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Herodotus and the Laws of Thurii

David Blair Pass

The association of Herodotus with the colony at Thurii in southern Italy is generally accepted (Murray 2001: 323-24) based on Aristotle's quotation of the first line of the Histories (Rhet. 1409a26-28) and scattered testimony from later antiquity (Priestley 2014: 19-34).  While some older accounts tended to see the connection primarily as evidence of Herodotus's loyalty to Pericles' imperial strategy, recent treatments are more consistent with the actual history of the Panhellenic colony which apparently successfully gained independence from Athens during the time other cities were being enslaved and the Histories were likely being composed (Raviola 1999, Munson 2006).  Munson, in addition to showing how the connection may have shaped Herodotus's presentation of the western Greeks, also stresses the importance of the fact that the colony was "internally mixed, egalitarian and democratic" (2006: 257).  Furthermore, Thomas has shown that parts of Herodotus's research tend to undermine Athenian claims of ethnic superiority, an issue that was likely to have been particularly important in Thurii (Thomas 2000: 100-134). 

            This paper will argue for a more complete reconsideration of the significance of Herodotus's association with the colony following the lines suggested by this recent work.  I will take the additional step of proposing that the only account of the laws of the new colony, that found in Diodorus, ought to at least be given serious consideration as part of this discussion (cf. Hölkeskamp 1999: 137-38).  The philosophical breadth of these laws was one of the primary features that raised suspicions about their authenticity in older scholarly treatments.  And yet, it is partly the impressive scope of the laws that makes the idea of Herodotus's connection to the colony so intriguing.  Herodotus was not only deeply involved in the intellectual trends in natural science, ethnography and sophistic rhetoric that characterized the mid-fifth century but also studiously recorded an enormous variety of human nomoi (see especially Thomas 2000 and Fowler 2003).  Therefore, the opportunities for innovation provided by the new colony seem as though they would have created an environment congenial to his research and/or its publication while his portrait of Solon would have either inspired or tended to create admiration for the lawgivers of the new colony.

            The connection between a scholar determined to record so many nomoi and a lawgiver intent on choosing the best laws (as Diodorus describes Charondas at 12.11.4) is so neat as to create the suspicion that it could have motivated exaggeration or misrepresentation on Diodorus's part.  Nevertheless, I will attempt to show that some of the laws of the new colony attributed to Charondas by Diodorus are so important that the question of their potential authenticity at least as laws of Thurii (regardless of Charondas's role or lack thereof) and association with Herodotus deserves serious attention.  I will compare the accounts in Aristotle and Diodorus and argue that though Diodorus's own intellectual context probably explains his interest in the material (perhaps motivating the composition of the famous ode to literacy), it does not seem to provide any entirely convincing reason for thinking that he completely invented it, particularly given the other innovations commonly attributed to Thurii and the broader cultural context of the 5th century (Green 2006: 1-47, 196-206).

            I will particularly discuss the potential significance of the law regarding literacy (Diod. 12.12.4; Green 2006: 199n.70).  The unparalleled testimony preserved in Diodorus indicates that the new colony not only promoted universal male literacy but more importantly actually set aside state funds for public education in order to achieve this goal.  This paper will include examination of the question of whether this connection deserves serious consideration as one of the factors involved in understanding the intended audience and political context of the publication of Herodotus's work.

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