Historical discourse in Herodotus: the construction of Greek identity in Book II of the Histories



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Texas Tech University


In order to produce a work based almost wholly on the text itself my main source will be Herodotus. I will examine key passages in Book II, transitional phrases, and specific accounts and descriptions of Egypt and Egyptian culture. I will then discuss a number of common themes expressed by these key sentences or passages. Among these themes, I will look specifically at how Herodotus uses time as a tool with which to establish the supremacy of Egyptian culture over the rest of the world. Prehistoric time becomes an actuality in Egypt, and there is a national memory stretching back beyond the mists of recorded Greek time. Also, I will look at how the physical setting is described and used in Book II and how it relates to Herodotus' agenda. How and what Herodotus describes reveals a purposeful hand moving towards an ultimate goal. In particular, I will look at how Herodotus uses his precise, if not literally accurate, measurements and his attempts at cartography to bind Egypt into the physical world, again attempting to establish the legitimacy of Egypt's presence in Greek Identity. Herodotus, in a manner similar to his attempt to separate the past from the realm of folklore, wants to remove Egypt from the mythological world and recreate it within a Greek reality.

I will also explore the human actions and events eexisting in the chronotope Herodotus establishes in his narrative. Along with apparently banal comparisons of the culinary, weaving, and urinary pracfices of Greece and Egypt, I will especially examine the most important and controversial of his cultural comparisons, namely that of the religions of Greece and Egypt. Along with demonstrating how he attributes even the most tenuous thread of relationship as proof of an Egyptian origin for the parallel Greek custom, I will look at the incongmities between the two religious belief systems (insofar as we may safely create such headings as "Greek" religion and "Egyptian" religion from the numerous traditions of the respective cultures), and how this reveals the purpose and stmcture of a great part of Book H. The cmx of many of Herodotus' arguments in Book U, is the belief that antiquity equals authority, and that if two cultures share a parallel custom, then the older is the originator.