The Ring of Polycrates in Ancient Religious Narratives
Herodotus: the Ring of Polycrates
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Herodotus of Halicarnassus (c. 484 BC–c. 425 BCE), justly regarded as the founder of the western discipline of historical writing,1 is credited with introducing the motif of the gem-laden fish into the western literary vocabulary. The Histories were composed between 431 and 425 BCE. In them, Herodotus was concerned chiefly with trying to arrive at an understanding of the complex background to the recent devastating war between Persia and Greece. Towards that end he labored to assemble a vast collection of reports and traditions that were somehow related, even if it was in a very indirect manner, to his main question. Even in the days of antiquity, Herodotus was criticized and lambasted for assorted shortcomings in his critical evaluation of the information he presented (though some of his claims that were once deemed questionable have subsequently been vindicated by archeological findings). For purposes of the present project, which is devoted principally to the literary study of a specific legendary episode, there may not be any pressing urgency to establishing the factual accuracy of his account; though it would have been useful if we could determine whether Herodotus recorded his narrative of Polycrates’ ring exactly as he had heard or read it, or whether he took an active role in reworking it and adapting it to the ideological and literary purposes of his Histories.
The protagonist of this episode, Polycrates son of Aeaces, ruled over the Aegean island of Samos from around 535 BCE, when...
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