Synopses & Reviews
"For the author, Herodotus' History is a deeply political book. The ancient historian's stories contribute to the evolution of the political community. They are the beginnings, we learn here, of international relations. Thompson shows that Herodotus is linked to Homer and the pre-Socratics. She also relates The History to modern theoretical issues, choosing not to pursue this topic in depth. Although the author talks about Herodotus as a poetical writer, her own account, except for a nice, concluding page on Arion, is astringent and unpoetical." Reviewed by Daniel Weiss, Virginia Quarterly Review (Copyright 2006 Virginia Quarterly Review)
Norma Thompson opens a new angle of political vision in this imaginative and engaging interpretation of Herodotus' History. She claims for the "father of history" a position in the canon of political thought, finding modern validity in his fundamental perceptions about the importance of stories to the coherence of political communities.
Thompson arrives at a unique explanation for Herodotus' side-by-side placement of factual and fanciful historical stories. She contends that he recognized the central importance of compelling stories, even imaginary ones like the tale of Arion, the poet and singer who leaped into the sea to escape Corinthian pirates and was carried to safety on the back of a dolphin. Such stories can become the "facts" of a people's past and thereby the core of the political community. Herodotus understood that stories define and bind together one polity as distinct from others. Further, a polity evolves in reference to its own defining story. Thompson relates Herodotus' work to historical and cultural debate among such scholars as Martin Bernal, Francois Hartog, and Edward Said, and she invites philosophers, philologists, anthropologists, historiographers, and political theorists into the discussion.
The subtitle of this book is Arion's Leap' and it is from this example of the puzzling fictionality of some of Herodotus' histories that the author starts her exploration (Arion was the singer who leapt into the sea to escape from Corinthian pirates and was rescued by dolphins). Scholars have long wrestled with Herodotus' practice of placing fanciful stories alongside factual ones, but Thompson suggests that rather than displaying a primitive conception of history, such a practice indicates a profound grasp of political theory and an understanding of the way that central stories can become the core of a political community. This major reconsideration of Herodotus' art draws his work into the modern historical debate, and the author uses the writings of Martin Bernal, Francois Hartog and Edward Said to shed new light on Herodotus' conception of history.
Includes bibliographical references (p. 169-188) and index.