It is well known that Hellenistic poets, among them Posidippus of Pella, took Herodotus’ Histories as a point of departure for literary exercises (Bing; Gutzwiller; Priestley). Another aspect of the Hellenistic reception of Herodotus has received less attention: the deployment of portraits of individuals associated with the Persian Wars either to amplify Herodotus’ account or to address its perceived omissions. Such retrospective portraits, hitherto identified and studied by archaeologists mainly through Roman marble copies (Zanker), deserve further attention as products of early Hellenistic literary culture.
Arimnestos of Plataia is a case in point. Pausanias (9.4.1-2) in the second century A.C. saw a portrait of Arimnestos, the commander of the Plataian contingent at Plataia in 479 B.C., standing beside Pheidias’ cult statue of Athena Areia in her temple near the Plataia battlefield. Though it has been assumed that the portrait of Arimnestos was contemporary with the mid-fifth century cult statue, this form of display for portrait statues is far better attested from the mid-fourth century onward. A case can be made that the portrait was a retrospective dedication of the Hellenistic period. Both Simonides’ elegy on the battle of Plataia (Boedeker; Boedeker and Sider) and a fifth-century inscribed bronze vessel possibly awarded as a prize there (IG I3 523 and Vanderpool 1969) support the immediate foundation of a hero cult and games for the Plataia dead. In the Hellenistic period, however, after the restoration of Plataia by Alexander in 335 B.C., the simple ceremonies at the collective tomb described by Thucydides (3.58.4) evolved into the panhellenic Eleutheria (the “Freedom Games”). In the mid-third century B.C., the Eleutheria assumed added importance for the Greek city-states as the festival became associated with the struggle against Macedonian rule (Étienne and Pierart; Jung; Wallace).
In Herodotus (9.72), Arimnestos appears not as strategos of the Plataians, but only as a seemingly random participant in the battle to whom Kallikrates, the most handsome of the Greeks present, uttered his last words before he died. In sharp contrast, Plutarch (Aristides 11.5-7), making use of post-fifth-century sources, tells the story that Arimnestos was visited in a dream by Zeus himself, who pointed him toward a proper site for the battle which he subsequently showed to the Greek commander-in-chief, Pausanias. Both the portrait statue of Arimnestos and the dream story in Plutarch greatly amplify the role played by Arimnestos and the Plataians in the battle, and in the absence of any archaeological evidence it seems likely that Arimnestos’ portrait was a retrospective monument of the early Hellenistic period, when the Plataian Eleutheria assumed panhellenic significance. This portrait statue simultaneously challenges the authority of Herodotus’ text and promotes an alternative version of the battle of Plataia emphasizing the local contribution.
Other portraits of Persian War-related subjects known only from literary sources also carry with them a strong suspicion of being retrospective monuments. Pausanias (10.19.1) describes a portrait pair at Delphi dedicated by the Delphic Amphictyony representing Skyllis and his daughter Hydna, Thessalian divers who fouled the anchors of the Persian ships on their way to Salamis in 480 B.C. Herodotus (8.8) had mentioned Skyllis in his account of the naval battle off Cape Artemisium, but not his daughter Hydna, and not the Delphic portraits. Inscribed statue bases found at Delphi show that the Amphicyony began to dedicate portraits there only after the earthquake of 373 B.C. The Thessalian presence in the Amphictyony took on added importance after Philip II effectively took control of Thessaly (and its votes on the Amphictyonic Council) in 346 B.C. A retrospective portrait pair promoting the memory of individual Thessalians who had helped to defeat Xerxes' invasion of Greece in 480 would have been welcome at this time at Delphi, especially since the Aleuad rulers of Thessaly had initially medized (Hdt. 7.6 and 7.172).
Ancient Receptions of Classical Literature