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Why Herodotus is Worth Copying: The Scholia on Book 1

Simone A. Oppen

Columbia University

The scholia to Herodotus remain neglected (as discussed by Eleanor Dickey, 2007: 53-54), despite a general resurgence of interest in scholia (witness D. J. Mastronarde’s 2017 studies on the scholia to Euripides and the English translation of the scholia to the Iliad forthcoming from Cambridge University Press). The Herodotean scholia are comprised primarily, though not exclusively, of glosses (as noted by David Asheri, 1991: 241 and A. B. Lloyd, 1993: 211). Largely through close reading of the published scholia to Book 1 of the Histories, this paper makes the case that the interplay of glosses and other material preserved by the scholia illustrates a way of reading Herodotus distinct from that suggested by the Λέξεις Ἡρδότου (two glossaries, one arranged by order of appearance in the Histories, the other alphabetically) and other ancient scholarship focused on the historian’s dialect (such as the Περὶ Ἰάδος of Moschopulus).

Significant differences between the glosses in the Λέξεις Ἡρδότου and those in the scholia emerge early in Book 1. After glossing several words absent from the Λέξεις Ἡρδότου (ἀνακῶς, σπερχθείς, ἄτην, ᾖα, and περιημεκτέων as indicated by H. B. Rosén’s index, 1997: 456-67), the scholiast (or scholiasts) apostrophize the Lydian king Croesus: 

σὺ μὲν ὦ Κροῖσε τῷ Δελφοῖς χρηστηρίῳ θαρρήσας κατὰ τοῦ Κύρου ἐξώρμησας· ὁ δὲ Κῦρος τὸν μέγιστον προφήτην Δανιὴλ μετακαλεσάμενος καὶ ἐρωτήσας καὶ μαθὼν ἐξ αὐτοῦ ὅτι σε καὶ ἡττήσει καὶ αἰχμάλωτον λήψεται, τὸν πρὸς σὲ συνεκρότησε πόλεμον, καὶ ὁ μὲν σοὶ δοθεὶς χρησμὸς ἐψεύσθη, ἡ δὲ τοῦ Δανιὴλ προφητεία ἠλήθευσε.

You, oh Croesus, having trusted in the Delphic oracle, set out against Cyrus. But Cyrus, having summoned the greatest prophet Daniel and inquiring and learning from him that he would defeat you and take you captive, waged war against you. And the oracle given to you was mistaken, whereas the prophecy of Daniel spoke truth.

(Greek text from Asheri, 1991: 242; translation my own in consultation with Asheri’s.)

This apostrophe suggests that the scholiast (or scholiasts) read, at a minimum, both Herodotus and the Hebrew Bible and sought to rationalize the two. Similar rationalizations, in the fullest collection of scholia to Herodotus gathered by Rosén, next occur at Book 1.153 and Book 2.44.5.

Later scholia on Book 1, however, indicate a more pervasive interest in the ancient Near East and again preserve material distinct from that in the Λέξεις Ἡρδότου. The scholia to 1.71.2 gloss ἀναξυρίς not as trousers (LSJ s.v. ἀναξυρίδες), but as a leather sandal first introduced by the Persians since earlier Greeks wore footwear of linen or wool (πρῶτοι δὲ Πέρσαι καταδεδείχασι τοιαῦτα, οἱ γὰρ Ἓλληνες τὸ πρὶν πεδίλοις ἐχρῶντο, ἅ οὐ σκύτινα, ἀλλὰ λίνεα ἢ εἴρινα). At 1.99.1 the scholia remark that customs established by Deioces are observed by Turks even now (τοῦτο καὶ νῦν φυλάττεται παρὰ τῶν Τούρκων; cf. scholia ad 1.135). The scholia to 1.125 connect the names Persian and Achaemenid to children born from intermarriage. These glosses are not idle but, together with material such as the apostrophe above, provide evidence that the scholiasts sought to guide future readers in using the text of the Histories as a source of knowledge about the ancient Near East relevant to their own historical moments.

In sum, this paper illuminates a part of the intellectual environment surrounding late antique and Byzantine readership of Herodotus. In so doing it makes a small contribution to our knowledge of the history of Herodotean readership. Parts of this history—whose lack was noted already by Felix Jacoby (1913: 504-5)—have been written by S. R. West (2011) and Olga Tribulato (2016). And yet their important work, focused respectively on the papyri of Herodotus and ancient Greek lexicography and grammar, has not specifically addressed the scholia preserved by the manuscript tradition, as this paper begins to do. Thus, this paper helps us to better understand some of the reasons why Herodotus’ monumental text remained relevant enough to readerly communities to merit copying.

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Greek Historiography

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