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Herodotus 4.30

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Herodotus 4.30

Postby Paul Derouda » Sat Apr 02, 2016 3:56 pm

Not that I find mule-breeding an interesting question per se, but it seems to me that this passage is a good yet mysterious example of intertextuality in Herodotus.

In the Odyssey, book 4, Homer mentions in passing mule-breeding in Elis. Herodotus, on the other hand, in the middle of his account of the Scythians, claims (Hdt 4.30) that mules cannot be bred in Elis; just before this, Herodotus has explicitly made reference (in Hdt 4.29) to another place in the same book of the Odyssey (about lambs growing horns straight at birth in Libya, 4.85 καὶ Λιβύην, ὅθι τ᾽ ἄρνες ἄφαρ κεραοὶ τελέθουσι). Why Herodotus should have an opinion so diametrically opposed to Homer in such a trivial matter as mule-breeding in Elis is a mystery to me, but it seems to me that some sort of intertextuality with the Odyssey is intented, although his motives remain totally opaque to me – perhaps he simply forgot to make his intentions more explicit?

The Oxford commentary doesn't comment this in any way, nor could I find anyone else commenting this anywhere else.

Hdt 4.30
ἐνθαῦτα μέν νυν διὰ τὰ ψύχεα γίνεται ταῦτα. θωμάζω δέ (προσθήκας γὰρ δή μοι ὁ λόγος ἐξ ἀρχῆς ἐδίζητο) ὅτι ἐν τῇ Ἠλείῃ πάσῃ χώρῃ οὐ δυνέαται γίνεσθαι ἡμίονοι, οὔτε ψυχροῦ τοῦ χώρου ἐόντος οὔτε ἄλλου φανεροῦ αἰτίου οὐδενός. φασὶ δὲ αὐτοὶ Ἠλεῖοι ἐκ κατάρης τευ οὐ γίνεσθαι σφίσι ἡμιόνους, [2] ἀλλ᾽ ἐπεὰν προσίῃ ἡ ὥρη κυΐσκεσθαι τὰς ἵππους, ἐξελαύνουσι ἐς τοὺς πλησιοχώρους αὐτάς, καὶ ἔπειτά σφι ἐν τῇ τῶν πέλας ἐπιεῖσι τοὺς ὄνους, ἐς οὗ ἂν σχῶσι αἱ ἵπποι ἐν γαστρί· ἔπειτα δὲ ἀπελαύνουσι.

"In that land then this takes place on account of the cold; but (since my history proceeded from the first seeking occasions for digression) I feel wonder that in the whole land of Elis mules cannot be bred, though that region is not cold, nor is there any other evident cause. The Eleians themselves say that in consequence of some curse mules are not begotten in their land; but when the time approaches for the mares to conceive, they drive them out into the neighbouring lands and there in the land of their neighbours they admit to them the he-asses until the mares are pregnant, and then they drive them back."

Od. 4.632: (Noemon wants to get his ship back in order to fetch one of his young mules from Elis)
Ἀντίνο᾽, ἦ ῥά τι ἴδμεν ἐνὶ φρεσίν, ἦε καὶ οὐκί,
ὁππότε Τηλέμαχος νεῖτ᾽ ἐκ Πύλου ἠμαθόεντος;
νῆά μοι οἴχετ᾽ ἄγων: ἐμὲ δὲ χρεὼ γίγνεται αὐτῆς
Ἤλιδ᾽ ἐς εὐρύχορον διαβήμεναι, ἔνθα μοι ἵπποι
δώδεκα θήλειαι, ὑπὸ δ᾽ ἡμίονοι ταλαεργοὶ
ἀδμῆτες: τῶν κέν τιν᾽ ἐλασσάμενος δαμασαίμην.
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Re: Herodotus 4.30

Postby Paul Derouda » Sat Apr 02, 2016 4:00 pm

Here's also Hdt 4.29:
δοκέει δέ μοι καὶ τὸ γένος τῶν βοῶν τὸ κόλον διὰ ταῦτα οὐ φύειν κέρεα αὐτόθι· μαρτυρέει δέ μοι τῇ γνώμῃ καὶ Ὁμήρου ἔπος ἐν Ὀδυσσείῃ ἔχον ὧδε,
καὶ Λιβύην, ὅθι τ᾽ ἄρνες ἄφαρ κεραοὶ τελέθουσι,
(Hom. Od. 4.85)
ὀρθῶς εἰρημένον, ἐν τοῖσι θερμοῖσι ταχὺ παραγίνεσθαι τὰ κέρεα, ἐν δὲ τοῖσι ἰσχυροῖσι ψύχεσι ἢ οὐ φύειν κέρεα τὰ κτήνεα ἀρχὴν ἡ φύοντα φύειν μόγις.
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Re: Herodotus 4.30

Postby mwh » Mon Apr 04, 2016 1:15 am

An oddity to be sure, and I don’t have an answer. Did Hdt simply forget the Odyssey passage in this context? But it’s hard to believe that there’s not some connexion between the Homer passage and the state of affairs reported by Hdt (which must be exaggerated at best?)—perhaps lying somewhere behind Hdt.? It would be good to know more about that curse.

προσθήκας γὰρ δή μοι ὁ λόγος ἐξ ἀρχῆς ἐδίζητο. :lol:
A προσθηκη isn't exactly a digression, but you have to love him.
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Re: Herodotus 4.30

Postby jeidsath » Mon Apr 04, 2016 2:31 am

See the discussion of the curse in the footnote here. There are several sources, apparently, including Plutarch.

https://books.google.com/books?id=4kpXA ... es&f=false

Now Elis is horse country (ἱππόβοτος) and Ithaca -- like small islands generally -- donkey country. The curse could simply be an invention to explain why Noemon, a mule-breeder, divides his time between Ithaca and Elis.

On the other hand, cross-species interfertility is a tricky thing. It's famous that Herodotus 7:57 turns out to have been unfairly doubted. Even here, it's not impossible that, in ancient times, certain parts of Elis contained a donkey strain that was unreliably cross-fertile with horses.
Joel Eidsath -- jeidsath@gmail.com

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κλέπτε νόῳ, ἐπεὶ οὐ παρελεύσεαι οὐδέ με πείσεις.
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Re: Herodotus 4.30

Postby Paul Derouda » Mon Apr 04, 2016 7:34 pm

Actually, it's true that Homer doesn't say that the mules were conceived in Elis, only that they are raised there – so technically there's no contradiction between him and Herodotus.

I suppose that quoting a passage Odyssey 4 reminded Herodotus that he also wanted to comment another question raised by Homer in that book – mule breeding in Elis, but the way he incorporated that into his narrative is infelicitous.

jeidsath wrote:Now Elis is horse country (ἱππόβοτος) and Ithaca -- like small islands generally -- donkey country. The curse could simply be an invention to explain why Noemon, a mule-breeder, divides his time between Ithaca and Elis.

Noemon lives in Ithaca and raises his mules in Elis – perhaps because you can't keep, or there's no point having, horse mares in Ithaca? There's no mention of a curse in Homer, where Noemon belongs.
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