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Herodotus 3,9,2

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Herodotus 3,9,2

Postby Bart » Tue May 22, 2018 12:30 pm

οὗτος μὲν ὁ πιθανώτερος τῶν λόγων εἴρηται, δεῖ δὲ καὶ τὸν ἧσσον πιθανόν, ἐπεί γε δὴ λέγεται, ῥηθῆναι.

This is the most credible of the stories told; but I must relate the less credible tale also, since they tell it. (Godley)

That’s the quintessential Herodotus to me: he is interested in the truth, no doubt, but a good story just has to be told. The story here being how the Arabs delivered water to the Persian army by means of the first pipeline (made out of animal skin) in history. Van Groningen -a Dutch commentator- isn’t impressed and calculates that it would have needed over half a million cowhides to build such a feat. Asheri doesn’t even deem it worthy of a comment. Still, si non è vero è ben trovato.

Not related question: from 3,8,1 I understand that there’s no word for thumb in Greek, is that correct?

σέβονται δὲ Ἀράβιοι πίστις ἀνθρώπων ὅμοια τοῖσι μάλιστα, ποιεῦνται δὲ αὐτὰς τρόπῳ τοιῷδε: τῶν βουλομένων τὰ πιστὰ ποιέεσθαι ἄλλος ἀνήρ, ἀμφοτέρων αὐτῶν ἐν μέσῳ ἑστεώς, λίθῳ ὀξέι τὸ ἔσω τῶν χειρῶν παρὰ τοὺς δακτύλους τοὺς μεγάλους ἐπιτάμνει τῶν ποιευμένων τὰς πίστις, καὶ ἔπειτα λαβὼν ἐκ τοῦ ἱματίου ἑκατέρου κροκύδα ἀλείφει τῷ αἵματι ἐν μέσῳ κειμένους λίθους ἑπτά: τοῦτο δὲ ποιέων ἐπικαλέει τε τὸν Διόνυσον καὶ τὴν Οὐρανίην.
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Re: Herodotus 3,9,2

Postby Barry Hofstetter » Tue May 22, 2018 1:24 pm

That's correct.

δάκτῠλος, ὁ, poet. pl. δάκτυλα Theoc.19.3, AP9.365 (Jul. Imp.), also Arist.Phgn.810a22: - finger, ἐπὶ δακτύλων συμβάλλεσθαι τοὺς μῆνας to reckon on the fingers, Hdt.6.63; ὁ μέγας δ. the thumb, Id.3.8, Diog.Apoll.6; ὁ μέσος Arist.PA687b18; οἱ λιχανοί Hp.Art.37; ὁ ἔσχατος Id.PA687b17: prov., ἄκρῳ δ. γεύεσθαι Procop.Gaz.Ep.31; οὐκ ἄξια ψόφου δακτύλων Clearch.5.

Liddell, H. G., Scott, R., Jones, H. S., & McKenzie, R. (1996). A Greek-English lexicon (p. 367). Oxford: Clarendon Press.
N.E. Barry Hofstetter
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Re: Herodotus 3,9,2

Postby mwh » Tue May 22, 2018 2:43 pm

“a good story just has to be told.” Yes but isn’t it more than that? Confronted with variant versions he relates the one he finds most credible but doesn’t impose his judgment to the extent of suppressing the others. Isn’t that good practice? It’s analogous to what the editor of a classical text does in the case of variant readings, putting one in the text and the rest in the app.crit. Not that Hdt is any too scientific about it, but still.

Fingers or toes, what’s the difference? They’re all dactyls. There’s no word for pinkie either.
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Re: Herodotus 3,9,2

Postby Paul Derouda » Tue May 22, 2018 8:26 pm

It's actually possible to do a reverse search with TLG dictionaries (LSJ, Powell, Cunliffe).

http://stephanus.tlg.uci.edu/lsj/#eid=1&context=lsj

Before typing word you're looking for, select "meanings", and click "go". For "thumb", we apparently have τὸ ἄκρον τῆς χειρός, ὁ ἀντίχειρ (sc. δάκτυλος) and ὁ ἀντίχειρος δάκτυλος. They don't look like common words, but they're very logical – the last two ones actually relate to the function of the thumb, i.e. opposition to the other fingers. Also, with this search, I got to explore the original sense of θέναρ and ὑποθέναρ...

mwh wrote:Fingers or toes, what’s the difference? They’re all dactyls. There’s no word for pinkie either.
Thumbs are actually a pretty important part of a functional hand. I'd give up the other eight fingers and eight toes (but not the big toes) to save one thumb. Likewise, big toes are surprisingly important for walking (not to mention running). On the other hand, I'd give up a large number of smaller toes to be able to read Greek better.

About Herodotus' use of sources: he didn't have many reliable ones. There were close to no written sources, although probably he got something from his Greek predecessors. Apparently he didn't know other languages, and written Eastern sources were worthless propaganda anyway. A good modern historian could probably have done a bit better, but not much –for example, instead of saying "the Egyptians say" and "the Persians say", he or she would have been more specific. But he or she couldn't have helped the fundamental fact that Herodotus' sources were what they were, distorted oral accounts. It's often said that after 70 years have passed, events are gone out of living memory. I think this explains many things in the modern world as well: take the anti-vaccine movement, for instance: what's happening, I think, is that fewer and fewer people alive in the Western world today remember dangerous infections like the polio and what they can do.

Thucydides is aware of this problem, and for that reason he writes contemporary history. Even Herodotus is aware of it to some point - in the beginning of his book, he ends the story of the abductions of women by saying something to the effect that "I really can't tell if it all happened like I said or in some other way - so instead, let me tell you about Croesus". I think the story of the abducted women acts as foil, in a way, to what follows. Herodotus doesn't want to write mythology, he wants to write real "history". He knows that in mythology, the question whether something really happened or not is irrelevant, and he doesn't want to do that; he wants to write about events where the question is relevant, even if it's not answerable. But it is true that he likes a good story more than anything, and sometimes we wonder if he could have tried just a little bit harder to see what's behind that good story.
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Re: Herodotus 3,9,2

Postby mwh » Wed May 23, 2018 2:43 am

To be sure, thumbs are important, and were so even before i-phones. But from the Greek point of view we have these things at the ends of our hands and feet, and the thumb (or big toe) is “the big dactyl.”

The distinction between “mythology” and “history” is largely a modern one, isn’t it? It doesn’t seem to be Herodotean, for whom some tales are more plausible than others, and not even Thucydides questioned the historicity of the Trojan War, or of Hellen son of Deucalion.
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Re: Herodotus 3,9,2

Postby Bart » Wed May 23, 2018 7:44 am

Ah, I didn't know about the reverse search function, thanks.

Michael: you're right of course, there's much more to Herodotus' method than just telling stories. What struck me is his obvious delight in telling a good one. This in combination with his mastery as a prose writer is one of his major attractions, to me at least.


Paul Derouda wrote:I think this explains many things in the modern world as well: take the anti-vaccine movement, for instance: what's happening, I think, is that fewer and fewer people alive in the Western world today remember dangerous infections like the polio and what they can do.


Well, it doesn't help of course that most people have no experience of -let's say- a child with measles induced encephalitis. However, it is perhaps primarily an example of how ideology trumps facts.
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Re: Herodotus 3,9,2

Postby Paul Derouda » Wed May 23, 2018 7:58 pm

mwh wrote:The distinction between “mythology” and “history” is largely a modern one, isn’t it? It doesn’t seem to be Herodotean, for whom some tales are more plausible than others, and not even Thucydides questioned the historicity of the Trojan War, or of Hellen son of Deucalion.

I didn't mean that Herodotus himself makes a clear-cut distinction between "mythology" and "history", and that wasn't my point. I was using those terms because they are convenient to us, I'm sure Herodotus mapped the past differently. It's interesting that right at the beginning of his work he put stories of abducted women only to disown them immediately afterwards and make a fresh start with the story of Croesus. I think that the reason why Herodotus wanted to put these upside down versions of traditional Greek myths right at the beginning of his work was to show that at some point when you back in time, accounts become so confused that you simply can't tell the truth, which depends on who you ask. The Persian and Phoenician version are just as good as the Greek ones, or almost as good. "How can we tell?", Herodotus seems to be asking. It almost looks like a statement of methodology of a sort. Or why did he think those crazy stories to be so important that he began his life's work with them?
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Re: Herodotus 3,9,2

Postby Hylander » Wed May 23, 2018 8:57 pm

The abduction stories at the beginning initiate the pattern of reciprocating offenses between the Greeks and the Persians or more broadly between Europe and Asia that runs through the Histories.
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Re: Herodotus 3,9,2

Postby Bart » Thu May 24, 2018 12:47 pm

Paul Derouda wrote: The Persian and Phoenician version are just as good as the Greek ones, or almost as good.


The Greek version (only indirectly mentioned by Herodotus in 1.2.1: οὕτω μὲν Ἰοῦν ἐς Αἴγυπτον ἀπικέσθαι λέγουσι Πέρσαι, οὐκ ὡς Ἕλληνές, καὶ τῶν ἀδικημάτων πρῶτον τοῦτο ἄρξαι) was that Io fled to Egypt as a white cow pursued by a gadfly. Did Herodotus really consider this a serious possibility on par with the Persian and Phoenician versions? To me there is something distinctly comical about this laconic aside οὐκ ὡς Ἕλληνές. But we've discussed this before I think.
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