• Monstrous Omens in Herodotus' Histories

    Fiona Mitchell (see profile)
    Ancient Greece & Rome
    History, Ancient--Historiography, Greece, Greek language, Greek literature
    Item Type:
    Herodotus, Histories, monsters, omens, Ancient Greek historiography, Classical Greek language
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    Monstrous omens appear four times in Herodotus: a concubine of the king of Sardis gives birth to a lion (1.84), a donkey is born with male and female genitalia (7.57), a horse gives birth to a hare (7.57) and fish come back to life whilst being cooked (9.120). These omens are the only occasions when monsters appear in close proximity to Greece; all other monsters in the Histories inhabit the lands at the extreme periphery. The lion cub is the only one of these portents to occur in the mythical past, the others take place in the relatively recent past. The monsters that appear as a result of the omens therefore occur in unusually close physical and chronological proximity to the audience. These omens are strongly tied to two locations: Sardis and the place where Xerxes crossed into Greece. The lion and the donkey are born in Sardis. The hare is born at the site where Xerxes and his army landed in Greece. The omen of the reanimated fish is also associated with this location, because Artayctes was crucified there as the portent was a message from Protesileus condemning Artayctes for stealing from his sanctuary. These omens have negative connotations: the birth of the lion causes the fall of Sardis, the birth of the hare indicates Xerxes defeat and the fish reveal the desecration of a shrine. As the city in which Xerxes mustered his troops before his expedition and the site at which he entered Greece, these locations are particularly significant in the narrative of Xerxes failed invasion. Additionally, the reports of the hare and the donkey occur exactly at the time when Xerxes enters Greece. These omens therefore create an association of defeat and danger with Xerxes action throughout the text.
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