2006-12-20

Herodotus and Israel’s History: Rationales for comparison

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

The following are preliminary notes from my reading of Mandell & Freedman’s Preface — mentioned in my earlier post re Herodotus and Primary History.

Both Herodotus’ History and Primary History:

  • are national epics
  • are divided into 9 books at some time in their history
  • are about the same length
  • begin with a prehistory that includes myths, fables, folk-tales and legends treated as factual
  • and continue in this vein till well into their historical time
  • change structural format at similar point: (Israel about to enter promised land; Persians about to fight on Greek mainland) — from this point on, with the “homeland” the focus of action, a new historical tone takes over (though still divinities and miracle intervene)
  • instruct that history is guided by divine will.

(Though wars with the aim of conquest of another’s territory were common enough in history they were very rarely the topic of literature.)

The illusion of historical genre

Our misguided reliance on:

  • Aristotle who classified Herodotus as an historian;
  • and Cicero who called Herodotus the father of history.

In fact, Herodotus was not a sincere if naive reporter of tall tales, thinking he was passing on “the truth” of the matter. But this was the appearance he wanted his readers to accept.

Rather, Herodotus is classified in “the historic genre because the author successfully created that illusion by virtue of his superb literary craftsmanship.” (pp.xi-xii)

Herodotus the theologian

If we think of Herodotus as writing history we fail to apprehend the literary structure of his work “or the real and primal role that theology plays in it”.

“When we realized that the History is a theologically “charged” prose epic in which two different but related genres, the Documentary Novel and the Roman a Clef, are combined, we began to see that Herodotus was not simply a credulous collector of anecdotal data.” (p.xii)

Implied Narrator is not Real Author

Keep in mind the distinction between the narrative voice and the real author; the named narrator and the literal author; the implied narrator (ie. the literary persona whom the author depicts as the narrator) is not the same as the real author — although the real author may give his implied narrator his own name. (There is evidence this was understood by original audience.)

The implied narrator is a devoted worshipper of the god at Delphi.

Implications for literary analysis

So the implied narrator presents himself as giving real history from the Delphic viewpoint. But of the real author — we do not know that he held the same Delphic loyalties at all – we know that he knew the historical appearance was something he was creating through his narrative persona only. So Histories is only historical from the theological viewpoint of the implied Delphic worshipping narrative persona. It is not historical from a non-confessional viewpoint.

Ditto for Primary History. It is history from a theological confessional viewpoint, but from a nonconfessional viewpoint it is not history. From the latter perspective it is at best a religious document from which some historical data can be glimpsed.

This understanding leads to the rationale for examining both works from the “standpoint of Analytic Criticism, whereby any work, even a seemingly historical one, is to be treated as iconic” (p.xiii) — as a narrative/literary single whole. This enables us to study the literary structures and identify relationships between Herodotus Histories and the Primary History that would otherwise remain invisible.

Neil

The following two tabs change content below.

Neil Godfrey

Neil is the author of this post. To read more about Neil, see our About page.

Latest posts by Neil Godfrey (see all)

If you enjoyed this post, please consider donating to Vridar. Thanks!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.