Friday, April 27, 2018


Jessica Priestley, Vasiliki Zali (ed.), Brill's Companion to the Reception of Herodotus in Antiquity and Beyond. Brill's companions to classical reception, 6. Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2016. Pp. xvi, 440. ISBN 9789004272293. $194.00.

Reviewed by Lorenzo Miletti, University of Naples Federico II (

Version at BMCR home site

[Authors and titles are listed below.]

[The reviewer apologises for the delay in submitting the review. Authors and titles are listed below.]

This companion is a generous and extremely welcome work which both widens and enriches the debate on Herodotus' reception, a theme that has provoked wide interest in recent decades, after a long period in which scholarship consisted of a sparse list of contributions, the most famous being some essays by Arnaldo Momigliano.1

In the detailed introduction, Priestley and Zali, authors of two recent Herodotean monographs, 2 explain the purposes of their work and rightly underline the difficulties in dealing with such a mammoth matter. They prevent any criticism of incompleteness by enumerating how many fields of inquiry this volume has to leave aside, like Herodotus' reception in the Imperial age, or in late antiquity, and so on. Lacunae of this type are perfectly understandable, since no book could ever fully cover the reception of such an important author as Herodotus; however, as I will argue below, some of these 'voids' are problematic.

The volume is divided into three parts: Part 1: 'Father of History' is on Herodotus' influence on later (Western) historiography, from antiquity to early modern times; Part 2: Language, Translation, and Scholarship presents (perhaps too heterogeneously) essays exploring the fortune of various formal aspects of the Histories; Part 3: New Narratives and Genres focuses on the reception of Herodotus as a storyteller, passing (slightly ex abrupto) from Pausanias to Kapuściński and Gore Vidal with no one else in between.

Since it is impossible to discuss each of the valuable essays in these three parts, I will focus on what appears to be the two main 'cores' of this companion, namely Herodotus' reception in antiquity and in the Renaissance. In order to do so more effectively, I have given the essays a different order. I apologise for not discussing the essays dealing with more recent episodes of the historian's reception, due to a lack of space.

Though focusing on different aspects, most of the contributions deal with Herodotus' reception in antiquity, starting with the delicate (and indeed vexata) quaestio of the relationship between the historian and his 'successor' Thucydides.

Marek Wekowski's essay aims to demonstrate not only that Thucydides has Herodotus in his mind when dealing with the political situation of Athens and Sparta, but also that the very shape of (at least part of) Thucydides' work can be read as a response to the 'meaningful structure' of Herodotus' Histories, especially with reference to, on the one hand, the parallelism of Herodotus' digressions on Athens and Sparta and, on the other hand, Thucydides' Archaeologia (1.2-19) and Pentecontaetia (1.89-118). The two historians appear thus closer than is commonly acknowledged, especially as regards the "general vision of the ultimate goal of a large-scale historical narrative".

Vasiliki Zali analyses in particular the way Thucydides and Xenophon (above all in the Hellenica) deal with a 'typical' Herodotean subject such as the Persian Wars, concluding that both writers, independent of any influences from other sources on the same topics, clearly rely on Herodotus' account in handling the Greek victory as a delicate problem which can be used as an argument in the political debate between the main Greek cities, a problem involving both moral and political issues.

Xenophon is also at the core of the contribution by Vivienne Gray, who discusses passages from the Cyropaedia which are most probably indebted to Herodotus' work. If compared to Herodotus' Histories, the Cyropaedia offers a largely different portrait of Cyrus, who is represented as an example of an enlightened leader in Xenophon, and as a great king displaying both political virtues and tyrannical tendencies in Herodotus. Gray shows how Xenophon's refined strategy implies an attentive handling of Herodotean points, as well as a re-writing of the episodes already reported in the Histories which clearly shows Xenophon's 'Socratic' purposes.

Christopher Baron's essay is a lavishly written work on Herodotus' reception in the works of Duris of Samos. Baron's analysis encompasses several aspects from which it is possible to detect Herodotus' influence on Duris, namely "arrangement, subject matter, engagement with other authors, use of evidence, and pleasurable reading". Baron discusses several fragments, convincingly concluding that a thorough appreciation of Herodotus' deep influence clearly helps to dismiss the cliché-portrait of Duris as a 'tragic historian', and to understand better how Duris worked, especially as regards to his interest in mythical digressions and poetic sources, and to his criticism of Ephorus and Theopompus.

Eran Almagor analyses Flavius Josephus' use of Herodotus by illustrating Josephus' knowledge of the Histories through several, well-discussed, examples. Josephus manages a combined reading of the Bible and Herodotus, and he sometimes uses the latter in order to correct the former, as in the case of the sequence of the Achaemenid kings (AJ 11.21-30 and 120-183). While Josephus' criticism against the Greeks does not exclude Herodotus, this is nonetheless among his major models. Armagor goes beyond previous scholarship by extending the list of Josephus' passages which seem linguistically and stylistically influenced by Herodotus.

John Marincola's essay is a thorough analysis of how Herodotus' account of the battle of Plataea is received by Plutarch in his Life of Aristides, an analysis carried out by paralleling this biography with Plutarch's On the Malice of Herodotus (which is however not discussed in itself). Marincola points out how Plutarch re-elaborates Herodotean episodes by reducing emphasis in describing discrepancies among the Greek cities, by adding elements not present in Herodotus (see the religious omina before the battle), and also by stressing Panhellenic items more patriotically.

Greta Hawes' contribution focuses on Herodotus' influence on Pausanias' Periegesis, but the reader has to wait no less than fourteen pages in order to find the first mention of what the title promises. Hawes' convincing comparison, however, shows how Pausanias is indebted to Herodotus not only when discussing places already described by the ancient historian, or in general from a rhetorical point of view, but more deeply in his approach to sources and to the way of dealing with them, purposefully giving rise to an idea of the Greek land as a polycentric and somehow chaotic object, which the authorial storytelling is called to put in order.

Olga Tribulato's essay offers a noteworthy discussion of Herodotus' reception in Greek lexicography. She provides a detailed status quaestionis, but also opens new perspectives on how Herodotus' Ionian forms were perceived throughout the centuries from the Hellenistic to the late imperial ages, by analysing quotations from Herodotus in the main lexicographical sources we can read today, namely Phrynichus, Moeris, Dionysius, Pollux, and the so-called Antiatticist (the analysis of this last author is particularly comprehensive). From a methodological point of view, the way the author manages textual, linguistic and reception issues is worthy of praise.

A useful premise to the group of essays focusing on the Renaissance is Félix Racine's contribution, which analyses how Herodotus was read by Latin writers, from Cicero to the twelfth century, largely before Greek manuscripts of the Histories became available in the West and Latin translations were achieved. Racine shows how Herodotus was not widely read in Latin late antiquity, however, but he nevertheless continued to be seen as a major authority: in sum, an interesting case of how the reception of a writer is possible even without his work.

Adam Foley's essay focuses on Lorenzo Valla's Latin translation of Herodotus in its cultural context and on its fortunate early reception. Foley claims that before Valla humanists read Herodotus above all through the Latin ancient authors (he admits exceptions but does not discuss them). Valla's work changed the way to approach Herodotus; it was celebrated to such an extent that it overshadowed the fame of Herodotus himself, thanks to its linguistic and stylistic virtues.

Following the recent interest in Matteo Maria Boiardo's vulgarisation of Herodotus' Histories, Dennis Looney describes the cultural context of Ferrara in the Quattrocento, also stressing Guarino Veronese's role in Herodotus' diffusion. Looney accurately describes, by exploring some specific cases, the way Boiardo worked, and also analyses the narrative of Boiardo's main work, L'inamoramento de Orlando (1494) detecting in it the influence of Herodotus' narrative.

In his interesting essay on Herodotus in Renaissance France, Benjamin Earley shows, walking in Anthony Grafton's footsteps, how this country was in the 16th century the place where a major debate on historical temporality developed, which led scholars to realize how distant the ancient world was, and so to reconsider the way the ancient authors may be useful to the present. After claiming his aim "to explore how the ongoing debate over historical temporalities affected readings of Herodotus' truthfulness", Earley analyses Saliat's vulgarization, and then passages from Montaigne, Bodin, Estienne, Casaubon and Lancelot-Voisins de la Popelinière, showing how the debate involved problems about the definition of historical chronology and the reliability of Herodotus as a source.

Neville Morley focuses on the Herodotus/Thucydides opposition as it was developed from the early 17th century on, by identifying a number of prominent scholars who exalted Thucydides by contrast to Herodotus and created the myth of Thucydides as the "best historian ever". Then it concludes by pointing to the beginning of the 20th century as the period in which Herodotus slowly re-emerges as a positive model, while the myth of Thucydides is supplanted by a more moderate approach.

Benjamin Eldon Stevens' essay explores the modern and ancient reception of a famous passage of Herodotus' Histories, the "linguistic experiment" made by pharaoh Psammetichus in order to find out which language was the more ancient (Hdt. 2.2). Stevens parallels the episode with some modern linguistic research, and with medieval and early modern tales about analogous experiments. The discussion of later episodes is accurate and interesting; however, less convincing is how the Herodotean account of Psammetichus' experiment is set in its proper context in the light of the historian's own concept of language.3

If we look at this companion as a whole, it is possible to conclude that the editors and authors have been successful in showing how deep and striking the influence of Herodotus has been throughout the centuries, and also in stimulating further debates and research. Before concluding, I wish only to add two remarks. First: although – as mentioned above – incompleteness in this type of collective work is to be expected and excused, I believe that one or more essays covering the Byzantine world would have been welcome, as far as this stage of the historian's reception has made possible the surviving itself of the Histories. Second: since the choice to cover a range of about 2500 years necessarily encourages the adoption of a continuity/discontinuity pattern instead of a synchronical approach to specific epochs, I wonder whether a more precise range like, for instance, the one chosen in the recent volume edited by Susanna Gambino Longo might constitute a more productive solution, open to more interdisciplinary scenarios, at least sic stantibus rebus (where res are our knowledge of Herodotus' fortune).4

To sum up, this book is a well-edited product – with only a few typos5 –, which also provides indexes and a bibliography of great utility. It is highly recommended not only to Herodotean scholars, but also to experts in ancient historiography, classical reception, and Renaissance studies. All the essays are stimulating; several of them are excellent and offer new acquisitions in the wide field of Herodotean studies.

Authors and titles

Introduction (Jessica Priestley & Vasiliki Zali)
PART 1 - "Father of History"
1 Herodotus in Thucydides: A Hypothesis (Marek Wecowski)
2 Herodotus and His Successors: The Rhetoric of the Persian Wars in Thucydides and Xenophon (Vasiliki Zali)
3 Duris of Samos and a Herodotean Model for Writing History (Christopher A. Baron)
4 "This is What Herodotus Relates": The Presence of Herodotus' Histories in Josephus' Writings (Eran Almagor)
5 History without Malice: Plutarch Rewrites the Battle of Plataea (John Marincola)
6 Herodotus in Renaissance France (Benjamin Earley)
7 The Anti-Thucydides: Herodotus and the Development of Modern Historiography (Neville Morley)

PART 2 - Language, Translation and Scholarship
8 Herodotus' Reception in Ancient Greek Lexicography and Grammar: From the Hellenistic to the Imperial Age (Olga Tribulato)
9 Herodotus' Reputation in Latin Literature from Cicero to the 12th Century (Félix Racine)
10 Valla's Herodotean Labours: Towards a New View of Herodotus in the Italian Renaissance (Adam Foley)
11 Herodotus and Narrative Art in Renaissance Ferrara: The Translation of Matteo Maria Boiardo (Dennis Looney)
12 The 'Rediscovery' of Egypt: Herodotus and His Account of Egypt in the Voyage dans la Basse et la Haute-Égypte (1802) by Vivant Denon (Andreas Schwab)
13 Not beyond Herodotus? Psammetichus' Experiment and Modern Thought about Language (Benjamin Eldon Stevens)

PART 3 - New Narratives and Genres
14 Herodotus (and Ctesias) Re-enacted: Leadership in Xenophon's Cyropaedia (Vivienne Gray)
15 Pausanias and the Footsteps of Herodotus (Greta Hawes)
16 Ryszard Kapuściński's Travels with Herodotus: Reportage from the Self (Kinga Kosmala)
17 Herodotus in Fiction: Gore Vidal's Creation (Heather Neilson)


1.   Momigliano's contributions are quoted frequently throughout the whole book, where he is evoked as an authority, but sometimes also as a cumbersome 'father' to be metaphorically 'killed': see especially the essays by Earley and Foley.
2.   J. Priestley, Herodotus and Hellenistic Culture, Oxford 2014 (see BMCR 2014.10.42); V. Zali, The Shape of Herodotean Rhetoric, Leiden 2014 (see BMCR 2015.08.39).
3.   For language in antiquity Stevens mostly relies on D.L. Gera's monograph of 2003 (Oxford), while for a general overview of Herodotus' conception of language he cites T. Harrison's article of 1998 (in Histos, 2), leaving aside three monographs on this subject, namely J. Campos Daroca (Almería 1992), L. Miletti (Pisa-Roma 2008), and, more surprisingly, R. V. Munson (Cambridge MA 2005).
4.   S. Gambino Longo (ed.), Hérodote à la Renaissance, Paris 2012 (see BMCR 2012.12.09).
5.   See e.g. Herodotu (-o), p. 200; verecundia (-am), 210. An inversion at p. 171: 'Florentine' pro 'Roman' and vice versa.

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