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Herodotus and his WorldEssays from a Conference in Memory of George Forrest$
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Peter Derow and Robert Parker

Print publication date: 2003

Print ISBN-13: 9780199253746

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2010

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199253746.001.0001

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Herodotos (and others) on Pelasgians: Some Perceptions of Ethnicity

Herodotos (and others) on Pelasgians: Some Perceptions of Ethnicity

Chapter:
(p.103) 7 Herodotos (and others) on Pelasgians: Some Perceptions of Ethnicity
Source:
Herodotus and his World
Author(s):

Christiane Sourvinou-Inwood

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199253746.003.0007

This chapter explores the Greek construction of the Pelasgians. It focuses on the perceptions of the Pelasgians, not their historical reality, if any. In the past some scholars tried to reconstruct the Pelasgians' history, sometimes separating the ‘real Pelasgians’ from the theoretical Pelasgians. But such attempts are methodologically flawed, for what we have about the Pelasgians is myths; and even when material reflecting historical reality did go into the making of myths, it was radically reshaped and restructured, again and again, to serve the changing and multiform needs of the mythological discourses. If we knew whether the Pelasgians had existed, and what their history had been, we could have compared those realities to the Greek representations, and seen how the two related. But as we do not, speculating about possibilities simply produces circular arguments and invites by default the free deployment of modern culturally determined assumptions and judgements — instead of an attempt to block them as much as possible, and confine them to the irreducible minimum that should be our methodological ideal. For the only Pelasgians accessible to us are those in the mythological discourse; the Pelasgians are the constructions of the Pelasgians in the Greek (and eventually some Italic) imaginaire over many centuries. These constructions are closely connected with the definition of Greek ethnic identity. The chapter illustrates this connection by quoting a modern view on Herodotus' representation of the Athenians.

Keywords:   Pelasgians, myth, ethnic identity, Athenians

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