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Interpreting Herodotus$
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Thomas Harrison and Elizabeth Irwin

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780198803614

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: April 2018

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198803614.001.0001

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Herodotus and the Transformation of Ancient Near Eastern Motifs

Herodotus and the Transformation of Ancient Near Eastern Motifs

Darius I, Oebares, and the Neighing Horse

(p.125) 6 Herodotus and the Transformation of Ancient Near Eastern Motifs
Interpreting Herodotus

Robert Rollinger

Oxford University Press

A revealing and intriguing example of how Ancient Near Eastern story-patterns have been reshaped and reworked is Herodotus’ report about the enthronement of Darius as new King of the Persian Empire (Hdt. 3.84–9). In a fanciful and ironic way Herodotus explains the success of Darius in being chosen as the new King, with the assistance of his groom and an omen of a neighing horse. Herodotus also introduces a fictitious monument as a means of authentication allegedly celebrating Darius’ enthronement with the help of his smart groom. This monument reveals striking similarities with an Urartian royal relief which is described in detail in two inscriptions of the Assyrian king Sargon II (721–705 BC). Together with other Ancient Near Eastern elements referring to horse oracles and their specific setting as well as a parallel tradition testified by Ctesias of Cnidos an Ancient Near Eastern story-pattern comes to the fore that was, however, transferred by Herodotus into a completely new narrative.

Keywords:   Herodotus, Ctesias, Darius I, Oebares, Urartu, Sargon II, horse oracle, Persian royal inscriptions, Persian monuments, ancient Near Eastern story patterns

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