Herodotus on Melampus
Herodotus on Melampus
Abstract and Keywords
This chapter takes the two stories that Herodotus tells about the mythical seer, Melampus. It explains how his treatment combines his heritage of inquiry, poetry, and storytelling, and in the process creates new myth. Herodotus displays his historical inquiry in the passage in which he has Melampus introduce the rites of Dionysus into Greece from Egypt, but also creates or develops the pattern of story in which the ‘culture hero’ introduces new customs into Greece. He develops the use of Melampus by the poets as an exemplum in his account of the battle of Plataea, where in order to enhance the greatness of that battle, he compares the request of the seer Tisamenos for Spartan citizenship as a reward for his service in the battle to Melampus' request for Argive kingship as a reward for curing their women; but he also patterns his story according to the traditional motif of the bargain, bringing Melampus into the world of the storyteller.
Melampus was a healer-seer from Pylos who founded a dynasty of kings at Argos.1 His achievements made him the subject of widespread hero cult.2 They qualify as myth because of their setting in the distant past, their explanation of the origins of a political dynasty, and their heroic cult status.3
This chapter attempts to explain how Herodotus applies his mixed literary and scientific heritage of enquiry, poetry, and storytelling to his treatment of Melampus.
Herodotus’ debt to earlier prose writers such as Hecataeus and the tradition of scientific enquiry from Greek Ionia is well documented.4 His debt to the poets has also been demonstrated: to Homer for his themes, his speeches, and narrative structures, for the duality of divine and human responsibility, even for the precedent for his assessment of (p.168) the best source in the eyes and ears credited to Democedes;5 and to lyric poets such as Simonides also.6
Traditional stories are the third part of his heritage and may be recognized by their patterned narratives. These stories characteristically assemble and develop unchanging elements, which may be called motifs, in order to produce stories infinitely varied. The motifs can include characters such as heroes and helpers and functions such as deceptions and bargains. There have been many demonstrations of this part of Herodotus’ art.7
The most complete account of Melampus’ achievements is in Apollodorus the mythographer (Bibl.1.9.11–13, 2.2.2).8 This has marked folkloric qualities. The first achievement is the story of how the seer gained his powers: he acquired the knowledge of the speech of animals from snakes, which cleaned out his ears while he was asleep, in gratitude for his nurture of them;9 he acquired besides the art of divination and soothsaying from Apollo by the Alpheus River.10 The second achievement is the hero’s quest. Apollodorus sends Melampus on a typical quest for cattle and the hand of a maiden:11 his aim is Phylacus’ cattle in Phylake, so that he could acquire for his brother Bias the hand of Pero, daughter of Neleus, ruler of Pylos, Melampus’ hometown. During this quest he suffered the imprisonment he had foretold for himself but escaped when he overheard woodworm telling each other that they would soon bring down the prison ceiling. His powers were recognized and valued, he prophesied (p.169) for Phylacus, and won the cattle and the hand of Pero for his brother. The third achievement is how Melampus as healer cured Proetus’ daughters, who were sent mad because they offended Hera by their boasting, or Dionysus by not accepting his rites.12 His reward was a share in the kingdom of Argos for himself and Bias.13
Apollodorus represents a late phase in the traditions about Melampus, but the poets before Herodotus described the last two achievements, developing them in ways more suited to their epic or other poetic contexts. They provide rich material for comparison with Herodotus (below). Herodotus himself describes only the curing of the women of Argos (9.34), but he introduces a new achievement in having Melampus import the rites of Dionysus from Egypt, and he acquires his art of divination from there too (2.49).14 This develops his status as a culture hero, founding common Greek practices.
As we shall see, Herodotus’ historical enquiry is not on ‘display’ in the story of the curing of the women.15 It is on ‘display’ in the story of Melampus in Egypt, but it is not the kind of enquiry that rationalized traditional stories and made sense of their relations to one another;16 it is rather his own distinctive enquiry into customs: he adduces proofs that the rites of Dionysus were introduced from Egypt. Yet his storytelling heritage also emerges in that story, in the way he creates patterned stories to describe how Melampus introduced the rites. The end result is the creation of the new ‘myth’ of the cultural hero.
What we see in his treatment of the curing of the women of Argos, on the other hand, is his mixed heritage of poetry and storytelling. He uses the poetic process of adapting the story to its context as an exemplum and tells the story itself in a new way through the development of traditional elements. To examine his treatment of Melampus is thus to examine, in a microcosm, his triple heritage at work.
(p.170) 1. Melampus Cures the Women: The Bargaining Exemplum
My first focus is on how Herodotus incorporated the story of Melampus’ curing of the women into his account of the battle of Plataea (9.34). The context is the magnitude of the crisis that hung over the Greeks at Plataea. Herodotus uses various narrative techniques to achieve this impression of magnitude, and they have general poetic ancestry. The poets were the existing masters of the narrative art, and Herodotus naturally drew on them, but did so in order to make a new style of narrative.
His first technique is to describe the dispositions and numbers of the Greeks and Persians, which has poetic ancestry in Homer’s Catalogue of Ships in Iliad 2 (9.28–32). This may be a required element of battle narrative, but it also shows that the Greeks were outnumbered 1:3. This is followed by an analepsis, another poetic technique,17 in the form of the story about Tisamenus (9.33). This enhances the magnitude of the crisis by showing how desperate the Spartans were to achieve a victory—so desperate that in the story they give their precious citizenship to Tisamenus and his brother in return for his prophecies of victory, because making this sacrifice was the only way they could secure victory. Such was its value that these two were the only ones to whom they gave their citizenship.18 The possession of Tisamenus’ prophecies gave them five great victories from Plataea onwards.19
The stories of Tisamenus and Melampus may be analysed as examples of the pattern of story in which the Hero needs assistance to carry out a Task he cannot do on his own, and bargains with a Helper in order to secure the assistance of his supernatural power. The Spartans take the role of Heroes in the story of Tisamenus, and their Task is to defeat the Persians. The seer takes the role of their Helper, and their bargain swaps his supernatural power for their citizenship. Herodotus plays with an element in which the Helper is unaware of the power that he commands; this is also manipulated in (p.171) other stories for various ends (see below). He places central importance on the bargaining in order to accentuate the crisis.
The story begins when Tisamenus receives a prophecy from Delphi that he will win five great victories (9.33.2). He mistakes these for athletic victories and he trains hard, but misses by a single fall at the Olympic Games.20 The Spartans know that the reference is to military victories, and to secure his power they propose a bargain: that he become war-leader alongside their Heraclid kings for payment (9.33.3).21 But Tisamenus demands Spartan citizenship as his payment in the bargain, ‘giving him a share in all things’ (9.33.4). This seems to be the most valuable commodity he can imagine, and the Spartans endorse his high valuation of their citizenship by refusing to give it. But then comes the crisis of Plataea. Desperate, they offer to meet his original request. The problem is that now he asks for citizenship for his brother (9.33.5). This is the escalation of the demand.
At this point, when the outcome is still in suspense, Herodotus adduces a further analepsis, which serves as an exemplum. He says that Tisamenus made his request for citizenship in imitation of Melampus, ‘to compare those who ask for citizenship with those who ask for kingship’ (9.34.1). Some believe that Herodotus said here that Tisamenus sought both kingship and citizenship, but the whole story of Tisamenus is about acquiring citizenship, and Melampus’ story is about acquiring kingship, and the comparison inherent in the exemplum is destroyed if Tisamenus and Melampus each sought both. Tisamenus’ acquisition of citizenship is the focus from the opening description: ‘Whom, though being Elean and of the clan of Iamides, the Spartans made their own citizen’ (9.33.1), where the hapax leōspheteron (‘fellow-citizen’), which might indeed be a specifically Spartan term, makes the concept forceful, down to the conclusion: ‘When the Spartiates agreed to this too, as seer, Tisamenus of (p.172) Elis won five of the greatest victories for them, once he was a citizen. And alone of men did these become Spartan citizens’ (9.35.1).22
Herodotus structures the story effectively. Tisamenus’ story encloses Melampus’ story, thus delaying closure and whetting anticipation. This structuring is found in Arion’s story as well, which is embedded in the story of Alyattes’ illness and salvation (1.19–25). The latter’s dedication for his rescue is delayed until the completion of Arion’s dedication for salvation (1.24.8).
The story of how Melampus acquired kingship of Argos (9.34) is an abbreviated form of the pattern established for Tisamenus. The Argives are the Heroes, and their Task is to cure the madness of their women. Melampus is the Helper, and his healing ability is the supernatural power they seek. They propose a bargain. His request is for a half share in their kingship. Their refusal follows, confirming the high value of this commodity, but their need escalates as more women go mad and they agree to his original request. Melampus now escalates his own request and asks for a share in the kingship for his brother Bias as well. So great is their need that the Argives agree.
(p.173) Herodotus then returns to the outcome of the escalated request of Tisamenus, which we expect will follow suit; it does. The Spartans were in such need that, like the Argives, they gave their seer what he wanted: citizenship for himself and his brother.
The structure of the story may be represented as follows:
1. A has or acquires supernatural power.
2. B has a need for the power.
3. B proposes a bargain to get the power.
4. A asks for a valued item/commodity as payment.
5. B refuses to grant it.
6. B has increased need.
7. B offers to meet the original request.
8. A escalates his request for more than the valued item/commodity asked for in (4).
9. The need is so great that B grants the escalated request.
Herodotus uses this same pattern of story in his account of the Spartans’ original conquest of the Peloponnese, which was also due to the acquisition of supernatural power—the bones of Orestes (1.67–9). Comparison shows how he manipulates the elements in the pattern to serve the different contexts. The crisis in this case is that the Spartans have been constantly defeated by the Tegeans. The power is in both cases acquired from foreigners, in this version from a Tegean, in Book Nine from the seers from Elis and Pylos. There are other similarities too. The person in possession of the power is the owner of a metal forge from Tegea, and he has uncovered the bones in his forge, but he has not recognized their power. In this he is like Tisamenus, who did not recognize the real power of his victories.23
But in the seer stories that precede the battle of Plataea there is no narrative of how the Spartans came to locate the power they wanted. In the case of the bones of Orestes, there is: the Spartans receive an oracle pointing them to the location of the bones; there is then an extensive narrative of how they discovered them. They do not divine the meaning of the oracle as a group either, nor do they bargain for the power as a group, as they do in the seer stories; Lichas deciphers (p.174) the oracle alone, and he alone bargains with the Tegean, who possesses the power. His search and discovery are described at length and include an account of the original acquisition of the power by the Tegean (1.68.1–3). Lichas is in fact the chief Helper in the story, and he comes from the ranks of the Heroes rather than from outside; this role is reflected in the official position of ‘benefactor’ (agathoergos) he holds within Sparta, which Herodotus describes in detail (1.67.5).24 In the seer stories that precede the battle of Plataea, we do learn how Tisamenus originally acquired his power, as the Tegean acquired it too, but for Melampus we do not have even that; his story is reduced to the bare essential: the bargaining over the power he holds. If one had to guess why Lichas’ search for the bones figures so prominently in his version of the pattern, it is because Herodotus is devoting this section to the eunomia that the Spartans experienced after the reforms of Lycurgus, and Lichas’ civic service serves that theme.
The focus on the bargaining marks the seer stories out from the version of the pattern in the story of the bones of Orestes. There is a latent bargain between Lichas and the owner of the forge that houses the power; this is why we find the owner ‘not giving it away’ and why Lichas has to persuade him to rent out the forge for payment, so that he can get the bones (1.68.5). But the bargain motif is not developed. This is the art of Herodotus’ patterning: the elements are accentuated or played down for the immediate purpose of the story. The development in the seer stories is the focus on the bargain itself, which has the effect of focusing on the high value of the commodities exchanged, and thus on the crisis that provokes the bargaining. The focus is obviously on the need for the power, in phrases such as: peri pollou poieumenos (9.33.4), deina epoieunto (9.33.5), deimatos megalou epikremamenou (9.33.5), tetrammenous (9.33.5), ouk anaskhomenōn (9.34.2), tetrammenous (9.34.2), apeilēthentes es steinon (9.34.2), edeonto…deinōs (9.35.1).
There are other stories of those who rise through the acquisition of supernatural power that is not what it seems to the original possessor and where the bargain for payment is a feature. In the rise of Perdiccas (8.137), the bargain takes the form of the payment of a hired labourer (thēs) by his employer (8.137.2). The Macedonian King is thus employing Perdiccas. When he dismisses him for fear (p.175) of an omen, and should pay him his due wages, he does not keep his bargain, contemptuously offering him the sunlight instead. He forgets for a moment that this sunlight represents his royal power and kingship; the rise of Perdiccas to kingship follows. The high value of this possession is the central point of the story, as in the seer stories, but it is revealed not through hard bargaining, but in the central scene (8.137.4–5), where Perdiccas recognizes the power and the king does not, until he receives advice and pursues Perdiccas to get it back (8.138). The story as a whole seeks to explain the power of the kings who were descended from Perdiccas.
There are developments of the motif of the bargain outside the story of the rise to power that more simply accentuate the value of the commodity bargained for. A typical example is where A approaches B with the intention of securing from him a highly valued possession; an oath or its equivalent binds them to a bargain in which they will give each other the apparently equal and innocuous choice of any item in their possession. B has no idea that the other has designs on his prized item, so, when A makes an unforeseen request for it, B resists and offers anything else except this commodity (retreating from the bargain, as the Spartans and Argives do in the stories of Melampus and Tisamenus); but B must give according to the bargain: this pattern is exemplified in the story of Agetus, who is forced to hand over his wife to Agenor (6.62), and in the story of Xerxes and the wife of Masistes (9.108–113), when Xerxes has to hand over his cloak to his mistress (9.109), which reveals his adultery to his wife Amestris, who subsequently forces Xerxes to hand over his mistress’ mother (9.110).25
The bargaining that establishes the value of the item can be represented in various ways, too. Xerxes offers his mistress cities, gold, an army, revealing the higher value of the cloak (9.109.3), Agetus offers anything but his wife (6.62.2), but, whereas Herodotus chooses not to make these offers an escalating sequence in these instances, the escalation of the demand by the Helper and the ultimate surrender (p.176) of the Heroes in the stories of Melampus and Tisamenus very effectively demonstrate the value of the commodities they ask for.
Apart from the heritage of storytelling in the construction of Herodotus’ version of Melampus’ curing of the women and its context, there is also his poetic heritage at work. Herodotus uses a poetic narrative device when he makes Melampus an analeptic exemplum that accentuates the crisis of Plataea. Comparison shows that Melampus was regularly treated as an exemplum in the poets before Herodotus, and that Herodotus operates like these poets in adapting the story to fit his needs. Against the backdrop of this poetic heritage, indeed, what emerges as distinctive about his treatment is that he writes in prose and gives us a demythologized Melampus that belongs to the world of story, a bargainer out for a good deal, not possessing the epic values of Homer or Hesiod or even the lyric values of Simonides or Pindar.
I want to trace the poets’ presentation of Melampus in order to make this clear. Homer presents Melampus twice in his Odyssey and adapts his stories to the different contexts by selecting detail that is appropriate for each of them. The Odyssey 11.281–97 has Odysseus in the underworld see Pero’s mother Chloris, and in an embedded story describes Melampus’ quest for her hand in terms involving great suffering. Homer does not mention his name nor does he say that his brother was the intended groom. His suffering and his chains are described rather than the woodworm in the ceiling of the prison. The themes of this catalogue are variously interpreted, and one interpretation is that Odysseus enlarges his experience by recognizing the suffering caused by women. There is, of course, no need for such epic suffering in Herodotus.26
In his second appearance in the Odyssey (15.223–81), Melampus’ descendant Theoclymenus seeks protection with Telemachus. He is in flight from his homeland of Argos and pursued by avengers because he has killed a kinsman. Homer embeds the story of how his ancestor Melampus also fled his homeland of Pylos (15.225–55), and this serves to comment on the condition of both Theoclymenus and Telemachus as exiles. In this version Melampus is a rich man whose estates were confiscated by Neleus while he was on his quest. He returned to punish Neleus and then go to Argos, where he was (p.177) destined to be king (15.248–50). Homer thus combines the personal and the divine cause for Melampus’ shift to Argos, in a way that is typical of Herodotus too.27 Melampus cures no mad women in Homer’s version and makes no bargain with the Argives. It is the theme of unwilling exile from Pylos to Argos that is emphasized, through ring composition and selection of detail.28 Theoclymenus then explicitly compares himself with Telemachus in this point: they are both away from home (15.272). We might infer that they also flee unwillingly, persecuted by others, and reflect on the suffering of Odysseus too.29 Melampus’ story thus comments on the situation of Telemachus and Theoclymenus and perhaps Odysseus himself as an exemplum. Herodotus in contrast makes Melampus a very willing exile, actively bargaining for his kingship in Argos. He has no Odyssean themes to pursue. There is no sign of the Herodotean bargain in Homer or Pindar, or in other earlier poets, either.30
Pindar follows Homer in making Melampus an exemplum of unwilling exile (Paean 4 = fr. D 4).31 He uses the move to Argos to exemplify the theme that there is no place like home and hearth and family, and that it is folly to want what is far off, particularly in the form of foreign kingship, and that what is your own local pleasure or duty is preferable: all’ ho ge Melampos ouk ēthelen lipōn patrida monarkhein Argei themenos oiōnopolon geras (‘but Melampus left (p.178) his homeland unwilling to take up kingship in Argos, laying aside his prophetic gift’).32 Pindar’s second exemplum of the theme in the Paean is Euxaenetus, a local king of the Ceans who, going further than Melampus, did not leave home at all, even to take up an offer of a more prestigious kingship in Crete (the whole of it or a seventh part of it, sharing with the sons of Pasiphae); this was because he preferred his epikhōrion tethmon (‘local custom’).33
Herodotus is then operating just like the poets and using their content, their narrative process and their poetic licence, though characterizing Melampus’ behaviour in a way that befits a Herodotean logos rather than the epic or lyric. There is no ‘display’ of enquiry, and no sign of it behind the scenes either: the main lines of the poetic story are accepted. The reason for this might be that the powers of seers did not strain his credulity: he did not reject even a divine source for the prophetic powers of the seer Euenius (9.92–94.3). He may alternatively have been unwilling to criticize a story that simply served as an exemplum. But he does, of course, advance the poets’ representation in one significant way. He takes their theme of exile, making Melampus willing instead of unwilling to leave Pylos, and this is done in order to have him actively bargaining for his kingship in Argos, in order to accentuate the crisis. He makes Melampus an exemplum linked back to the later seer Tisamenus in a similar way to Homer, who links the story of Melampus to his descendant Theoclymenus. There may be an idea here of the ‘family of seers’ linked as others were by blood lineage.
Herodotus’ deliberate comment on how Tisamenus’ request was an imitation of Melampus’ request also seems to advance the poets, by making explicit the imitation involved in the poetic exemplum. He says that, in making his request for citizenship, Tisamenus was imitating the earlier seer.34 Pindar might equally have said: ‘so to compare Melampus, a great man, with you current, rather less (p.179) important, citizens of Ceos, who nevertheless still seek to stay at home’. Implicit in Homer too is the comparison of Theoclymenus, a lesser man, with his great ancestor.
Herodotus notes other imitations of a predecessor by his successor, and these regularly enhance our understanding of the general context. I have argued that the imitation of the Sicyonian Cleisthenes by his descendant from Athens enhances our understanding of the hatred of the Ionians that led Cleisthenes to make his reforms at Athens.35 Herodotus’ comment that the advice Leotychides gave the Ionians was the same as that given by Themistocles (9.98.4) highlights the wisdom of the advice—because this time the advice worked and Ionia rebelled against the Persians for a second time.
Herodotus comments explicitly, too, on his equation in the case of Tisamenus and Melampus: hōs eikasai basilēiēn te kai politēiēn aiteomenous (9.34.1, translation above, p. 171). Such comparisons are found also in scientific writing and have the function of enhancing understanding, which might make one think of the enquirer in Herodotus. Rosalind Thomas, in her discussion of Herodotean analogy from the visible to the invisible, quotes a similar comment from medical science: ‘you will find on examination that everything is as I have said, so far as it is legitimate to compare the nature and growth of a bird to that of a man’ (On the Nature of the Child 29.2).36 This enhances the reader’s scientific understanding of the growth of the child, just as the poetic exemplum enhanced the understanding of less scientific ideas. Herodotus uses the equation to enhance the reader’s understanding in his scientific sections too. In 4.99.4–5 he adduces analogies from Attic and Italian geography to enhance the reader’s understanding of the territory of the Taurians: hōs einai tauta smikra megaloisi sumbalein (‘so far as it is possible to compare these small matters with large ones’).37
Yet the comparison is a general narrative device that just happens to be applicable to scientific discourse. Thucydides uses the formula ‘to compare small with great’ in a non-scientific passage to enhance understanding of the defeat of the Spartans on Sphacteria by comparing it to their defeat at Thermopylae (4.36.3). This again enhances (p.180) understanding. The immediate similarity is that the Spartans were taken by a path from behind, but Simon Hornblower notes, following Connor,38 that there is also a difference: the Spartans fought to the death at Thermopylae, so that their surrender on Sphacteria amazed the Greek world (4.40). The greatness being enhanced there is typically negative and psychological.
The equation sometimes explicitly compares the great and small, and this may be the case in the comparison of Tisamenus and Melampus.39 It is natural for Greeks to think of the past as great and the present as small. The equation might send a message that what was once great—namely, kingship—has become small, while what was small—namely, citizenship—has become great. This would be in keeping with Herodotus’ interest in change over time.40 The equation sounds apologetic, and this may be because it was natural to think the past was greater than the present and therefore not comparable; but the apology brings attention to the high value of both in the equation, and on this the assessment of the crisis depends.
Some have seen sinister political thought at work in the comparison, aided by the textual difficulty. The conviction that kingship is elite and citizenship is democratic leads to a subtle devaluation of kingship: ‘By using Melampus to interpret Tisamenus the text emphasizes the invasive character of Tisamenus’ request and paradoxically transforms his achievement of citizenship into a metaphor for the acquisition of kingly power.’ His service alongside the Heraclid kings is said to compound this sinister impression.41
This sinister reading does not damage the story’s basic function. Herodotus would merely be saying that the crisis of Plataea was so (p.181) great that the Spartans sacrificed their ultimate commodity to a man who had sinister aspirations. The difficulty in such an interpretation is, nevertheless, that Tisamenus does not take advantage of his citizenship or turn it into kingship; rather, he allows his prophecies to bear fruit for the common good of the Spartans and then disappears without a sinister trace in his record. If the equation is dark, we have to go outside the context to develop it.
Herodotus’ conception of his work as the struggle between enslaving tyranny and liberating republicanism does suggest a negative view of one-man rule, even though in the Constitutional Debate Darius wins the argument by contending that monarchy gave the Persians their freedom (3.82.5). Yet Thucydides differentiates ‘ancestral kingship with fixed privileges’ from tyranny because of its limited powers and sworn contract with the citizens (1.13).42 We do not know how Herodotus classified ancient Argive kingship, but in this story it is shared three ways rather than being a one-man rule, and may qualify for Thucydides’ designation. Herodotus is certainly able to admire Spartan kings, such as Leonidas.
However, whether its positive value is accepted or not, there should be no debate about the high value that was placed on kingship or tyranny as a commodity. Herodotus endorses this high value when he adapts Pindar’s metaphor nomos ho pantōn basileus (‘custom is king of all’, F. 152 OCT; cf. Hdt. 3.38.4), pointing to the high value that he himself places on customs. The description of Spartan customs as ‘despotic’ gives them the same high value (7.104.4).
There may be other political messages in the stories of Tisamenus and Melampus. The greater value of a share in the polis community over more personal and individual gains may be suggested by the change in the interpretation of Tisamenus’ victories from the athletic victories of one individual over another to victories by the whole community over other poleis. These are the victories that he ‘lifts up’ (sugkataireei, 9.35.1) once he has become a citizen of the polis. The superiority of community participation over individual gain is an unexceptional political message, but one that might be expected in Herodotus, whose other stories send such messages.43
(p.182) It may be significant also that, whereas Tisamenus and Melampus choose political roles in the polis as their misthos (‘wage’), in the story that partners theirs, Hegesistratus chooses cash as misthos for his service as seer on the Persian side, driven by a desire for profit and by his hatred of the Spartans (9.38.1).44 In the preceding prolepsis (9.37.4), Herodotus says that the Spartans later killed him as an outlaw, perhaps suggesting that citizenship would have been better insurance.45 The story of Hegesistratus (9.37) focuses on his astonishingly brave escape from Spartan imprisonment by cutting off his foot—and his hatred of the Spartans, which led him to serve the Persians (along with his desire for profit). If we seek connections between the two stories, we must take account of these emphases. At present the only resonance I see is that Herodotus presents two different attitudes to the Spartans among the seers of the Peloponnesian allies, one of beneficial partnership as Helper, the other of hostility as Enemy. He may wish us to reflect on this—since one of the themes of the Plataea story is ultimately the growth of Spartan power in the Peloponnese.
In the focus on the treatment of Melampus, however, the high value of kingship in his story is the essential function, which is to accentuate the crises in which the Spartans and Argives parted with their most valued commodity of their time—respectively, citizenship and kingship.
2. The Cultural Hero
We come next to Melampus the cultural hero (2.49). Herodotus has Melampus import from Egypt into Greece the rites of Dionysus and acquire from there also the art of divination (2.49).46 He is (p.183) the first source for this story, but it had a Nachleben in Diodorus Siculus.47
Herodotus presents Melampus’ importations within a ‘display’ of enquiry designed to prove the antiquity of Egypt and the borrowing of the Greeks from Egypt of some of their foundational customs.48 He finds parallels between the worship of Dionysius in Greece and Egypt, considers them to represent borrowings because they are too close to be accidental, and decides the Greeks did the borrowing because Egypt is the older civilization and must have had the rites first.49 His chronological research supports that. He accepted from the Egyptian priests the very early dating for Dionysus (as well as Heracles and Pan) in Egypt, and, calculating that their appearance in Greece was much later, concluded that the Greek Dionysus was not the original god, but the son of Semele and the grandson of Cadmus, whom Cadmus merely named after the original Egyptian god (2.145–6).
Herodotus was inspired to recognize this borrowing by the account given him by the Egyptians of their own rites for Dionysus (2.47–8). Ian Moyer has most recently argued that the Egyptian priests who were Herodotus’ sources served their own agendas in their accounts of the past.50 This is very obvious in their report of Sesostris’ conquests, which rivalled those of Persian kings (2.102–6), and of the (p.184) foundation of the oracle at Dodona through their priestess, the ‘black dove’, who was abducted by the Phoenicians and sold in Greece (2.54–7). Herodotus gives us glimpses of his dialogue with the Egyptians in the story about Dodona, for example, questioning them about their exact knowledge, and then reconciling their version with the account of the people of Dodona and their priestesses about the ‘black dove’ that instructed them to found the oracle.51 His role in determining the borrowing of the name and rites of Dionysus from Egypt is even more active. The Egyptians described their own rites, but Herodotus himself insisted on the similarities to the Greek rites, decided that they arose as a result of the borrowing from the Egyptians, and found their agent in Melampus. He refers to no Egyptian authority, nor to any local Greek tradition connecting Melampus with the borrowing. We notice, in other words, an increased reliance on his own opinion.
Interestingly, the results of this scientific enquiry are presented in a pattern that is not previously attested: the importation of culture from abroad, which may be compared with other narratives of importation of culture within Herodotus. This may be a pattern that Herodotus invented, but the process of creation through the development of motifs is the same as in other more traditional patterned stories. Other examples of this pattern include Lycurgus’ importation of the eunomia of the Spartans from Crete or Delphi (1.65), and Cadmus’ importation of the art of writing into Greece (5.57–61). There is also the shorter account of how the Athenians imported the dress of Athena from Libya (4.89).52 The story of the foundation of the oracle at Dodona has some parts of the pattern, even if the abducted priestess is not a cultural hero on the same level as Melampus. The story of Lycurgus is a truncated version of the pattern, with an introductory prophecy of his achievement, an account of the importation, and then his heroization. The other examples bear closer comparison with the story of Melampus in Egypt.
The comparison reveals the following structure:
1. The introduction/teaching from outside Greece of foundational customs, through immigration or importation.
(p.185) 2. Slight changes in the custom as it is adapted to the Greek environment or because of other processes.
3. Proofs of the introduction resting on the absence of the custom previously and similarities between the customs in their place of origin and in the place of importation.
Cadmus’ story (5.57–61) goes as follows:
1. Immigration to Thebes from Phoenicia of Cadmus and his Phoenicians, who teach letters to the Greeks among ‘many other lessons’; this is accompanied by the assertion that Greeks did not have letters before (5.58.1).
2. Gradual changes to the letters and their explanation: adaptation to Phoenician speech brings about changes, then after the adoption of these letters by Ionians there are more deliberate adaptations to Greek speech (5.58.2).
3. A series of proofs of the introduction;53 the Greeks called the letters Phoenician, there is a barbarian influence in how the Ionians refer to books as hides, and Herodotus has himself seen these letters on inscriptions (5.58.3–61).
The importation of the dress of the goddess Athena (4.189) is a shorter version of the same assemblage:
1. Statement that the Greeks borrowed Athena’s aegis from Libya (4.189.1).
2. The similarities, with slight differences: the fabric used in Libya is leather and the tassels on the aegis are not snakes (4.189.1).
3. Proof of the borrowing in the name of the aegis: the Libyan women wear dyed goatskins with tassels; the term ‘aegis’ was coined from the name of these goatskins (4.189.2).
Melampus’ introduction of the rites (2.48–9) has the same elements, but reordered with emphatic repetition:
1. The similarities of the rites in Greece and Egypt, with a focus on the difference. Egyptian processions have, instead of phalli, puppets with phalli, which are led by the flute in front of the (p.186) women around the villages as they sing to Dionysus. These phalli nod up and down, and there is a sacred tradition as to why the phallus is the only moving part (2.48).54
2. Opinion (‘it seems to me’) that Melampus was familiar with the rites, assertion that he introduced them, and explanation of the difference: he did not grasp all the details of the ritual; later wise men revealed these; another assertion that he did introduce the phallus and the Greeks learned the rites from him; further assertion that he introduced the rites ‘among many other things’ from Egypt—with another assertion of the differences (2.49.1–2).
3a. Proof of the borrowing: the similarities cannot be accidental, because if they were home grown, they would be like those of other Greeks (homotropa, the word used by the Athenians of Greek customs at 8.144);55 Egypt cannot have borrowed from Greece, because the rites in Greece are ‘recent’ and in Egypt much older (2.49.2–3).
3b. Opinion about the source of Melampus’ knowledge—he learned the rites from Cadmus ‘as it seems to me’. This establishes a plausible source of information—Cadmus is from Tyre near to Egypt. It is part of Herodotus’ historical method to establish chains of information to validate the facts (2.49.3).56
Various other motifs recur. The transmission of names is a focus: the naming of the letters as ‘Phoenician’, the naming of the aegis, the naming of Dionysus. Herodotus says that Melampus introduced ‘many practices, among them the Dionysiac ones’ (2.49.2). Cadmus and his companions also introduced the alphabet ‘among many other lessons’ (5.58.1).57 Melampus introduced the rites ‘having changed a (p.187) few things’: oliga autōn parallaxanta (2.49.2). The Ionians also made a ‘few changes’ to the alphabet they inherited from the Phoenicians: metarruthmisantes spheōn oliga (5.58.2). Herodotus uses a similar phrase of other borrowings too, when he claims the Phrygians wore armour ‘very close’ to that of the Paphlagonians, but ‘changing a few details’, oligon parallassontes (7.73).
The displays of Herodotus’ opinion and assertion and proof are notable in the story of the introduction of the alphabet as well as the rites of Dionysus. These may suggest that these stories were boldly innovative, though the display of enquiry is generally prominent in the Egyptian logos.
But what is most intriguing is how Herodotus focuses on the differences in the borrowed customs. This is explicable in terms of Herodotus’ general interests in cultural change. His interest in the idea of adaptation is revealed in other narratives in which foreigners move from one place to another and change their language and customs as they go.58 The human origin of Greek culture and the process of cultural change are essential to his interests as a historian of change. He makes connections between civilizations where he can, producing a global village, desiring the same interconnectedness as he desires in making his sources dovetail.59
Moreover, Herodotus explains the processes that give rise to the differences. There are two stages to the changes in the letters: unconscious change, when the Phoenician language changes in its new locality and the letters change to adapt to new sounds; and deliberate change, when the Ionian Greeks take over the letters and adapt them to their own speech. The process in the transmission of the aegis seems deliberate, since the Greeks actually named the aegis from the goatskins of the Libyan women. The story of the foundation of the oracle at Dodona shows this process in another guise; there is no alteration in the rites of Zeus, but the priestess gradually changes her language from Egyptian to Greek once she has settled in her new land. The change in the rites of Dionysus is the result of Melampus’ unconscious misinterpretation, where we are told that ‘he did not (p.188) grasp the whole logos exactly, but later wise men revealed it more clearly’ (atrekeōs men ou panta sullabōn ton logon ephēnene, 2.49.1). This statement has been interpreted to suggest concealment of the logos by Melampus,60 on the grounds that the later reference to ‘making a few changes’ also sounds like deliberate concealment. However, sullabōn regularly refers to understanding rather than presentation of a logos,61 and ‘making a few changes’ might refer to Melampus’ reconstruction of the rites where he had imperfect knowledge.
The reason for the changes in the rites takes the form of another motif. But this motif belongs, not to the world of storytelling, but to Herodotus’ own discourse of knowledge. He says that, though Melampus did not understand the rites completely, he definitely had knowledge of the phallic procession: ton d’ ōn phallon ton tōi Dionusōi pempomenon Melampous esti ho katēgēsamenos (2.49.1). Herodotus regularly says that he does not know something atrekeōs in order to enhance something he does know, or something that is said that he then supports with proofs, often introducing this second element by d’ ōn, as he does in the case of Melampus.62
The imperfect understanding in cases like this can be the result of confusion among the reports, or their bias, as well as geographic distance and the passage of time. Melampus might have had imperfect knowledge because the Egyptians were reluctant to give out details of a sacred mystery. Diodorus refers directly to this aspect of the rites, stating that the Egyptian priests of Osiris (the Egyptian Dionysus) had a sacred account of his death not to be divulged, but that ‘in time they revealed it to the many’ (1.21). Their gradual revelation echoes Herodotus’ remark that wise men after Melampus (p.189) revealed more of the story. The Egyptian reticence is like Herodotus’ own unwillingness to talk of the doings of gods.63
The formula ‘I do not know it exactly, but what I do know is…’ operates within Herodotus’ knowledge discourse in much the same way as the formulaic elements of his storytelling heritage operate within his patterned narratives, as a building block of the new discourse of historical writing. I would liken it to his statement in the preface that he cannot comment on the stories told by the Persians, but will comment on what he knows (1.5.3), where the admission of the unknown guarantees the known. Herodotus may in fact be deconstructing the discourse of knowledge already present in Homer when he and his characters call for truth ‘exactly’ in the formulaic phrases mal’ atrekeōs katalexō (Il. 10.427), kai atrekeōs agoreueis (Il. 15.53), and kai atrekeōs katalexon (Il. 24.380, 656, Od. 1.169). Herodotus’ formulae renounce the omniscience of the poets to construct a more persuasive truth that admits to fractured and incomplete knowledge, as Marincola says, but this is done only to assert what he does know against what he does not.64
In crediting this formula to Melampus, Herodotus may simply be pointing to imperfect knowledge as just another process whereby customs are changed in the process of adaptation, but it is tempting to think that he is also giving Melampus authority for his knowledge of the main part of the rites by making him a mirror of his own fractured but authoritative enquiry, since he describes him as a ‘wise man’ and as one who ‘learned’ (2.49.2).65
As to the other ways in which Herodotus produces authority for his account, he proves well enough that the rites of Dionysus came from Egypt into Greece, but he merely opines and asserts that Melampus introduced them and that he learned them from Cadmus (cf. ‘it seems (p.190) to me’ in 2.49.1 and 3). Cadmus could have equally introduced them, among those ‘many other lessons’ mentioned in his account of the introduction of the alphabet.66 Perhaps Melampus was named by those ‘later sophists’ who had fuller knowledge of the rites,67 or his responsibility was inferred from his curing of the women of Argos in the version in which they were sent mad because they resisted the rites of Dionysus. Herodotus goes on to say that he has ‘discovered’ that the names of most of the Greek gods came from Egypt, and he cites the Egyptians themselves as a source (2.50).68 It is, therefore, plausible that those who encouraged him to identify Melampus as the man who introduced ‘the name, the sacrifice, and the phallic procession’ were Egyptians; they are certainly the source for the account of their own Dionysiac rites (2.47.2). The priests of Heracles in Tyre in Phoenicia would have had a special interest in putting Cadmus into the story if they told it (2.44.2), and this might explain his designation ‘the Tyrian’ (2.49.3). But why these foreigners would involve Melampus is still unclear, and Herodotus’ insistence on his own opinion suggests they were not his source.
Herodotus’ treatment of Melampus combines his three heritages. His critical enquiry proves the borrowing of the rites of Dionysus from Egypt, but there is no display of enquiry in the curing of the women of Argos. He draws on and develops the traditional stock of elements from the world of storytelling in the story of the women, and seems to create new elements, along the lines of the traditional ones, to produce a new version of the ‘myth’, which includes a pattern of the (p.191) cultural hero’s importation of customs from abroad in the case of Melampus. As for his poetic heritage, he draws on both what the poets said about Melampus and how they said it in the curing of the women, thus using him as an example to deepen and complicate the role that Tisamenus played in Sparta and thereby emphasize the profound importance of the battle of Plataea for Spartan survival. In the story of the borrowing of the rites, imperfect knowledge emerges as a motif that may deconstruct the precise and total knowledge that is characteristic of early poets and their characters. In all cases we find that he constructs his narratives along the lines of traditional patterns, manipulating their similarities and their differences to serve the interests of his narrative. (p.192)
Thanks are due to the editors of the volume, whose comments helped me improve the original version of the paper delivered at the Herodotus and Myth conference.
(1) See Flower (2008) on seers in general. J. Hall (1997: 67–107) indicates that Argos staked her identity on the line of Melampus and Bias. He counts him as a dynastic culture hero distinguishing him from the primeval culture hero such as Prometheus (J. Hall 1997: 87).
(2) See Suarez de la Torre (1992: 19 n. 89) on his cults in the Peloponnese, Megara, and Arcadia, with evidence from Pausanias. For possible associations the Greeks had with the name Melampus ‘blackfoot’, see Buxton (2010: 39–41).
(3) The conference took the view that ‘myth’ can be variously defined; but Melampus seems to be ‘mythic’ on these several counts.
(7) See Aarne (1961) for a classification of motifs in folklore, many of them relevant to Herodotus, and Kazaziz (1978) for an analysis of Herodotean stories according to Proppian analysis. For a recent account of his storytelling, see Griffiths (2006), with full acknowledgement of Aly (1969 2).
(8) Apollodorus is dated to the first or second centuries CE (OCD 3).
(9) Melampus has an interesting Nachleben among medical writers for his acuity of hearing. Athenaeus says that he was the first to mix wine and water (2.23d).
(10) Herodotus’ account of how Euenius acquired his mantic powers (9.92–5) is comparable.
(11) The quest is a common motif of legend/folklore: see Pausanias (4.36.3–5) on the ancient passion for cattle-rustling; cf. Heracles at Hdt. 4.8, driving away the cattle of Geryon and Hermes stealing the cattle of Apollo in the Homeric Hymn to Hermes. Vernant (2006: 362–3) defines the hero as one who suffers but transcends human limits; cf. Melampus’ suffering in his use of his divine powers to succeed in the quest.
(13) Pausanias confirms these achievements in 2.18.4, 5.5.10, 8.18.7 (purification of the madness of the women and acquisition of the kingdom), and 4.36.3 (cattle).
(15) This is to use the famous term from his preface: apodexis.
(16) This is the usual interpretation of Hecataeus’ statement that the stories of the Greeks are many and laughable: FGrH 1, F. 1. Berman (2004) concludes that logographers such as Pherecydes were first to confront this kind of problem.
(18) Herodotus in fact exaggerates the uniqueness of the grant. They earlier shared their citizenship with the Minyans (4.145–6), but context is king here.
(19) Great success is something Herodotus could not attribute merely to human endeavour—but he also recognizes human valour: e.g. 9.62–3.
(21) Flower and Marincola (2002: ad 9.33.3) establish that it is his role as seer that defines the leadership they promised him and this involves payment as a seer; the model is Calchas in Homer. Cf. Munson (2001: 62), who sees Tisamenus’ religious role as separate from his military one.
(22) Rosén (1997) prints ὡς εἰκάσαι, βασιληίην τε καὶ πολιτηίην αἰτεόμενος, as do Flower and Marincola (2002): ‘Saying this, he imitated Melampus, so to guess, who asked for both kingship and citizenship’ (9.34.1). Stein (1882 4) emended to αἰτεομένους, and Hude (1927 3) followed, both without the comma. Macan (1908: ad loc.) accordingly translates: ‘if we may compare men [i.e. Tisamenus and Melampus] together who were demanding respectively kingdom and citizenship’. The first reading makes no sense of the story, since the focus is entirely on Tisamenus’ request for citizenship and he does not ask for kingship. Those who follow it have to make heavy weather of the interpretation. Vannicelli (2005: 276 n. 45) cites Masaracchia (1978: ad loc.), that Tisamenus in effect becomes king and does not need to ask for it expressly because of his citizenship and his role as war-leader alongside the Heraclids; Munson (2001: 60 n. 54) adopted the emendation, but still wanted the listener somehow to envision Tisamenus as asking for the kingship; Flower and Marincola (2002: ad 9.34.1) say that, in asking for citizenship, along with the leadership of a seer in war, Tisamenus was demanding the ‘functional equivalent of kingship’. Xenophon confirms that in comparisons τε καί can mean ‘respectively’: ‘but it is not the same thing to manage a chorus and an army respectively’ (Mem. 3.4.2). Denniston (1954 2: 514–15) notes on the combination: ‘the thought implies a more elaborate relationship than that of mere addition…as I bound [him], so will I loose [him].’ On the meaning of the absolute infinitive εἰκάσαι, the comparative context suggests it means ‘to compare’ rather than ‘to guess’. Herodotus uses the phrase in a non-comparative context at 9.32.2 to mean ‘guess’, but that is not the case here. αἰτεόμενος is the lectio facilior once you take εἰκάσαι as ‘so to guess’, because there is then no role for the accusative, and that may be the source of the manuscript reading. I cannot make sense of Rosén’s note (1997) that follows on his acceptance of τε καί as Beziehungsweise (‘respectively’).
(23) The recognition by one party of the meaning of what the other has uncomprehendingly seen or learned is a regular motif; cf. 5.92ʒ.3, where Periander divines the meaning of the performance of Thrasybulus, which the messenger had not recognized.
(25) Arend (1933: 122–3) identifies epic ‘oath scenes’, in which the elements are (1) the invitation or offer to swear an oath, (2) an invocation to guarantee it, (3) a verb of swearing, (4) the terms of the oath, and (5) the curse. See also Callaway (1993) and Fletcher (2008). The first two stages are found in Herodotus’ versions. Od. 19.395–6 refers to the man who employs ‘thievery and the oath’. There is no technical deception in Herodotus’ versions of such stories—only the element of surprise in what is requested by the bargain.
(27) For instance, the victory at Plataea was the result of the prophecy of victory that the seer Tisamenus brought with him, as well as the human factors on which Herodotus focuses. See also Marincola (2006).
(28) Hom. Od. 15.224, 228, 238, 275, 277.
(30) Fragments of Hesiod mention the story, but there is no sign of a bargain. His Melampodia and Catalogue of Women are likely sources of the main fragmentary mention of Melampus (fr. 37 MW). This succinctly describes his acceptance (‘excellent seer’) of the quest for the cattle on behalf of his brother, his imprisonment, the winning of the cattle and the maiden, the marriage of Pero and Bias, their child, how they then went to Proetus in Argos, who gave Bias and Melampus a share (of his kingdom?), because (?) Melampus cured with his prophetic gifts the madness (presumably of his daughters) sent by the angered Hera (?). Bacchylides 11 says that Proetus cured his own daughters of the madness (Burnett (1985: 100–13) states that Melampus is ignored to preserve the continuity of Proetus’ rule). Simonides’ poem about Plataea does not mention Melampus either, even though it may mention Tisamenus, if West’s restoration is accepted (l. 42: ᾽Ιαμίδεω τέχναις μάντιος ἀντιθέου).
(32) themenos may mean he laid aside his prophetic gift or put it at the disposal of the Argives. monarkhein is also unclear—whether it was ‘sole rule’ without his brother that he was unwilling to take up, or kingship simple.
(33) This sacred duty may parallel the geras (‘gift’) of prophecy in Argos, which Melampus also preferred to kingship abroad, and confirm that Melampus did ‘lay aside’ his seering for kingship.
(34) It is unclear whether Herodotus credits Tisamenus with conscious imitation of his ancestor–seer or makes the equation himself. Flower (2008) has argued that seers in real life did imitate their predecessors in order to claim their credentials.
(37) Another scientific case is 2.10.1: hōs ge einai smikra tauta megaloisi sumbalein (‘to compare these small things with great’).
(39) Marincola (2006) finds that Herodotus redefines the poetic relation between the past and present as cause, and this is true in general, but Melampus’ exemplum has more force as an analogy for understanding than as a motivation for Tisamenus.
(40) This was pointed out to me by Suzanne Saïd at the conference from which this volume arose. For Herodotus’ keen awareness of change over time, see the Introduction to this volume, pp. 19–21.
(41) Munson (2001: 61). Asheri and Corcella (2006) thought that Herodotus’ apologetic equation actually addresses the perceived tension between kingship and membership of the polis. Munson (2001: 63) adds that Tisamenus may be placed among those private individuals who usurped royal power like Deioces and Pisistratus. Her reading of the comparison of the Athenian and Sicyonian Cleisthenes also hints at the sinister force of monarchy at work in the birth of an apparent democracy—the tyranny of the demos, if not Cleisthenes and his party (Munson 2001: 56).
(42) Cf. Xenophon, Lac. 15, esp. 15.7.
(45) Munson (2001: 67–8) sees this story as a dramatization of the conflict between individual and polis, but makes Hegesistratus a lookalike for Demaratus or Cleomenes: ‘the idea emerges that the enemy of a city will also potentially try to become its ruler.’
(46) Significantly, his divination does not come from snakes or from Apollo. Herodotus says elsewhere that divination from sacrifice came to Greece from Egypt and that there are similar divinatory practices at Dodona and Thebes (2.57; cf. 2.83). Herodotus’ language could imply that Melampus was the first to bring divination to Greece, or that he just acquired it from there. Melampus’ acquisition has at least become an achievement, as sustēsai (‘assembled it for himself ’) seems to imply; cf. Hdt. 1.103.2, which uses the verb for the achievement of conquest. There are other explanations of the origins of divination, including Aeschylus’ Prometheus 484–506, which is a tour de force of mantic methods.
(47) D.S. 1.22.7 mentions the importation of the rites from Egypt, in the long account of the Egyptian Osiris, who was equated with Dionysus; cf. D.S. 1.96.2, 1.97.4, which names Melampus as the agent—probably from Hecataeus of Abdera. Eusebius also comments on it (PE 10.8.6).
(48) Hdt. 8.144.2 includes ‘sacrifices’ among the indicators of Panhellenic identity, which makes these rites culturally foundational; cf. J. Hall (1997: 188–94). The effect of borrowed identity is hard to fathom. My view is that Herodotus wants cultural borrowings for the same reason he wants dovetailed sources: that in his vision of the world he sees culture, like his sources, as a harmony in which similarities are never accidental. For another view, see Gomme (1913b: 245).
(49) The same kind of argument recurs throughout—e.g. Hdt. 2.58: the proof that Greece learned processions from Egypt is that both have them and those in Egypt are older than those in Greece.
(51) On Herodotus’ account of the foundation of the oracle at Dodona, see also the Introduction to this volume, pp. 34–6.
(53) There was a need for proof: Hecataeus FGrH 1, F. 20, said that Danaus brought the alphabet to Greece—among a host of other bringers.
(54) Since the Egyptians identify Osiris with Dionysus (2.42), the phallus represents the genitals of Osiris, which survived his dismemberment and were worshipped in the traditional sacred story. See D.S., Book 1, passim.
(56) Cf. the chain of information for the source of the Nile: 2.32–3. Cf. also the chain of information that accounts for Herodotus’ version of the story of Helen’s sojourn in Egypt at Proteus’ court, as discussed, in this volume, by de Bakker, Ch. 3, p. 119, and de Jong, Ch. 4, p. 137.
(57) This formula is also used to single out Solon among the many wise men who visited the court of Croesus before him. It is already found in Homer, e.g. Il.10.121, where Agamemnon singles out the present occasion as one exception among many others on which Menelaus has slept, to make his present haste emphatic.
(58) Cf. Herodotus’ account of the change of language in the account of the emergence of Greekness (1.57–8), and changes of names and identities in the catalogue of troops (7.61–99). See also the Introduction to this volume, pp. 20–1.
(60) The translation in Waterfield (1998) suggests that he deliberately changed details: ‘Strictly speaking he did not combine all the elements and reveal the whole story’, but de Sélincourt (2003) translates: ‘He did not however fully comprehend the doctrine, or communicate it in its entirety’; Rawlinson (1862) had the same understanding of the passage.
(61) Cf. 1.63, 1.91, 2.56, 3.64, 4.114, 7.143.
(62) See for other instances 1.57, 172, 2.103, 167, 3.115–16, 130, 4.25, 81.1, 187.2, 197, 5.86, 6.14, 7.54, 152, 8.8, 87, 9.18, 84, and de Jong, this volume, Ch. 4, p. 139 on 2.119.3 (Herodotus emphasizes the reliability of the Egyptian priests’ account by stressing the limitations of their perspective). Thomas (2000: 228–35) discusses the importance Herodotus places on accuracy, but this admission of ignorance is a disclaimer designed to persuade us of his accuracy. Flower and Marincola (2002: ad 9.81.2) note that the admission is regularly accompanied by an assertion of knowledge.
(63) Even during his earlier discussion of pig sacrifice, Herodotus says he considers it improper to mention stories about the activities of gods (2.47.2): ‘Why they abhor the sacrifice of pigs in the other feasts, but sacrifice them in this one, there is a tradition about this among the Egyptians, but for me, though I understand it, it is not very seemly to be spoken of.’ For similar restraint, see 2.65.2: ‘If I were to say why they are treated as sacred, I would descend into the doings of gods, which I flee far from mentioning. What I have said touching on them, I said under the constraint of necessity.’
(65) This mirroring is quite common in Herodotus. Consider, for instance, Periander’s enquiry in the case of Arion (1.24.7–8).
(66) Euripides’ Bacchae indicates that Dionysus introduced his own rites into Greece in Thebes, but the human agent was Cadmus. Cf. Clay (2004), who suggests that the Mnesiepes Inscription may have said that Archilochus introduced the phallic procession and the rites into Paros. Archilochus may act out the usual troubles associated with the introduction of the worship by being reviled and being driven out, whereupon the people were cursed until they recalled him.