Erickson B.

Erickson Bridges

Exercises in Reversal: Narrative Structure in the Battles of Herodotus

Crossing the Same River Twice: Narrative Connections between Plataea, Thermopylae, and the Spartan Affairs of Book I of the Histories


While there are certainly many examples of interesting narrative structure scattered throughout the Histories, I’m particularly interested in exploring the differences in how Herodotus structures his major battles and the stylistic motivations behind these differences. Herodotus’ depictions of battles (particularly those in the Greek-Persian War) have markedly different narrative structures: Plataea emphasizes the contrast between the Greek and Persian hosts by describing the battle in terms of immediate counter-actions and reversals; Thermopylae reads with a great deal of tension, emphasizing the stalwart bravery of the few Greeks against the multitude of Persians; and Salamis is a combination of diplomacy and warfare, beginning with a series of councils and messages and concluding with the battle itself, which particularly emphasizes the actions of individuals in the conflict (e.g. Artemisia, Themistocles, Adeimantus, etc.).

Through close reading of these passages, I mean to discover the underlying motivations for the specific ways in which Herodotus structures his battle scenes, not only in terms of their effect on the reader but also with regard to the stylistic and narratological elements Herodotus places within these narrative structures.

Updated Description:

In addition to the narratological analysis of Herodotus’ descriptions of the principal battles of the Persian Wars (i.e. Artemisium, Thermopylae, Salamis, Plataea, and Mycale), I have also expanded this research topic to explore the literary links between these battles themselves, such as the arc of Spartan excellence in battle prefigured by Thyrea and demonstrated by their loss at Thermopylae and victory at Plataea.

Final Update:

I have narrowed down the breadth of my project to focus entirely on the interconnected nature of Herodotus’ description of the Battle of Plataea with the events and structure of the Battle of Thermopylae and the Spartan affairs of Book 1, primarily the transportation of the bones of Orestes and the Battle of Thyrea.

Annotated Bibliography.

Boedeker, Deborah. “The Two Faces of Demaratus.” Arethusa 20 (1987): 185-201.*

Boedeker, Deborah. “Hero Cult and Politics in Herodotus: the Bones of Orestes.” Cultural Poetics in Archaic Greece, ed. C. Dougherty and L. Kurke, 164-73. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993.*

Dillery, John. “Reconfiguring the Past: Thyrea, Thermopylae, and Narrative Patterns in    Herodotus.” The American Journal of Philology 117, no. 2 (1996): 217-254.*

Hignett, C. Xerxes’ Invasion of Greece. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1963.*

How, W.W. and J. Wells. A Commentary on Herodotus, Books V-IX. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1928.*

Immerwahr, H.R. Form and Thought in Herodotus. Cleveland: Scholars Press, 1966.*

Macan, R.W. Herodotus: The Seventh, Eighth, and Ninth Books. Vol. 1. London: Macmillan, 1908.*

Myres, John L. Herodotus, Father of History. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1953.*

Parker, Robert. Miasma: Pollution and Purification in early Greek Religion. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1983.*

Solmsen, Lieselotte. “Speeches in Herodotus’ Account of the Battle of Plataea.” Classical Philology 39.4 (October 1944): 243-253.*

Wood, Henry. The Histories of Herodotus: An Analysis of the Formal Strucuture. The Hague: Mouton, 1972.