The Archaic Smile of Herodotus

Flory, Stewart. The Archaic Smile of Herodotus. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1987.

From the Publisher:

“Although Cicero called him the “father of history,” Herodotus is a problematic historian for the modern reader. His Histories, though generally historical in theme and content, seems to be history only intermittently. There are many pages devoted to the customs of primitive tribes and remote peoples, speculations on geographical and scientific matters. Anecdotal human drams appear on virtually every page. It is these vivid, minute anecdotes, however, which Flory argues are significant and chooses to investigate.

Generally dismissed as mere diversions or reportage, recent studies reveal that many of the anecdotes, apparently frivolous and unconnected to the main narrative, actually repeat specific themes and form patterns. For Flory, the “more we study such anecdotes in which motifs occur, the less remote they clearly are from Herodotus’ central narrative and the more they reveal about his ideas about life and his unspoken attitudes to the historical events he describes.”

As a result of his analysis, Flory argues ‘that the Histories is a unified work of art of considerable complexity,.(and) that the anecdotes hold this work together, both in practical terms by repeating the same themes in sections of the book which at first appear unrelated, and philosophically, because these repetitions are of themes which illuminate the whole historical narrative and the mind of the author.'”