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Pindar And Herodotus Book 1 Notes

Classics Notes > Greek Literature of the 5th Century BC Notes

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'Nomos the king of all': what does Herodotus mean by quoting these words from Pindar, and how does he depict the nomoi of Greek and barbarian peoples?
The word barbaros is not found in any extant literature earlier than Herodotus, one scholar even suggests Homer would not understand the concept of it; indeed the idea of the barbarian 'other' does not seem to have existed much before his time. He is sometimes called the father of anthropology because he was the first [extant] author to research and catalogue eastern cultures in the way that he does; however in so doing he is not just defining what it is to be a barbaros, he is also defining what it is to be Greek. This is often called the mirror of Herodotus because Greek culture is defined by comparison to a (often negative) illustration of other cultures; furthermore his investigations deemed it necessary for him to explore what it really meant to be Greek. In book eight he defines this as not actually living in Greece itself but as "being of the same blood and tongue, having in common temples of the gods and sacrifices and shared customs." In essence a person could only tell if he shared these things with another if he knew of a significantly drastic alternative and this is what Herodotus provides in his work. In contrast the East almost becomes a single undifferentiated block, hence "the other". This does not mean that he was putting all the customs and eccentricities of the barbaroi on a podium to be derided by a Greek audience; after all barbaros implies nothing more than a person who does not speak Greek. Language was perhaps the most important criteria for Greeks when determining their ethnic self-consciousness given the nature of the Greek world. All those who classed themselves as Greek did not necessarily live on the Greek mainland and so they could not define themselves geographically or politically as, for example, the Egyptians could. Herodotus himself was from Halicarnassus, a Greek city ruled by Persians in Asia Minor which was heavily intermixed with the Carians; therefore he was almost uniquely placed to see both sides with a open mind, but also to fully appreciate what distinguished him as Greek as compared with his Carian neighbours.. He begins his work with the statement, "Herodotus of Halicarnassus here displays his inquiry, so that human achievements may not become forgotten in time, and great and marvellous deed- some displayed by Greek, some by barbarians- may not be without glory." He gives equal precedence to both peoples and does not discriminate against foreigners just because they are different. However it is, of course, this difference he is interested in and, as perhaps any tourist is inclined to do, sometimes gives the impression he views other cultures with a certain sense of superiority since he cannot escape the fact he is a product of his own Greek culture. With this in mind it is possible to consider what Herodotus may mean by quoting a line from Pindar which was probably famous very soon after it was written, very possibly in the poet's own lifetime. The full line which Herodotus quotes is as follows, "Nomos, king of all, mortals and immortals, brings on with sovereign hand what is most violent and makes it just." The poem

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