Myth and Legend in Herodotus’ First Book
Herodotus has constructed a dense legendary and mythic framework comprised of the genealogies, the various forms of mythic background, and the religious thômata (‘wonders’), on which the main narrative itself floats. At the same time, already in the proem Herodotus has warned readers to be suspicious of logoi purporting to come from the past of myth and legend. This chapter examines, first, Herodotus' uses of genealogies that stretch back to legendary times to introduce and order both personal and ethnic lineages and to integrate them with genealogies already familiar to Greek audiences. By creating a dense web of mythological genealogies for peoples and individuals, Herodotus has helped locate exotic material in a traditional Greek framework, and he also has provided a rudimentary chronology for foundation stories of various families and ethnic groups. A second section considers how even mentioned in passing, mythic names can add informative background detail to an ongoing narrative that suggests to the Greek reader cultural connections of significance. A third section examines mythic thinking as it shapes ideology and ideological assumptions, both those of Herodotus himself and those of the characters in the Histories. Mythical accounts testify to the power that ancient legends have, as background that either motivates action or retroactively plays an explanatory role in events that Herodotus regards as real.
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