (unconcealed) writing itself forms part of the plan of concealment. Dareios wants the capture or killing of Oroites to be carried out not by brute force (biê), but by intelligence (sophiê, 3.127.2), and Bagaios undertakes to do so on these terms. His method is to test the loyalty of Oroites’ bodyguards to the king through a series of letters purporting to be from the king. The bodyguards react to two types of signs: firstly, the letters themselves, physical objects sealed with the king’ sphrêgis, act as tokens of the king’s presence, so that the bodyguards pay them the devotion (σεβομένους) they pay to the king himself, and, secondly, the contents of the letters (τὰ λεγόμενα) are signs purporting to convey the king’s voice and will, which produce even more reverence in the bodyguards:


When he saw them revering the letters greatly and the contents of the letters even more so, he handed over another one which contained the following words: “O Persians, Dareios the king orders you not to act as bodyguards for Oroites.”

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. [
52] 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:


He undid the letters one by one and handed them over to the royal grammatistês to read out loud (for all the governors have royal grammatistai).

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:

οἱ δὲ ἀκούσαντες τούτων μετῆκάν οἱ τὰς αἰχμάς. ἰδὼν δὲ τοῦτό σφεας ὁ Βαγαῖος πειθομένους τῷ βυβλίῳ, ἐνθαῦτα δὴ θαρσήσας τὸ τελευταῖον τῶν βυβλίων διδοῖ τῷ γραμματιστῇ, ἐν τῷ ἐγέγραπτο· “Βασιλεὺς Δαρεῖος Πέρσῃσι τοῖσι ἐν Σάρδισι ἐντέλλεται κτείνειν Ὀροίτην.” οἱ δὲ δορυφόροι ὡς ἤκουσαν ταῦτα, σπασάμενοι τοὺς ἀκινάκας κτείνουσι παραυτίκα μιν.


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. Military signals and manipulation

3.1.3 Manipulation of Signs During the Process of Reception and Decoding Mykerinos and the oracle Perdikkas and the sun

Manipulation at the stage of decoding may also take place when already existing signs are viewed and interpreted according to a different sign system. This is how Perdikkas, founder of the Macedonian dynasty, seizes power. He and his two brothers, Gauanas and Aeropos, work as hired hands for the king of Lebaia (8.137.2). Because of what the king considers to be a disturbing teras (when the king’s wife bakes bread for the laborers, the loaf destined for Perdikkas always turns out to be double its original size), he decides to dispense with the brothers’ services (8.137.3). When they ask for their wages, the king points to a patch of sunlight on the floor:

ὁ βασιλεὺς . . . εἶπε, θεοβλαβὴς γενόμενος· “Μισθὸν δὲ ὑμῖν ἐγὼ ὑμέων ἄξιον τόνδε ἀποδίδωμι,” δείξας τὸν ἥλιον.


The king . . . , struck with a divinely-induced madness, said: “I give you this wage, which is what you deserve,” and pointed to the [patch of] sunlight.

The elder brothers are dumbfounded (ἐκπεπληγμένοι, 8.137.5), but Perdikkas knows what to do:

ὁ δὲ παῖς, ἐτύγχανε γὰρ ἔχων μάχαιραν, εἴπας τάδε· “Δεκόμεθα, ὦ βασιλεῦ, τὰ διδοῖς,” περιγράφει τῇ μαχαίρῃ ἐς τὸ ἔδαφος τοῦ οἴκου τὸν ἥλιον, περιγράψας δέ, ἐς τὸν κόλπον τρὶς ἀρυσάμενος τοῦ ἡλίου, ἀπαλλάσσετο αὐτός τε καὶ οἱ μετ’ ἐκείνου.


But the boy, who happened to have a knife, said the following: “We accept, O King, what you give us,” and traced [the outline of] the sun on the floor with his knife, and, after outlining it, poured the sun into his lap three times and left, both he and his brothers.

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. [
60] 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. [61] 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. 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.

Perdikkas’ appropriation and re-interpretation of signs make the situation true in some magical way and confer on him a power which makes the king uneasy; the gesture of pouring the sun into his lap three times has the solemnity of ritual. The manipulation of signs on a human level (Perdikkas’ mixture of speech and action) actually ends up working in harmony with a set of signs originating on the divine level. There is first the teras of the loaf of bread, then another incident which may equally be regarded as showing the hand of the divine: when the brothers are pursued by the king’s horsemen, they cross a river which mysteriously rises after their crossing and prevents their pursuers from riding across after them. This river, Herodotus tells us, is sacrificed to as “savior” (σωτῆρι) by the descendants of the brothers, the royal house of Makedonia (8.138.2). The situation is in this respect comparable to the manipulation of Dareios and Oibares (3.86.2), where the divine, “as if by arrangement” (ὥσπερ ἐκ συνθέτου), confirms with its own method of signification a sign (the whinnying of the horse) produced by human agency. Artayktes’ second manipulation

We continue this theme of the human manipulation of signs and interaction with signs of divine origin by returning to Artayktes the Persian. The latter, successful in his efforts to gain control of the sanctuary of Protesilaos by means of the manipulation of language, incurs the wrath of the inhabitants of Elaious when he appropriates all the goods kept in the shrine, turns the sacred enclosure over to cultivation and pasturing, and sleeps with women in the sanctuary (9.116.3). He is eventually captured by the Athenians, and while being kept under guard, observes the strange spectacle of preserved fish (τάριχοι) over a fire suddenly coming to life and flopping about over the flames. Artayktes immediately takes it upon himself to provide an interpretation of this teras:

Ξεῖνε Ἀθηναῖε, μηδὲν φοβέο τὸ τέρας τοῦτο· οὐ γὰρ σοὶ πέφηνε, ἀλλ’ ἐμοὶ σημαίνει ὁ ἐν Ἐλαιοῦντι Πρωτεσίλεως ὅτι καὶ τεθνεὼς καὶ τάριχος ἐὼν δύναμιν πρὸς θεῶν ἔχει τὸν ἀδικέοντα τίνεσθαι.


Athenian, do not be alarmed at this teras: for it is not to you that it has appeared, but it is to me that Protesilaos who lies in Elaious is sending a sign that even though he is dead and a tarikhos, he has power from the gods to take vengeance on the one who does him wrong.

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). [
62] 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:

νῦν ὦν ἄποινά μοι τάδε ἐθέλω ἐπιθεῖναι, ἀντὶ μὲν χρημάτων τῶν ἔλαβον ἐκ τοῦ ἱροῦ ἑκατὸν τάλαντα καταθεῖναι τῷ θεῷ, ἀντὶ δ’ ἐμεωυτοῦ καὶ τοῦ παιδὸς ἀποδώσω τάλαντα διηκόσια Ἀθηναίοισι περιγενόμενος.


I wish to present the following as my ransom: in recompense for the money which I took from the shrine, I will deposit one hundred talents for the god, and in exchange for myself and my son I shall give two hundred talents to the Athenians, if I survive.

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). [
63] 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). [64]

As in the accounts of Dareios and Perdikkas, human manipulation of signs actually receives confirmation from the divine. The difference in this case, of course, is that the manipulator does not enjoy the fruits of his manipulation. Artayktes is impaled by order of Xanthippos, and his son stoned to death in front of his eyes (9.120.4), a punishment striking not just in its form (impalement is generally perpetrated by non-Greeks) but highly significant in terms of its location, precisely where Xerxes yoked the Hellespont. [65] He is the only manipulator to come to so awful an end, and the only one to be characterized in such strongly negative terms by Herodotus, who calls him “clever and wicked” (δεινὸς δὲ καὶ ἀτάσθαλος, 9.116.1). To be δεινός is a quality in itself not necessarily negative, [66] but ἀτασθαλίη is never presented as anything but extreme turpitude, involving hubris, excess, and transgression. Themistokles, for example, calls Xerxes ἀνόσιόν τε καὶ ἀτάσθαλον (“impious and wicked,” 8.109.3) because of his destruction of the shrines and images of the gods. [67] Artayktes’ ἀτασθαλίη, like that of Xerxes, lies not in his manipulation, but in his desecration of divine property: [68]

ἐς τοῦ Πρωτεσίλεω τὸ ἱρὸν ἐς Ἐλαιοῦντα ἀγινεόμενος γυναῖκας ἀθέμιστα ἔργα ἔρδεσκε.


He had women brought to Elaious, into the sanctuary of Protesilaos, and committed sacrilegious deeds.

3.1.4 Herodotus’ Presentation of Sign Manipulation and Manipulators

Apart from this example, however, Herodotus does not comment on the morality or immorality of manipulators or their actions. Rather, actions are presented in such a way as to invite evaluation in terms of the perpetrator’s (or victim’s) resourcefulness, intelligence, and ingenuity, and questions of morality are not allowed to overshadow the achievement itself. [69] Key terms in Herodotus’ descriptions are μηχανή, τέχνη, and σοφίη, which have the narrative function of indicating to the audience an upcoming action of ingenious deception, and also signal that the action is to be looked at in the way I have just described. [70] These terms are in themselves ambivalent, having in certain contexts positive connotations, but in others negative ones. Solon the sage may be credited with sophiê (1.30.2), while Dareios’ cunning groom can equally be called an ἀνὴρ σοφός (3.85.1). Herodotus can use the verb μηχανάομαι to refer to Kyros and his benefactions for the Persians (ἀγαθά σφι πάντα ἐμηχανήσατο, 3.89.3), but equally of Psammenitos and how he paid for his evil deeds (νῦν δὲ μηχανώμενος κακὰ ὁ Ψαμμήνιτος ἔλαβε τὸν μίσθον, 3.15.4). Respectable trades and crafts may be referred to as τέχναι (e.g. office of herald, playing the aulos, cookery [6.60]), but Demokedes’ false avowal that he knows nothing of medicine is described using the verb τεχνάζω (3.130.2). [71]

If we are asked to admire the manipulators of signs, this would not be to say that their actions and their consequences are somehow morally neutral. It is clear that the perpetrator is in some way bending the rules, and it is at least partly in this that the interest and astonishment induced in the audience can be said to lie. [72] If there were no transgression to speak of, the manipulation would not be thrown into relief and the manipulator’s skill would have no suitable arena in which to be appreciated. [73] “Bending” rather than “breaking” the rules is the appropriate term because the manipulation of signs derives its effectiveness precisely from working within a sign system and following its rules, even if only in the most tenuous and superficial fashion. This should be distinguished from the lie built simply on a false premise, saying that something is so which is not, and from other transgressions which make no attempt to operate within a system. The distinction is clear when one looks back at the examples discussed above. Persian Amasis does not simply break his oath but goes to elaborate lengths to show that the oath has no foundation and is thus invalid (4.201.3). Themison preserves intact the fabric of the oath and fulfills it (ἀποσιεύμενος τὴν ἐξόρκωσιν, 4.154.4), but without drowning the daughter of Etearkhos. The oath of Leotykhides, however, who swears that Demaratos is not the legitimate child of Ariston, is simply based on a lie (6.65.3). Artayktes’ claim to the shrine of Protesilaos (9.116.3) has a logic to it and is predicated on a mythological basis and the Persian title to all of Asia. Herodotus’ interest in sign manipulation and manipulators

Why is Herodotus interested in the manipulation and the manipulators of signs? Perhaps because this kind of manipulation involves the spectacular victory of intelligence over mere force, or at least the harnessing of brute force to cunning intelligence, an opposition that is central to much of Greek literature and thought, as Detienne and Vernant’s 1978 study of mêtis has demonstrated. In terms used by Herodotean figures, this is the triumph of sophiê over biê. In several instances in the Histories a sharp distinction between biê and sophiê is drawn, where it is clear that the path of sophiê, often involving the manipulation of signs, is assigned a higher value than the use of biê alone. These are the terms in which Dareios presents the assignment to kill Oroites (σοφίῃ καὶ μὴ βίῃ, 3.127.2), and the stratagem of the Persian general Amasis is framed in a similar way, as a choice between δόλος and τὸ ἰσχυρόν (4.201.1). [74] Both Camerer (1965) and Bencsik (1994) have concentrated on the political importance of this cunning intelligence, praktische Klugheit, and its connection with the seizure and maintenance of power (Schelmentum und Macht is the title of Bencsik’s work). As Dewald (1993:70) puts it, “The person who knows how to read objects in the world, and extract from them the meanings they hold in context, succeeds in uncovering something significant and does so by using the same kind of canny general attentiveness that Herodotus himself displays as an investigator.” [75]

The latter part of Dewald’s statement brings us to another vital factor behind Herodotus’ interest in these manipulations: the relationship between trickster, audience, and Herodotus. The actions of the trickster call forth a certain reaction in the audience, a feeling of wonder, admiration, and amusement. The admiration of the manipulator’s sophiê and tekhnê is experienced by two kinds of audience: the first being the immediate audience of the trick, and the second being the audience of Herodotus’ work. In this way Herodotus as narrator and conveyor of manipulations receives a share of the audience’s admiration, and the manipulator’s tekhnê and sophiê become in a sense Herodotus’ too. This is not, however, to say that Herodotus himself is a manipulator of signs or a trickster, [76] but he certainly presents himself as a master reader of signs, as will be explored in the final chapter. Louise Pratt has observed this identification of artist and trickster with regard to Archaic poets and the tricksters depicted in their works:

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. Success of sign manipulation and sign interpretation in general

As we have seen with the examples of Dareios, Perdikkas, and the portent of the jumping fish, there is a very real sense in which an instance of manipulation may turn out to be a legitimate and successful use of signs. In fact, almost all of the manipulations of signs in the Histories are successful, a point worth emphasizing in light of the tendency of Dewald and Lateiner to overemphasize in general the problems of correctly fitting signifier and signified together. According to the former, the symbolic use of objects “very often backfires” on those who exploit them (1993:63–64). This does not seem to me to be the case. There are, to be sure, instances of failed manipulation―Aristagoras and his map (5.50.2), Onomakritos’ attempt to add to the oracles of Musaios (7.6.2), Artayktes’ interpretation of the portent of the jumping fish (9.120.1–4)―but they are not frequent enough to justify this conclusion, which is connected with Dewald’s assertion (1993:63) that “objects in Herodotus often mislead because it is inherent in the nature of things that they do so.” For example, she interprets Amasis’ manipulation of the terms of the oath at Barke as superficially successful, but ultimately a failure: “his army flees in panic at Cyrene, and Pheretime, the queen of Cyrene, who has called in the Persians in the first place, dies a horribly lingering death, living but ‘boiling over,’ Herodotus says, with maggots (4.205).” But Herodotus does not actually link the failure of Amasis’ campaign to his false oath, and makes it clear that Pheretime’s death is because of her excesses in taking vengeance for the death of her husband and because such excesses excite divine envy (ὡς ἄρα ἀνθρώποισι αἱ λίην ἰσχυραὶ τιμωρίαι πρὸς θεῶν ἐπίφθονοι γίνονται, 4.205). Like Dewald, Lateiner (1987:100) also tends to problematize the interpretation of signs in the Histories:

The distance between the signifying message, the signifier, and what it is meant to signify, the signified, encourages the original recipient―and the reader―to err, to misinterpret. Indeed the reader is forced to participate in history as it happens, and Herodotus warns us not to relax in comfortable hindsight. Human knowledge, always partial and provisional in Herodotus, shows its limitations most clearly when forced to deal with signs and symbols. Men ignore them, misread them, and suffer.

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 Conclusion

3.2.1 The Success or Otherwise of Sign Interpreters

The hermeneis, like Hermes, the god they are named for, go as messengers between different worlds. They are translators, but they are far from hermeneuts: as we see them in the Histories, all they are capable of doing is transferring messages from one code to another. That this does not involve the decoding of any secondary or deeper meaning is shown by the hermeneis who go between Kroisos and Kyros while the former is on the pyre. Kroisos sighs, groans, and speaks Solon’s name three times (1.86.3). Kyros sends his interpreters (τοὺς ἑρμηνέας, 1.86.4) to ask whose name Kroisos is invoking. When the latter eventually replies, “He whom I instead of large sums of money would have had speak to all rulers,” his words are “signless” for them (ἄσημα ἔφραζε, 1.86.4). They can translate the surface meaning of his words (from Lydian into Persian, presumably), but not their deeper meaning. When they transmit Kroisos’ further explanation, with its appeal to humanity (τὸ ἀνθρώπινον, 1.86.5), to Kyros, it immediately produces in him a process of intense reflection and the realization that this is another human being, one no less fortunate than himself, that he is consigning to the flames (μεταγνόντα τε καὶ ἐννώσαντα ὅτι καὶ αὐτὸς ἄνθρωπος ἐὼν ἄλλον ἄνθρωπον, γενόμενον ἑωυτοῦ εὐδαιμονίῃ οὐκ ἐλάσσω, ζώοντα πυρὶ διδοίη, 1.86.6). This is in turn translated into clemency and an attempt to put out the flames. The presence of the hermeneis stresses the initial distance in language and comprehension that lies between Kroisos and Kyros, but also ultimately emphasizes the meeting of the minds of the two men across this gap: they can understand each other, but their interpreters cannot. [80] Elsewhere in the Histories, the hermeneis appear rarely and only in situations where the narrative is concerned to draw attention to the distance in language and culture that separates two or more parties, certainly not on every occasion when they must have been needed. Thus, in Dareios’ famous experiment with the nomoi of the Greeks and the Kallatiai, an interpreter is there to translate the response of the Indian tribe to the Greeks, a detail which effectively underscores the vast gulf that separates the two groups when it comes to treatment of the remains of their dead (3.38.4). [81] Once more at Dareios’ court, interpreters ask Syloson of Samos who he is and how he is a benefactor of King Dareios (3.140.3). The presence of interpreters, mentioned in a Persian setting only here and at 3.38.4, although much business must have of necessity been transacted through them, perhaps shows the vast distance between the insignificant Greek and the powerful Persian ruler, who are in fact linked by an action that happened many years before in Egypt, when Syloson gave his cape under no compulsion to an admiring Dareios, who was not yet king (3.139.2–3).

Lay interpreters, individuals, or communities who must decode for themselves the signs with which they are confronted are depicted more frequently by Herodotus and enjoy greater success than professionals. [82] Their success depends in part on the sign type: in the case of oracles, the vast majority are in fact deciphered correctly by their recipients, despite the notorious and fatal ambiguity of the oracle given to Kroisos, for example, which admittedly looms large in the narrative and functions together with other oracles as a structuring device for Herodotus’ extended logos on Kroisos’ rise and fall. [83] Of the some sixty-four oracles referred to in the Histories, only eleven appear to be misinterpreted. [84] Of the more than twenty-five portents described by Herodotus, only three go completely ignored and unrecognized by the persons in whose vicinity they occur. [85] The dreams of the Histories, however, present a different picture. Out of eighteen, only three have favorable outcomes or happy endings, while in the case of another three, the content is not mentioned, only the dreamer’s ensuing actions in carrying out the directives of the dream, nor is it possible to judge the effectiveness of the dreamer’s actions. [86] All other dreams are ignored, misinterpreted, or followed by the dreamer to his doom. [87] This may be a function of the status of these dreamers, who form something of an exclusive club: only Persian kings, their relatives, and high officials, as well as Greek tyrants, dream in the Histories—figures whose high positions and arrogance make them vulnerable to the classic concatenation of excess, hubris, and disaster familiar to readers of Herodotus (e.g. 3.80.4, 7.10.ε) and of Greek literature in general (cf. e.g. Aeschylus Persae 821–822, Sophocles Oedipus Rex 872–879). Apart from these instances of misinterpretation, there are plentiful examples to be found in the work of triumphs and successes in the field of interpretation, including those of Herodotus himself. [88] In short, successes and failures of sign interpretation in the Histories are not so much a function of the nature of signs, the distance between signifier and signified, as they are caused by the qualities of the interpreter (his or her hubris, excess, etc.). Those who are not subject to these disadvantages are, more often than not, able to bridge the distance between signifier and signified and even exploit it to their advantage.

3.2.2 Herodotus and Signs

Where does Herodotus’ interest in signs come from? Is it a feature of Herodotus himself, to be located in the personality of the historical Herodotus, or do its roots lie elsewhere, in a tradition or traditions which Herodotus draws upon? A strong interest in signs is found in a number of areas and genres of Greek literature, both antedating and contemporary with Herodotus. In what follows I briefly survey Herodotus’ points of contact with these tradition.

Among the fragmentary traces of the works of Herodotus’ predecessors and contemporaries in the field of history there are also indications of an interest in signs and the interpretation of signs. A fragment of Kharon of Lampsakos (whom Fowler believes to be a contemporary, not a successor of Herodotus) has a fascinating description of a manipulation of signs that reminds one strongly of Herodotean accounts of tricksters and horses. [97] Having learned that the people of Kardia have trained their horses to rear up and dance to certain tunes on the aulos, even beating out the time with their forelegs, Naris, leader of the Bisaltai, who have previously been unsuccessful in the field again the Kardianoi, gets hold of an aulos-player from Kardia and has her teach the appropriate aulos melodies to other aulos-players. These aulos-players then form part of a new military campaign against Kardia, and at a critical moment play the aulêmata they have learned, inducing the horses of the enemy to rear up and dance and thus throw their riders. Here is a hijacking and manipulation of sign system of a type familiar to Herodotean readers (cf. the Argives’ cracking of the Spartan code of military signals and the Spartans’ countermanipulation, 6.77–78, discussed in chs. 2.7.1 and above). There is another familiar pattern in the introduction to this story: Naris conceives the idea of an attack on Kardia after he hears about an oracle while in enslavement in Kardia. The oracle tells the people of Kardia that the Bisaltai will attack them. The knowledge of one set of signs gives Naris the impulse to use another set of signs to attack his enemy by cunning, much as Herodotus’ Zopyros conceives of his plan of deceptive self-mutilation after putting together the chance remark of a Babylonian soldier (3.151.2) and the teras of a mule giving birth (3.153.1; above, ch.

The controlling, self-confident, and assertive narrative voice, disdainful of predecessors, is not unique to Herodotus, but is already present in Hekataios of Miletos, [98] and seems to be de rigueur for early writers, including the Presocratics and the medical writers. Among the Presocratics the figure of Herakleitos of Ephesos is notable for his use of sign vocabulary familiar to us from Herodotus: there is his famous remark about the Delphic oracle: ὁ ἄναξ οὗ τὸ μαντεῖόν ἐστι τὸ ἐν Δελφοῖς οὔτε λέγει οὔτε κρύπτει, ἀλλὰ σημαίνει (DK 22 B 93), “The lord whose oracle is in Delphi neither speaks nor conceals, but indicates with signs.” In another fragment (κακοὶ μάρτυρες ἀνθρώποισιν ὀφθαλμοὶ καὶ ὦτα βαρβάρους ψυχὰς ἐχόντων [DK 22 B 107], “The eyes and ears of those who have barbarian [i.e. imperfectly understanding and speaking] souls are bad witnesses”), Herakleitos stresses the importance of correct interpretation and reading of the signs of language (and his Logos), which produce only babbling for those who do not know how to see and hear properly, just as in the Histories Kroisos’ words on the pyre are ἄσημα for the interpreters, who translate them literally but are ignorant of what they refer to (1.86.4). [99] Another fragment of Herakleitos contains an instance of the verb συμβάλλομαι, rarely found in the middle in authors besides Herodotus and the medical writers: μὴ εἰκῆ περὶ τῶν μεγίστων συμβαλλώμεθα (DK 22 B 47), “Let us not conjecture carelessly about the most serious things.” [100] The context of the fragment is not clear. [101] Like Herodotus, he also uses the verb φράζω for the transmission of an interpretation, and he projects the same air of competency, knowledge, and control:

DK 22 B 1

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 writers of the Hippocratic Corpus provide important parallels for Herodotus’ arguments based on signs and analogy, using external signs to deduce information about internal conditions. [104] Visible signs may reveal the invisible, as Anaxagoras of Klazomenai famously puts it: ὄψις ἀδήλων τὰ φαινόμενα (DK 59 B 21a), “Appearances are the vision of unseen things.” [105] Where a disease has a seat that is not susceptible to vision, the practitioner must also make use of signs perceptible by touch, sound, or smell (On the Art 9). [106] The corpus is rich in instances of σημεῖα, μαρτύρια, and τεκμήρια, often in combinations found in the Histories: the writer of On Ancient Medicine, for example, uses the expression τοῦτό μοι μέγιστον τεκμήριον (17). [107] Highly instructive is a passage from the writer of Prorrhetic II in which he says he will not work by divination (οὐ μαντεύσομαι, 1) but describe the signs (σημεῖα) according to which one should conjecture (τεκμαίρεσθαι) which people will recover, which will die, and the speed with which they will recover or die. The author of another treatise, in which he attempts to prove that all winds are ultimately the result of water, even uses συμβάλλομαι in the same fashion as Herodotus: [108]

τ ὰ δὲ πνεύματα ἡμῖν ἐστι πάντα ἀφ᾿ ὕδατος· τούτου δὲ πέρι πάρα συμβάλλεσθαι, ὅτι οὕτως ἔχει, ἀπὸ γὰρ τῶν ποταμῶν πάντων πνεύματα χωρέει ἑκάστοτε καὶ τῶν νεφέων, τὰ δὲ νέφεα ἐστὶν ὕδωρ ξυνεχὲς ἐν ἠέρι.

On Seed, the Nature of the Child, Diseases IV 25

All winds come about from water: on this point one may conjecture that it is so, for in every case winds proceed from all rivers and from clouds, and clouds are water held together in the air.

The common persona of the writers, polemical, defiant, and self-confident (cf. for example the beginning of On Ancient Medicine [
109] 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. 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.”

It is clear by now whence I derive part of the title of my work. The appellation of “master” (or a variation on this) has been applied a number of times to Herodotus in recent scholarship. [113] This is in fact a reflection of the impact Herodotus’ distinctive narrative persona has had on his readers. This persona, or “voiceprint,” is marked by its confidence, control, and authority: Dewald has termed it the “expert’s persona” (2002:268, 288). [114] Apart from presenting the semiotic activities of others, Herodotus himself acts as transmitter and reader of signs, providing interpretations of oracles, dreams, portents, human behavior, and objects alike, transmitting these to his audience. [115] It is he who is able to give an interpretation of the oracle given to the Siphnians which they themselves could not understand (3.58.1). [116] He becomes in effect the φράδμων ἀνήρ (3.57.4) that the Pythia calls for, supplying his audience with the key to the “wooden ambush” and “red herald” by explaining that in previous times ships used to have prows colored with ochre. It is also Herodotus in his own right who decodes the “easily interpretable” (εὐσύμβλητον, 7.57.1) portent of a mare giving birth to a hare, a teras that Xerxes on his way to cross the Hellespont ignores. He provides an interpretation of how the dream of Polykrates’ daughter corresponds to the circumstances of his death (3.125.4), and gives a detailed reconstruction through the eyes of Likhas (κατὰ τοιόνδε τι εἰκάζων, 1.68.4) of just how the oracle about the bones of Orestes relates to the surroundings of the bones the latter discovers (1.67.4–1.68.4). As transmitter and decoder he frequently uses in the first-person singular verbs specifically connected with the transmission of signs. [117] He retains a tight control over names, boasting of his knowledge and ability to name many of them, singling out some, while refusing at times to transmit others, [118] thus depriving their bearers of the kleos which he considers it his duty to provide to those who have shown ἔργα μεγάλα τε καὶ θωμαστά. [119] Also highly characteristic of this approach is the argument based on signs, phenomena in the real world that are taken as manifestations of the unseen. [120] With this capability Herodotus is able to investigate the past, to arbitrate, to deliver praise (kleos) and blame where it is due, and together with this, to deliver warning and advice (ainos). A persona thus emerges of one who is involved in every aspect of the transmission and interpretation of signs, one who both admires and celebrates the ingenuity of figures engaging in this activity within the Histories and who proudly draws attention to his own capability: a master of signs.


[ back ] 1. A full list of these instances of trickery in the Histories is given in Appendix 1 at the end of the book.

[ back ] 2. Dewald in her discussion of significant objects in the Histories makes the connection between the trickster figure and the ability to read objects (1993:59n8). She speaks in several places of the “manipulation of significant objects” by figures in the Histories (59, 63–65, 67, 70). Bencsik 1994 groups together instances of oath-breaking (55–58), the deceptive use of clothing (46–49), and secret messages (59–62), but does not consider as a common denominator between these instances the use and abuse of signs. Lateiner (1990), though sensitive in previous work to semiotic aspects in the Histories (cf. Lateiner 1987 on non-verbal communication and the useful appendices there), does not consider the manipulation of signs as a factor in his article on deceptions. He links instances of deception in Herodotus with what he terms “delusions,” the shared “belief in a natural or supernatural event without anyone’s being the richer for it” (1990:230), two categories which may be viewed together only if one believes, as Lateiner does, that Herodotus is a “skeptical empiricist” who “usually shows little sympathy for belief in supernatural interference in earthly affairs” (237) and thus in general presents such supernatural phenomena as the realm of “bogus gods, false priests, and sham messengers of the divine” (235). For a different view of Herodotus and the divine, see Harrison 2000 and Scullion 2006. The present study looks beyond the field of significant objects to other sign systems, explores the means of manipulation in more detail, and comes to different conclusions about the role of the manipulation of signs in the Histories.

[ back ] 3. Cf. e.g. Lateiner 1987:100 on the limitations of human knowledge and ability in the Histories when it comes to signs and symbols, and Dewald 1993:63–64 on the problems faced by figures in the Histories in the use and abuse of significant objects. Braund stresses the “problematics of reciprocity” and cross-cultural communication in the work (1998:169, 172), yet is careful to emphasize that the Histories equally show the possibility of overcoming these difficulties, in particular with the help of Herodotus himself (177): “In exploring the difficulties of forming relationships with the ‘other,’ Herodotus’ Histories present readers with failures and disasters, arising primarily from ignorance, over-confidence, and cultural chauvinism. There is a definite element of pessimism in the Histories . . . But there is also hope, for the author claims for himself the ability to rise above commonplace failings and offers to provide his readers with a better understanding of themselves, of others, and of reciprocity.” On Herodotus as master reader of signs, see ch. 3.2.

[ back ] 4. This comparison is used by Steiner (1994:152n65) in talking of Kyros’ appropriation of Astyages’ royal writing (1.125.2), discussed below in connection with Bagaios’ scheme for killing Oroites (3.128.2–5).

[ back ] 5. For sophiê in connection with sign manipulation and trickery, see further below. διαβάλλω as a verb of deception is used at 3.1.4 (Amasis deceives Kambyses by passing off an Egyptian noblewoman as his daughter); 5.97.2 (cited above); 5.107 (Histiaios deceives Dareios); 8.110.1 (Themistokles talks the Athenians into not immediately pursuing Xerxes); 9.116.2, in middle voice (Artayktes tricks Xerxes into giving him the sanctuary of Protesilaos, discussed below).

[ back ] 6. Other failed manipulations of signs: 7.6.3 (Onomakritos); 9.120.2–4 (Artayktes).

[ back ] 7. Cf. ch. 2.3 above on the figure of the χρησμολόγος.

[ back ] 8. Nagy 1990b:158–159, and esp. 169–170: “As long as private interests control the public medium, there is the ever-present danger of premeditated selective control over the content of poetry, leading to stealthy distortions or perversions of the poetic truth.” Harrison (2000:141n69) also points out the “powerful political prerogative” that such possession gives, and that the Spartan kings had the privilege and responsibility of keeping collections of prophecies (6.57.4). On oral performance and oracles, see also Maurizio 1997.

[ back ] 9. Nagy points out that the use of the verb κτῆμαι suggests private possession, as does the collection’s location in a temple (1990b:159): “the writing down of the oracular utterances makes it possible for the tyrants to possess this poetry as their private property. But this poetry is private property only because the tyrants, as Herodotus implies with the details about the storage of poetry on the akropolis, have the power not to make all such poetry public property, by withholding public performance.”

[ back ] 10. Cf. 1.20, where, as Harrison (2000:142n69) notes, “Periander forewarns his friend Thrasybulus of Miletus of an oracle given to Alyattes almost as if it were an industrial secret.”

[ back ] 11. Peisistratos is also credited with expert knowledge of oracles in some sources: scholia to Aristophanes Peace 1071, Suda β 47 s.v. Βάκις, where he is given the epithet “Bakis” and called χρησ-μολόγος.

[ back ] 12. Herodotean tyrants are generally good sign manipulators and readers of signs: cf. Thrasyboulos (1.20–22.1, 5.92.ζ.1–η.1); Peisistratos (1.59.4, 1.60.4); Periandros (3.51.2, 5.92.ζ.1–η.4); Kleisthenes of Sikyon (5.68.1–2). Cf. Steiner 1994, Gray 1996 (on the Bakkhiadai), Brandt 1998 (relationship between Delphi and Greek tyrants).

[ back ] 13. Cf. Nagy (1990b:170) and Dillery (2005:189–191) on this passage, who think it more likely that Onomakritos was caught by Lasos while reciting the spurious oracle in the midst of a performance, rather than while writing it into the collection. Following Privitera (1965:48) and Nagy (1990b:172–173), Dillery envisages the occasion as a competition between the two. He points out that there is a tradition (Athenaeus 8.338b–c, Hesychius s.v. λασίσματα) that presents Lasos as a well-known expert in manipulating language, and that he is thus a worthy opponent for Onomakritos.

[ back ] 14. For both instances of manipulation cf. the theôros (official sacred messenger) in Theognis 805–810, who must be straighter than a carpenter’s rule and not add anything (οὐτέ τι . . . προσθείς, 807) to what the Pythia indicates (σημήνῃ, 808). Discussion in Nagy 1990b:165–166 and Dillery 2005.

[ back ] 15. Herodotus’ narrative and the exchanges between Dareios and Oibares are full of the vocabulary often found in descriptions of trickery: see observations in Appendix.

[ back ] 16. Cf. the double portent which Zeus sends to Odysseus in the form of a thunderclap from a clear sky and the φήμη uttered by a woman grinding corn (Odyssey 20.102–121). See also the story of Zopyros (3.153.1–158.2), discussed below, which also involves a double portent in which one of the portents is a φήμη.

[ back ] 17. Harrison 2000:99 groups this passage together with 7.43.1 (thunder as Xerxes approaches Troy) and 8.64 (earthquake heralding beginning of battle at Salamis): “The implication of some significance to natural phenomena is often no more than a matter of narrative timing.”

[ back ] 18. Most recently Dumézil 1984 on the Vedic rituals of the vājapeya and aśvamedha as parallels. Cook (1983:54–55) collects other suggestions about possible ritual backgrounds.

[ back ] 19. Dumézil does not make this point about arbitrarily occurring signs. He does, however, draw attention to the importance of neighing and whinnying in the Vedic ritual (1984:144–145), which is a vital component in the Herodotean story.

[ back ] 20. See Dumézil 1984:146–147, who describes it as “[une] course truquée.”

[ back ] 21. I owe this observation about the manipulation of the arbitrarily occurring sign of the dice game to an unpublished paper by Stephanie Jamison. The “dice” are in fact identical nuts from the vibhītaka tree (or imitations thereof). The aim appears to be to produce a throw containing a certain number of nuts divisible by the number four. See Heesterman 1957:143–157, who collects and compares the relevant Vedic texts.

[ back ] 22. See later discussion of speech acts in connection with 3.128.2–5. Metaphors of binding and possession in the context of oaths appear at 1.29.2 (ὁρκίοισι . . . μεγάλοισι κατείχοντο) and 3.19.2 (ὁρκίοισι . . . μεγάλοισι ἐνδεδέσθαι).

[ back ] 23. 1.74.6 (the Lydians and Medes cut their arms to the quick and lick each other’s blood); 3.8.1 (Arabs); 4.70 (Scythians); cf. ch. 2.7.3 above on this performative aspect. Cf. the expression ὅρκιον τάμνειν: 4.70 (in the middle voice); 4.201.2; 4.201.3; 7.132.2; 9.26.4. On expressions of binding and cutting and connections with Near Eastern rituals, see Faraone 1993, esp. 76, and Knippschild 2002, index s.v. Blutsbruderschaft.

[ back ] 24. Bencsik 1994:11. See Appendix for examples of μηχανάομαι used in connection with tricksters.

[ back ] 25. “This earth” (ἡ γῆ αὕτη) is deictic: the parties to the oath point to the earth under their feet as part of the ritual of swearing. On touching the earth while swearing an oath, see Knippschild 2002:85. For another extreme of irreversibility, compare the oath of the people of Phokaia (1.165.3), who throw an ingot of iron into the harbor, and swear not to return before this ingot resurfaces: cf. ch. 2.7.3 above and discussion in Steiner 1994:68.

[ back ] 26. Cf. also the Phocian tactic at 8.28, where earth is spread over a ditch filled with pots.

[ back ] 27. A similar play between ἔμπεδος in the meaning of “steadfast, connected to the ground” (as applied to physical objects) and ἔμπεδος in the meaning of “secure, certain” (as applied to words or signs) is already present in the Odyssey. At 23.202–204, Odysseus says he does not know whether the bed which he built is still ἔμπεδον or whether someone has cut it from the massive trunk of the olive tree of which it is such an integral part. The signs (σήματα) that Odysseus gives Penelope in relating the unique details of their bed are described as ἔμπεδα, which refers to their certainty, but also reminds us of the bed: ὣς φάτο· τῆς δ᾿ αὐτοῦ λύτο γούνατα καὶ φίλον ἦτορ, | σήματ᾿ ἀναγνούσῃ τά οἱ ἔμπεδα πέφραδ᾿ Ὀδυσσεύς (Odyssey 22.205–206).

[ back ] 28. Disastrous ἔρως: 1.8.1 (Kandaules and his wife); 2.131.1 (Mykerinos and his daughter); 3.31.2 (Kambyses and his sister); 6.62.1 (Ariston and his friend’s wife); 9.108.1–2 (Xerxes and the wife and daughter of Masistes). Hall (1989:208), cited by Harrison (2000:238n34), comments that in Herodotus “the transgressive desire denoted by the term eros is attributed only to tyrants and kings.”

[ back ] 29. For weaving as a metaphor for cunning and duplicity cf. e.g. the expression μῆτιν ὑφαίνειν (e.g. Iliad 7.324, Odyssey 4.739); δολοπλόκος as epithet of Aphrodite in Sappho 1.2; and Klytemnestra’s work of weaving (ὕφασμα, Euripides Orestes 25) in which she catches Agamemnon. The adjective ποικίλος, which refers literally to the variegated embroidery or inlay work, may also act metaphorically to characterize the artfulness of the craftsman. Pratt (1993:70) discusses the link between τέχνη and deception, and ποικιλία at 82–85, as do Detienne and Vernant (1978:19–20 and 279–318). For the poetic implications of weaving and embroidery, see also Nagy 1996a:64–66. Cf. also καταπλέκω in Herodotus at 4.205 and 8.83.2; cf. ch. 2.8.2 above.

[ back ] 30. Other instances of the Persian use of the human body as signifier: 3.69.3–6 (the earlessness of the false Smerdis, the result of an earlier transgression against the king, tips Otanes off); 5.25.1–2 (Kambyses has judge’s throne upholstered with the skin of Sesamnes to act as a reminder to the latter’s son, Otanes, of his father’s transgressions and punishment); 7.39.3 (two halves of bisected body of Pythios’ son act as a warning sign to the Persian army as they march between them). Cf. ch. 2.8.6 above.

[ back ] 31. Note characteristic trickster vocabulary: μηχανᾶται τοιάδε (1.59.3), ὁ δὲ δῆμος ὁ τῶν Ἀθηναίων ἐξαπατηθείς . . . (1.59.5).

[ back ] 32. As with Dareios, here too luck is combined with cunning: cf. the favorable oracle which Peisistratos receives through Amphilytos and which he interprets and acts on immediately; see Lavelle 1991.

[ back ] 33. Dareios in the Behistun Inscription (§32) describes this punishment being given to the rebel Fravartiß, who is then displayed so that all the people may see him. The conventional meaning of these signs within the Persian penal system is precisely what Otanes and his daughter rely on in determining the identity of the false Smerdis. When Otanes’ daughter discovers that the pseudo-Smerdis has no ears, this is testimony to a previous offense against the king and serves as incontrovertible proof that he is not Smerdis, the brother of Kambyses (3.69). Xenophon (Anabasis 1.9.13) describes this system of punishment being used by Kyros the Younger, saying that on the roads it was often possible to see people without legs, hands, and eyes. On the motifs of the Zopyros story and of other stories of the Persian court, see West 2003.

[ back ] 34. Bencsik 1994:39 comments that the appearance of a teras in connection with a σοφὸς ἀνήρ is common in the Histories: 1.59.1 (Peisistratos); 3.76.3 and 3.86.2 (Dareios); 2.162.1 (Amasis); 8.64.2 (Themistokles). For the double portent, which has a Homeric pedigree, see ch. above on Dareios’ scheme. On the prodigy of a mule giving birth, cf. the parallels gathered in Pease 1920–1923 on Cicero De divinatione 1.36.

[ back ] 35. E.g. 1.135.1, 1.202.3, 2.37.3, 4.78.4, 4.106, 4.111.1, 4.168.1, 4.189–190. On clothing as an extension of the body and the person, cf. the practice of touching or kissing the garment of a person: Near Eastern examples and discussion in Knippschild 2002:72–75.

[ back ] 36. Bencsik (1994:48) notes a further role played by clothing at 1.155.4, where a change in dress produces a change in the character of the bearer. Kroisos advises Kyros to make the Lydians wear long tunics (κιθῶνες) and high, soft boots (κόθορνοι) so that they will become women instead of men (γυναῖκας ἀντ᾿ ἀνδρῶν ὄψεαι γεγονότας) and will pose no threat of rebellion. Cf. the idea that soft lands make for soft people in Kyros’ speech at the end of the Histories (φιλέειν γὰρ ἐκ τῶν μαλακῶν χώρων μαλακοὺς ἄνδρας γίνεσθαι, 9.122.3), and see Dewald 1997 on this passage as a link back to the first book and a device for closure.

[ back ] 37. Pratt 1993:60. For Herodotus and epiphanies, see Harrison 2000:90–92, making the point that Herodotus’ skepticism here should not be interpreted as indicative of a general skepticism about the possibility of divine epiphany.

[ back ] 38. Cf. also 3.1.3 (daughter of Apries dressed to look like daughter of Amasis in order to fool Kambyses); 7.15.3 (Artabanos wears Xerxes’ clothing in order that the same dream appear to him). Lateiner (1990:233) mentions as an instance of deception by dress 8.24–25, where Xerxes attempts to pass off four thousand of his own dead at Thermopylai as Spartans, though Herodotus does not talk of the use of clothing in this deception.

[ back ] 39. The scheme is described by Herodotus as a δόλος (4.146.4).

[ back ] 40. Also mentioned by Herodotus at 1.4.4: cf. note below on the sense of coming full circle and closure in the last chapters of book 9. For the sanctuary of a hero conceived of as a dwelling, compare, for example, Oedipus’ description of himself as a οἰκητήρ ‘inhabitant’ (Sophocles Oedipus Coloneus 627) of the place where his tomb will eventually be. Here too the reference is in coded form: κοὔποτ᾿ Οἰδίπουν ἐρεῖς | ἀχρεῖον οἰκητῆρα δέξασθαι τόπων | τῶν ἐνθάδ᾿, εἴπερ μὴ ψεύδουσί με (626–628). Discussion of the Herodotean passage and its connection with hero cult in Nagy 1990b:268–269 and Nagy 2001. On the hero’s “possession” of his tomb and the use of the terms κατέχειν (‘possess’) and ἔχειν (‘hold’) in this regard, which may also indicate ownership of land, see the comments of Henrichs (1993:175). Henrichs (1976:278) (with references) discusses instances of οἶκος in the sense of temple.

[ back ] 41. Cf. ch. 2.5 above on the ainos.

[ back ] 42. 1.123.3: Harpagos cannot send message because the roads are watched (ἅτε τῶν ὁδῶν φυλασ-σομένων); cf. 5.35.3: Histiaios tries to send a message (σημῆναι) to Aristagoras but cannot because the roads are watched (φυλασσομένων τῶν ὁδῶν), and 7.239.3: Demaratos cannot send a message from Sousa (σημῆναι) because of the danger that it might be intercepted.

[ back ] 43. Note the verbs characteristic of trickery and manipulation: ἐπιτεχνάομαι and μηχανάομαι. Powell maintains that here and at 1.94.6 μηχανάομαι means simply “procure,” but the notion of resourcefulness and craft is still surely present.

[ back ] 44. For other sign-bearing hares, cf. 4.134.1–2 (Scythians’ pursuit of a hare in preference to fighting the Persians convinces Dareios to abandon his campaign) and 7.57.1 (a mare gives birth to a hare: see ch. 2.1.6 above). For animals in the Histories as narrative omens or signs, see also ch. 2.5 above and Munson 2001a:247–251. On gift-objects see ch. 2.8.2 above.

[ back ] 45. The ultimate example of the human skin as text is the Cretan lawgiver Epimenides, whose skin was found to be tattooed with letters (γράμματα, Suda ε 2471 τὸ Ἐπιμενίδειον δέρμα). The theme of secrecy is also present, since the Suda explains that the expression τὸ Ἐπιμενίδειον δέρμα (“the skin of Epimenides”) is used of things that are mysterious or hidden (ἐπὶ τῶν ἀποθέτων). See Svenbro 1993:137 and Dillery 2005.

[ back ] 46. On συμβάλλεσθαι in contexts of sign decoding, see ch. 1.3.1 above.

[ back ] 47. Cf. the blank shield of Amphiaraos in Aeschylus Seven Against Thebes 591–592, which acts as a sign though, unlike the shields of the other six warriors, it bears no actual sêma. Steiner 1994:56 discusses the passage, but does not draw a connection between it and Demaratos’ tabula rasa. For Zeitlin (1982:115), “the sightless surface of Amphiaraos’ shield is itself a sign of the seer, the mantic emblem of blindness and insight.”

[ back ] 48. As Dewald (1993:58) puts it, “A certain skill at reading objects seems to run in the family.” Gorgo has already proved herself a precocious reader of signs: as a child, she prevents her father from being corrupted by a smooth-talking Aristagoras and his map (5.51.2). The use of ἐπιφράζομαι as a verb of decoding is also seen at 4.200.2 (blacksmith of Barke detects siege-tunnels), discussed below.

[ back ] 49. Cf. ch. 1.3.2 above on noos and sign interpretation.

[ back ] 50. Steiner (1994:151) overlooks Demaratos’ testing of the Spartans and the role of Gorgo: “The Spartans, with their notorious mistrust of writing and rejection of grammata for all but the most restricted of uses, are ideally suited to discover the meaning of the pinax. For them an empty tablet is a token, no less significant an object than the text that lies beneath.” As I read Herodotus’ passage, the Spartans are anything but “suited” to interpret the pinax (actually a δελτίον, 7.239.3). There is more to this story than “the familiar pattern of the clever Greek who outwits the foreigner” (150), since it is the Spartans too that Demaratos outwits. The pattern observable here is rather one in which signs are used to ensure that the message is decoded by a worthy audience (cf. ch. 2.5 above on the ainos and ainetic mode in Herodotus).

[ back ] 51. On the function of epea in Herodotus as authoritative utterances, see Hollmann 2000. On other sphrêgides in the Histories, cf. ch. 2.8.4 above. Further references on the concept of the sphragis in Edmunds 1997.

[ back ] 52. On the concept of the speech act see Austin 1962; cf. Bierl 2009:36–44 on speech acts and ancient Greek literary genres.

[ back ] 53. Just as the grammatistai act as machines converting signs from one medium to another, translators (ἑρμηνεῖς) in Herodotus transfer signs from one language to another: cf. ch. 3.2 below on these figures in the Histories.

[ back ] 56. See ch. above for similar instances of σημαίνω.

[ back ] 57. The motif of trick and countertrick is also found at 4.200.2: Pheretime and the Persians under Amasis attempt to take the city of Barke by tunneling underneath the walls, but one of the inhabitants, a blacksmith, detects the attempts by the judicious interpretation of signs (ἐπιφράζομαι; also used of Gorgo’s reading of the blank tablet [7.239.4], described above). Those parts of the wall which are being undermined by the enemy produce an echoing sound in the bronze shield which the blacksmith taps against it (4.200.3). The inhabitants then dig opposing tunnels (ἀντορύσσοντες) in those places and kill the Persian sappers. This countertrick is answered by Amasis’ manipulation of an oath (4.201.1–3, discussed above), which also involves digging of a sort. Cf. also 2.121 for the sequence of trick and countertrick between the master thief and Rhampsanitos.

[ back ] 58. Another example of artificial sign production and appropriation, which here finds expression in physical terms, is Amasis the Egyptian’s recasting of the golden footbath (ποδανιπτήρ), formerly used for the washing of feet and for vomiting and urinating into, as a cult statue (ἄγαλμα), which the Egyptians now worship and revere (2.172.3–5): see ch. 2.8.1 above.

[ back ] 59. Another Egyptian king, Amasis, also manages to outwit certain oracles, though he does not rely on manipulation, only the incompetence of some μαντήια. When still a private citizen, he used to steal. If challenged, he would go to the nearest μαντήιον to ask whether he had stolen someone’s property or not. Some correctly indicted him, while others acquitted him. After becoming king, he honored those oracles that detected his thefts as ἀψευδέα μαντήια and those that did not as ψευδέα (2.174.1–2).

[ back ] 60. Examples in the Histories of the use of δέκομαι as technical term in the context of sign recognition: 1.63.1, 4.15.3, 7.178.2, 8.115.1, 9.91.2. Burkert (1996:159) also draws attention to Perdikkas’ appropriation and reworking of the sign and to the special meaning of δέκομαι: “Through this acceptance, the king’s arrogant utterance, by which he meant to give the boy nothing, turned into a sign of power, connecting Perdikkas and his offspring forever to the grand light that dominates the sky, the royal star of Macedonia. By accepting the sign of cosmic rank, Perdikkas received what it stood for: royalty.”

[ back ] 61. Compare his descendant Alexandros’ use of the same word in his reply to his Persian guests (5.20.4), discussed above.

[ back ] 62. On the tarikhos, with interesting late antique parallels, see Nagy 1990b:269–273 and Nagy 2001:xvii–xviii.

[ back ] 63. Dewald (1997:71 and n22) sees, as do I, Artayktes’ interpretation of the jumping fish as a tactic, but is unwilling to grant that his interpretation seems in some sense to be validated ultimately by the narrative: “The divine portent that . . . Artayctes claims to see . . . is . . . mildly comical, and the narrative does not support Artayctes’ own desperately self-interested claims to have seen a portent.” Similarly Darbo-Peschanski 1987:57, cited by Dewald: “L’enquêteur laisse à Artayctès lui-même la responsabilité d’interpréter son sort comme une vengeance des dieux.” Nagy (2001:xviii) shows that the sign of the tarikhos works far beyond Artayktes’ attempts to control it: “Ironically, when the dead Protesilaos ‘gives a sign’, sēmainei, to the living, the Greek hero’s ‘meaning’ seems at first sight to depend on whether the word tarikhos is to be understood in the everyday Greek sense of ‘preserved fish’ or in the hieratic non-Greek sense of ‘mummy’ (Herodotus 9.120.2). But there is a third sense, both hieratic and Greek, and it depends on the meaning of the word sēmainei: [what follows is Nagy 1990a:271] In the image of a dead fish that mystically comes back to life, we see a convergence of the everyday and the hieratic senses of ‘preservation’. This image [in the story of Herodotus], where Protesilaos sēmainei ‘indicates’ (9.120.2) the power that he has from the gods to exact retribution from the wrongdoer, amounts to a sēma or sign of the revenant, the spirit that returns from the dead. The hero Protesilaos himself is represented as giving the sēma, the ‘sign’ of his power as a revenant [from the heroic past].”

[ back ] 64. Braund (1998:166–167) makes the point that it is Hermotimos, not Herodotus, who claims the support of the gods (8.106.3) in carrying out his extreme vengeance: “[W]e cannot be entirely at ease with Hermotimos’ reciprocal vengeance or his protestations of justice.”

[ back ] 65. Cf. Harrison 2000:120n60, citing the following passages of the hanging up of the body, alive or dead, by barbarians, especially Persians: 2.121.γ.2; 3.125.4; 4.103.2; 6.30.1; 7.194.1–2; 7.238.1; 9.78.3. See more generally Hall 1989:25–27, 103–105, 158–159 on punishment and barbarians. The significance of the site of the punishment, as well as the positioning of this episode at the end of Histories, is discussed in Boedeker 1988, Dewald 1997, esp. 67 and 71, and Gray 2002:313–314.

[ back ] 66. Camerer (1965:50n50) notes the closeness and ethical neutrality of the terms δεινός and σοφός (cf. Megabazos’ characterization of Histiaios as ἀνδρὶ Ἕλληνι δεινῷ τε καὶ σοφῷ, 5.23.2): “δεινός kommt in der Bedeutung σοφός sehr nahe. Es bezeichnet eine Art intellektuelle Gewandtheit und ist an sich ein ethisch neutraler Begriff.”

[ back ] 67. The term ἀτασθαλίη has strong associations with the Homeric poems, where it is also linked to greed, ritual transgression, and desecration: cf. the ἀτασθαλίη of Odysseus’ companions (eating of cattle of Sun, Odyssey 1.7) and that of the suitors (e.g. Odyssey 24.458). Cf. Mikalson 2002:193–194 on atasthaliê and hubris in the Histories.

[ back ] 68. As Bencsik 1994:84 comments: “Frevel und Skrupellosigkeit in Hdt.s Historien müssen sorgfältig geschieden werden.”

[ back ] 69. Cf. Harrison 2000:109n24 on the oath of Themison: “There is interestingly no implication that oaths should not be used for unjust ends: the narrative is rather shaped around Themison’s ingenious fulfilment of the oath.”

[ back ] 70. Bencsik 1994:11: “Der vorausdeutende ‘Signalsatz’ hat als Bindegelied zwischen der Nennung des Motivs und der Schilderung der List die literarische Funktion, beim Leser/Hörer eine Erwartungshaltung und somit Spannung zu erzeugen.” See Appendix for instances of these words in connection with trickery and manipulation of signs.

[ back ] 71. The positive and negative sides of these terms are really intertwined and interconnected. Pratt (1993:70), in talking of Archaic poetry and depictions of τέχνη, speaks of this interconnectedness: “Figures in archaic poetry who are characterized by the kind of practical knowledge that gives rise to technai are virtually always also presented as exemplary liars or deceivers. Hephaestus can create both the shield of Achilles and the nets that ensnare Ares and Aphrodite, Athene can weave both a complex tapestry and a plot, Hermes can shape both a lyre and a lie.” In the case of sophiê in the Histories Bencsik (1994:5) also shows clearly that both strands of meaning (‘wisdom’ vs. ‘cunning’) are inseparably intertwined.

[ back ] 72. Instances of trickery and manipulation may be the object of wonder (θῶμα) as much as any deed of bravery or great building. Bencsik 1994:145–148 discusses σοφίσματα in Herodotus as part of the category of “great and wondrous works” (ἔργα μεγάλα τε καὶ θωμαστά) mentioned in the proem to the work, and cf. Bakker 2002:28 on Herodotus’ apodexis itself as a mega ergon. Though the epithets θωμαστός or θωμάσιος (‘wondrous, amazing’) may not be expressly applied to these actions, the attention devoted to them in the text and their striking qualities entitle them to inclusion in this category. Astonishment as a reaction in witnesses to acts of cunning is described several times in Herodotus’ narrative, for example in the story of the Egyptian master thief (ἐκπεπλῆχθαι, 2.121.γ.1, 2.121.ζ.1; θωμάσαι, 2.121.ζ.2). Pratt (1993:73) has well described the relationship between trickster and audience, where “audience” may refer not just to the original audience of a trick, but may include subsequent audiences as well: “Archaic literature often seems to ask us to admire lies and acts of deception from precisely this perspective, from the perspective of an outsider, of an audience to the lie who admires it purely as a manifestation of the artist’s imagination and intelligence—as a kind of performance, a form of entertainment.” Cf. Munson 2001a on thôma, esp. 232: “[Expressions of thôma] tend to announce special semiotic challenges and occasionally mark the highest philosophical level of the inquiry.” Cf. also 251, with reference to animal stories: “Familiarity with the cultural conventions on which these different types of animal stories are based allows Herodotus’ listeners to integrate into an ethical structure individual events that do not in themselves need to signify anything beyond their literal meaning. Herodotus’ narration does its share to make these events fulfill the function of narrative omens or signs. The word the discourse uses to celebrate them, thôma, is a sign of signs.”

[ back ] 73. Cf. Pratt 1993:71: “Tricksters can certainly speak aletheia if they wish to―it is not a lack of ability that prevents their speaking the truth―but tricksters are characterized by the speaking of lies and misleading statements, because only through these can their techne be revealed.”

[ back ] 74. Compare also 3.65.6, where the opposition is between δόλος and σθένος.

[ back ] 75. Cf. also Kurke 1999:115 on the maintenance of power and ability to read signs: “Throughout the Histories, part of the dynastic survival kit is the ability to interpret ambiguous signifying systems (both objects and spoken/written messages).”

[ back ] 76. Cf. the critical remarks of Harrison (2000:1): “Herodotus has been growing increasingly ingenious in recent years. . . . [H]e has emerged as a figure almost sinisterly clever, creating patterns of reciprocity, setting up expectations which he then subverts, manipulating his characters and their preoccupations like puppets.”

[ back ] 77. Pratt 1993:71. Cf. Winkler 1990:129–161, who makes a connection between Penelope’s cunning and Homer’s. Pratt also stresses the connection with the agonistic nature of poetry: “The ability to deceive and lie becomes particularly desirable in a competitive context, because a successful act of deception vividly represents the superiority of one intelligence to another. In a system in which one poet competes against another, one way to reveal one’s craft is to parade one’s inventions, one’s improvements on the accounts of one’s predecessors.” On Herodotus’ polemical stance, see now esp. Thomas 2000:214–221.

[ back ] 78. Noted by Darbo-Peschanski (1987:81). Incorrect interpretations by professionals: 1.107.1, 1.108.1, 1.128.2 (dream interpreted by magoi and oneiropoloi); 7.19.1 (dream interpreted by magoi); 7.37.2 (teras interpreted by magoi); 7.113.2 (divinatory sacrifice interpreted by magoi); 7.142.3–7.143 (oracle interpreted by Greek khrêsmologoi). Interpretation by professionals unheeded: 5.56.2 (dream interpreted by Greek oneiropoloi); 9.37.1 (divinatory sacrifice for non-Greeks by Hegesistratos). Interpretation by professional arrives too late: 1.78 (teras interpreted by Telmessians). Cf. Mikalson 2002:195n18.

[ back ] 79. Interpretations by manties: 7.219.1 (divinatory sacrifice by Megistias: correct); 9.37.1 (divinatory sacrifice for non-Greeks by Hegesistratos: correct, but ignored); 9.92.2 (divinatory sacrifice by Deiphonos: correct). On the high correlation between prediction of outcome and actual outcome, note Jameson’s (1991:198) instructive remark: “Modern commentators, after a period when sceptical rationalism prevailed, have tended to be impressed by the Greeks’ faith, their strict adherence to the signals they received through sacrifices and the rarity of cases in which the gods’ advice was ignored or proved false. However, examples of successful action contrary to negative signs are not likely to be reported in our sources.”

[ back ] 80. Much the same contrast between unknowing messenger and knowing recipient is made in the account of Thrayboulos’ famous non-verbal message to Periandros (5.92.ζ.2–η.1): Periandros’ messenger faithfully conveys to Periandros what Thrasyboulos did (namely, cut down all the ears of grain that stand taller than the rest), but to him it is no message, since he does not recognize the actions of Thrasyboulos as being signifiers. Periandros sees that there is a message and grasps it immediately: the one tyrant understands the other perfectly.

[ back ] 81. Cf. 4.24, where the vastness of Scythia and the remoteness of the tribe known as the Argippaioi are emphasized by the fact that other Scythians who interact with them need seven sets of interpreters and seven languages to communicate.

[ back ] 82. For Vernant (1974:18–22), the use of reason and logic, rather than priestly knowledge, by laypersons or communities to interpret oracles is connected with the rise of writing, which “fixes” oracles and places them at the disposal of all, so that a professional competency is no longer needed to interpret them.

[ back ] 83. On oracles and interpretations of signs as a structural technique in the narrative of the Histories, see e.g. Darbo-Peschanski 1987:74–75, Mikalson 2002:196.

[ back ] 84. Failures in interpretation of oracles: 1.53, 1.55, 1.85.2 (oracles to Kroisos); 1.66.2 (oracle to Spartans about Arcadia and Tegea); 2.152.3 (oracle of Bouto to Psammetikhos); 3.57.3–4 (oracle to Siphnians); 3.64.4 (oracle of Bouto to Kambyses); 4.163.2 (oracle to Arkesilaos III); 6.76.1 (oracle to Kleomenes); 8.20.2 (Euboians do not pay attention to oracle of Bakis); 9.33.2 (oracle to Teisamenos). Saïd (2002:122) notes: “Deceptive oracles do not always have a tragic outcome in the Histories.”

[ back ] 85. Unrecognized portents: 4.79.1 (Skyles’ town house struck by lightning); 7.57.1–2 (portent of mare giving birth to hare, portent of mule giving birth to mule with double set of genitalia).

[ back ] 86. Successful interpretations and outcomes of dreams: 2.139 (dream of Sabakos); 2.141 (dream of Sethon); 6.131 (dream of Agariste, mother of Perikles). Unclear: 3.149 (Otanes resettles Samos after dream and illness); 6.118.1 (Datis restores statue of Apollo after dream); 8.54 (Xerxes makes offerings on Athenian akropolis possibly because of dream). Cf. Mikalson (2002:195), who makes a distinction between Herodotean oracles, manties, and omens on the one hand, whose warnings can allow one to escape disaster, and Herodotean dreams, which “announce . . . an inescapable future.”

[ back ] 87. 1.34 (Kroisos and Atys); 1.107 (Astyages and Mandane); 1.108 (Astyages and Mandanes: second dream); 1.209 (Kyros’ dream of Dareios); 3.30 (Kambyses’ dream of Smerdis); 3.124 (dream of Polykrates’ daughter); 5.55f. (dream of Hipparkhos); 6.107 (dream of Hippias); 7.12 (first dream of Xerxes); 7.14 (second dream of Xerxes); 7.17 (same dream appears to Artabanos); 7.19 (Xerxes’ third dream).

[ back ] 88. As a sample, consider the following list of individuals, both non-Greek and Greek, male and female, tyrant, despot, and citizen, who make successful use of signs, whether as encoder or decoder, “straight” user or manipulator: Kyros (1.125.1–2, 1.126, 1.141.1–2); Harpagos (1.123.4); Dareios and Oibares (3.85.1–3.86.2); Otanes (3.68–69); Bagaios (3.127.2–3.128.5); Gobryas (4.132.2–3), Zopyros (3.153–158); Amasis (the Persian, 4.201.1–3); Artaphrenes (6.1.2); Artayktes (9.116.3); Amestris (9.109–112); Amasis (the Egyptian, 2.172.3–5); Mykerinos (2.133.4–5); Sabakos (2.139.1–3); Psammetikhos (2.2.1–5, 2.151–2); Kheops’ daughter (4.126.1); Ariantas (4.81.5–6); the king of the Long-lived Ethiopians (3.21.2–22.4); Solon (1.30.3–32.9); Thrasyboulos (1.20–22.1, 5.92.ζ.1–η.1); Peisistratos (1.59.4, 1.60.4); Periandros (3.51.2, 5.92.ζ.1–η.4); Lykophron (3.50.1–3); Kleisthenes of Sikyon (5.68.1–2); Kleisthenes of Athens (5.69.1–2); Perdikkas (8.137.5); Alexandros (5.20.3–5); Tellias (8.27.3–4); Megistias (7.219.1); Histiaios (5.35.3); Themistokles (7.143.1–3, 8.22.1–3); Likhas (1.68.3–4); Khilon (1.59.1–2); Kleomenes (6.66.1–3, 6.77.3–78.2, 6.82.2); Demaratos (7.239.2–4); Gorgo (7.239.2–4). One should also consider successful interpretations made by groups: the Thebans (5.79.1–81.3); the Paiones (5.1.2–3); and the Athenians (7.189.1–3, though cf. 1.60.3–5, discussed above), for example. On Herodotus as interpreter, see below.

[ back ] 89. See appendix I in Lateiner 1987 for categories and illustrative lists of non-verbal communication in Homer (including objects, tokens, and clothes) and cf. Nagy 1990a:202–222 on sêma and noêsis in the Homeric poems. Recent discussion of the general relationship between Homer and Herodotus and shared mythical patterns in Boedeker 2002.

[ back ] 90. See ch. 2.2 above.

[ back ] 91. The woman’s utterance is referred to as a φήμη at 20.100 and 105, and then as a κλεηδών at 120. It is interesting that in Herodotus’ description of the double portent at Mykale, the rumor is also referred to first as a φήμη and then as a κληδών (9.100.1).

[ back ] 92. On Herodotus and tragedy, see, for example, Fohl 1913, Egermann 1968, Stahl 1968, Snell 1973, Chiasson 1979, Saïd 2002. For a semiotic reading of a tragedy, cf. Zeitlin 1982 on Aeschylus Seven against Thebes.

[ back ] 93. For the term εὐξύμβολον, compare Herodotus’ description of a portent as εὐσύμβλητον (7.57.1) and cf. ch. 1.1.3 above on the τεκμήριον in the Histories; footprint as an indicator of identity at 4.82.1 (Herakles); garment as significant object (cloak that Amestris weaves for Xerxes, 9.109.1; discussed in ch.

[ back ] 94. On the σοφία of the poet and his superiority as well as the idea of the utterance directed at the σοφοί, cf. Pindar Olympian 2.83–88: πολλά μοι ὑπ᾿ | ἀγκῶνος ὠκέα βέλη | ἔνδον ἐντὶ φαρέτρας | φωνάεντα συνετοῖσιν·| ἐς δὲ τὸ πὰν ἑρμανέων | χατίζει. σοφὸς ὁ πολλὰ εἰδὼς φυᾷ· | μαθόντες δὲ λάβροι | παγγλωσίᾳ κόρακες ὣς ἄκραντα γαρύετον | Διὸς πρὸς ὄρνιχα θεῖον, “Many are the swift darts in the quiver under my arm, and they speak to those who can understand: but for the whole they need interpreters. Sophos is the man who knows many things by nature: but those who learn are garrulously boisterous like a pair of crows who sing empty words against the divine bird of Zeus.” Cf. also Theognis 681–682, where the poet delivers an encoded message, an ainos, which only those who are agathoi and sophoi will recognize: ταῦτά μοι ἠνίχθω κεκρυμμένα τοῖς ἀγαθοῖσι· | γινώσκοι δ᾿ ἄν τις καὶ κακός, ἂν σοφὸς ᾖ, “Let these things become an enigma, kept hidden for the agathoi: but even one who is kakos could understand them, if he is sophos.”

[ back ] 95. Cf. Pindar fr. 150 SM: μαντεύεο Μοῖσα προφατεύσω δ᾿ ἐγώ, “Prophesy, Muse, and I will be your spokesman”; Bakkhylides Epinician 8.3: Μουσᾶν γε ἰοβλεφάρων θεῖος προφάτας, “divine spokesman of the violet-eyed Muses.” On this point cf. Nagy 1990b:164–165.

[ back ] 96. Nagy 1990b:13.

[ back ] 97. FGH 262 F1. On Kharon’s date, see Fowler 1996:67. For Herodotean horses trained or used in a manipulation, cf. the horse of Artybios the Persian, trained to rear up and attack with its forelegs, whose μηχαναί (5.111.4) are overcome by Onesilos’ squire (5.111–112), and also the story of Dareios and his groom Oibares (3.85–87), discussed in ch. above.

[ back ] 98. FGH 1 F 1: Ἑκαταῖος Μιλήσιος ὧδε μυθεῖται· τάδε γράφω, ὥς μοι δοκεῖ ἀληθέα εἶναι· οἱ γὰρ Ἑλλήνων λόγοι πολλοί τε καὶ γελοῖοι, ὡς ἐμοὶ φαίνονται, εἰσίν. “Hekataios of Miletos speaks thus: I write the following things as they seem true to me: for the accounts of the Greeks are many and, as it seems to me, ridiculous.”

[ back ] 99. Following the interpretation of Kahn (1979:107), who groups together with this fragments DK B 55 (ὅσων ὄψις ἀκοὴ μάθησις, ταῦτα ἐγὼ προτιμέω, “I give preference those things which it is possible to see, hear, and perceive”) and 101a (ὀφθαλμοὶ τῶν των ἀκριβέστεροι μάρτυρες, “Eyes are more accurate witnesses than the ears”: cf. Histories 1.8.2: ὦτα γὰρ τυγχάνει ἀνθρώποισι ἐόντα ἀπιστότερα ὀφθαλμῶν, “Ears are less trustworthy for humans than eyes”). Kahn explains them as follows: “The world order speaks to men as a kind of language they must learn to comprehend. Just as the meaning of what is said is actually ‘given’ in the sounds which the foreigner hears, but cannot understand, so the direct experience of the nature of things will be like the babbling of an unknown tongue for the soul that does not know how to listen. . . . The new concept of the psyche is expressed in terms of the power of articulate speech: rationality is understood as the capacity to participate in the life of language, ‘knowing how to listen and how to speak.’ ”

[ back ] 100. Hohti (1977:5) suggests that the use of the middle form in this sense may be peculiarly Ionic. Its occurrence in the Hippocratic Corpus (see below), a source not considered by Hohti in his investigation, would seem to confirm his theory and mark this form as associated with the Ionian intellectual movement.

[ back ] 101. Kahn (1979:106) groups it together with DK A 23 (= Kahn XI) and DK B 74 (= Kahn XIII), which both reject taking poets and storytellers as witnesses for things unknown and acting and speaking “like children of our parents.” He views the three fragments as expressing “a critical attitude towards traditional or current practice and belief.”

[ back ] 102. Cf. Parmenides’ description of the goddess’ revelation to him, in which φράζω also conveys a tone of omniscience and control: τὴν δή τοι φράζω παναπευθέα ἔμμεν ἀταρπόν· | οὔτε γὰρ ἄν γνοίης τό γε μὴ ἐὸν (οὐ γὰρ ἀνυστόν) | οὔτε φράσαις (DK 28 B 2.12–14), “This path [i.e. the way ‘that it is not’ and ‘that it ought not to be’], I [will] show to you, is completely inscrutable: for you could not know what is not (for it is unaccomplishable), nor could you communicate it [to another].”

[ back ] 103. Translation of Kirk and Raven (1963:187). I have substituted “show” for “declare” as a translation of φράζων.

[ back ] 104. On signs and semiosis in Greek medicine, see Manetti 1993:36–52; Thomas 2000. Signs used in the Histories to draw inferences: Corcella 1984; Darbo-Peschanski 1987:137–157; Manetti 1993.

[ back ] 105. Cf. Histories 2.33.2: καὶ ὡς ἐγὼ συμβάλλομαι τοῖσι ἐμφανέσι τὰ μὴ γινωσκόμενα τεκμαιρόμενος, “As I conjecture on the basis of tekmêria, putting together things unseen with things apparent.”

[ back ] 106. Cf. Manetti 1993:41–43.

[ back ] 107. Cf. e.g. Histories 2.104.4: μέγα μοι καὶ τόδε τεκμήριον.

[ back ] 108. Cf. also On Sensations 1: ὅσα δὲ τοὺς χειροτέχνας εἰκὸς ἐπίστασθαι καὶ προσφέρειν καὶ διαχειρίζειν, περὶ δὲ τούτων καὶ τῶν λεγομένων καὶ τῶν ποιευμένων οἷόν τε εἶναι τὸν ἰδιώτην γνώμῃ τινὶ ξυμβάλλεσθαι, “As for those things which it is reasonable for practitioners to know, apply, and manage, concerning these ideas and actions the layman [ought] to be able to come up with a conjecture using his judgment.” Kühn and Fleischer 1989 (s.v. συμβάλλω III.2) list a total of seven instances in the corpus.

[ back ] 109. On Ancient Medicine 1: ὁκόσοι ἐπεχείρησαν περὶ ἰητρικῆς λέγειν ἢ γράφειν . . . καταφανέες εἰσὶν ἁμαρτάνοντες, “All those who have tried to speak or write about medicine . . . are manifestly wrong.”

[ back ] 110. On Herodotus and the Ionian scientific tradition and the medical writers, see Barth 1964, Müller 1981, Manetti 1993:36–52, Thomas 2000, Raaflaub 2002.

[ back ] 111. I am attempting to avoid the fate Herodotus is sometimes subjected to, as described by Bakker (2002:11) in his investigation of the term apodexis: “Herodotus could hardly have been pulled in two more different directions. Against Thomas’ modern scientific Herodotus, firmly rooted in contemporary intellectual debate, we have Nagy’s conception of a prose storyteller who subsumes the preceding epic tradition.”

[ back ] 112. Nagy 1987 and 1990b, esp. 215–225. Nagy suggests that this title in fact corresponds to the Greek term logios (cf. e.g. Histories 1.1.1; Pindar Pythian 1.94; Nemean 6.45), which he understands as corresponding to aoidos, “master of song” (here Pindar Pythian 1.94, καὶ λογίοις καὶ ἀοιδοῖς, which groups the two, is a key passage). For criticism of the use of logios in this sense, see Luraghi 2009, who concludes (456): “It is true that essentially most of the positive qualities of being λόγιος apply to Herodotus himself: his statements about the gods and human destiny imply a claim to wisdom, and the Histories as a whole are a hugely impressive display of knowledge. And yet, it would be wrong to say that he intended to depict himself as a λόγιος. In critically comparing and scrutinizing the traditions of different peoples, he acts as a practitioner of a knowledge that is emphatically non-local and therefore impartial and superior. The authority he claims for himself is based on ἱστορίη, a more comprehensive and complex practice that puts him on a different and higher level than any group of λόγιοι.”

[ back ] 113. Apart from Nagy’s use of the term, cf. Hartog’s aretalogy (1988:370): “He is the master of seeing, the master of knowing, the master of believing, through his use of all the figures and procedures of a rhetoric of otherness set in motion by the deployment of all the indicators as to the source of the utterance. It is he who names, who lists, who classifies, who counts, who measures, who surveys, who sets things in order, who marks out limits, who distributes praise and blame, who knows more than he lets on, who remembers: he knows. He makes things seen, he makes known, he makes us believe.”

[ back ] 114. The term “voiceprint” is taken from Fowler (1996:70). On the narrative persona of Herodotus, see Dewald 1987 and 2002, Marincola 1987, Lateiner 1989, and in particular Thomas 2000: 214–227 on the polemical character of this persona.

[ back ] 115. Cf. Munson (2005:30–63) on the figure of what she terms “Herodotus the hermêneus.” She examines passages where “Herodotus asserts his authority as interpreter by translating foreign words” and instances of what she terms “metanarrative glosses.”

[ back ] 116. On Herodotus as interpreter of oracles, cf. Darbo-Peschanski 1987:81: “C’est alors que l’enquê-teur apparait comme un chresmologue, mais du passé, herméneute paradoxal de prévisions portant sur des faits révolus et dont l’interprétation prend, par là même, la force de l’évi-dence.”

[ back ] 117. On Herodotus’ first-person use of the verbs σημαίνω, φράζω, συμβάλλομαι, see chs,, On Herodotus’ use of the first person in general, see Thomas 2000:235–248; Dewald 1987; Marincola 1987; Lateiner 1989. Herodotus as narrator and the verb σημαίνω: Hartog 1988:355n140, 366, 377; Nagy 1990b:233, 259.

[ back ] 118. Herodotus relays e.g. the names of the aristoi at the battles of Marathon (6.114), Artemision (8.17), Thermopylai (7.224–228), Salamis (8.93), Plataiai (9.71–75): cf. in general ch. 2.6 above. Deliberate withholding of names and hence denial of fame and glory is shown in his omission of the names of the three Greeks wanting to become “marked” (ἐπίσημοι) for their sophiê and their theories about the flooding of the Nile in summer (2.20.1), discussed in ch. and ch. 2.6.2 above.

[ back ] 119. On Herodotus as subsumer of the authority of poetic memory and the Muses, see Darbo-Peschanski 1987:162; Bakker 2002:28. In his discussion of apodexis in the Histories, Bakker notes that “apodexis is not only the accomplishment of great deeds, but also their recording, which cannot fail to become a great accomplishment itself, a mega ergon, in the process.”

[ back ] 120. Key words in Herodotus’ arguments and proofs using signs are τεκμήριον, μαρτύριον, and the verbal forms μαρτυρέει μοι, as well as τεκμαίρομαι, συμβάλλομαι, and εἰκάζω. On the use of signs in reasoning, see Darbo-Peschanski 1987:139–144; Manetti 1993; Thomas 2000:168–212.