Kategorie Workshop
Titel Workshop: "The Role of Things in Herodotus‘ Histories" (TP C08)
Termine Friday, 25.01.2019
Saturday, 26.01.2019
Ort Wird noch bekannt gegeben

The world which Herodotus depicts in the Histories is replete with things. But whereas there is an increasing interest in new ways of thinking about the things of our world (cf. e.g. Bennett 2010), the attention devoted to things in Ancient Greek texts has been relatively limited. Insofar as there has been a material turn in Greek literary studies, it can be seen primarily in the area of Homeric scholarship (cf. e.g. Grethlein 2008; Purves 2015); it is only very recently that the focus has been extended to some other texts (cf. Mueller 2016 on tragedy; Telò 2016 on Aristophanes). But even so, the focus is quite narrow in that it is confined to poetic texts.
The time has come, then, for an in-depth examination of the role played by things in Herodotus’ Histories. Turning the attention to this text not only entails an increase in the material under scrutiny; it also offers an opportunity to compare the findings regarding things in poetic texts with observations based on a prose text, and a particularly rich one at that.
But what is a thing? While a definition is difficult to achieve, we may provisionally state that the term encourages us to take both natural and man-made entities (i.e. artefacts) into account. The Histories feature innumerable instances of both categories (Herodotus’ account of Egypt, for instance, includes descriptions of the Nile and of the pyramids).
A good point of departure for the study of Herodotean things is their presence in the narrative: How does Herodotus present the production of artefacts? What does this activity tell us about the producer? How do people interact with things – both natural and man-made ones? How do they manipulate them, to what ends and with what outcomes? In what way does Herodotus assess these activities?
It has been stated above that Herodotean things have not attracted a lot of scholarly interest so far. The main exception seem to be studies devoted to the status of things as signs (cf. Dewald 1993; Hollmann 2011, 176–207; cf. also Kurke 1995 on the – in part subverted – role of metal objects in the aristocratic discourse of self). Herodotus’ narrative includes episodes in which we can watch characters trying to make sense of things – sometimes successfully (e.g. the Ethiopian king’s correct surmise that the tokens sent to him by the Persians bespeak their intent to enslave the Ethiopians [3.20–21]), sometimes not (e.g. Darius’ misinterpretation of the objects which he has received from the Scythian king [4.131–132]).
One aim of the workshop may consist in refining the semiotic approach to things and in extending it to additional passages. However, the workshop is also meant to encourage the participants to consider another possible take on (Herodotean) things: are they endowed with agency – and, if this is the case, in what ways (cf. Bielfeldt 2014 for a taxonomy of the vivification of things in Homer)?
The power of things to signify, on the one hand, and – possibly – to act, on the other, is not confined to the level of the narrative: the text of the Histories also stages  Herodotus as a researcher who is confronted with the task of interpreting material traces from the past (cf. Bassi 2016, 106–143, on dedications of Lydian kings as visual traces from the past). How does Herodotus assess the possibilities and limitations of this type of evidence? While the importance of paying attention to artefacts is arguably emphasised when human erga are identified as a focal area of Herodotus’ research in the very first sentence of the Histories (cf. Immerwahr 1960), we look in vain for an extensive discussion of the role which they play for Herodotus’ project. However, a ‘metahistorical’ reading of narrative passages featuring things may allow us to shed some light on Herodotus’ conception of his role as a researcher and of the Histories as a whole (cf. Dewald 1993).
In the context of recent attempts to bridge the gap between philology and material culture (cf. Martin 2008), the representation of things in the Histories promises to be a fruitful object of investigation. Studying the ways in which characters/Herodotus and things interact in the textual world of the Histories offers an ideal opportunity to discover new facets both of the cultural significance of things in Greek culture and of Herodotus’ narrative art.