Legein ta legomena. Herodotus' Stories as Natural Narrative

by Iwona Wieżel (Author)
©2018 Monographs 180 Pages


In the aftermath of the Persian Wars, not only new geopolitical borders were established in the Hellenic world, but there also emerged an intracultural line between the worlds of oral and increasing textual modes of communication. This book seeks to prove that these cultural changes are mirrored in a verbal work of art in the texts of Herodotus. The analysis of his texts, by applying the natural narratology theory, shows a specific and extraordinary mediacy between both approaches to communication. On the one hand, his «Histories» present a general account of the recent Greek history in a rationalizing and personal narrative of the historian who codifies it in a textual framework. On the other hand, they seem to consist of a conglomerate of numerous oral stories, which may assume a conversational narration structure.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Acknowledgments
  • Table of Contents
  • Abbreviations
  • Note on texts and translations
  • Chapter I: Introduction
  • Chapter II: Ancient antecedents of narratological theories
  • Chapter III: Natural narratology in the context of modern narratological theories
  • Chapter IV: Antique writings and natural narrative
  • Chapter V: Poetics of Herodotus’ writings: Logios and his story
  • Chapter VI: Style of Herodotus’ stories in the light of natural narrative
  • Chapter VII: Significance of Herodotus’ stories in the light of natural narrative
  • Chapter VIII: Summary
  • Bibliography
  • General index of names
  • Index of passages cited
  • Series index

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Abbreviations for journal titles follow L’Année Philologique. Abbreviations for authors and classical works, in the main text and in references, according to Oxford Classical Dictionary, 2nd edition (1970).

AJPh “American Journal of Philology”

BICS “Institute of Classical Studies Bulletin”

CB “Classical Bulletin”

CJ “Classical Journal”

CP “Classical Philology”

CQ “Classical Quarterly”

CR “The Classical Review”

CW “Classical World”

FHG “Fragmenta Historicorum Graecorum”

FGrH “Die Fragmente der Griechischen Historiker”

GR “Greece and Rome”

GRBS “Greek, Roman and Byzantine Studies”

HSCP “Harvard Studies in Classical Philology”

IG “Inscriptiones Graecae”

JHS “The Journal of Hellenic Studies”

JPh “Journal of Philology”

Mnemos. “Mnemosyne”

R. Hum “Roczniki Humanistyczne”

REAL “Yearbook of Research in English and American Literature”

TAPA “Transactions of the American Philological Association”

TAPhA “Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association”

LHN “The Living Handbook of Narratology”

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Note on texts and translations

All translations of Herodotus are taken from the Histories translated by G. C. Macaulay and revised by D. Lateiner (2004). Translations of other classical authors are taken from Loeb Classical Library. The aforementioned texts are included in Bibliography (see Original Texts Editions and Translations). I follow conventional English usage in spelling the rather familiar of Greek proper names (e.g. Aristarchus), but for the rest I write the names more closely to the original Greek (e.g. Artabanos).

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Chapter I: Introduction

In 2011 I already signaled the main theme of the studies reported in this publication in the article Herodotus’ “Histories” as Natural Narrative. Croesus’ Logos I.6–92 published in the Amsterdam International Electronic Journal for Cultural Narratology1. I showed there that with the help of a sociolinguistic method and cognitive studies we are able to reconstruct, and in this way understand to some extent, the nature of Herodotus’ oral discourse resulting from the real or “natural” communicative conditions apart from the epic conventions of the Greek era of orality. The material included in this first article referred only to logos from the first scroll of Herodotus’ Histories, namely the story of the King Croesus of Lydia. However, guided by some kind of intuition, at the beginning I decided to take a closer look also at other Herodotus’ stories, dispersed throughout his book, and particularly at those which he told using a ring composition technique. My further conclusions were included in the subsequent six articles published successively in the years 2014–2016. Two of them were published in English without their Polish versions so that a wider group of researchers could be acquainted with the essence of those studies2. After their publication, I came up with the idea of this study, a clear proof – as it seems to me – that using a modern and not necessarily commonly accepted research method relating to narratology may result in a collection of interesting observations.

The next three chapters deal, respectively, with narratology in general, its contribution to literary studies, particularly classical studies, and the place of the theory of natural narratology in the current research in this field, especially the European one. The narrative theory was presented here as a matter of interests of thinkers already since the ancient times, thus, as a kind of reflection accompanying man since the earliest times. Nevertheless, it should be noted that the depicted categories are mainly supposed to complement the methodological background for later reflections on Herodotus’ work. There are studies such as Irene De Jong’s article included in LHN, where she showed a diachronic perspective for the description of some narratological terms, such as “perspective”, “time”, “plot” or “sjuzhet” from the ancient times till today. Her arguments were supported by a lot of other literary works3. In chapter four I am also interested in a specific combination of the theory ← 13 | 14 → of natural narratology and its application to the analysis of the ancient texts. There have been already attempts to decode some of these texts, even those belonging to genologically different orders, from the epics to dramatic texts, with respect to the reconstruction of their creation and reception process.

In chapter six I discuss in detail Herodotus’ text as an example of the use of a structure of conversational storytelling, particularly in the parts arranged according to the ring composition technique. Although some researchers have already been interested in the scheme of narrative based on experience in the Histories, but only in terms of time and related teleology of events (see chapter 5), I wanted to present a deep structure of this text from a point of view of the natural narrative theory, and thus, show the levels at which particular categories of narrative communication – such as a narrator, text and Histories recipients – function, also proving the oral nature of this part of the text. In chapter seven I emphasise the overall meaning of the Histories as a discourse conditioned by the oral culture, as well as the protagonists’ poetics and possible experience that the description of the “actants” (historical agents) activity could have evoked in listeners of the stories in which they appear. I take here a closer look at the lives of Herodotus’ dramatis personae and I try to reconstruct the reception process of the story they appear in, according to the theory suggested by Monika Fludernik.

Finally, I proceed with the conclusions of my analysis, perhaps giving rise to similar studies on both Greek and Latin ancient texts, since I believe that the structure of the natural narrative might provide grounds for analysis of a greater number of narrative ancient texts perceived as means of communication. Nevertheless, I assume that until the late antiquity the message of such texts was mainly based on an oral proclamation rather than readers’ reception. At the same time I realize that the application of this method of textual analysis might not open new interpretation paths for this text, but it can show more clearly the Histories as a script which was intended, and partly presented to the public of those times for specific cognitive, didactic and aesthetic purposes. Thus, I analyse the selected parts of the Histories in this respect because only on the grounds of the studies of the deep tissue of this text is it possible to show the origins of these passages as well as their place in the overall mental concept of Herodotus’ narrative. I would also like to make a certain reservation because I am not looking for, and therefore, I am not providing a new interpretation of Herodotus’ work, although a philologist’s job tends to do so as if by definition. Instead, I would like to suggest a certain method of reading the Histories which could somehow lead to an interpretation. This is a method which could help to understand what the Histories are, how they “functioned” at the times they were created and also what thoughts and conduct characterized the person who was telling them.

1 Vide WIEŻEL 2011.

2 These were the following texts: WIEŻEL 2014, 2015a, 2015b, 2015c, 2016a, 2016b.

3 DE JONG 2014a.

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Chapter II: Ancient antecedents of narratological theories

Questions referring to the origins of interests in the theory of stories, that is such issues as who and how tells the story or for whom it is dedicated, are questions – as it seems – already arising in the rather distant period of antiquity, and to be more precise, in the fourth century BC, when such thinkers as Plato expressed this first reflection on literary issues. However, the answers they gave, particularly in case of Plato, were not straightforward. It is because Plato’s reflections on topics associated with literary creation are entwined with his dialogues1, whose primary goal was to find definitions of philosophical ideas on which this author based his system of perceiving the reality. Plato did not write a literary theory textbook as we understand it; thus, he wrote neither poetics nor rhetoric. He believed in a particular philosophy of art but he treated the very art of the word in an ambivalent way. Most often he was simply interested in the functions which verbal creativity might perform in relation to the spheres of life independent of it, unrelated to artistic activities, such as politics, law, good and truth. The inquisitiveness of Platonic Socrates, who on behalf of his Pupil was to ask questions leading to reliable answers, has been still inspiring researchers of modern humanities and feeds them in a basic sense, that is at the time of coming up with a methodological reflection on literary science. Plato’s reflections can be generally divided into two groups: one defining the relation of verbal art to reality, a problem of literary or artistic imitation, that is mimesis, the relation of poetry to an individual and society, its functions and social repercussions associated with poets’ activities; and the other one referring to more detailed issues concerning language philosophy, genology, narrative modes, etc.2 In the Symposium, while defining the nature of the god Eros, the interlocutors mention prose and poetry, letting the former be governed by rhetoric and the latter by verse, based on harmony and rhythm, presented orally before the public by poets understood here as “craftsmen” (poietai) responsible for arranging words into poems. This is how Socrates and Diotima discuss these issues (205 B.C.): ← 15 | 16 →


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2018 (June)
Greek literature Herodotus Natural narratology Orality Literacy
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2018. 179 pp., 3 tables

Biographical notes

Iwona Wieżel (Author)

Iwona Wieżel is Assistant Professor at the Institute of Classical Studies at The John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin (Poland). Her research interests include orality and literacy in Ancient Greek literature and culture of the archaic and classical period, natural narratology, and mediology as a theory of cultural transmission.


Title: Legein ta legomena. Herodotus' Stories as Natural Narrative
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182 pages