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Political relativism: Implicit political theory in Herodotus' "Histories"

Dissertation
Author: Cornelia Sydnor Roy
Abstract:
This dissertation argues that Herodotus presents political institutions in a manner similar to the way he presents customs and cultural institutions. That is, he promotes a position of political relativism parallel to his cultural relativism. The dissertation first explores the Constitutional Debate and establishes that Herodotus' political thought is primarily applied thinking that is dependent upon temporal and social context. The second and third chapters establish the close relationship between cultural description and political description. Chapter Two examines this relationship in two ways: semantically and developmentally. Herodotus uses similar vocabulary and syntax in order to talk about political and cultural behavior. The developmental approach examines societies in their early stages of existence. I determine that, at the most basic level, societies seek justice, stability, and cultural representation from their governments. Political practices and institutions closely mirror the customs of the societies that practice the, Chapter Three extends this developmental examination to six more advanced and better defined societies in the Histories : Lydia, Egypt, Scythia, Sparta, Persia, and Athens. I show that even these societies have political structures that develop from and are limited by their cultural background. Chapter Four brings together the arguments of the prior chapters by focusing first on the idea of freedom as it is presented in the Histories. The text supports freedom in the abstract, but recognizes that freedom is a subjective experience within the societies presented in the Histories. I examine models of political relativism found in the text that are related to this conception of freedom. I conclude by exploring the impact of this kind of thinking on later Greek history and, in particular, the Peloponnesian War. I suggest that Herodotus' political relativism is, in part, a belief that political ideology is a complex issue and not a reason to go to war.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Introduction …………………………………………………………………………………..1

Chapter

I. Defining the Debates ………………………………………………………………..10

The Constitutional Debate …………………………………………………………..31

II. The Relationship Between Culture and Politics …………………………………….53

The Semantic Approach ……………………………………………………………..55

The Developmental Approach ………………………………………………………75

III. Nomos and Politics: Case Studies of Societies in the Histories …….88

Lydia and Egypt ……………………………………………………………………..90

Scythia and Sparta ………………………………………………………………….111

Persia and Athens …………………………………………………………………..129

IV. Political Relativism as an Ideological Position …………………………………….149

Conclusions ……………………………………………………………………………...…173

………

Introduction Book One of Herodotus’ Histories contains a number of important elements and episodes that are meaningful for understanding the Histories as a whole. The first sentence indicates the nature and purpose of the work. The next five paragraphs reveal Herodotus’ attitude towards mythology and, through the historicizing of myths, suggest that Herodotus is wary of using mythology as a source for history. The Croesus logos, including the story of his ancestor Gyges, sets the tone for analyzing future eastern despots and serves as the first interaction between Greeks and barbarians about which Herodotus claims historical knowledge (1.6). The meeting between Croesus and Solon, which has been extensively examined by many students of Herodotus, illuminates many of Herodotus’ guiding principles in his text. 1

The story is well known: Solon comes to Croesus’ court during his ten years of wandering exile from Athens. Croesus shows Solon his riches and expects him to be impressed with his wealth and to judge him a happy man. When Solon does not do so, Croesus becomes angry with him and demands an explanation. Solon responds with an explanation that contains a number of maxims that are applicable to the entire Histories: “look to the end,” “happiness does not stay in the same place,” and “beware of divine

1  There is general scholarly consensus that the interaction of Solon and Croesus is programmatic.  How and Wells (1912, 49 n. 1), Jacoby (1913, 487‐488), Lattimore (1939, 30‐31), Immerwahr (1966, 313),  Fornara (1971, 18‐21), Redfield (1985, 102), Munson (1988, 105), Lateiner (1989, 21), Shapiro (1996, 348‐ 364). A few pe ople argue that Solon’s views are not Herodotus’ views (Lang [1984, 61], Waters [1985,  104]); they base their position on the fact that not all of Solon’s views, and most importantly his  concept of divine jealousy, are reflected in the text.    

     

jealousy.” Raaflaub argues that these basic messages are moral, but also political – that is, that they apply to both individuals and societies. 2 Solon’s comparison between the life of an individual and the life of a society reinforces Raaflaub’s argument: “no country is completely self-sufficient; any country has some things, but lacks others, and the best country is the one which has the most. By the same token, no one person is self-sufficient” (1.32). This comparison between the individual and the society offers an insight into how Herodotus creates a space for analyzing community and political action in the Histories while maintaining his focus upon the individual, 3 for in Herodotus the community acts in ways similar to the individual. 4 Also, as Thompson points out, Herodotus “recognizes that particular manifestations of the human spirit take their form according to the distinctive nomoi of the community.” 5 The community, through the influence of common cultural traits, plays a role in determining the actions of the individuals within it. Likewise, an individual can influence a society by changing how it perceives and acts out its own cultural traits. For example, Themistocles radically influences Athenian self-identity during the conference before the battle of Salamis (8.59-63). Adeimantus, the Corinthian commander, tries to

2  Raaflaub (1987, 246).    3  Flory (1987, 153): “Although his canvas in gigantic, Herodotus is essentially a miniaturist.” Gould  (1984) also emphasizes the multitude of individuals and the importance of the individual and  personal motivations. Dewald (2003, 26) suggests that Herodotus’ work reflects a tension between  large thematic elements and individual logoi.    4  Romm (1998, 77) rightly suggests that Solon’s explanation shows how geography and the lands of  the earth are analogues for individuals. He interprets the passage as presenting one of many  examples of the interconnectedness of the macro‐ and microcosmic world. The relationship between  geography, culture, and individuals has been explored by both Ro mm and Thomas (2000) and is not  the primary focus of this dissertation.     5  Thompson (1996, 13).    2

     

silence Themistocles by suggesting that he is stateless, since the Persians occupy Athens. Themistocles responds that the Athenians still have a city as long as they have two hundred ships ready for war (8.61). 6 He claims that Athens is defined by its men and ships rather than by a territory. The Athenian fleet is the vehicle through which Athens is able to realize its democracy. 7 Themistocles’ argument, and his creation of the fleet, shaped the formation of the Athenian democratic ethos that citizen strength is more important than geographic location. The influence is bi-directional – Athenian democratic ideology allows Themistocles to make his argument at a critical moment in the war. The two elements of consideration, society and the individual, can mutually define and influence each other to the extent that it is difficult to sort out the motivation of particular events. Solon’s comments function on two further levels. The macro-systemic level encompasses the universal rules that govern the lives of all individuals and societies. The micro-systemic level incorporates the specific narratives and character of an individual or society that affect how they act within the macro-systemic world. 8 The tension between these

6  Themistocles is paraphrasing a maxim attributed to Alcaeus (frag. 476 L.‐P.): “cities are not stones or  timbers or craft of builders, but wherever there are men who know how to defend themselves, there  are walls and cities.” By talking about ships, Themistocles makes the maxim particularly Athenian.     7  Raaflaub (1998) argues that the fleet is essential for the development of the radical democracy that  develops in Athens in the fifth century.    8  Redfield (1985, 106), from whom I borrow this terminology, claims that Herodotus’ focus is almost  wholly macro‐systemic: “I should have understood that Herodotus’ interests are not micro‐systemic,  in the internal coherence of particular cultures, but macro‐systemic, in the patterned display  provided by the range of cultures.” Since I ap ply these terms more broadly than Redfield does, I will  provide a brief explanation of how I will use these terms. In the realm of culture, I will refer to  individual customs (nomoi, nomaia), cultural characteristics (ethea), and social memory, primarily  expressed through stories, when I am designating micro‐sy stemic elements. The macro‐systemic  perspective on culture considers the rules governing ideas of culture as a whole, across different  societies. Two examples of this, which I will discuss in Chapters 1 and 2, are Herodotus’ cultural  relativism and his opposing of hard and soft societies. In the realm of politics, the micro‐sy stemic  3

     

two levels is manifest in the Histories, for the great events narrated have as their causes both the larger rules governing the progress of history and the individuals or societies acting to secure their own interests. 9 The locus of this tension is typified in Solon’s comment on self- sufficiency. No country can be fully self-determining, as can no individual; but both desire to be so. Croesus reveals this desire on both levels. He tries to protect his son Atys from his fate and fails (1.34-43). He also tries to protect his empire from the Persians but the very action he undertakes to do so, attacking Persia, brings about his country’s fall (1.46-56, 76-80). Croesus’ attempts to save his son and his empire are particular choices that reveal micro- systemic considerations. That he made the attempts and failed each time reveal the macro- systemic processes of fate or history. This tension between the macro-systemic and micro-systemic is also present in Herodotus’ cultural relativism. This moral and ideological position requires the acceptance that different peoples follow the customs and ways of life that seem best to them. 10 The macro-systemic perspective, here cultural relativism, requires recognizing the validity of the micro-systemic world, such as a society’s nomoi. That is, one must apprehend and accept the

level includes individual laws (nomoi), political actions, such as voting or common action, that  express the power of the society, and the constitution particular to a given society. The macro‐ systemic perspective considers the nature of political structures (isonomia, eunomia) rather than their  form, the problem of tyranny, the ri se and fall of societies in history, and political relativism.    9  Immerwahr (1966, 271 – 272) admits, “we should not overlook the fact that these patterns are based  upon the individual character of single events or deeds. These deeds are of an immediate importance  regardless of their effects and any other implications.” Morgan (2003, xvi) also recognizes the tension  between the individual an d the system, and warns that we should resist seeing it as a “reflection of  Greek individualism versus an imagined collectivist eastern mentality.”     10  Munson (2001, 5) recognizes this tension when she argues that “one of the central tasks of  Herodotus’ work is in fact to promote the paradox that the uniqueness of Greek values also entails  respect for the equal worth of non‐Greeks.”     4

     

particular in order to follow the demands of Herodotus’ macro-systemic morality. 11

After his defeat of Croesus, Cyrus seems to appreciate this problem, for, when he hears about Solon’s teachings, he frees Croesus. “He saw he was burning alive a fellow human being, one who had been just as well off as he was; also, he was afraid of retribution, and reflected on the total lack of certainty in human life” (1.86). Cyrus recognizes that Croesus’ actions were motivated by his desire for self-determination in a world that is bound by totalizing rules, and he empathizes with him. 12 He is able to appreciate the macro- systemic pressures on Croesus’ particular actions. His final advice to the Persians, to remain in Persia and not become soft (9.122), demonstrates that Cyrus is also able to apply his macro-systemic understanding to his own culture. He understands that cultures can and must situate themselves to the best of their ability in the world where macro-systemic forces apply. 13

This study discusses the nature of societies: how societies express their particular character in the larger world system, and how others perceive that character. In part, these elements have been well examined by scholars who focus on Herodotus’ cultural relativism. The focus of this work, instead, is to explore that relationship in the political realm. Herodotus catalogues several types of government: democracy, oligarchy, monarchy, and tyranny. There are general comments one can make about each type of rule as described by

11  Herodotus, by promoting a morality of relativism, overcomes the immediate relativity of moral  judgments made by individuals and particular societies, which was and is a big part of the problem  of international relations (cf. Low [2007, 29]).    12  Pelling (2006, 160) suggests the idea of empathy as part of Cyrus’ response to Solon’s wisdom.    13  Cyrus’ actions elsewhere in the Histories reveal that he may recognize individual autonomy, but he  does not recognize the autonomy of any society other than Persia.    5

     

Herodotus, for each form of government has particular nomoi. 14 The societies that live under each of these types of government develop in their own particular way and their constitutions organize and control the people in modes specific to the societies themselves. Even without the traditional division into types of constitution, all political structures share similarities – the political realm has a set of nomoi of its own. 15 I explore the nomoi of politics by examining how the political works within societies as well as how Herodotus describes or proscribes societal interaction on the political level. I will show that in the Histories, political constitutions seem macro-systemic (one can make generalizations about the different types of government), but must always be considered in the light of particular micro-systems (how each society practices them). This dissertation will address also how the text presents the meeting of different political structures and will offer an interpretation of what kind of insights the text may offer about that interaction. I will argue that the Histories provide a model of “political relativism,” analogous though subsidiary to his cultural relativism, which structures Herodotus’ presentation of how societies can understand and respond to political difference. Political relativism recognizes that one can make general statements about types of government, but that any type of government must be analyzed in light of the culture that practices it. This dissertation explores the micro-systemic expression of politics in individual societies as seen through their particular constitutions and laws, and examines its relationship

14  For example, Evans (1961, 111) notes that “absolute monarchy itself is a nomos. Before Herodotus,  Heraclitus had already pointed this out.”    15  Meier (1990, 212) notes that, for Herodotus, the world was unchanging – individuals and empires  consistently rise and fall – which makes it possible to see the changes in political configurations  against the backdrop of the unchanging whole.    6

     

to macro-systemic political and cultural rules. I use Herodotus’ presentation of culture as a model for this examination, in part because the political aspects of societies are integral to their culture. 16

Chapter 1 provides a review of the scholarship on both cultural and political thought in the Histories that will set the stage for this inquiry. This review is followed by an analysis of the Constitutional Debate in Book Three. I privilege the Constitutional Debate because it is one of the clearest examples of apparently abstract macro-systemic consideration of political forms. The analysis will provide a basis from which to understand the different rules that may govern democracy, oligarchy, monarchy, and tyranny. This section will also highlight the difficulty that comes from considering these forms too abstractly. In bringing out this difficulty, I show why the political constitutions discussed should be approached on a society-by-society basis, rather than abstractly across the Histories – they are not fully macro-systemic. Chapter 2 explores the connection between politics and culture. I first take a semantic approach and show how political and cultural descriptions share a specific vocabulary. Most of these terms, at their most basic level, serve to define and differentiate societies into particular entities; these terms bring out the micro-systemic relationship between politics and culture. I then take a developmental approach and argue that political structures grow out of a society’s cultural characteristics. In doing so I show the relationship between politics and culture on a macro-systemic level. Finally, I examine how politics can affect culture. This

16  Lateiner (1989, 210): “[Herodotus’] contribution includes the central observation that governments  of all types make policy on the basis of past political history, present political pressures internal and  external, and often ruthless self‐interest. Further, he recognized that national character often (and  occasionally individuals) can determine a nation’s survival.”    7

      last element is less common in the Histories; but when it does occur it emphasizes the close connection between the cultural and the political. The whole chapter demonstrates that questions of politics and questions of culture can be examined using similar methodologies. Chapter 3 presents a detailed examination of six societies in the Histories from a micro-systemic perspective. Therein, I explore how Herodotus presents the ways in which Lydia, Egypt, Scythia, Sparta, Persia, and Athens solve the problem of political organization in manners specifically reflective of their cultural characteristics. Having established in Chapter 2 how Herodotus talks about culture and political concerns in general, I use the six societies examined in this chapter to provide specific and defined examples of societies in history. This adds a new layer to the focus of Chapter 2, for it explores what role cultural concerns have in determining the political structures of a society and how this role manifests itself over time, especially in regard to a society’s relationship to the law. Chapter 4 analyzes the tension between the micro-systemic and macro-systemic understanding of culture and politics. I present a new macro-systemic mode of analysis in the Histories: Herodotus is a political relativist who accepts that societies develop unique solutions to the problem of political organization, and who confines, for the most part, his micro-systemic evaluations of political structures to the societies that practice them. The consideration of his political relativism creates a new basis for understanding how Herodotus presents the ultimate victory of the Greek states over the invading Persian army. The alliance of the Greeks, although uneasy, creates a space for the exercise of political autonomy of each state which makes the Greek alliance stronger than the Persian army, for the Persian Empire does not accommodate fully the cultural and political identities of its subject states. In the conclusion, I relate Herodotus’ political relativism to his idea of history. 8

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Herodotus, like Solon, views history as cyclical: great cities and great individuals rise and fall. There are different methods open to societies for dealing with the cycle of history through political organization, but no single method guarantees stability or lasting strength. This dissertation seeks to explore the relationship between culture and politics as Herodotus presents it, without introducing preconceived political ideologies on specific constitutional forms. I will not take it for granted that Herodotus has a predefined position on democracy or tyranny in general, 17 but rather I will explore how he presents political institutions and actions in each particular society.

17  I examine the scholarly discussion on Herodotus’ political positions in Chapter 1. 

Chapter One: Defining the Debates In this chapter, I will first provide a review of relevant scholarship that has influenced my research, attempting to establish the history of the ideas that I build upon as well as those with which I disagree. My dissertation engages two broad areas of research on Herodotus – his ethnographic elements and his political thought – that have developed independent of each other for the most part. I will thus focus my literature review on the scholarship pertaining to these two areas; the analysis in later chapters will, in large part, be an effort to combine them. After the literature review, I will analyze an episode significant for considering Herodotus’ political thought: the Constitutional Debate. I do so for two reasons: it is one of the few passages where Herodotus seems to be “doing political theory” and my analysis of the passage will provide a frame of reference for later discussions. For many years, Herodotus’ ethnographic sections were interpreted as separate from the more historical second half of the Histories. Jacoby (1913) argued that Herodotus began writing an ethnographic treatise that developed into a history of the Persian wars. This developmental view of the Histories held great weight until Pohlenz (1937) and Immerwahr (1966), among others, began arguing convincingly for the unity of the work as a whole, the unitarian view. Immerwahr’s impressive book details the coherence of the text from the level of the sentence to the Histories as a whole. He argues that Herodotus’ text reveals an underlying view of a world system, in which certain aspects are more pronounced in the East

or the West. 1 The ethnographic sections illustrate the variety of cultures and make clear Herodotus’ problem with the Persian Empire and what it creates: excessive unification. 2

Immerwahr’s work provides a good foundation for understanding Herodotus’ concept of a world system – his macro-systemic understanding. My work, however, will be more focused upon how this world system operates at the institutional and societal level. Fornara (1971) attempts to unite the developmental and unitarian views of the Histories. He argues that how the work came about does not contradict interpretations of the work we have now. He suggests that the ethnographies were originally the subject of the Histories, and that Persia was a useful organizing principle for these ethnographies. As the Histories developed, however, it turned into a unified discussion of Persian expansion and its halt when it came up against the Greek resistance. This interpretation does not allow either the first half of the Histories, which describes the beginning of Persian expansion and has more ethnographic sections, or the second half, which tells the narrative of Xerxes’ invasion, to take precedence, but rather gives equal weight to both. Fornara also shows how the themes and morals developed in the first half relate to the interpretation of the text as a whole. 3

Fornara’s work, while providing a brilliant reading of the Histories, also warns against over- generalizing about the cultures and logoi that Herodotus relates. 4 This dissertation will explore the concern Fornara highlights by examining the tension between particular

1 Immerwahr (1966, 148).

2 Immerwahr (1966, 188).

3 Fornara does not relate all the ethnographic sections of the first half to the work as a whole; he allows Egypt to stand alone.

4 “The fact that all these pragmatic explanations [of Persian operations], some defined, others left vague, can be taken together as individual examples of the same phenomenon, Persian imperialism, merely shows that we have the capacity to generalize from particulars. Herodotus’ text does not substantiate the opinion that he did the same.” Fornara (1971, 30).

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individuals, events, and societies and more general thematic elements such as narrative tropes or the cycles of history. The works mentioned above incorporate the ethnographic sections into an interpretation of the Histories as a whole. My own work will focus upon the ethnographies because they provide a basis for understanding how Herodotus defines societies in the Histories. A major concern about the ethnographies is that they are too subjective, too defined by Greek cultural concerns. For example, Redfield (1985) takes up the subject of Herodotus as an ethnographer in an influential article, “Herodotus the Tourist.” In this article he denies that Herodotus writes “good” ethnographies. He claims that Herodotus does not understand societies as cultural systems in and of themselves, but rather uses his description of societies to satisfy his curiosity and express his love of symmetry and analogy; that is, Redfield views Herodotus as an historian who structures his history from a macro-systemic rather than micro-systemic perspective. He goes on to argue that the Histories are useful, not for the ethnographies of other peoples, but rather for revealing modes of Greek thought. The work is one of “good, Greek patriotism” that illuminates the text’s inherent Greek bias. 5

Redfield’s article is convincing in his analysis of the themes that Herodotus may touch upon in his ethnographies and, in particular, for his elucidation of the hard/soft polarity that plays throughout the text. In his analysis, however, he allows the larger themes of the Histories (and Herodotus’ conception of a world system) to overcome the variety of cultures Herodotus presents. Second, Redfield attacks Herodotus’ anthropological methods as if Herodotus writes his Histories as an academic in the well-defined field of history who is attempting to appropriate anthropological methods. This is an anachronistic simplification of the first work of history.

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Redfield’s article was published at the time of a major shift in anthropology’s ethnographical theory, marked particularly by the publication of James Clifford’s edited volume: Writing Culture: The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography (1986). The authors in this volume recognize the power of narrative in writing effective ethnography and the impossibility of objective observation; they discuss the power dynamics that emerge from observing and recording. This shift in ethnographical theory away from the belief that ethnography can be objective has, in part, redeemed Herodotus’ ethnography because it highlights both the impossibility of truly objective description and the power of narrative in producing good ethnographies. I will work from the position that, although the ethnographies are subjective, this does not hinder examining them as systematic. Hartog (1988) also addresses the problem of Herodotus’ subjective ethnographies in The Mirror of Herodotus. He argues that the ethnographies employ a “rhetoric of otherness” which provides a systematic method of understanding Greek thought. He shows how Herodotus presents information in terms of binary oppositions, most predominantly Greek and Other. The first half of the book focuses upon Herodotus’ depiction of the Scythians. Hartog provides an extensively detailed analysis of this ethnography; he points out the places where Herodotus may be correct or at least correctly representing recognized traditions, but primarily he focuses upon the selections Herodotus makes and the underlying assumptions that govern those selections. The second half of the book develops the theoretical implications of the rhetoric of otherness for interpreting the Histories. The first half of The Mirror of Herodotus reveals the systematic complexity of Herodotus’ ethnography of the Scythians; but the second half, while offering a groundbreaking interpretation of how the rhetoric of otherness works, fails to do justice to the variety of Herodotus’ ethnographies.

5 Redfield (1985, 117).

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Hartog, like Redfield, concludes by focusing upon the macro-systemic perspective of the Histories rather than the complexity of the micro-systemic world that he elucidates in the beginning. Hartog’s work coincides with E. Hall’s book on Greek tragedy (The Invention of the Barbarian, 1988), which also eloquently argues that the depiction of the other as defined by Persia produces Greek self-identity in the fifth century. I accept that the Histories are Hellenocentric and strongly defined by the Greek/barbarian polarity, but I argue that Herodotus reveals an ability to record and transmit ethnographies that are still revelatory of the cultures they describe. This dissertation will develop the argument that the ethnographies are not simply vehicles of Greek identity formation (although they do participate in that process) but that their primary function is the presentation of systematic portraits of other societies. One way to develop this argument is to show that the Greeks do not simply think in the monolithic terms of Greek and Other. Vasunia (2001) complicates the Greek/barbarian polarity by showing the influence of Egypt upon Greek identity and thought. He argues for a triangulation of influence among Persia, Greece, and Egypt. Persia remains the focus of Greek identity-formation as it is opposed to an aggrandizing empire. Egypt fills the role of an older, more learned, and more civilized society. He shows that the Greeks are drawn to and repelled by Egypt in ways different from their relationship to Persia. In the two chapters that focus on Herodotus, Vasunia shows how Herodotus incorporates and reinterprets Egyptian concepts of space and time. Although I recognize that Persia and Egypt are oppositional concepts for Greek thought that may be more influential than other societies, 6 I believe that

6 In his Philosophy of History, Hegel (1879, 115) suggests, “If Persia forms the external transition to Greek life, the internal, mental transition is mediated by Egypt.” He views it as the singular Greek accomplishment to have harmonized the Egyptian and Persian modes of political life.

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Vasunia’s work opens up the possibility for more than a triangulation of influence. Herodotus’ audience may also account for his apparent subjectivity. Fornara emphasizes the importance of considering the audience of Herodotus’ Histories when attempting to analyze his shortcomings as historian and ethnographer. 7 Herodotus was writing to Greeks and this Greek audience helps explain Herodotus’ lack of explicit ethnographies of Greek city-states, save a brief description of Spartan kingship. His text assumes a level of knowledge about Greek culture and politics and provides new and unique information in the ethnographies. The fact that Herodotus and his audience are Greeks means that Greek interest may limit how Herodotus presents other societies and the interpretations he offers of them. As a case in point, Harrison (2000) offers a good argument that Herodotus’ Greek perspective limits his ability to provide a complete portrait of non-Greek religious practice. In Divinity and History, he shows how Herodotus makes many assumptions about the underlying meaning of religious practices in his description of them. Harrison argues that Herodotus presents superficial differences such as strange practices or variations in the divine pantheon, but does not reveal more fundamental differences in the perception of the relationship between the human and the divine. Harrison’s argument brings out the limitations of Herodotus’ text that are created by the problem of translating cultures. Herodotus is sensitive to superficial differences, but may not even think to notice other, more fundamental oppositions. I believe this means that Herodotus’ ethnographies are not comprehensive by modern standards; but, again, this does not imply that he does not see cultural systems. Rather, Herodotus’ understanding of cultural systems is highly informed by

7 Myres (1953, 11) also argues that the text implies an Athenian audience.

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the concerns of Greeks. He is compelled to translate difference – for himself and his audience – but despite what is lost in translation, the descriptions of other societies reveal in Herodotus a systematic understanding of their cultures. 8

I agree with the argument that Herodotus often makes an effort to present other cultures as he observes them, rather than as motivated by Greek ideological constructs; that is, that Herodotus is a cultural relativist. Many other scholars have also argued that Herodotus is a cultural relativist and have explored the motivation for such a position. Lateiner (1989) accepts that Herodotus presents a more balanced view of the Mediterranean world than one might expect of fifth-century Greeks. He argues that Herodotus may have a program of cultural relativism, which he inherited from contemporaries such as the Sophists. Lateiner’s work aggressively seeks to incorporate the ethnographic sections into Herodotus’ historical program. He believes that Herodotus’ main message is one of recognizing cultural relativism – that nomos is king of all. “The arbitrariness and diversity of nomoi do not in themselves invalidate them, as Herodotus understood better than some Sophists, because each set functions admirably for its community.” 9 Lateiner picks up the larger themes in the Histories and shows how Herodotus’ ethnography supports these greater themes. Munson (2001) also accepts that Herodotus has a program of cultural relativism in response to cultural chauvinism and that this position is a guiding force for Herodotus’ historiography. Both Munson’s and Lateiner’s arguments rest on the idea that Herodotus has a conception of a world system, even if he does not completely define individual cultural

8 In his analysis of the role of the scientist, Weber offers an insight into this discussion. Weber suggests that tension arises in scientific inquiry because the scientist initially brings his own values to his inquiry. A true scientist must accept that his findings may contradict his presuppositions. A similar tension is apparent in Herodotus’ Greek perspective. He is willing to be surprised by his findings and to report evidence that is contradictory to a Greek perspective to his audience.

9 Lateiner (1989, 51).

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systems. 10 Some values and lessons work cross-culturally for every individual regardless of society, both Greek and barbarian. That means that the Histories provides lessons for its readers (primarily Greeks) but it draws those lessons from several cultures’ activities. I work from the idea that Herodotus’ cultural relativism is an ideological position and, unlike Lateiner and Munson, I focus my analysis of the text on how his cultural relativism relates to his presentation of political practices and political thought. I address this connection in part through an examination of the term nomos, which Herodotus uses in both cultural and political description. Many of the debates about Herodotus’ cultural relativism center on the term nomos. Redfield argues that once Herodotus explains that a people do something because of nomos, he intends the reader to inquire no further, for nomos, in essence, is “merely different.” 11 For example, the Calliatiae eat their dead, the Greeks do not (3.38). Redfield interprets this comparison as simply an example of the difference between the two cultures that fills out a systematic opposition. 12 This relegates the individual nomoi to a position of lesser importance than other thematic elements in the text. Humphreys (1987), on the other hand, argues that the investigation of nomos provides an insight into the central methodology of Herodotus’ Histories. She suggests that investigation does not end with the identification of nomoi, but rather it ends at the understanding of cultural difference that follows the presentation of the nomoi. She argues, on the example given above, that one can infer that

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Abstract: This dissertation argues that Herodotus presents political institutions in a manner similar to the way he presents customs and cultural institutions. That is, he promotes a position of political relativism parallel to his cultural relativism. The dissertation first explores the Constitutional Debate and establishes that Herodotus' political thought is primarily applied thinking that is dependent upon temporal and social context. The second and third chapters establish the close relationship between cultural description and political description. Chapter Two examines this relationship in two ways: semantically and developmentally. Herodotus uses similar vocabulary and syntax in order to talk about political and cultural behavior. The developmental approach examines societies in their early stages of existence. I determine that, at the most basic level, societies seek justice, stability, and cultural representation from their governments. Political practices and institutions closely mirror the customs of the societies that practice the, Chapter Three extends this developmental examination to six more advanced and better defined societies in the Histories : Lydia, Egypt, Scythia, Sparta, Persia, and Athens. I show that even these societies have political structures that develop from and are limited by their cultural background. Chapter Four brings together the arguments of the prior chapters by focusing first on the idea of freedom as it is presented in the Histories. The text supports freedom in the abstract, but recognizes that freedom is a subjective experience within the societies presented in the Histories. I examine models of political relativism found in the text that are related to this conception of freedom. I conclude by exploring the impact of this kind of thinking on later Greek history and, in particular, the Peloponnesian War. I suggest that Herodotus' political relativism is, in part, a belief that political ideology is a complex issue and not a reason to go to war.