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Myth, Truth, and Narrative in Herodotus$

Emily Baragwanath and Mathieu de Bakker

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780199693979

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2012

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199693979.001.0001

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Returning to Troy: Herodotus and the Mythic Discourse of his own Time

Returning to Troy: Herodotus and the Mythic Discourse of his own Time

(p.287) 12 Returning to Troy: Herodotus and the Mythic Discourse of his own Time
Myth, Truth, and Narrative in Herodotus

Emily Baragwanath

Oxford University Press

Abstract and Keywords

Herodotus articulates the continuing presence and relevance of myth in the world of the fifth century. This chapter begins by examining an episode near the end of the Histories, where Herodotus appropriates local, oral mythological traditions in the form of a story about Helen of Troy (9.73). Herodotus' presentation reveals the role of mythic discourse in shaping fifth-century events as well as drawing out wider points about historical processes. The chapter then goes on to address the more sustained and complex example of Mardonius' self-mythicising image, where reference to the mythic past is inflected through the Panhellenic poetic genres of epic and tragedy, and the questions it raises about the purposes and effects of mythic discourse on the twin levels of history and the historian's presentation.

Keywords:   Xerxes, Mardonius, Helen of Troy, theseus, mythic thinking, self-mythicising, Greek tragedy, Attic tragedy, myth and history, Persian Wars

1.Introduction: Mythic Discourse in the Histories

Herodotus articulates the continuing presence and relevance of myth in the world of the fifth century. Occasionally a mythical figure is depicted operating on the level of contemporary events, as when the hero Protesilaus, the first Greek to die at Troy, exacts vengeance on Artyactes at the time of Xerxes’ expedition (9.120), or Talthybius punishes the Spartan heralds during the Peloponnesian War (7.134–7).1 More frequently—for this area is more susceptible to verification through enquiry—Herodotus stages instances of mythic discourse being employed in the contemporary world, as expressed, (p.288) for example, through persuasive rhetoric, propaganda, or thought processes. This is our concern in this final chapter.2

One prominent source of authoritative mythic discourse that communities may appropriate and bring to bear on events is the Delphic Oracle. With Persia encroaching on the Asia Minor seaboard, the Cnidians, for example, embrace an oracle containing a counterfactual mythical aetiology to galvanize, sanction, and retrospectively justify their decision to surrender.3 The poetic, archaizing form in which the oracles are presented in the narrative conveys their divinely sanctioned authority in recipients’ eyes, while allowing something of their mystique to reach readers. Individuals, too, are depicted employing mythic discourse. The Spartan King Leonidas ‘writes his own script’ as a Homeric hero in the Thermopylae narrative,4 and equally Leonidas’ textual foil, Xerxes’ second-in-command Mardonius, mythicizes himself and his venture, his mindset infused with mythic models that derive both from the text itself—he may be said to ‘write his own script’ as a counterpart to Leonidas—and from outside the text, from the store of traditional myth. As we shall see, Mardonius’ propensity to conceptualize his own and others’ actions in accordance with larger, heroic, or ‘mythicizing’ models can be seen in his rhetorical enlarging of Xerxes and his expedition, and in his attempts to cast as heroic his own second-wave expedition against Greece.

We shall begin by considering an episode near the end of the Histories where Herodotus returns to the subject of Helen of Troy. This example brings out how mythic discourse shapes fifth-century events, at the same time as it assists the historian in communicating truths about historical processes as well as particular incidents. From there we will be in a position to address the more sustained and complex example of Mardonius’ self-mythicizing image and the questions it raises about the purposes and effects of mythic discourse (p.289) on the twin levels of history and of the historian’s presentation. In shifting from addressing Herodotus’ use of a local myth of Helen and Theseus to a Panhellenic myth deriving from tragedy, we will gain a sense, too, of how the inflection of myth through tragedy may be a particularly effective tool in the historian’s hands. Far from being mere window dressing, Mardonius’ mythic thinking contributes to the historical picture, enriching the texture of explanation in terms of personal psychology and broader imperialist drives, and sustains the Histories’ overall narrative arc.

2. A Reverse Face of Troy: Theseus’ Theft of Helen

After recounting the Greek victory at Plataea, Herodotus introduces the story told by his Athenian informants of how the Deceleans aided the Tyndaridae in recovering their sister Helen after her abduction to Athens by Theseus:

Now, according to local Athenian tradition, the people of Decelea once did something of lasting value. A long time ago the Tyndaridae invaded Attica at the head of a sizeable army to recover Helen, and they laid waste the country villages because they did not know where she had been hidden. At that time the people of Decelea, as the Athenians say—others say it was Decelus himself—were angered at the high-handed behaviour [hubris] of Theseus and afraid in case the whole of Attica suffered, so they told the Tyndaridae all the facts and showed them the way to Aphidnae, which Titacus, a native of the place [eōn autokhthōn], betrayed to them. (9.73.1–2)5

This occasions Herodotus’ remark (and for modern historians the Historiesterminus ante quem6) that ‘all the way down to today’ (es tode aiei eti), many years later in his own time of the Peloponnesian War (kai es ton polemon ton husteron polloisi etesi toutōn genomenon Athēnaioisi te kai Peloponnēsioisi), the Spartans continued to honour the Deceleans for their action and avoided ravaging their territory alone of all of Attica (9.73.3). The episode reveals the vital ongoing (p.290) role of myth in current events. Herodotus’ informants have remembered the tradition and volunteered it (9.73.1); and the alternative versions (of ‘Athenians’ versus ‘others’) seem to imply persisting controversy attached to part of it. We see, too, Herodotus’ provocative selection and shaping of his material, similar to his controversial presentation elsewhere.7

Herodotus relishes using myth to problematize or unravel ideological claims, puncturing dominant models by pressing other possibilities.8 Theseus’ image had been radically transformed in Athenian literature and iconography over the course of the fifth century from uncivilized Heracles equivalent into quintessential representative of the ideals of the Athenian democracy (including in Euripides’ staging of the Suppliant Women in the late 420s BCE).9 He makes his sole appearance in the Histories, by contrast, as hubristic abductor of women—in parallel, indeed, to reckless Trojan Paris as portrayed in the proem. The self-focused and thoughtless Theseus is juxtaposed both with the concerned and attentive people of Decelea, who fear for the whole Attic land (not just their own), and with Titacus, who, being an autochthon, is perhaps especially aware of the need to safeguard the land.

What is more, the incident appears in a narrative recounting acts of heroism on behalf of all of Greece. Herodotus has singled out the fighters who won most renown (onomastotatoi egenonto, 9.72.1) at Plataea: Aristodemus, Posidonius, Philokyon, and Amompharetus (9.71.2). He has described Callicrates’ death away from the battle and his regret not to die for Greece, but to do so without achieving a great deed. And among Athenians he has singled out Sophanes, the mention of whose deme occasioned the story of Theseus. This context underscores how Herodotus has included this story of the Athenian hero, rather than others that might have figured him as a forerunner to these contemporary benefactors of Greece. Athenian (p.291) iconography and political discourse could after all construe Theseus’ mythical victory over the Amazons as analogous to the Greek victory over the Persians,10 and one strand of tradition hailed Theseus as rescuer of an Ionian maiden threatened with hubris by her barbaric abductor.11

The abduction of Helen to Athens, by the hero par excellence of Athens and Athenian democracy,12 in an act regarded by the Deceleans or Decelus himself as hubristic (9.73.2), instead recalls the Trojan War scenario as depicted in the Histories’ proem. There, the catalyst of military conflict was Helen’s theft from Sparta to Troy; and the disproportionate retaliation by Greeks was envisaged by the Persian logioi as the explanation for the ongoing conflict between Persians and Greeks: ‘ever since then [apo toutou aiei], the Persians have regarded the Greeks as hostile to them’ (1.4.4). Here, only the action of a single village (perhaps a single villager) has averted an equivalent outcome and prevented the further devastation of Attica.13 The continuing positive reciprocal consequences of this action into the future—the Athenians regard it as ‘a good deed for all time’ (ergon khrēsimon es ton panta khronon) (9.73.1)—counterpoint the continuing enmity, or negative reciprocity, that resulted from the reverse scenario in relation to the Trojans. The Trojan War’s beginning was indeed just as much a matter of contingency in the Persian account: it depended on Paris’ deliberation and action as a single individual, and on the arbitrary (and in the Persian opinion unwarranted) decision of the Greeks to respond. Decelus’ or the Deceleans’ ‘good deed’ of returning Helen and so nipping in the bud the ravaging of Attica also parallels the counterfactual Herodotus presented when he (p.292) returned to the story of Troy at 2.120: Priam, Herodotus surmised, would have given Helen back had she really been there.14

Herodotus’ staging of this reverse face of the Trojan War15 highlights in this historical outcome the role of accident and contingency: it raises the possibility that the sequence of events that issued in the Trojan War, and culminated in ongoing Persian-Greek hostility, might have been avoided, and conversely, that it might rather have been Spartan-Athenian conflict that persisted from the mythic past into contemporary times. This implied counterfactual is rooted in mythic tradition and yet no less suggestive than Herodotus’ famous explicit counterfactual regarding more recent history (7.139: if the Athenians had abandoned their land or sided with Xerxes, the Spartans would have fought to the death or taken the Persian side themselves—with the upshot in either case being Greece’s subjection to Persia). That counterfactual clarified the significance of the fraught narrative that it served to conclude (of the Greeks’ only partial success in rallying others to the cause), and highlighted the crucial difference made by the Athenians. This one generates discordance, for, at this very moment of Greek unity, and of celebration of Spartan and Athenian courage in the battle of Plataea, it raises the spectre of future inter-Hellenic conflict and disunity.16 In other contexts as well, counterfactual history has this tendency to promote reflection on the present.17 In this case, the book end it furnishes the Plataea narrative balances the prolepsis Herodotus included before the (p.293) account of the battle to future Spartan victories over other Greeks (9.35, in the account of the seer Tisamenus).18

Theseus’ theft is in fact just one view of the ‘panorama of Hellenic conflicts’ connecting mythical past to present that Herodotus supplies at this point of his narrative.19 The shift into the present with a scenario setting out a mythic forebear for the fifth-century invasion of Attica must have been highly suggestive for Herodotus’ original audience. The idea of reconciliatory action in a bid to prevent further devastation of Attica resonates with the situation of the Archidamian War (and indeed some commentators detect pointed advice to the Athenians and Pericles to act in a reconciliatory manner20). In any case, what at first sight could seem a fleeting glimpse at mythical subject matter, a sign of Herodotus’ impulse towards inclusiveness in recording traditions (cf. 7.152.3), in fact represents a challenge to Athenian ideology, and a commentary on historical processes.

With this gesture back to the proem’s content and explanatory paradigms, Herodotus’ use of the Theseus myth contributes to the closural texture that characterizes parts of Book Nine and culminates in an especially resonant mythic reference in the story of Protesilaus (9.116, 12021). Each episode contributes a further perspective that glances back to the opening books, to the themes of the Trojan War and the abduction of Helen. The Athenians’ account of Theseus also furnishes another reminder that the mirror of Self and Other points back at Herodotus’ Greek readers too, hinting at layered patterns of action in history: patterns that unite East and West.22

(p.294) 3. Mardonius’ Mythic Thinking

In recounting Theseus’ theft of Helen, Herodotus thus appropriates local, oral mythological traditions to invite readers to engage with one of history’s more speculative realms—that of what might have been (eternal hatred between Spartans and Athenians that would have prevented them from collaborating at the time of the Persian invasion). At issue in our second example is the historian’s imaginative reconstruction of a character’s mental landscape—another territory sheltered from the historian’s firm knowledge—this time through mythic references inflected through the Panhellenic poetic genres of epic and tragedy. The distinctly Persian perspective that surfaces in Herodotus’ portrayal of Mardonius’ mythic thinking (or, perhaps, his rhetoric) again contributes to the promotion of different perspectives that complicate and enrich readers’ interpretations.

After outlining Mardonius’ general propensity for mythic thinking in relation to Xerxes’ campaign (§3), I focus on an intriguing instance where Herodotus appears to be developing this characterization through a reference to the mythical past as mediated in a general way through epic, but also more specifically through a famous scene of tragedy (§4). Here we catch a glimpse of how the historian’s use of myth in combination with his play with genre—his selective use of poetic colour23—might mobilize readers to draw intertextual connections, and thus to overleap the discursive boundary the text establishes between historical and mythic discourse.24 (p.295) The example invites us to consider how such specific allusion compares in its effect with more general resonances of mythical themes and motifs (as in the case of Theseus’ theft of Helen, discussed above).

Mardonius’ propensity to conceptualize his own and others’ actions in accordance with heroic or ‘mythicizing’ paradigms is evident from the first, in his enlarging of Xerxes and his expedition in a timeless, heroic mode, as he seeks to convince the king to undertake a campaign against Greece. A land of such excellence as Europe, he claims, is worthy to belong to the king alone of mortals (basileï te mounōi thnētōn axiē ektēsthai, 7.5.3). Xerxes is the best (aristos) of Persians of all time, past and future, for, as well as uttering the best and truest (arista kai alēthestata) sentiments in other respects, he will not allow the Ionians—unworthy as they are—to laugh at the Persians (7.9.1). The Greeks—if they dare to fight at all—will soon learn that the Persians are of humankind (anthrōpōn) the best (aristoi) with respect to war (7.9γ). As well as reflecting a characteristic tendency of Mardonius as Herodotus depicts it elsewhere, such mythicizing amplification may be expected to appeal to Xerxes, for it matches the traditional Persian requirement for display, as manifested especially in active imperialism—and this is a tradition to which Xerxes is particularly sensitive.25

We see Xerxes’ attentiveness to the power of mythic images, especially in relation to the ‘hearts-and-minds’ battle to justify imperialism, when en route to Greece he pauses at the ancient site of Troy, ascends Priam’s citadel to gaze at it and hear about what happened there, and conducts a great sacrifice to Athena of Ilium while the Magi sacrifice to the dead heroes (7.43.1).26 And Mardonius (p.296) is especially attuned to Xerxes’ mental processes: after the failure of Salamis he alone understood the king’s intentions, Herodotus observes, for he was most experienced in this matter (8.97.2). At issue, then, is the question of whether Mardonius’ inclination to self-mythicizing is a symptom of his way of thinking, or more the product of his rhetorical goals and self-presentation to Xerxes.

In his speech in opposition to Mardonius’, seeking to dissuade the king from a Greek campaign, Artabanus deploys mythic discourse directly to counter Mardonius’: calling to mind a negative mythic exemplum, he evokes the epic (and tragic) nostos (‘return’) theme in insisting on the possibility of no return, or a failed return, for the Persians after defeat at the hands of the Greeks (ēn aponostēsēis…, ‘if you return’, 7.10θ.2), with Mardonius and his family executed. Herodotus does frequently draw upon the epic resonances of the Homeric nostos theme, including in the account of the sufferings of the Persians on their return journey after both Salamis and Plataea.27 Particularly suggestive of the motif of sufferings after return home (as Rood has observed) is, for example, Herodotus’ description of the fate of Cyrene’s ruler Pheretime, whose horrible death—eaten alive by maggots immediately after her return from Egypt—proves ‘that excessive vengeance incurs retribution from the gods’ (4.205). In our example it is a character, Artabanus, who evokes the mythic pattern and traditional expectation of disaster for those who travel after extreme violence,28 or perhaps more specifically (in view of the Homeric resonances of his speech: see below) the Greeks’ disastrous nostoi from Troy. At the same time, the cluster of instances in the preceding narrative of the distinctly tragic verb epairō, which injects a looming sense of expected failure,29 suggests tragic associations, too, perhaps specifically with Aeschylus’ staging of the Persians’ disastrous return.30

(p.297) Compounding the sense of an appeal to Mardonius’ self-mythicizing tendency, Artabanus next raises the spectre of the negative fame that would attend such a failure: should Mardonius go ahead with the expedition,

‘I can tell you what news of Mardonius will reach the ears of those who stay behind here: they will be told that Mardonius was the cause of a great disaster for Persia, and that you were then torn apart by dogs and birds somewhere in Athenian territory or somewhere in Lacedaemon—that is, if this doesn’t happen earlier, on the way there.’ (7.10θ.2)

The reference in his threat to dogs and birds, coupled with Homeric anaphora, cloaks his pronouncement in an epic guise that responds to Mardonius in kind, tailored to his persuasion.31 Or it may be that Artabanus is trying to mock Mardonius’ self-mythicizing in his choice of the powerful image from the opening lines of the Iliad.

We again see Mardonius’ inclination to enlarge his actions on a mythic model once he has taken control of the remaining Persian army after the battle of Salamis. He strives to cast his second-wave expedition against Greece as heroic, in resolving to die honourably (kalōs teleutēsai ton bion) while playing for high stakes (huper megalōn) in the case of failure, rather than suffering punishment at Xerxes’ hands (8.100.1). His choice recalls that of Homer’s Achilles or Hector, but equally Leonidas, whose conscious decision to sacrifice himself for the sake of Sparta’s survival Herodotus recounted at length (7.220) in a narrative abounding in resonances of epic, including a hexametric Delphic oracle.32 The equation of Mardonius and Leonidas finds dramatic expression when Xerxes points him out to the Spartan heralds as the one who will ‘pay suitable recompense’ for their king’s death—a transaction over which the Delphic oracle presides (8.114; cf. 9.64.1).33 Much as Xerxes’ pointed advice that Mardonius ‘make your deeds match your words’ (poieein toisi logoisi ta erga…homoia, 8.107.1) was a fitting response to the commander’s inflated claims, the king’s gesture at this point, even as it is in tune with divine will,34 seems also to respond to and extend the rhetoric of Mardonius himself.

(p.298) Mardonius’ association with Leonidas is pressed further by Herodotus’ inclusion of an expressive prolepsis, which presents his slayer Aeimnestus as a Leonidas figure:35

Mardonius was killed by Aeimnestus,36 a famous man among the Spartans, who later in time after the Persian Wars, during a time of war, with a force of three hundred men made an attack on the whole army of the Messenians at Stenyclerus, and both he and the three hundred met their death [kai autos te apethane kai hoi triēkosioi]. (9.64.2)

The 300 is a Spartan fighting unit, but it also recalls Thermopylae in particular—which has been a symbolic presence through the Plataea narrative;37 and here the number is accentuated through its repetition and emphatic placement at the culmination of the clause, and within a weighty kai…kai construction that singles out the heroic leader alongside his 300 men. The specification of place (en Stenuklērōi) perhaps even exploits a further possible resonance of Thermopylae, with its central theme of ‘straights’/‘narrows’ (steina).38 This narrative strand presents Mardonius not so much consciously mythicizing himself, as caught up in mythicizing patterns beyond his comprehension: patterns that figure him as the counterpart of Leonidas, and reflect the broader theme of Plataea as vengeance for Thermopylae.39

Mardonius’ mythicizing tendency is also evident in a more general way, in his conception of the Persian expedition in terms of a larger pattern of retributive justice. Lateiner has brought out how repeatedly (p.299) he is the subject of the dikas didonai concept in the Histories.40 By envisaging Persian victory over Greeks in these terms, Mardonius glamorizes, enlarges, and justifies it, for dikas didonai can have archaic or epic overtones. It occurs, for example, in reports of oracular utterances.41 This claim against the Greeks ‘comes home to haunt him’42 when his own death in battle compensates the Spartans for that of Leonidas.

Mardonius’ heroizing of his secondary campaign and himself as its commander from one perspective—read as directly reflecting his actual thinking—thus seems delusory: he has misunderstood the real significance of Thermopylae as a moral victory for Greeks that displayed Spartan excellence in war.43 And yet the insecurity revealed by one of his motives for continuing the campaign—the desire to avoid punishment for having urged Xerxes to the expedition (8.100.1)—opens up an additional, different possibility. Mardonius’ self-mythicizing may in part represent a response to his acute awareness of the need to promote a heroic image of himself vis-à-vis Xerxes in particular, so as to compensate for his compromised position at the Persian court.44 This will have been exacerbated by the failure at Athos of the first expedition he had championed. The portrayal of his mythic thinking thus helps Herodotus bring out an aspect of Mardonius’ psychology as a subordinate.

But the heroic image is not merely rhetorical or a figment of Mardonius’ imagination. Ultimately Mardonius meets his end at Plataea in genuinely heroic—epic—fashion: fighting bravely from a white horse, it is he who holds off Persian defeat so long he survives (9.63), and it is he whom Herodotus acknowledges as the individual who, of all the foreigners, fought most bravely (ēristeuse, 9.71.1). Ēristeuse here evokes the epic aristeia, intimating that his action recalls those of Homer’s heroes. Thus Mardonius lives up in truth (p.300) both to Xerxes’ command to ‘make his deeds match his words’ (8.107.1) (in accordance indeed with the heroic code45) and to his own resolve ‘to risk either subduing Greece or dying nobly in failure’ (8.100.1). Of the different traditions available, Herodotus has memorialized the most positive.46 The way in which ēristeuse (‘he was the best’) responds to and corroborates Mardonius’ earlier heroizing of himself (cf. above, p. 297) unsettles our assumption that those claims were deluded. In the end the text thus invites a complex rather than straightforwardly negative response to Mardonius’ character;47 and I shall suggest that Herodotus invites a similarly nuanced and reflective, rather than straightforwardly dismissive, response to the mythic discourse in which Mardonius conceptualizes his secondary campaign.

4. Envisaging Capturing Athens (9.3)

Mardonius’ mythicizing tendency helps to explain the enigma at the opening of Book Nine of his ignoring the Thebans’ practical advice to him in Thessaly to overtake Greece by means of bribery and his resolve instead to take Athens by force; and later his continued resistance to Artabanus’ further advice along the same lines48: to withdraw into Thebes and engage in systematic bribery of the leaders in the Greek cities rather than to risk battle (9.41). In each case Herodotus highlights Mardonius’ delusion by remarking on his agnōmosunē (obstinacy/folly).49 This course of action also matches his inclination, already observed, for preferring the heroic route of direct (p.301) action over indirect. Herodotus explains Mardonius’ decision with a remarkable attribution of motivation:

He was not persuaded, however, but there dripped into him [enestakto] a terrible desire [deinos…himeros] to take Athens a second time, motivated partly by obstinacy/folly [agnōmosunē], and partly by the fact that he could see himself using beacon fires placed on successive islands to signal to the King in Sardis that he held Athens. (9.3.1)

The ascription of motivation spotlights the cognitive dissonance of Mardonius’ expectation of jubilant victory, which ignores reality on the ground: the Persians have recently suffered a heavy defeat at the hands of Athenians and others at Salamis. The grand vision of a victory signalled by means of cross-continental beacon fire also stands out against Xerxes’ earlier, simpler communication to Susa via horseman to announce his own sack of Athens (8.54).

By juxtaposing the statement of motivation with the outcome of the action it generates, Herodotus underlines the discrepancy between them: ‘Not this time either [oude tote], when he arrived in Attica, did [Mardonius] find the Athenians, but he discovered that the majority were on board ship at Salamis, and he took the city empty [haireei te erēmon to astu]’ (9.3.2). Through negative presentation (oude tote) Herodotus here underscores the frustration of Mardonius’ expectations: the city he envisaged himself capturing in grand mode is empty (erēmon). The capture of an empty city is not a heroic feat (indeed it is not a true city at all, on one proverbial Greek view50). And, beyond the sack of Athens, the entire secondary expedition will prove a failure, with Mardonius himself killed in the defeat at Plataea. Further irony perhaps resides in the capture of an ‘empty’ Athens, since a pervasive theme of Aeschylus’ Persians, which quite possibly reflects a more general Greek (or Athenian) conceptualization of the Persian invasion, is the emptiness of Asia that resulted from the Persian defeat at Salamis.51 It will be to the Persians’ own state of emptiness/lack in another sense—erēmos hoplōn (‘lack of armour’)—that Herodotus attributes Persian defeat at Plataea (9.63).

(p.302) The ascription of motivation at 9.3 thus contributes suggestively to the wider portrayal of Mardonius as conjuring up a (misplaced) vision of himself as (epic) hero. And yet Homer’s world itself furnishes examples of deluded heroes. The dream sent by Zeus in Iliad 2 persuades Agamemnon that Troy will be captured on that very day, when many more woes for the Achaeans are in fact in store (2.37–40). Only seven books later does the king acknowledge that at that earlier point he was ‘blind through yielding to my miserable passion’ (9.119). Agamemnon’s blindness was god-sent; and equally in the case of Mardonius the wider nexus of themes and vocabulary at 9.3 complicates a reading in terms simply of his personal delusion (cf. above, p. 300).

Herodotus’ use here of the hapax enestakto may be suggestive in this respect. A quite rare poetic word denoting ‘to drop in/into’, it is used by Homer of courage being instilled in someone (Od. 2.271), by Bacchylides of Clio imbuing his spirit with the gift of poetry (12.229), by Pindar of the gods dripping nectar and ambrosia on a baby’s lips (Pyth. 9.63, with tmesis),52 and in this instance of the way in which desire (himeros) entered into Mardonius. Desire is characteristic of Mardonius, especially imperialistic desire; but formulated as here as an active subject that enters into someone, apparently from outside, it occurs only twice in the Histories,53 though it is a common formulation in poetry.54 We might wonder indeed whether the historian is tapping into tragedy’s imagery of inner flow used to describe (p.303) the movement of emotions, which Padel has brought out in reclaiming the ‘rebarbative physiology of its original use’.55 While the direction of the flow is usually from outside the body to within—evoking a person’s daemonic possession—a degree of ambivalence about its direction usually remains and implies ambivalence about whether internal or external forces are to be held responsible for the action the emotion produces. Here likewise it might suggest that Mardonius is afflicted by a force from without. That would be in keeping with his depiction elsewhere as agent of some higher power.56

Beyond the general contrast that surfaces between heroic aspiration and diminutive reality, the beacon-fire image opens up the possibility of more specific intertextuality. The striking image of fire signals placed on successive islands has often been viewed in terms of the historical practice of signalling by fire beacons, which the Greeks learned from Ancient Eastern cultures, and certainly used in the fifth century. It has usually been assumed that Aeschylus in the famous opening scene of the Agamemnon was inspired by the historic ‘mardoniograph’.57 However, the fact that the Persians at this point no longer had control over the islands west of Samos (8.132) poses a difficulty for taking the signals literally: it would not have been possible to set up such a chain of beacons. Following Macan, Flower and Marincola have raised the reverse possibility, that Herodotus is inspired by Aeschylus’ Agamemnon: ‘Just as in Agamemnon the beacon fires signal the fall of Troy, so H[erodotus] here has beacons signal the sack of Athens.’58

Importantly, the beacon signals occur not in Herodotus’ narrative of events, but in an ascription of motivation. The realm of motives demands the historian’s conjecture, and supplies an opportunity for imaginative reconstruction; and a grandiose notion in tension with (p.304) reality would be characteristic of Mardonius, as we saw above. Thus, whether or not Herodotus has conjectured Mardonius’ motivation ex eventu, from historical signals, the ascription of motivation would supply a natural opportunity for him to further his characterization and more generally expand his readers’ frame of reference. He does this, for example, in exploring Leonidas’ motivation in resolving to remain and die at Thermopylae.59 It may be expressive that Herodotus’ unusual formula for dating Athens’ capture highlights the significant number ten.60 Herodotus engaged with a text of Persians.61 The textual connections noted below suggest that he also had access to a text of the Oresteia.

Setting authorial intentions aside—shifting from the terminology of allusiveness to intertextuality62—a good proportion of Herodotus’ audience will have recognized a mythic reference with epic resonances at this point. In the fifth century contemporary wars could be conceptualized in terms of the Trojan War. Pericles compared his capture of Samos to Agamemnon’s of Troy, judging more impressive the capitulation after nine months of the city of the most powerful people of Ionia, than the capitulation of the barbarian city of Troy following a ten-year siege (etesi deka).63 Beyond the general sense of Troy in the background, the beacon image recalls the famous scene of Aeschylus’ Agamemnon in which Clytemnestra informs the chorus (p.305) that fire signals have signalled to her the fall of Troy (281–316). Many, Athenians and non-Athenians alike, would have seen the Oresteia in reperformance, while others must have heard about this memorable scene.64

The general mythic baggage of Troy that the beacon image brings with it, together with its specifically tragic associations, enrich and intensify the dramatic ironies we observed above, amplifying the theme of delusion by the notion of Mardonius’ sack of Athens as replaying the Greek sack of Troy. If in his earlier description of the famous messenger system Herodotus, as Angus Bowie has expressed it, ‘repeat[ed] Aeschylus’ ironic move of talking of a victory over the East in terms of one of the glories of the eastern empires’,65 here it is all the more ironic that it should be the Persian commander who envisages potential Persian victory in terms of Troy.

Mardonius’ ‘terrible desire’ in this poetically charged context, as well as recalling his own lust for imperialism, brings to mind Agamemnon and the Greeks’ destructive desire in attacking Troy,66 to which Clytemnestra refers in her deceitful response to the Argive Elders: ‘may no lust [erōs] fall upon [empiptē] the army to ravage what it should not [porthein ha mē khrē], through being overpowered by greed’ (l. 341). This was an excessive impulse to violent action that demanded divine retribution—which came in the form of the terrible nostoi, including Agamemnon’s. Erōs can be envisaged as a sickness, as Thucydides’ Nicias conceives of it: ‘the fatal, passionate lust for what is out of reach’ (in Cornford’s expression67)—the lust for (p.306) conquest, in that case, that caused the Athenians to ignore Nicias’ advice. Thus, in Thucydides’ formulation, ‘Erōs fell upon [enepese] everyone alike to sail for Sicily…The desire [epithumia] of most of them was excessive’ (6.24.3–4).68 Cornford proposed a ‘dark allusion’ here to Clytemnestra’s lines, ‘which so terribly fits the sequel’ (p. 214).69 Herodotus, too, hints at this model—of lust that overpowers wise advice and urges one to irrational and hubristic action—to supply one way of explaining Mardonius’ failure to heed the Thebans’ advice.70

The original context of the beacon image71—the powerful first scene of Agamemnon—enriches interpretation still further. The Argive elders’ response to the news of Troy’s capture is initially elated, but tempered as the ode goes on by a growing awareness of disquieting aspects.72 They hover between hope and anxiety, since the gods’ implacable vengeance risks falling on the Greeks, and especially their (p.307) leader Agamemnon.73 Beset by fear, they invoke Zeus: ‘Zeus, who put men on the path to wisdom [phronein] by establishing the principle of learning by suffering [pathei mathos]’ (l. 177). The thought is enlarged in the lines that follow:

  • There drips [stazei]74 before the heart instead of sleep
  • pain that reminds them of their wounds;
  • and against their will there comes discretion [par’ akontas ēlthe
  • sōphronein].
  • (ll. 179–81, trans. Lloyd-Jones)

The human thoughtlessness evoked in these lines, which reflects a motif that reverberates through the entire trilogy, resonates with the parallel strand of motivation Herodotus ascribes to Mardonius, hup’ agnōmosunēs (9.3.1): in resolving to capture Athens, Mardonius is acting under the influence of the quality directly opposite to sōphronein (as Asheri has remarked on the passage75).

Again, agnōmosunē (a word found only in poetry before its appearance in Herodotus) is a vague explanation,76 and infused in this instance by irony, for Mardonius himself has accused the Greeks of acting under the same impulse (e.g. 7.9β.1; cf. 4.2). It would seem to evoke a world that is not altogether intelligible in terms of human explanations77: a world in which the divine, whose conduct can seem capricious to human eyes, is intimately involved.78 Some readers (p.308) might be reminded of the theological texture of the Aeschylean intertext, with its imagery of Moira, fate, taking its course. For some, the awareness and anxiety of the chorus of Aeschylus’ Argive Elders might serve as a foil to Mardonius’ simplistic and optimistic conception of his situation. More broadly, the way the trilogy stages a shift from tit-for-tat justice to the more stable resolution provided by the institution of the Areopagus court might prompt some to question as unproductive (or outmoded) Mardonius’ model of justice through vengeance.79 In several ways the Aeschylean intertext might thus enrich the effect of the mythic image, sharpen the reference to Troy, and amplify the general theme of delusion while presenting it as a human quality rather than as specific to Mardonius.

Herodotus’ readers might, then, sense a far wider application of the image of beacons back to Sardis than could be imagined as being present in the mind of Mardonius. Whereas for Mardonius at 9.3, victory and Xerxes’ favour are anticipated in his focalization of the Greek mythic past, for readers, the image taps into their own mythic past, foreshadowing disaster. At the same time, however, this cannot be a matter simply of Persian delusion: the mythic referent is a story of a Greek attack: of the Greeks’ excesses in destroying Troy, with grievous consequences. To this extent, it complements the Persian perspective in Herodotus’ proem: the view that the Greeks’ destruction of Troy was disproportionate, and marked the beginning of East‐West hostilities. Readers recalling Agamemnon may find Mardonius’ motivation ominous for him, but at the same time they are presented again with a different way of viewing his planned action: as being overdue retribution for Troy. Thus Mardonius’ conception of the campaign against Greece as retributive,80 as payment for recent Greek wrongs but also, on the wider scheme, for the destruction of Troy, culminates spectacularly in the way he envisages his capture of Athens at 9.3, with beacons of victory stretching this time towards the East.

(p.309) Herodotus’ presentation points not only back towards the mythic past, but also out towards the contemporary world. Thucydides’ reading of the Sicilian expedition as motivated by erōs highlights the possibility that contemporary Athenian imperialism could be viewed in this way81—and that would turn the mirror towards Greeks at this narrative moment (much as we found in Herodotus’ presentation of Theseus’ abduction of Helen), with late-fifth-century realities serving as a reminder that the pattern of lust-impelled conquest applies equally to Greeks: more broadly, that grand and deluded desires are not confined to Persia—nor to the legendary past.82 Contemporary wars could be conceptualized in terms of the Trojan War, as we have seen. And the Histories makes clear that it is not only Mardonius and the Persians who are in the grip of mythical thinking.

The Spartan myth, for example—never to abandon one’s post in battle—finds over-amplified expression in Amompharetus’ uncompromising refusal to follow his superiors’ orders to shift position at Plataea following their agreement with the rest of the Greeks (9.53–7). The most famous instantiation of this myth is the Spartans’ last stand at Thermopylae, where Leonidas deemed it indecorous for Spartans to abandon their post, and resolved that they alone should remain and gain the glory (9.220).83 Amompharetus (who is later singled out as one of the bravest fighters: 9.71) appears to cast himself and the Spartans in this same Thermopylae mould: Euryanax and Pausanias in vain advise against thus imperilling the Spartans by causing them to remain there alone of all the Greeks (9.55.1). His picking up a stone with both hands and hurling it in a protest vote seems a gesture of similarly inflated and old-fashioned proportion (9.55.2); indeed it is Iliadic.84 This action prompts Pausanias’ accusation that Amompharetus is out of his mind; and yet Amompharetus hits the mark in terms (p.310) of a wider truth, for the Spartans are compromising in significant measure in following the other Greeks, who, rather than sticking to the agreed plan, have fled in fear into the town of Plataea (9.52). Elsewhere Herodotus stages the capacity for truths other than factual ones to communicate meaning.85 In the aftermath of Plataea, for example, he suggestively juxtaposes alternative possible readings and explanations—‘mythic’ (in the sense of symbolic or metaphorical) versus literal—in the twin accounts of Sophanes. This warrior was either grounded in battle by a real iron anchor, or his shield blazon depicted a painted anchor (9.74); and, while the latter version is the more plausible and realistic, the former far more effectively conveys the warrior’s extraordinary steadfastness in battle and a sense of the stories that have sprung from it.

Besides opening up disquieting avenues of reflection for Greek readers by vividly encapsulating Mardonius’ conception of Xerxes’ invasion as just retribution against Greeks—for recent wrongs as well as the wrong against Troy—the beacon image also highlights the elusive nature of intertextuality, which has an ever-amplifying potential to provoke associations in readers. This potential is in large part out of the historian’s control. Its effect in this case is not to insist on a particular interpretation, but to expand readers’ imaginative vistas and interpretative frameworks and to complicate too-simple responses. Importantly, however, in the case of 9.3, the historian contains the mythic or tragic reading we have pursued—limiting this ‘touch of tragic colour’—by going on to provide (at 9.4.2) additional practical reasons for Mardonius’ ignoring the Thebans’ advice and capturing the city: ‘he assumed that the Athenians would give up their obstinacy now that the whole of Attica had fallen and was under his control’ (9.4.2). Thus Mardonius may be understood as aiming to show the Athenians the dire consequences of their refusal (at 8.140–4) to align themselves with the Persians. Such overdetermination, with the layering-up of explanations, is typical of Herodotus. The interpretation that the mythic image gestures towards becomes in the end just a further possibility, a further explanatory strand, but one that enlarges the significance of the action and proliferates explanatory possibilities.

(p.311) 5. Conclusion

Mythic reference, whether derived from local tradition or inflected through Panhellenic poetic genres, thus supplies a powerful means by which the historian engages readers in reflecting on history’s more speculative realms (of counterfactual history, and character and motivation). In this way it comments upon and enriches Herodotus’ narrative of ta genomena, ‘what actually happened’. Mythic thinking shapes individual psychologies and motivates and justifies action, supplying a further explanation for the shift Herodotus’ proem documents from free East–West movement between continents (prior to the theft of Io) to military escalation and acquisitive imperialism. The depiction of thought processes that promote overweening, arrogant, tyrannical acts—including those of Theseus, Xerxes and Mardonius86—at the same time sustains and underscores the Histories’ overarching narrative structure: the ‘red thread’ of imperial conquest (punctuated by tyrannical actions) that runs right through it.

Mardonius’ self-mythicizing exposes a distance between myth and reality, which, beyond conveying his rhetorical aims along with a measure of delusion, invites reflection on the very process and validity of applying mythicizing parallels to recent history. Using the Trojan War as an analogue to the Persian Wars always entailed risk, as Dillery has observed: a case had to be made; the comparison did not go without saying.87 Mardonius’ use of the Trojan War comparison highlights this trouble with mythic analogy, since a reading in terms of exacting divinely sanctioned justice is challenged by an equally accessible reading that foregrounds the disturbing consequences of so doing. Mardonius’ invocation of the Trojan War analogy parallels Xerxes’, when he ascended Priam’s citadel (7.43.1, mentioned above, p. 295) and thereby staged an interpretation of the war against Greece in terms of justice for Troy. But Herodotus demonstrates how very easily the mythic past may be (p.312) appropriated as argument and justification, right from the spectacle in the proem of Persian logioi crafting Greek myth into the shape that best suits their purposes, as Dewald has shown.88 Mardonius’ mythic discourse (and equally Leonidas’ and Amompharetus’) illustrates the power of myth in shaping recent history, but equally points to areas of disparity between the contemporary context and the mythic referent, and the perilous consequences of mythic analogy or ideology where it promotes unreflective and belligerent action. In his presentation of the Theseus myth Herodotus staged the power of mythic discourse to serve instead as a tool of peace and reconciliation.


I would like to thank the participants of the Herodotus and Myth conference for stimulating discussion, and Mathieu de Bakker for his incisive comments, which enabled me to refine my argument in several respects. This chapter has benefited also from the observations of audiences in Oxford, Asheville, and Sydney, and of Philip Stadter, Sharon James, Owen Goslin, and Brendan Boyle. For wise advice on some perplexing questions, I thank Stephanie West and Peter Rhodes.

(1) On Protesilaus, see Boedeker (1988) and, in this volume, Saïd, Ch. 2, p. 100, Munson, Ch. 7, p. 200, and Bowie, Ch. 11, pp. 273–4. On Talthybius, see Boedeker (2002: 114–16) and Saïd, this volume, Ch. 2, p. 98. Cf. also Herodotus’ inclusion of alleged epiphanies of a hero or god, as of Pan to Philippides before the battle of Marathon (6.105), and how Cyrus (as Dewald, this volume, Ch. 1, p. 74, observes) is motivated by the legend created within his own time, of his divinity.

(2) On the persuasive function of myth in the present in Herodotus, see also, in this volume, the Introduction, pp. 43–5, Munson, Ch. 7, and Bowie, Ch. 11.

(3) As the Cnidians attempted to turn their territory into an island, ‘the Pythia, as the Cnidians themselves say, replied in iambic trimeters as follows: “The isthmus is not to be fortified or dug through; Zeus would have made an island had he wanted one”  ’ (1.174.5). It was possible instead to reject an oracle (or at least a literal interpretation of it), as numerous examples in the Histories show. See also Dewald, this volume, Ch. 1, pp. 76–8, on the role of the Delphic oracle.

(4) Cf. Pelling (2006a) on Leonidas and the Spartans at Thermopylae ‘almost writing their own script’ (p. 94), and more generally (pp. 92–8) on Homeric resonances in the Thermopylae narrative.

(5) Translations are based on those of Waterfield (1998) (as here), or my own.

(6) A terminus ante quem of 413 BCE, in that Herodotus would surely have mentioned the Spartan occupation of Decelea if that had occurred by the time he wrote his Histories.

(7) Note, e.g., his presentation of another Athenian myth, that of autochthony: this is taken literally so as to demonstrate that the Athenians were once barbarian, originating from the Pelasgians (1.56–8 and 8.44.2 with Thomas 2001b: 222–5).

(8) E.g. in his presentation of the Corinthian tyranny: Socles’ description of Periander at 5.92 sits in tension with his role at 5.95 as wise arbiter of a dispute between Athenians and Mytileneans, cf. Baragwanath (2012: 46–7).

(9) See especially the development of the iconography of Theseus in vase painting. His rape of Helen is ignored in all but a few cases, where he is presented as handsome ephebe; see Shapiro (1992), Mills (1997), and Vannicelli, this volume, Ch. 10, p. 260. Peleus—father of Achilles—likewise makes his sole appearance in the Histories as abductor of Thetis (7.191.2).

(10) Note, e.g., the juxtaposition of the Amazonomachy with Marathon in the Stoa Poikilē, and the dedication of the Theseion in memory of Marathon (Paus. 1.17). Cf. Lysias’ Epitaphios, in which the Amazonomachy is a precursor of Marathon.

(11) In Bacchylides 17 Theseus orders Minos to cease his hubris (17.41) against Eriboea, observing that a hero ought to check his violence (bia, 17.22). See further Munson, this volume, Ch. 7, n. 23 with text. Cf., e.g., Theseus’ role in Euripides’ Supplices as champion (urged by his mother) of the burial of the Argive dead in the face of the opposition of violent and hubristic Thebans (cf. andras biaious, 308; hubristai, 575; hubristēn laon, 728), and in Sophocles’ Oedipus Coloneus as protector of Oedipus and rescuer of his two daughters in the face of the violence and hubris of Creon (cf. hubris, 883, 1029; bia, 903, 916, 922).

(12) See esp. Thuc. 2.15.

(13) On this episode, see also Saïd, this volume, Ch. 2, p. 99 (with further references).

(14) Cobet (1971: 65) observes the way in which this digression stretches both back and forwards in time.

(15) Another ‘reverse face’ of the Trojan War in the Histories is the Cretan expedition with a great force (stolōi megalōi) against Camicus in Sicily, besieging the place for five years until famine forced them to depart (7.170), on which see, in this volume, Saïd, Ch. 2, p. 99, Munson, Ch. 7, pp. 208–11, and Bowie, Ch. 11, p. 282. The Trojan War was good to think with, as we shall see further below.

(16) Modern scholarly discussion of ways in which explicit counterfactual history may supplement historical analysis (the question ‘what if’ is always implicit in discussion of causation) has been growing in popularity since Niall Ferguson’s Virtual History (1997). Treatments of its role in ancient historiography include Will (2000) (Thucydides) and Morello (2002) (Livy).

(17) Morello (2002: 80–3). Reflecting this tendency, Roth’s novel The Plot against America (2004)—a counterfactual portrayal of 1940s America, in which in the place of Roosevelt’s re-election, the isolationist anti-Semite Charles Lindbergh is elected president in 1940 and directs the country into a Nazi alliance and fascism—has been read by many as a commentary on the contemporary George W. Bush administration and its policies (though Roth himself denies any such allegorical intention).

(18) See Gray, this volume, Ch. 6, pp. 171–2.

(19) See Cobet (1971: 65–6) for the Sophanes excursus in the context of the other aristeiai of the battle of Plataea, that similarly introduce (past or future) accounts of inter-Greek wars; quotation (‘Panorama hellenischer Auseinandersetzungen’) on p. 66.

(20) Flower and Marincola (2002: ad 9.73.2), observing that, by rejecting Alcman’s version (Paus. 1.41.4 = PMG 21) in which the Dioscuri actually captured Athens, Herodotus implies that contemporary Athenians might still save their city; cf. Biraschi (1989: 83–4).

(21) Cf. above, n. 1 with text. See Dewald (1997) and this volume, Ch. 1, n. 20 with text, for the Histories’ closural narratives.

(22) These patterns are in keeping with 9.122: the fictional anecdote of Cyrus, with which Herodotus chooses to end his Histories, which likewise encourages readers to look back upon him and the Persians from a different perspective. On other reminders in the Histories of the Self in Other and Other in Self, see esp. Dewald (1990), Pelling (1997b), and Munson (2001). Cf., in this volume, de Jong, Ch. 4, p. 138, and Vandiver, Ch. 5, pp. 152–4, for the alignment of Greek Menelaus with (bad) Trojan Alexander at 2.119.

(23) For Herodotus’ self-conscious engagement with other genres, see esp. Avery (1979), Boedeker (2000, 2002), and Chiasson (2003). R. Rutherford (2007: 514) likens ‘tragic history’ to ‘a particular color in an artist’s palette, used in specific places for a particular effect’.

(24) On the Histories’ establishment of the boundary between these discourses, see, e.g., Shimron (1973), Lateiner (1989: 35), Moles (1993), Feeney (2007a: 72–7, 2007b: 177–82). See esp. Chiasson (2003, forthcoming: ch. 1) and Marincola (2006) for ways in which Herodotus highlights the difference between historical research and the Greek poetic tradition (‘tak[ing] [the poetic] legacy in a different direction’, as Marincola (2006: 14) puts it). Hornblower (2001) qualifies Feeney’s distinction (1991) between epic and history—the presence of ‘characterful narration of divine action’ (261; see further Feeney 1991: 260–2)—by highlighting the possibility of ‘deliberate and daring’ generic crossover: Herodotus’ Pan may thus represent ‘a real epic feature in a real historian’ (Hornblower 2001: 146). Pelling (2006a) brings out the open-endedness of Herodotus’ interactions with epic. The definition of ‘mythic’ is elusive, since it is difficult to ascertain where models are felt to signal back to a legendary/Homeric age, or where they have infused contemporary discourse (thought and rhetoric) and behaviour. For the issue of historical or historiographical interaction with Homer, see esp. Pelling (2006a). Connor (1984) comments suggestively on the combination in Thucydides’ presentation of the Sicilian expedition of poetic and analytic–historiographical features (‘Mythic patterns and tragic language are juxtaposed with much more mundane descriptions of impulses, dispositions, and desires’ (1984: 168)). On these issues, see further the Introduction to this volume, pp. 48–53.

(25) Cf. Baragwanath (2008: 240–88). Huber (1965: 37–8) surveys Homeric resonances in the speeches of Mardonius and (cp. below) Artabanus.

(26) Haubold (2007) argues for historical Persian attempts to appropriate Greek epic as a charter for imperial expansion, and thus to justify the conflict in terms familiar to the Greeks. See also Briant (2002) on how the Persians deliberately appropriated religious and cultural characteristics of their subject peoples, and the imperialistic rationale behind this, and Kelly (2003) on the Persians’ use of propaganda in the Persian Wars. Saïd, this volume, Ch. 2, §3, examines the use of stories about Troy by Persians and others.

(27) See Rood (1998b: nn. 52–4 with text).

(28) Cf. Connor (1984: 168) on this motif in Thucydides’ depiction of the Sicilian expedition.

(29) Avery (1979), with Chiasson, this volume, Ch. 8, pp. 230–2. Mardonius’ use of the verb in relation to Greeks (7.9γ) matches the pattern of his ironically applying to others what applies best to himself (cf. below: he accuses the Greeks of agnōmosunē, a term Herodotus applies to Mardonius).

(30) The play opens with the chorus anxious about the king’s return (nostos, l. 8); the messenger says he did not expect to return safely himself (l. 261); Darius’ ghost later prophesies that even the Persian forces that now remain in Greece will fail to return home safely (ll. 796–7); and the nostos itself is marked by disaster (with the frozen Strymon melting during the crossing: ll. 504–11).

(31) Cf. Il. 1.4–5, 2.393, 15.348, for the fate of being torn apart by dogs and birds, with Segal (1971: 9).

(32) Pelling (2006a: 93 n. 48) observes commonalities, beyond metre, between the oracle’s final lines and Il. 17.502–4.

(33) See Asheri (1998) on Plataea as vengeance for Thermopylae.

(34) Along with the involvement of Delphi, divine involvement is perhaps felt in the coincidence that Mardonius is standing nearby (hōs oi etugkhane paresteōs Mardonios…, 8.114.2).

(35) On this digression, see Cobet (1971: 64–5).

(36) See Huxley (1963), with Herman (1989: 93 n. 35 with text) and Flower and Marincola (2002: ad 9.64.2) for preferring the stronger manuscript tradition in favour of Aeimnēstou over (Hude) Arimnēstou.

(37) Cf. Asheri (1998) and Dillery (1996).

(38) The Persians at 7.211.2 fight en steinoporōi…khōrōi; until the betrayal of the pass the Greeks fight es ta steinopora, but at that point, certain of death, they meet the enemy exō tōn steinōn (7.223 bis); and just after Leonidas’ death, they again withdraw es…to steinon tēs hodou (7.225.2); cf. 7.175.1, 176.2 bis. The ‘narrows’ motif of Salamis will again look back to this (8.60β bis). Moreover, as at Thermopylae, a contrast is highlighted between the few and the many (300—‘all the Messenians’), and in the name of Mardonius’ killer, Aeimnēstos—‘Always to be remembered’, ‘ever memorable’—is evoked a key theme of the Thermopylae narrative, that of memory and memorialization (see esp. 7.225–8: memorials of Leonidas in the form of a stone lion, and of the 300 in the form of memorable sayings and concrete inscriptions).

(39) Cf. Asheri (1998).

(40) Lateiner (1980).

(41) Lateiner (1980: 30).

(42) Lateiner (1980: 31).

(43) See Dillery (1996) for Herodotus’ reconfiguration of Thermopylae as a moral victory by means of the duel motif.

(44) In the council before Salamis, Mardonius is not seated about the king like the other leaders of cities and commanders of ships, whose proximity to the king reflects their degree of honour, but instead serves as Xerxes’ messenger (8.68, as again at 8.140). Should anything happen to Mardonius, Artemisia tells Xerxes (in a speech that reflects his own opinions: 8.103), ‘it won’t be a big deal’ (logos oudeis ginetai, 8.102.3).

(45) Cf. Peleus’ instructions to Phoenix to teach Achilles ‘to be both a speaker of words and a doer of deeds’ (Il. 9.443).

(46) See Asheri and Corcella (2006: ad 9.64.7) on these traditions, which include Mardonius’ being stoned to death (Plut. Arist. 19.2), or fleeing with a small band of followers (Justin 2.14.5).

(47) Cf. Evans (1991: 67–70) and Flower and Marincola (2002: 9–11).

(48) Cf. 9.41.4: ‘Artabanus’ opinion was the same as the Thebans’, since he too had particular foreknowledge.’

(49) The desire to sack Athens results in part from obstinacy (hup’ agnōmosunēs), while by the prelude to Plataea his opinion has become ‘more forceful, more obstinate and in no way yielding’ (iskhuroterē te kai agnōmonesterē kai oudamōs sugginōskomenē, 9.41.4).

(50) Intriguingly, in Aeschylus Persians the messenger conveys to the queen this very same sentiment, observing that a city is secure as long as its men remain (l. 349).

(51) Cf. T. Harrison (2000b: 71 with n. 24, with further references for the theme of emptiness in Persians). Xerxes returns erēmon (alone/lonely, l. 734).

(52) Cf. Aristophanes’ Wasps 702 for the democratic pay Athens ‘drips into’ its subjects—presumably a humorous use of a poetic word in an everyday context. The simple form stazō is more common, occurring several times in Homer and other poetry: Il. 19.39, 348, 354 (of nectar and ambrosia implanted in Patroclus and Achilles), Pind. Nem. 10.81, Aesch. Cho. 1058 (of the Erinyes’ eyes dripping with blood), Eum. 42 (of Orestes’ hands dripping blood in the Pythia’s vision), Ag. 179 (see below), Eur. Bacch. 620, Tro. 1199, Phoen. 230, Hipp. 122, etc., used once by Herodotus of water dripping from a rock into a pool–water that is said by the Arcadians to flow from the Styx (6.74.2). In Aesch. Ag. stazō denotes the dripping of pain, with perhaps a suggestion too of the weeping of tears (see below, n. 74 with text).

(53) The other occasion is Croesus’ remark to Solon that ‘desire came into him [himeros…moi epēlthe] to ask whether he had ever seen a happier man’ (1.30.2). In this instance the powerful irony generated through Croesus’ speaking of his himeros in asking the wise man’s advice (since desire is in Greek thought essentially opposed to wise action) suggested that this was not merely a casual formulation. Elsewhere in the Histories, desire is envisaged as a passive object: one ‘holds/has/seizes a desire’ (5.106.5, 6.137.2, 7.43).

(54) Cf. Pind. Ol. 1.40–1: Poseidon longs to seize Pelops, ‘struck in his wits with longing’, damenta phrenas himerōi.

(55) Padel (1992: 84).

(56) Marked out to the Spartans by the unwitting Xerxes as the human agent of ‘what is fitting’, he ‘will give such justice as befits’ the Spartans and Heraclidae (dikas dōsei toiautas hoias ekeinoisi prepei, 8.114.2). Serving as the pawn of a higher power (presumably Apollo), he does indeed render to the Spartans their due for that death.

(57) On the historical practice of signalling by fire beacons, see Hdt. 7.183.1 (Greeks stationed at Artemisium informed by beacons) and Thuc. 2.94, 3.22, 80, 8.102.1. See further How and Wells (1928), Gomme, Andrewes, and Dover (1981: ad 8.102.1), and Asheri and Corcella (2006: ad 9.3.1). On the historical ‘mardoniograph’, see Munro (1904: 151) (‘it is not unlikely that Aeschylus has preserved for us…the list of Mardonius’ signal-stations’).

(58) Flower and Marincola (2002: ad9.3.1).

(59) 7.220, with Baragwanath (2008: 69–72). In such cases the skeleton of the ascription may have reached Herodotus in the form of oral tradition, but its elaboration may be counted Herodotus’ own.

(60) Herodotus’ remark that the capture of Athens by the king occurred ‘in the tenth month’ with respect to the later capture by Mardonius (9.3.2)—dekamēnos, a hapax in the Histories (and a date that Macan (1908: ad loc.) found ‘unfortunately…only approximate’)—could strengthen the intertextuality by bringing to mind the ten years Agamemnon’s army have spent at Troy. As the chorus sing at Ag. 40: dekaton men etos tod’ epei (‘This is now the tenth year since…’); see, too, the Herald at Ag. 505.

(61) Cf., e.g., Rosenbloom (2006: 162). For the Persians as an important intertext for Herodotus’ account of Salamis, see Saïd (1981, 2002: 137–45), E. Hall (1996), Pelling (1997a), T. Harrison (2000b: 44–8), and Chiasson (2003: 31–2). We may certainly think in terms of the circulation of texts of Attic tragedy: Dionysus in Frogs (ll. 52–3) remarks that he has just been reading Euripides. Travelling troupes will have needed texts, and so provide a model for texts themselves circulating beyond Athens, but texts could also be sent on their own with a view to performance. See further Dearden (1999: 227–8) (including on evidence for the ‘flourishing trade in texts back and forth across to mainland Greece’ from the late fifth century: p. 228).

(62) Cf. the distinction of D. Fowler (1997).

(63) Plut. Per. 28.5. See also the Athenians’ epigrams on the siege of Eion, one vaunting Athens’ leadership of a new Trojan War Page (FGE XL = Aeschin. In Ctes. 3.184–5, Plut. Cim. 7.4–5), and, earlier, Simonides’ epigrams on the Persian Wars. Cf. Saïd, this volume, Ch. 2, §4.

(64) Aeschylus was reperformed in the decades following his death not only at Athens (Σ Ar. Frogs 10, Tragicorum Graecorum Fragmenta 12 T 1, E. Hall 1996: 2) but also elsewhere in Greece, and the Oresteia was perhaps particularly well known. One scene of Euripides’ Electra (produced around 413 BCE) is notoriously reliant for its full effect on audience awareness of the scene in Choephoroi of Electra’s identification of Orestes (Cho. 167–245). Aeschylus is the only Athenian tragedian whom Herodotus names (2.156). In the description of the Persian messenger system that relayed news of the Salamis defeat, Herodotus has already drawn on this very beacon passage of the Agamemnon (mentioned above, p. 301): A. M. Bowie (2007: ad 8.98–9). See further the Introduction to this volume, p. 52, for the Panhellenic character of Attic tragedy (for which Herodotus’ use of Attic tragedy is further evidence), and n. 216 with text for the Histories’ affinities with tragedy.

(65) A. M. Bowie (2007: ad 8.98–9).

(66) himeros and erōs are never used in this way in Homer, but only of sexual lust or (in the case of himeros) desire for lamentation.

(67) Cornford (1907: 205). Cf. Thuc. 6.13.1, Nicias advising the Athenians: med’…duserōtas einai tōn apontōn (‘and do not fall victim…to the fatal desire for the faraway’). On duserōtas, see Young (1968: 116–17, 120 n. 18), and (with further references) Hornblower (2008: ad 6.13.1).

(68) Rogkotis (2006) observes the sickness analogy and finds an intertextual connection with Hdt. 9.3: enestakto suggests that Mardonius is ‘intoxicated by a desire…dripping like poison inside his body’, while enepese at Thuc. 6.24.3 ‘evokes a powerful metaphorical image of an ἔρως…that invades from outside like a disease’ (p. 63). Cf., in tragedy, Achilles on the planned Trojan campaign (Euripides’ Iphigenia at Aulis 808–9): ‘So great a passion [houtō deinos…erōs] for this expedition has fallen upon [empeptōk’] Greece, not without the involvement of the gods’; cf. 411: Greece is ill (nosei).

(69) See also Connor (1984: 167–8) (‘The phrase is poetic, evocative of tragic drama, perhaps specifically modelled on the famous lines of Clytemnestra in Aeschylus’ Agamemnon…’, p. 167), and more generally Macleod (1983a: 141–6) and Hornblower (1987: 148–9) on tragic elements in Thucydides’ depiction of the Sicilian expedition (though Macleod (1983a: 157) prefers to view such affinities with tragedy in terms of the ‘common source’, Homer). See also Eur. IA 808–9 quoted above, n. 68.

(70) Cf. Rogkotis (2006: 59–65), comparing the Athenians’ irrational disregarding of Nicias’ advice before the Sicilian expedition. Lust does frequently, in the Histories, have fatal—even, in T. Harrison’s formulation, ‘fateful’—consequences, which perhaps imply divine involvement even if this is never made explicit. T. Harrison (2000a: 238) offers examples.

(71) Several recent readings find Herodotus exploiting suggestively readers’ familiarity with the context of an allusion. See, e.g., Grethlein (2006), arguing that the rhetoric of the speakers in the Syracusan embassy scene (7.153–63) is undermined by the contexts of the Iliadic references they cite. For an excellent discussion of intertextuality in Thucydides and a note of caution in the matter of detecting and analysing specific allusions to particular texts, see Rood (1998b).

(72) The capture signifies righteous vengeance brought about by the gods, who sent the army to Troy in the first place (ll. 40 ff.). The struggle has been ‘over a woman of many men’ (l. 62) and has afflicted Greeks and Trojans alike (l. 67). See Denniston and Page (1957: ad 40–103).

(73) In the striking metaphor, the eagle/Atreidae’s killing of the hare provokes Artemis’ phthonos (‘jealousy’)—hinting at the retribution to be feared for Iphigenia’s killing (135).

(74) Cf. Fraenkel (1950: ad 179.): ‘here in Ag. 179 we must be careful not to lay too strong an emphasis on the possible reference to a wound. It is also possible to find in the passage the idea of constant dropping (cf. E. Suppl. 79 ff.…);…to reproduce it with pedantic accuracy: “instead of sleep” (or “in the place where if things ran their untroubled course one would find sleep”) “one finds the slow drip, drip of pain”.’ Aileen Ajootian suggests to me an additional reference to tears, perhaps specifically those of Niobe—a quintessential sufferer of the gods’ vengeance and the subject of Aeschylus’ lost Niobe, also depicted weeping in statuary.

(75) Asheri and Corcella (2006: ad 9.3.3).

(76) Translated above as ‘obstinacy/folly’; Powell (1960 2) translates as ‘wilfulness’.

(77) For this aspect of the Histories, see Lateiner (1989), Thomas (2000), and (for human motivation) Baragwanath (2008).

(78) Agnōmosunē is the term selected by Sophocles’ Hyllus to denote the unkindness of the gods (Trach. 1266): ‘Raise him up, companions, showing great sympathy with me in what has happened, and knowing of the great unkindness [megalēn…agnōmosunēn] of the gods displayed in these events, gods who beget us and are called our fathers but who look on such sufferings as these!’ Cf. Euripides’ Bacchae, where conversely agnōmosunē is associated with the mortal folly of not revering the gods: divine strength ‘corrects/chastises [apeuthunei] those of mortals who honour folly [tous t’ agnōmosunan timōntas] and in their mad judgment don’t reverence the things of the gods’ (ll. 884–7).

(79) Cf. below, n. 80 with text.

(80) Beyond the specific dikas didonai terminology, note also the timōros logos (‘vengeance argument’) he presents to Xerxes (7.5.2–3).

(81) Note also the depiction of Greek imperialism in Euripides IA of 406 BCE (see above, nn. 68–9).

(82) Cf. the Histories’ hints forward to Athenian empire: see inter alia Stadter (1992), Moles (1996), E. Irwin (2007b), and Bowie, this volume, Ch. 11, p. 274.

(83) Mardonius—himself so sensitive to reputation—throws in the Spartans’ teeth this reputation when he sees them changing their battle order: ‘Men of Lacedaemon, you are held by everyone in this part of the world to be the bravest of men. They boast that you never retreat and never break rank, but keep to your post until you either kill your opponents or are killed yourselves. But this is a pack of lies, apparently. Before the battle has even started, before we have got to close quarters, you’ve already pulled back and left your post—we saw you do it!’ (9.48.1).

(84) Cf., e.g., Il. 5.301–5, 7.263–71, 12.445–62.

(85) See, e.g., Flory (1987) and Moles (1993).

(86) Dewald, this volume, Ch. 1, discusses the related ‘thoughtless ruler’ motif.

(87) Dillery (1996) argues that Herodotus makes such a case by means of the duel structure in his Thermopylae account, and observes (p. 247) that Simonides in his Plataea poem could not take the comparison for granted either, but felt obliged to make the case. Similarly Herodotus’ Homeric resonances do not simply signal replications of heroism, but also draw attention to failures quite to measure up—and consequently foreground the complexities involved in positing such comparisons: Pelling (2006a).

(88) Dewald (1999).